Balrog Babblings #89 – Out of Tragedy, A Golden Opportunity

By now we have all read and taken in about as much as we can regarding the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide situation. Wrestling websites (including received hundreds of thousands of hits when the story broke and we all struggled to keep up with the demand for information. But as we all covered this grisly, gruesome murder, I couldn’t help but thinking that this was a golden opportunity for the wrestling world to right many of its deep-rooted wrongs.

About five years ago I wrote the following as a part of my June 10th column. It has been edited for clarity:

There is a general air in wrestling (which any WWE wrestler will admit) that once a new wrestler joins the company he has to “pay his dues.” Why? Simple! You see, back when the current top-tier guys and big names were training, they had to ride 180 miles in a car with 12 people to get to a town to wrestle in front of 8 guys and 2 kids, thus all of those who are new to the locker room should respect the sacrifices that this older generation made and thus be humble upon their entrance into “this business.” Isn’t the correlation between being new in the locker room and being shown no respect obvious?!? (Note the sarcasm…)

The point I tried to make then and the point I want to reiterate (especially after Jean Paul Levesque’s disgusting “tribute” to Benoit on last week’s RAW) is that WWE’s wrestlers are expected to live in a world that is far too similar to decades ago in professional wrestling. Essentially, they have a good old boys’ club that views certain acts as “respectable” when they are, in fact, deplorable. On top of that, WWE wrestlers are on the road WAY too long each year, regardless of what Jim Ross or any other current WWE employee says on that subject.

TNA Wrestling is coming close to what a wrestling organization should be doing in the year 2007, in terms of their schedule. There is NO reason for WWE wrestlers to be on the road 280+ days per year. That is asnine. In any given year, there are 104 “weekend” days. Granted, this is a big money-making time for wrestling, but if there are 104 “weekend” days, that means that there are 261 other days in the year.

For you and me, we generally work about 230 of those remaining 261 days. And most of us work within a short drive to our jobs. But this is not the case for professional wrestlers. These men and women can work upwards of 320 days per year which is actually better than decades ago when wrestlers would work double shifts some days and often logged in hundreds of matches each year. That schedule was the norm then – it is disgusting now. Professional athletes don’t even work this type of grueling schedule!

Professional wrestlers at the highest levels do not get long-term vacations. Regardless of what WWE is putting out there in the media, the top guys cannot “call in sick” nor can they take 2 weeks off to go on a vacation with the family. Doing so will immediately put them back months if not years on the pecking order. What is this – the Stone Ages?! Nine years ago a writer at this site talked about the effect that a union could have on professional wrestling. In short, it would give wrestlers basic worker’s rights that they just do not have today.

But before the wrestler’s choose to unionize or leave WWE for the lighter work schedule of a TNA or the international wrestling scene, Vince McMahon and WWE should take the opportunity to make big, massive changes in their corporate culture in the wake of the Chris Benoit murder.

NOW is the time for Vince to institute a rolling schedule for his wrestlers. Give wrestlers 6 – 8 weeks off at a time on a rolling schedule. Harken back to some of the GOOD that occured in years past where after a wrestler lost in the main event feud, they were gone for a while. After John Cena has yet another magical come-from-behind victory over his next opponent, why not give that opponent 6 – 8 weeks off to go home to his family? Would it REALLY hurt the gates around the country that much? I doubt it. And if it DOES hurt the gates that much, then maybe this “brand extension” should end so more star power can be at more shows.

And while they’re at this stuff, it is high time to go back to a 12 pay-per-view per-year schedule (or even less). The UFC is beating the crap out of WWE in pay-per-view sales and part of the reason is the oversaturation of the WWE and wrestling PPV market. Give the wrestlers (and the fans’ wallets) a break and go back to a 12 pay-per-view schedule.

On the subject of schedules, will the bottom line of WWE really hurt if they don’t hold the occasional Saturday and Sunday event to give the wrestlers a full Wednesday – Sunday with their families? After reviewing the financial statements of various organizations (including WWE) over the course of my admittedly short-so-far financial career, I highly doubt that they will lose money if they cut out one of those weekend tours each month.

So the gauntlet has been thrown down by the mass media and the wrestling fans-at-large. Now is the time for change – will WWE answer?

The truth is that they probably will not answer this call. In fact, they’ll probably fail with flying colors.

You only need look at Triple H’s twisted remarks on Benoit’s “respect” for the industry to see the mental problems at the highest political levels in World Wrestling Entertainment (if you don’t know, Stephanie McMahon and her husband, Jean Paul Levesque, are the biggest power brokers in professional wrestling today):

Hunter said there was an incident a few years ago when a young wrestler showed a lack of respect to Shawn Michaels, so Benoit made him do 1,000 squats with him. He then made him do 500 squats the next day.

That bit was from our friends at the Pro Wrestling Torch and it shows how twisted the term “respect” has become in the professional wrestling world. If this is what the biggest political boss in professional wrestling is willing to make public, then what could he and the rest of the boys possibly be hiding? It’s scary to think about.

Think about what Levesque said there for a minute. Essentially, he said that this young wrestler was hazed and then hazed again the following day. Do you think that this is a man who wants to see real-world change in WWE? What about the spouses who are being abused, the wrestlers who are alcoholics, the young guys who are turning to steroids to get better bodies so they are considered for higher profile matches? Do you think some self-righteous, self-impressed punk like Levesque will allow “this industry’s” version of the word “respect” to change to prevent more tragedies?

Highly unlikely.

Again, now is the time for change. Will Vince take back his organization from his daughter and his son-in-law and make the necessary changes that are needed to keep his creation as a legit form of employment and entertainment? Unfortunately, I doubt it.