By the time this column goes to post, all the speculation might be finished. We might know for a “factÃ¢â‚¬Â that Chris Benoit murdered his wife and 7 year-old son in a fit of Ã¢â‚¬Ëœroid rage, or worse, that he’s a cold-hearted, calculating killer and planned a bizarre weekend of violence and bible placement. Perhaps he was depressed over his son’s “Fragile X SyndromeÃ¢â‚¬Â, or maybe after 22 years on the road, it all became too much for him and he simply snapped. Benoit killed his wife and their child, but the specific, gruesome details are not the points upon which I’m most focused. In fact, we’ll most likely never understand exactly why this tragedy occurred, and I’m not willing to claim the rigors of the pro wrestling lifestyle were enough to justify Benoit’s heinous acts.
Still, this horrific affair is devastating enough (on several levels) that it’s forced me and many other fans to take another look at the current state of the business. As one late, great Canadian wrestler might say, “enough is enough, and it’s time for a change!Ã¢â‚¬Â
TODAY’S ISSUE: Things must change.
I know, I know. The obvious choice is for them to simply NOT choose to be pro wrestlers, or to do it for a time and then make a clean break as the Rock, Jericho, Stratus, and others have successfully done. But let’s accept that whatever gets into their blood when they perform live is like a drug, and most pro wrestlers are not just going to walk away from the bright lights and cheering crowds. After years of hardship, sacrifice, and paying dues, a performer who’s made it to the biggest stage in their chosen industry isn’t likely to give it all up very easily. And they shouldn’t have to. It wouldn’t be too difficult to slightly adjust WWE’s current business model so the McMachine could take much better care of its “independent contractorsÃ¢â‚¬Â.
I wouldn’t presume to claim any of the following as my own original ideas. I’m simply concurring with, and reinforcing my support of them because I firmly believe they could change the entire nature of the industry and fix what’s broken. Here then, are some suggestions to WWE about how to press on with the business of sports entertainment while also increasing the stability, long-term physical health, emotional stability and family wellness, and creative juices of their performers:
Rotating “darkÃ¢â‚¬Â periods. With the library of footage at WWE’s disposal, they could place one brand at a time in an “off season” for about a month and show highlights or classic matches/angles during that brand’s television slot, while the other two brands continue to produce live shows. This would give these road warriors some down time to look forward to occasionally, and give stars from the other two brands more ppv slots to fill. Remember, less John Cena at the top of the ppv card might mean another tag team match, a long cruiserweight contest, or an elevation of a young performer ready for his or her first big program on the big stage.
The wrestlers on hiatus could schedule surgeries during their down month, heal, rest, spend quality time with their families, and perhaps keep their lives centered. WWE could even “trade” a guy to the brand that’s about to go “darkÃ¢â‚¬Â if he needs rest or requires medical treatment, so he doesn’t have to wait three months for his next “vacationÃ¢â‚¬Â. If a storyline demanded it, the “darkÃ¢â‚¬Â performers could always take a two-day trip to Connecticut to cut some promos or vignettes without significantly interrupting their holiday.
If a performer on one-month hiatus gets antsy, he could request authorization to appear at one or two WWE house shows during that month, but must not be allowed to book indy dates unless he appears in a non-wrestling role. WWE could address those requests on a case-by-case basis.
In the numerous wrestling autobiographies I collect, I’ve learned about a plethora of injuries wrestlers have endured that would have required nothing more that 3-6 weeks of rest to heal properly. No surgery, no rehab, no excessive meds. But most guys are terrified to relinquish a decent push or angle because they don’t know if or when another will come around for them again. My suggestion would solve that problem, but it would also force Vince to provide something other than original programming for a period of time, so he might balk at the idea. This leads to another version of the same concept.
Thinning the heard. Forget sending individual shows into “darkÃ¢â‚¬Â periods. Just take the 33 percent or so of the company who don’t get much television time, have nothing happening character-wise, are not in a current feud, or are just growing a little stale from across all three brands, and send them on hiatus. Same deal as above, but now WWE operates with less folks mingling backstage at each event. This would have the same effect as my first idea, including freshening up the card, but would keep all three brands active all year, thereby allowing Vince to maintain the status quo. There would just be fewer WWE wrestlers criss-crossing the country at any given time, and the television product would look almost identical to today.
House show schedule. Alright, now I’ll shoot for the moon. How many live events are necessary week after week? I know this one’s a pipe dream because it will directly impact WWE’s bottom line, although you’d think after all the deaths of grapplers between the ages of 40-45 in the past few years Vinny Mac might be able to look at his bank book and accept a slight decrease in the bottom line for the sake of the business (what am I, high?).
Couldn’t they remove one house show from each brand’s schedule per week? Of course it would cut revenues, but it might help the overall well being of these men and women over the long haul, and perhaps prevent the next tragedy. What difference could one less day on the road, one less night of bumping, 24 more hours with the family, pets, and non-wrestling hobbies, or just a little more quiet time make to these entertainers whose lives are always on the go in an insane way? Perhaps all the difference in the world.
I realize a lot of people travel for business, but not many of them eat chair shots and endure back bumps once they arrive, then force their larger-than-average frames into economy cars for long road trips or uncomfortable airplane seats before arriving in a new town to do it all over again the next night.
And in terms of the actual character’s absence from television, think of how the most hated heel in TNA, Jeff Jarrett, had been drawing X-Pac heat in Orlando until he disappeared for a while. With one bit of back-story and a short sabbatical, Jarrett’s presence in the iMPACT! Zone now feels fresh and exciting again. (I realize his “back-storyÃ¢â‚¬Â was caused by a real-life tragedy, but Creative could always write something compelling for those folks who are on hiatus, so their return could be powerful and make the character fun again.)
I know this sounds naÃƒÂ¯ve, but damn, I’m 35 years old, and a life-long fan. I’m sick and tired of seeing 40 year-old wresters dying, lives being torn apart, and dangerous injuries! Mr. McMahon, I implore you. Your employees are under too much strain, your core fan base is sickened, and some are even tuning out for good. Please, before anything else goes horribly wrong, take a look at your product, and make the minor changes required to positively affect these warriors we love to watch.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – I have nothing more to say this week. It’s been a difficult time to be a pro wrestling fan and writer. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones, my friends. Rest in peace, Nancy and Daniel. – Vinny