Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Things They Don't Teach in Wrestling School: Part 1

The older I get the more I see that young people in our business of wrestling have so little regard for its history and traditions. A big reason for this that they simply aren't taught about the way it was and why. Most of the wrestling schools that are out there are run by guys who never experienced the territory days up close. So here we go with the first in a series of "Things They Don't Teach in Wrestling School."

In the days of the wrestling territories, wrestlers lived by a certain code of conduct. That conduct was reinforced by the various wrestling offices, who were, by and large, thriving businesses that ran regular circuits and where wrestlers could make some semblance of a living.

When Vince McMahon took the then WWF national in the mid-80's, regional territories simply couldn't compete and those offices gradually disappeared. Without full time territories, there were many areas of the country still under served by live pro wrestling. This was the real birth of what we now refer to as "independent wrestling." The "indies" are really a relatively new phenomenon in wrestling.

Where once there were territory owners and veteran stars to teach younger wrestlers, and steady work in front of crowds from which to learn, the standards suddenly dropped. Ex-wrestlers opened wrestling schools. Now you had a bunch of "wrestlers" running around who just wanted to wrestle, so in the tradition of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, they put on their own shows just so they could work. Some of those guys then opened up their own schools, so they could charge other kids a few grand a pop, and those guys would run their own shows, so their students could work. The "business", if you want to call it that, became more about working for the sake of working, than about running a successful business.

"Independent wrestling" is a broad term that covers a lot of ground. Not all independents are the same. It used to be that an independent was any company that ran live events, but had no TV and did not run a regular circuit. There are a few independent companies that do have local TV and do run regular circuits, but they are the exception.

Generally speaking, independent wrestling companies break down like this:

"The Sold Show" Promotion: This is the kind of company that only runs fundraisers and events that a third party pays them to do. This was the way independent wrestling operated for the most part in New England for years before NECW came along. The formula was simple: Get two or more ex-national stars to headline and use the local boys as filler underneath. Most of these shows would take place in high schools and in the 80's and 90's, it would not be unusual to get 1,500 to 2,000 fans in a high school gym for shows of this type. In the late 90's, when WWF came out with DX and Steve Austin and the halls of our high schools were filled with kids doing the crotch chop and flipping the bird, many high schools forbade wrestling from coming back and this killed that type of business.

The Wrestling School Promotion: This is the current popular type of structure. A wrestler opens a wrestling school. He gets 20 or 30 students who each pay anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 to train to become pro wrestlers. The school owner uses the tuition money to float small scale shows, which he makes the students appear on for little or no money. Because the shows are so cheap to operate, and because the labor is practically free, Mr. Wrestling School Owner is now a promoter too.

The Vanity Press/Weekend Warrior/Fantasy Promotion: Wrestling school dropouts who weren't good enough to be booked by major companies or guys who trained for a while and just want to go out and have fun decide to put on some shows. They know they aren't going to be making a lot of money if any, but that's not the point. This is the pro wrestling equivalent to poker night or bowling night for the boys, except they take bumps and charge admission. This category also includes the non-wrestler who dreams of being the next Vince McMahon but knows little or nothing about how a real wrestling business is operated, expect what he or she sees on TV.

The Modern Day Territory: These are the companies that aspire to be thriving businesses. They run regular shows. They sometimes sell shows. They try and run their business the old school way in the modern world. This is the category NECW falls under.

It should be noted that none of these categories is necessarily a bad or evil way of doing business. Unfortunately, if you're not on TV, the general public sees all independents as equals and can't discern between one or the other.

Sadly, a lot of wrestlers see it that way too. The "a show is just a show" mentality is pervasive in today's business. It is often difficult for a company that strives to be taken seriously to operate under old school traditions, because the talent doesn't even know what old school tradition is.

For instance, we had a tag team that was set to debut for us recently. We spent months building up their debut with TV promos, promos that screened on our tron at our live events, even a live angle where they appeared on tape. We shot and aired promos specific to who they were debuting against and had a couple of programs already mapped out.

After all this build up, said team - I won't mention their names now - sent us an e-mail saying that they got some dates in Florida and that they can't afford to come back.

This team just wasted months of effort on our part. They screwed up our booking, as well as programs involving other workers. Old school tradition dictates that you NEVER blow off dates you've shot promos and have been built up for - especially your debut! Even WWE lets you play out your commitments, if they sign you. That move was the ultimate disrespect - to the promoters, as well as their fellow workers. We could never trust these goofs again, nor would we suggest any other promoter do so either.

I'll have more on this in future entries. Thanks for reading!


Anonymous said...

Yup..... That about sums it up Sheldon.....

Brian Tramel said...

Enjoyed this article tons!! I plugged you on my site.

Anonymous said...

You said it all.

CMj said...

Excellent blog about "underground" wrestling. ("Underground" is the term a friend of mine at work uses)

"Rule number one of NECW - You don't talk about NECW. . ."

Seriously, though, this was quite an insight to wrestling that isn't the WWE and I look foward to part two.

Anonymous said...

"The Vanity Press/Weekend Warrior/Fantasy Promotion: They know they aren't going to be making a lot of money if any, but that's not the point. This is the pro wrestling equivalent to poker night or bowling night for the boys, except they take bumps and charge admission."

This is where I think im at. I dont know if its a bad thing or a good thing. I have no wrestling training and am thinking about joining a school. I just a regular young man with a regular job that wants to learn the business, but im afraid of how I would be looked at by the boys that see wrestling as their whole life and dont have a plan B. Its not that I wouldent be as commited to learning a craft. I just wouldent want to been seen as a bored money mark.
I look at it in the same vein as people that go to acting school. 99.999% of people that attend such a school are not going to make it to Hollywood, but if you learn how to act and do community theather for the rest of your life because you love it. Thats pretty cool too right. Well any feedback you can give me is great.