The Dark Side of being a WWE Superstar
I am sure most pro wrestling fans, including me, appreciate all the hard work that goes into becoming a pro wrestler and know that it is no walk in the park. But the truly stark reality of being a WWE Superstar hit me when I was watching the latest episode of WWE 24 featuring The Hardy Boys.
While Jeff's problems with substance abuse are widely known and well documented, Matt's struggles with painkillers and alcoholism are relatively lesser known to most fans. This is not their problem alone, but something that many top Superstars have gone through. The worst case in point, of course, being the Benoit case which ended up in a horrible double-murder-homicide; WWE faced some of the darkest days in its long and storied history at the time.
I reiterate - being a pro wrestler is tough, but what is even tougher is being a top wrestler in the biggest pro wrestling company in the world. To understand why, let's take a look at what goes into being a 'WWE Superstar'.
The first point that comes to mind is the travel schedule. All full-time WWE Superstars are on the road for more than 300 days a year. That is almost ten months travelling from one arena to the next, leaving behind their families, not enjoying the comfort of their homes, travel fatigue, and basically, packing your whole life into a suitcase and carrying it to a different city every other day. This is most often the reason that many top wrestlers burn out after a while and choose to take their skills to smaller companies like TNA/Impact and other independent promotions, so that they have some time to breathe.
Next comes the physical exertion. Yes, WWE is scripted. Yes, the wrestlers don't hit each other as hard as possible like in MMA and other combat sports. Yes, the ring is lined with springs and plywood which absorb some impact of the fall. But all this absolutely does not mean that the wrestlers do not get hurt during the course of a match, even while taking simple bumps, such as from a Suplex.
In fact, a mistimed move, or maybe a fall gone awry by just a few inches, is capable of ending careers. Maybe even lives. Case in point - Droz, who has been a quadriplegic with no movement in his legs and arms for many years now, after he took a Powerbomb the wrong way from D'Lo Brown. Take even Bret Hart, for instance. His career was cut short because of a badly timed boot to the face from Goldberg. A simple boot to the face!
Moving on to finances. It is easy to assume all WWE Superstars rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for the work they put in but the reality is, that is true only of the crème de la crème in the company. Also, if you think all accommodation and travel is taken care of by the company, you'd be wrong again! The fact of the matter is, only air travel expenses are covered by the company, whereas the Superstars have to pay out of their own pocket for everything right from ring attire and props to road travel expenses, rental cars, hotels, trainers and all other expenses they incur on the road.
Thinking of stars who have transitioned to Hollywood and the moolah from the movies they make? Once again, as long as they are contracted under the WWE, a part of the payment from any independent projects the wrestlers undertake will go to the company.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not trying to paint Vince McMahon and Co. as ruthless businessmen who do not care about their wrestlers. The truth could not be further. Various backstage anecdotes and wrestler biographies describe Vince as someone whose passion for the business is unparalleled. In fact, most wrestlers consider Vince to be a sort of father figure and a mentor to them, along with being their boss. Of course, this will hold true as long as you don't step out of bounds and decide to cross the boss! Think Big Cass. He probably had a bright career in front of him in WWE, but alleged bad attitude and behaviour probably cost him a stellar career as a top guy.
Coming back to the life of a wrestler, another crucial aspect which decides the physical well-being of a wrestler - healthcare costs and insurance. Most fans might know by now that WWE Superstars are technically not considered full-time employees by the company. In fact, they are 'Independent Contractors'. Hence, the employer need not pay for the employees' insurance and other healthcare costs.
While it is true that WWE does pay for surgeries of wrestlers who sustain injuries on the job, we can almost certainly assume that all other healthcare costs have to be borne by the wrestlers themselves. Again, that means dishing out thousands of dollars on meds, tests/procedures, routine checkups and other costs. Since pro wrestlers do not exactly qualify for a regular health insurance due to their injury-prone lifestyle, that once again means that these stars dish out a significant chunk of their paycheck to take care of their health.
When these Superstars are just not able to cope with all these impediments, that's when things start spiraling out of control. Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Shawn Michaels, both Hardy brothers are only the beginning of a long list of wrestlers who started abusing pain meds, alcohol and other drugs to cope with the physical pain and the mental stress. Of course, the Wellness Policy now in place prevents wrestlers from inflicting too much self-harm if they want to stay on in the company, but that still doesn't prevent these men and women turning to habits like alcoholism to cope.
What I am trying to say is, most of these Superstars that we see on-screen week after week are men and women of utmost physical and mental strength. Most of them cope with all the stress just by clinging on to their passion for the business and their love for the millions of fans. All we can do is watch them, cheer them, respect what they do for the sake of entertainment and vow to keep our passion for pro wrestling intact!
And maybe not bring a bloody beach ball to the arena. Maybe.