I am frequently stunned to see the risks that guys are taking in this business on the independent level for the sake of “fame”. Increasingly guys are taking risks that far outweigh the reward and despite the repeated warnings from “grizzled” guys like myself, they continue to work at a break neck pace (pun fully intended).
Early in my career, I fell into this same group. I was influenced early on by interests that focused on the short term accolades vs. career longevity. I was taking bumps off of ladders, spilling out of the ring to the floor at high velocity and regularly engaging in matches which included the use of metal street signs. However, the body has limitations, and the earlier that you recognize the difference between working smart and working hard – the better for your career and your long term health.
I once witnessed one of the sickest spills I ever saw in my life as a wrestler with limited experience elected to take a bump backwards from the top rope to the floor in front of 60 people. At first, I thought that this must have been a miscue – but imagine my horror to learn that not only had this action been intended, it had been initiated by that individual. Worse still, the young wrestler was in the ring with someone with not much more experience than his own — without any guarantee that his safety could be assured. A career could have been snuffed out four matches in.
Gladly, nobody was injured and everyone left the building that night on their own feet without assistance. One time, I raised similar concerns to a young wrestler on a card on Vancouver island. The fellow nodded and said nothing. I later learned that he spent the duration of his car ride home lambasting me for critiquing his performance, citing that “Vance is jealous because he can’t do the moves that I can do.” Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth … I have never in my life been interested to hurl myself upside down and let gravity take it’s course. (Haha, I got talked into that one too as a rookie).
Think about your model for career success. Who has made the most money in this business? Who has had the longest career? When you make this list – it doesn’t take long to see that legendary careers were not built by crashing through ladders or mastering the triple reverse gainer from the top rope. Think about those guys that have risen to world title success — Hogan, Flair, Race, Rhodes, Austin, Rock, HHH, Bret Hart, Undertaker … largely, these guys aren’t recognized for the blatant risk that they put themselves in. However, we do acknowledge the effects that years of abuse in this business can create.
A new study out of the University of Montreal caught my attention today. Researchers have found that athletes who suffer concussions show mental and physical declines more than 30 years after the injury. Former athletes, now in their 50’s, so diminished capacity to remember things as simple as grocery lists and place themselves at a higher risk of Alzheimers disease. With this in mind, what good is all of that great, dynamic action you provided to the ticket buyers when they have moved on to the next sensation and forgotten about you?
You might not even be able to remember it and celebrate it yourself. This is a very cut-throat business. If you find yourself sidelined due to injury, you might find that a few close friends check in and ask how you’re doing. But for as many calls as you get checking on your health and welfare, I can guarantee that there are AT LEAST as many being made to the promoters that you work for as people campaign to pick up the bookings that you have vacated. Nobody has a vested interest in your personal safety more than you do, yourself. Promoters? Come on … let’s be serious. Wrestling promotion is all about attraction. They can’t make money with a wrestler that can’t perform. If you’re on the shelf, they need to consider Plan B, Plan C. Who is the next star to be promoted? Right or wrong, promoters need to think about their business, and that is larger than any one performer on the card.
Fellow wrestlers? Ricky Steamboat once said, in this business you have many acquaintances and very few friends. Think about that. How many people would be concerned if you couldn’t wrestle any more? How many of ’em would be campaigning to fill your spot? Even more seriously, how many of them would dismiss your contributions to the business, anyway? What was the lasting result of your sacrifice? Fans? Without question, or business doesn’t exist without the support of our fans. Wrestling fans are among the most devout in the world, however … out of sight, out of mind. As soon as you stop appearing regularly, they are moving on to the next guy that inspires their fandom. You might get any occasional “Whatever Happened To?” … but that doesn’t pay the rent. There is one scene in the movie The Wrestler which is particularly descriptive of this.
Sitting around a legion hall, a group of wrestlers that the industry has forgotten — each suffering from a variety of ailments, presumably from years of sacrifice between the ropes, some unable to walk. The picture is accurate, and also sad, as these wrestlers are met by only a trickle of fans that are interested to get their autograph and demonstrate their respect for the years of dues paid by these great performers. At eighteen years old, with stars in your eyes, you might not think about anything but your goal – securing a contract with one of the major organizations.
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if you put in more than a decade and your career aspirations fall short? Have you made decisions which will affect your ability to lead an otherwise healthy and productive life? How does the decision that you are making for your match tonight weigh on your future quality of life? As a wrestling fan that grew up on the industry as it existed in the 1980’s, I am amused to look back at wrestling magazines from that era that dismissed the “Honky Tonk Man” as simply a bad Elvis impersonator with questionable wrestling ability. Admittedly, HTM wasn’t out there throwing top rope dropkicks, but got slammed by the trade media for “mediocrity”.
Let’s face facts, though: MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS after he earned distinction as the Greatest Intercontinental champion of all time, that same wrestler is still making a living in the wrestling business and is in demand worldwide — including a recent engagement back in the WWE. Think about how many guys from that era (or in the decades since) that aren’t worth shit at the box office that only a few years ago were being touted by the message board experts as “sure hits”. Please, … don’t make me laugh. These days when I give this advice, I am certain to remind some of the guys coming up that if someone was going to make a highlight reel of the “coolest” stuff I have done in the ring in the past five years — likely most of that footage would be promos or maybe some priceless close ups when I got in real close for some extra camera time … one would be hard pressed to assemble a highlight reel of awe-inspiring moves from my matches.
Yet, even though promoters and booking agents are aware of this, somehow I am still getting booked regularly across Canada. Hmm … maybe I know what I’m talking about. In closing remember the words of Astar the robot: “I’m Astar … a robot. I can put my arm back on. You can’t … so play safe!”