Monday, February 21, 2011

Do Not Whine About It, Just Walk Away

Recently a couple of notable independent wrestlers from the US started posting things on the internet, indicating their intentions to hang up the boots out of frustration with not being able to get signed by the WWE.  One of them posted a lengthy video in which he appeared to have a mental breakdown of sorts, where he cried, and said that it was "unfair" that he never got a break because of his size, and that he had dedicated years of his life to a dream that he will never realize.

Honestly, a few times I have posted things here and there about my frustrations with the wrestling business.  I have never really gone in-depth with it, because a lot of it is nobody's business but mine.

I got into wrestling back in 1998, so I am a thirteen year veteran of this business.  When I got into this business, WCW, ECW and WWF were all running and looking for new talent. The business was on fire.  It was the Monday Night Wars.  There were a ton of independent wrestling shows being run by legitimate promoters.  Guys I worked with and knew personally were getting looked at and working shows with the big companies. By 2001 when I was out of college and ready to devote myself "full-time" to pursuing my dream, WCW and ECW were out of business, and I knew that all those workers now out of jobs were going to be killing opportunities for me. In addition, there were so many indy wrestlers fresh into the business because they got in during the 1990's boom, there just weren't enough spots to go around. I had a dream of being a television wrestling star someday, and that dream quickly disappeared before I even got a real shot at it. 

So, I adjusted my dream - my goal was to make a living off of wrestling. The problem with this dream became that everyone and their brother thought they could open up the next promotion and become the next "ECW", and in a few years take on the WWF. I had opportunities with major companies that came and went, and I made a lot of sacrifices - but there was no way I could support myself on wrestling.

Here is a dirty little secret about wrestling: A lot of these guys wrestling on shows still live at home with their parents, or mooch off girlfriends, and have no means to support themselves. I was never afforded such a luxury.  My parents had to work hard to pay their own bills, they couldn't handle a freeloader.  If I wanted to eat and pay my bills, I had to have a real job. You would be surprised how many "wrestlers" who live at home with their parents and play X-box all day long actually have the audacity to criticize guys who have real jobs as "unprofessional" and "weekend warriors".

In 2007, with nine years in the business, going thru a divorce, in major debt, with a very ill and widowed mother, and with a sister going thru personal problems as well, I decided I was going to move back to my hometown of Cincinnati and continue to wrestle, but to finally just let the dream go. At that point, I discovered that the mortgage industry I had worked in for the past seven years was falling apart, and that my degree was about as useful as a parking ticket when it came to getting a good job. So, even with a great degree from a Big Ten school, I was another schmuck who was working a menial job to pay the bills - and wrestling a couple weekends a month.

Soon however, I made a solid name for myself in this area, and somehow I became in-demand from local promoters.  A different territory had different payoffs, and I was suddenly getting bigger paydays than previously, and I was picking up more bookings with much less travel.  Around that time I met a woman who, at the time, was very supportive of me and my dream, so I dove back into things head first, but with adjusted expectations.  I was going to have fun, and try to become as complete of a worker as I possibly could.  I wanted to draw big houses and have great matches - I didn't care about "making it".  So, I was going at it again full-steam.

When the girl I was in a relationship with lost her job, I wasn't able to support her and two kids with my day job and with wrestling on the weekends.  I ended up losing that woman to wrestling.   I was undeterred though, and I started having some of the best matches and drawing some awesome houses - I was motivated as hell. Everything else in my life was falling apart, but I was good at wrestling, and I was gonna keep doing it. With no one to feel obligated to, I started traveling more.  Back to Pittsburgh and West Virginia, and still keeping my dates for all over Ohio.  I must be crazy. 

These days, I am pretty much booked every weekend. I wrestle in front of crowds as few as 50-75 people, and I main event shows that sell out venues in front of 300-400 people. I realize that I am never going to really make a living wrestling. I get injured, I do not make any money, I travel way too much, I never have any real "down time", and I have waaaaaay too many miles on my car. I purchased a 2007 model-year car in 2006, and I have 75000 miles on it.   I cannot afford a big screen TV or the medical bills that I rack up.

But, I love what I do on the weekends, and I am happy. I wish I got paid a million dollars a year to do what I do, but I don't. I love it, so I do it for virtually nothing. Not enough people do the math on the money in independent wrestling.  300 people at $10 a ticket is a gate of $3000.  Subtract from that the cost of promotion, renting a building, security, licensing, promoting, sound and light equipment, rings, and then look at what you have left.  Then divide that up between 14-30 wrestlers that are on shows.  That is on a good night too, because 300 is a good house by indy standards. 

I struggle all week long working 40-50 hours at a physical job so I can pay my bills. I put in countless hours at the gym every night. I have lost many awesome women in my life that couldn't handle my schedule and commitments. But, that is my choice.

So fuck guys who have made way more money than me in this business posting about how they have been fucked by the business and their life is ruined. Grow the hell up and be a man. 

When people I know or work with outside of wrestling find out I wrestle, it kind of usually just gets blown off.  "Like Hulk Hogan" they often say, which pisses me off.  Many of them will end up Googling me, or will find a video on youtube or something, and find out that I'm legit, and not some douchebag yardtard.  This always leads to the inevitable question of "Why aren't you on WWE?", as if all I had to do was just go sign up or something and I was on tv the following week.

So, I usually try to relate things in layman's terms.  I will often use the analogy of "Well, it is like I am in a band, and we go all over the area and play gigs, but we never got a record deal".  That, makes sense to me, because there are a lot of good bands and musicians out there that aren't on the radio or on MTV.  Or, I will describe myself as a minor leaguer who never got called up to the big leagues.  People usually understand then, but often they will be a dumbass and ask "Well, then why do you do it then?"

Because I love it, and that is all I know. 

When I have personal problems or a mental breakdown over not being a success at what I chose to commit to doing, I do not go feeling sorry for myself in a youtube video, or on my twitter, or my blog.  I rely on my loved ones, my friends, and my family - my actual real life support system.  Hell, there have been many of my friends within the business that I have seen have breakdowns like in the video, but it was when I was having a heart-to-heart with them - not on the internet for everyone to see.  I dunno about you, but I have never seen a career minor league baseball player make a video crying about how it is unfair how he made all these sacrifices and bus rides and never made it to the big leagues. 

This is something that should be done in private, and not in front of a camera.  Doing it publicly, when you are a public figure with a persona you have groomed over time, is akin to throwing yourself a pity party.  Is Vince McMahon gonna see this guy crying about how bad he wants into the WWE and sign him?  What is a viewer of that supposed to do help the situation - demand that promoters pay him more and not make him travel so much?  He is complaining about travel and missing birthdays and funerals - does he not understand that guys in the WWE travel?  Those guys are on the road every week Friday thru Tuesday.  A friend of mine that works for New Japan has been overseas since mid-January, and he doesn't get back to Cincinnati until the end of February - I sure bet he misses his infant son and his family too. 

Hell, there have been times when I have pulled over my car at a rest area to sleep while on a road trip and it is five degrees outside and I am sleeping in the cold in my cramped backseat, alone, because I do not know anyone in the area to crash with, and I cannot afford to shell out for a hotel.  I have been in situations where I can only eat once a day because I cannot afford groceries and gas for my car to get to a booking.  I have lived in a home with no running water, and I had to shit in a bucket and shower at the gym, because I couldn't afford to turn the water on.  If you do not think I have ever had breakdowns and told myself I was walking away from the business, then you are crazy.  I often wake up in the middle of the night and cannot feel my arm because of the damage I have done to my body.  I do not whine about it. 

This is the life I chose.  This is the life that anyone who has ever stepped in a ring has chosen.  If this isn't what they want, then they shouldn't be in this business in the first place.  If it is too much, walk away and give your spot to another guy.  Or maybe wrestle somewhere local and pass your knowledge on to some younger guys and help give them some breaks you never got.  As often as it may seem like it, this business isn't the mafia - you can walk away from it. It is hard, but trust me, it can be done.

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