It’s often criticized that certain professionals receive more wealth than they deserve or work for. The reason being, there is no definite formula to a small fortune, thousands of roads all can arrive at the same destination of wealth be it on purpose of by accident. Enterprise, enthusiasm, hard work, or inheritance, there is a plethora of millionaires who accumulated their wealth with different techniques, regardless, each one has seven or more figures to show for it. Such moneymakers come under fire from the ‘common Joe’, accused of an unlimited selection of claims concerning their riches, the most common accusation being that said millionaires did not ‘earn’ their wealth ‘like the rest of us do’.
The most common targets for such envy are celebrities. Flawless appearances, excessive collections of material goods, and the embodiment of everything no one has. The universal argument being that their income doesn’t reflect the amount of work their career requires. Millions of dollars for several months work on the surface seems like a desirable occupation. Although the term ‘celebrity’ may instantly conjure up images of fur coats and 24 karats, it often misleads the average person to think that anyone dubbed a ‘celebrity’ has a seven or eight figure income. Pro wrestlers get the worst of both worlds.
The WWE very much portray their workers as celebrities, entitling them superstars, flamboyant entrances, touring the world like the greatest of the world’s rockstars and generally creating a whirlwind of media attention that follows them on their travels. It’s difficult to argue when the WWE is a household name and regardless of whether or not they watch the shows, almost anyone can recite the name of at least three different WWE superstars, past or present. Wrestlers are no doubt celebrities. Celebrities that spend the majority of their time at the wheel of a car full of sweaty muscle-bound men, touring the highways of the USA, rain, hail or shine.
Wrestlers themselves are often overlooked as breadwinners, working men and women with children. Never do people stop to think how much of the cash from the tickets and merchandise that they just bought goes to the celebrities they’ve come to be entertained and thrilled by. Gorilla Monsoon once said that the only reason anyone would wrestler was the money, but wrestling isn’t as lucrative as the viewer may be led to believe.
The average WWE mid carder earns a salary of between $250,000 and $500,000. To all appearances, the said salary brackets seem substantial but in comparison to other ‘celebrities’, pro wrestlers are the poor over worked cousins.
A little known cost of the profession is travel. Only occasionally does the company step in to either arrange travel or assist in the cost of traveling to each venue. Thus, a large chunk of the average wrestler’s earnings are spent simply to arrive on time to their next appointment. Some of the top tier stars are escorted via limousine from events, but these are only upper crust veterans such as Ric Flair. Being charged for travel related to your occupation may seem inconvenient but generally inconsequential on the surface. But, the sheer volume of travel that each wrestler must trek accumulates to inflate the financial strain. The WWE relentlessly tour all year, briefly pausing only during Christmas. No Hollywood starlet would be seen working non-stop for even half that duration. The schedule is constant and unyielding, worsened by the never ending demand to pay for it, straight from the side pocket of the performer.
Each year, post-Wrestlemania, WWE management carries out a string of firings. Be it to prune the talent base, or to keep the lackadaisical workers on their toes, whichever it may be, it still sends a clear message that the WWE does not feel bound by employee loyalty or reliability. Contracts, on the whole, are crafted to advantage the WWE and not the worker, so in most cases, regardless of the years guaranteed on paper, the WWE ultimately has the killswitch on most stars’ careers. And for this very reason, the career of pro wrestling is not a solid foundation to support a family, particularly when you may be unemployed on a whim of management. Such faceless job insecurity would never be tolerated in the hallowed halls of Hollywood, despite its nefarious reputation for backstabbing.
Becoming a WWE ‘celebrity’ does not occur overnight. The eighteen-year journey of Chris Benoit into the spotlight has been highlighted recently, respecting his dedication to the arduous expedition that finally resulted in him briefly holding the World Heavyweight Title. There have been less than a handful of WWE champions over the decades; few have been able to reach the zenith of the sport, each having a story of agony and loneliness that got them to be in possession of the Holy Grail. But for every champion with a story, there are three midcarders, four lowcarders, a women’s wrestler, and seven Indy wrestlers with the same story. The fact is that the majority of prowrestlers, whichever federation they compete in, have a story of pain and anguish as well. The decades of work that are required to be in the WWE are paid off with a salary that is squandered on petrol money, and the fact that you may be ‘cut loose’ at any given moment. Whereas a leading actress may have to endure bit parts and roles in telemovies before she showers in the celebrity limelight.
In essence, wrestling is not a career. It’s a job. The length of career of a wrestler is governed by their bodies, wrestling is physical within itself, but in tandem with little rest and a taxing schedule, it becomes unsustainable. So the journey into the spotlight often means that the stay in the spotlight is fleeting before either the ex-star is fired, gets conscripted to a desk job, or simply continues to make appearances until they shrug off the mortal coil. The majority of WWE stars, once leaving the company, are left to use the only skill they have been taught, wrestling, and thus spending the rest of their days doing casual visits for struggling independent federations, in order to the support their families. The reason for this is that working for the WWE has no super annuation policy (a program where an employee or employer deposits regular installments of their income into an account in order to earn interest and to be used as income once retired). This means once a wrestler is let go, he or she is left with no means to support themselves and their family. Why isnt’t such a program adopted in the? Firstly, it isn’t practical with the sheer number of workers that are hired and fired each year, but mostly because no one works for the company for a duration where such a program is useful or even worth the organisation.
Reasonable pay, traveling expenses, job insecurity, decades simply to get to the big time, and no avenue of income once retired during your middle age, the every day behind the scenes goings-on of celebrities. As mentioned above, Gorilla Monsoon said that money was the only incentive to get into the business, but looking at the costs and sacrifices, money would the be the sole reason not to get into the business. So why are there men in the world who are treated like celebrities in the flash of a camera, but in reality have their nose to the grind twenty four hours a day, seven days a week? Not for the money. For the satisfaction. The satisfaction of achieving a goal and standing on a ringpost, arms held high staring into a sea of hands, faces and cheers. That’s what wrestlers get paid in, glory. The money is purely accidental.
If you would like to email me, feel free to send any feedback or questions to me at TheButchershopColumn@hotmail.com.
Over and Out
Have a news tip? Attended an event and want to send a live report?