Monday, April 09, 2012

Ten Things That Every Young Wrestler Should Know

I actually didn't get into the business by just going to a wrestling school and paying someone to train; I had a lot of people help me get my foot in the door the old school way, and take me under their wing and give me advice, help get me bookings, and help me learn to do things the right way.  During my time as a professional wrestler, I was always willing to help out other guys in the business, kind of a way to pay forward what people did for me.  

When I have a conversation with someone seeking my opinion or advice, one of the topics most often brought is what kind of tips or pointers do I have for a young guy just breaking into the business.  So, I have decided to list a few tips and pointers here that any independent wrestler can take as food for thought, reflection, and further discussion.  Some of these things I learned the hard way, some of these things I had passed on to me and I saw the truth behind them. Some things are just plain damn sense that people in this business just get caught up in and lose sight of. 

1) Social Media is a Loaded Gun. 
     If you have Facebook/Twitter/MySpace or some other kind of social networking account, you should know and understand the power of what you are using.  You should also understand how dangerous it can be.  How often do you hear about some celebrity, politician, or athlete posting something stupid/racist/sexist/controversial on Twitter, and then a media firestorm erupts over what they posted?  Sure, you may not have a million followers like Lady Gaga or Ashton Kutcher, but there are probably fans that attend wrestling events following you in some way.  There are probably also a few trolls and people "keeping an eye" on you; "Haters" if you will, just looking for you to screw up.  So, if you send out a status update that says "The promoter I work for is an asshole", there is a good chance that someone will screen-grab it, or re-tweet it before you can say "Eh, I was just playing around" and remove the tweet.  If you tweet something, someone will see it.
     If you use social media to promote yourself and to interact with fans, then do not use those same accounts for personal business.  If you want to post about a basketball game, or the weather, it doesn't really matter.  However, if you are supposed to be injured and unable to wrestle on the next show, you probably shouldn't be posting pics of you and your college buddies playing football in the mud. You shouldn't be using your Twitter account to ask why your ex-girlfriend won't take you back. 
    If you have a gimmick where you are a barbaric savage, wear a mask, you do not know English, or that you are an orphan, then do not use your Facebook to post pics of you at your day job in a suit, unmasked, not in a foreign language, or with your parents.  Make a separate account for personal use, or at the very least keep a degree of kayfabe on your social media.  It is okay to tell your friends where you will be wrestling, but it isn't okay to tell your fans where Uncle Wally's barbecue is at.  You have to view it the same way as if you were cheating on a spouse - you slip up just once you can get caught.
   If you wrestle as John Smith, then you shouldn't be plugging wrestling dates for "John Smith" on a Facebook profile for your real name.  99.9% of the people I come in contact with thru wrestling have no idea what name is on my birth certificate - and they shouldn't. 

2) The Wrestler Wrestles, The Promoter Promotes
     Without exception these days, the business defines the promoter as the person who rents a building and arranges for the ring to arrive.  Or, people think that the promoter is the person who "books" the show.  No, the person in charge of spreading the word, advertising, and building interest for an event is the promoter.  The word "promote" is right there in the title.   There could be fifty different people putting money into the event looking to seek a profit - those are the "investors".  The promoter is the person responsible for getting people into the building, and drawing enough fans for the costs of the show to be covered - including the cost of the talent.
     Now, should the wrestler take it upon themselves to spread the word about where they will be appearing and so forth?  Absolutely.  A wrestler should have their schedule of upcoming appearances listed on a website, and/or they should be plugging dates on social media.  The wrestler should do this to promote themselves, and not necessarily for the company.  If the fanbase of the wrestler attends an even because that particular worker is on the card, that means they are a draw.  Letting your fans know where you will be allows you to become a draw. Second, it allows people who might be interested in using you know when you are booked, and when you aren't.
   What you should not be doing is building websites, making posters, flyering cars, standing outside of Wal-mart handing out handbills, or sending out press releases to websites - unless you are getting paid to do it in some way.  That stuff is the job of the promoter. 

     Take wrestling out of the equation, and pretend you are a professional baseball player instead.  Do you think that there is a first baseman out there in MLB, AAA, AA or A baseball that is expected to bring all of their friends to an event in order to get paid to play in a game?  Do you think that these teams, even at the lowest levels, have management that is only responsible for finding a stadium, and scheduling games?  Wouldn't it be ridiculous if the best player on the team was benched because their backup brought all of their friends and family to the game, so they got to play?
    Even the smallest minor-league teams have promotions departments that are responsible for getting fans to come into a stadium and watch a bunch of nobodies play baseball.  Sure, the players are responsible for doing things like commercials, public appearances, and stuff like that - but they are arranged by the team's promotions department.
     If you are only getting booked because you do favors for a promoter, get out of the business.  That makes you no better than the rat that spreads her legs for the booker to get on the show.  A whore is a whore.  

3) Practice Your Craft...
     The point of being a professional welder is that you are attempting to make a living by being paid to weld things.  You don't weld things for people for free, because then your family doesn't eat.  The same is true with wrestling.
    If you are just starting out as a welder, you can make a name for yourself and build up a resume by perhaps working a low-paying job and mastering your craft, before moving on to a better position in a different shop, starting your own shop, or getting a promotion.  The same applies in wrestling. 
  If you are a young wrestler starting out, you should be looking for as many bookings as you can.  At that point, the biggest and most important thing is practicing your craft.  You need to make a schedule with as few holes as possible.  This is called paying your dues.  This is the time when you pack a cooler on the road full of PB&J because you are driving five hours to wrestle for $5 in front of twenty fans.  This is when four guys take turns driving an eight hour shot all night long because you didn't make enough to get a hotel room.  This is how you build up a resume, just like that welder.

4)...And Make People Pay For Your Services
    However, at some point you should have established yourself enough, and have enough of a schedule built up, where you make the choice to go for quality, and not quantity.  That is where money comes in.
    Never take a booking without knowing the pay situation up-front.  Period.  If a promoter says "I will give you $50, guaranteed" and he tries to give you $10, you either get your $50, or you call the cops, take it out of his ass, or leave with a part of his ring - but you get your $50.  If a promoter tells you "the pay depends on the house we draw", it is ok if you accept the booking, as long as you know that you might not get paid.  If a promoter says "I can give you $25 and if we have a good house, maybe more", then you make sure you get your $25... but if the draw was 1000 fans you better expect more.
    Think about it: Would that welder build something for someone without some kind of agreement on what he will be paid?  If he agrees to build something for $1000, is the person that hired him able to turn to him and say "Hey, my paycheck wasn't as big as I thought it would be, here is $300"?  Of course not.  Work out what you will be paid in advance, and then use the tools at your disposal to make sure you get paid.

5) Be Realistic About Money
     Just because you finished wrestling school and are ready to be on cards doesn't mean you are worth a damn to anyone.  No one should expect to be getting "fair" paydays right out of the gate.  Sometimes it actually does make sense for you to lose money on a booking for the exposure.  If you are fresh out of wrestling school and no one is willing to put you on a card, maybe wrestling for free in front of twenty people is worth it, so that you can get the chance to work in front of a real crowd, video footage, experience, etc.
     At some point though, you have to be realistic.  If you are only getting booked for these type of shitty shows, then you are doing something wrong.  Just because you keep working them does not make you deserve more money.  You deserve more money when you bring more people thru the door.  The type of payday you can get is basic supply & demand.  If people booking shows want to use you, they should be willing to pay for you.  The best way that you can insure this is by keeping your schedule full.  If you have a full schedule, then you are in short supply because you lack available dates.  This causes promoters to pay more for your services on the dates you have available.   
   When you have a full schedule, that is when you can talk realistically about money.  Think about it.  If you only work one place, and they only run once a month, then you are only worth whatever they pay you.  However, if you are booked every Saturday of the month, then if someone wants to book you they have to compete for your services.  Never forget that you are a commodity, but that you have to put in work to make yourself into a commodity. 

6) You Cannot Pay Dues Without Traveling
     A greenhorn learns how the business works in a car.  The business is learned by driving down the road and talking about experiences, sharing stories, and what to do/not do in the business.  Cars are where veterans teach rookies.  When I was a greenhorn, I drove a veteran around, I helped set-up rings, I carried bags, and I shut up and listened.  I asked dumb questions, got ribbed, and learned how the business worked.
     If you never go on the road, never sit in a car and talk about what happened on a show, never try to keep everyone awake until you hit the next town - then you are not paying dues.  Paying dues is not driving thirty minutes to a building in the town you live in.  Paying dues is driving eight hours to a building, then helping set-up a ring, put out chairs, and put on a show.  If you work in one place, in front of one crowd, with the same wrestlers, you will never get any better, because you will not learn the business.  You will always be a greenhorn.
     Guys that travel become a commodity, they become well-rounded workers, and they learn what is bullshit, and what works.  The guys that do not travel will shit all over the guys that do travel.  But while they work in front of the same crowd over and over again, they will be the same shitty wrestler every time - it is the nature of the business.  Experience is how you learn in wrestling, and you cannot get different experiences if you do not travel.  And you cannot pay dues if you do not have experiences.
    "Wrestling as many places as you can" also does not mean wrestling for every promotion in the same area (usually where you live).  This is the quickest way to being an eternal greenhorn.  If you live in Winchestertonville, and you wrestle every weekend within an hour drive of that town, all you are doing is overexposing yourself.  If the fans of the Wincestertonville area can see you on any show in the area on any given weekend, then you are not providing anything unique to a promoter, so you are not a commodity, and you are worthless.  You have to establish yourself in other areas, and on a regular basis. 

7) Be a Damn Professional
     Anyone who tells you that you don't need to do the following things has probably never done a damn thing in this business.
     Professional wrestling is about trusting your physical well-being to another person, in order to tell a story in the ring.  Shit happens and people get hurt, it is the nature of the sport.  Taking advantage of another person's body in order to intentionally do it harm is unprofessional.  Period.  "Shooting" on someone, or "stiffing" them because you do not like them is unprofessional, because it goes in direct contrast with what the business is built on - trust.  Never act like an unprofessional in the ring, and never work with people who are unprofessional.  If you cannot act professional towards someone, avoid them - period. 
     Being a professional also means acting like a professional outside of the ring.  Most college and pro athletes have a dress code for travel and game days.  When I was in high school, varsity athletes had to wear shirts and ties on gameday.  Dress like a professional. I am not saying that you need to wear a $5000 suit to a show, but you should not be dressed like the fans coming to see you perform.  At the very least, dress like you are going on a date.  If you are in a main event, you should probably be wearing a suit, or at the very least a shirt and tie.  Dress appropriate to gimmick, and keep kayfabe.  You should be well groomed and smell nice.  No one wants to work with a guy that stinks.  Make sure your your gear is washed.  Treat wrestling like it is a real job, because it is the wrestling business.
    Always be on time; And by "on time" I mean "early".   As soon as you walk into the building, find the person responsible for you being booked on the card, and shake their hand.  Shake the hand of everyone else too, and introduce yourself by the name you prefer to be called.  Ask the guys in charge if they need any help with things like putting up chairs, etc, and then help out.
    Obey local customs. 
    The weekend warrior type guy that says that it is OK to wear CM Punk shirts to the show, and to arrive after the first match has started is not steering you in the right direction.  He is probably the guy that only works one place, and half-asses everything because to him it is just a hobby. The guy half-assing it might keep another guy in the lockerroom from his big break. Respect the business.

8) Never Settle
     There have been numerous points in my career where I stagnated at a promotion, and if I wanted to keep working there, I would have to basically go back down the card and tread water.  However, I also had the option of packing up and going elsewhere.  If you want to make a name for yourself in this business, you have to constantly push yourself, and grow your business and name.  You cannot be afraid to relocate to another city, or to hop in a car and drive for hours to wrestle.  You just can't.
     You should never feel you owe something to a promoter just because they book you - aside from your best effort in the ring.  Any promoter who says "I booked you when no one else would" as a reason why you should work for them for free, or for less than what others are willing to pay, is working you.  If you want to help someone that gave you a break, or took a chance on you, that is awesome - but you should never feel pressure to work for someone because you used to work for them, or because you took advantage of their opportunities in the past.
     Quite often young guys break into the business working for one promotion, and then get scared to leave when other opportunities present themselves.  Sometimes money is an issue, or it is about exposure, or better matches.  It can be hard sometimes, because in a way it is like leaving the nest... but at some point it either has to be done, or you are letting someone break your will.
    To be more blunt, you do not have to do anything you do not want to do.  You always, ALWAYS have the option of declining a booking, or quitting.

9) Honor Your Bookings
     If you accepted a booking, honor it.  "Honor" doesn't necessarily mean "turn down a better opportunity", as much as it means to "do right by".  If you are booked two hours away for a $50 payday, and someone wants you on the same date an hour away for $75, then you need to take your reputation and the business into account - and a vast majority of the time you will find the concept of "honor your first commitment" will trump all.
    However, maybe the offer is for a tryout for a major promotion, or an overseas tour, or to curtain jerk a show with a guaranteed house of 1000 paid fans?  Usually if you go to the original promoter, explain the opportunity, and come up with a solution to them down the line, things can be worked out.
     Remember, there are a limited number of open dates to be booked, and there is only one of you.  If different promoters are all wanting you on the same dates, then you are a commodity that they need to pay for.  At the same time, you need to maintain the quality of your product (You!), so do not do things that sully your reputation.  If you become known as a guy that no-shows or holds promoters up for more money, you will find your demand goes down.  Do business as a professional.

10) Figure Out What Your Goals Are
    When I decided I wanted to be a wrestler, business was booming in the US, Japan, and Mexico.  There were three major US promotions with weekly television shows on cable television.  However, after about two years that all dried up.  Like most guys that get into wrestling, I did so because I loved wrestling, and I wanted to do it; I had a passion for it.  It got to a point though where I had to decide what I wanted to do as a professional wrestler. 
    Too often guys get into this business thinking "I want to wrestle at Wrestlemania".  While it is awesome that you may have that goal, you need to look at where you are, what you are, and what it takes to achieve your goal.  Nothing is impossible, but you can make it impossible with your attitude, and your choices. 
     If your goal in this business is to wrestle for the WWE, and nothing else matters, then the only logical thing to do is get basic training, and then move and train at a school that is well known as a WWE breeding-ground.
    If you want to hone your skills and be the best possible wrestler that you can be, then find a place that will develop your skills in that way.  If you want to become a lucha libre style flyer, it would be pointless to work in hardcore brawling promotions. 
    If your goal is to make a living at wrestling, then you need to make lifestyle adjustments and do the things necessary to make as much money as possible.
    Guys that want to work for the WWE but do not want to drive an hour for an independent booking are kidding themselves.  If you are signed by the WWE, they expect you to move your entire life to where they are doing their development work.  You will be on the road five or six days a week.  In Mexico guys sometimes wrestle ten matches a week.  Tours in Japan can last six weeks.
      Figure out what you want to do within the professional wrestling business, and then figure out what it takes to get there, and then work towards that goal.

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