Monday, July 02, 2007

Weekend Notes & Even More Benoit Fallout

I want to thank all the great fans who showed up to support NECW this past Saturday night in Quincy. This was just a great night of action and you should kick yourself if you missed it, because this one was something special. I will address the card in another post.

To be honest with you, I was scared of what Saturday might bring. Our company had put up six straight sell outs in Quincy the months previous to this past weekend's event. We skipped a month due to National Guard activity that made the venue unavailable to us for the month of May. We had a tremendous event on paper going in.

The Benoit tragedy changed everything.

As much as I tried to rationalize the situation as it pertained to NECW, I was still scared. Ours is a business where when scandal hits it's like a truck driving at high speed through a great big puddle of condemnation. It's not about whether or not you will get wet, but how wet you're going to get and how fast you can get dry again. My hope was that after close to 7 years of presenting professional wrestling, our fans would see past the Benoit tragedy and know that we have yet to let them down. Thankfully, my faith in our fans was not misplaced.

The Benoit situation has started an outcry for stricter regulation both from inside and outside the industry. There is a hysteria that has begun to swirl around this issue because a heinous crime was perpetrated in this latest tragedy. Sad to say, if there were no murder and just "another dead wrestler," no one would be talking about this. But in the news business the credo is, "If it bleeds, it leads." And underneath the blood shed in this latest tragedy, there is that long string of fatalities in our business in recent years. It's easy for the press to pick up the steroid flag and fly it high. And while the Benoit situation goes much, much deeper than steroids, the sordid history of death in recent years is now becoming a media battle cry for some greater level of scrutiny in pro wrestling.

Let me say here that "wrestling" is not the villain. There is a drug culture that has grown around WWE's version of wrestling due to the "success" of the bodybuilder look. The demand by WWE for chiseled physiques on a challenging road schedule is what has to change. The view of what a "wrestler" looks like is what has to change.

In NECW, and many dozens of independent companies throughout the country, the prerequisite for getting a spot is talent and ability over cosmetic appeal. We want guys in shape, but not looking like they are ready to explode. Our job has been to build our business to where that mentality and approach becomes a viable business strategy and it is starting to happen.

It is inevitable that our company will be painted with the same stained brush as those who attack what they think "wrestling" is. It isn't fair.

My friend, Zach Arnold, wrote a very interesting piece for CBS Sportsline that you can read by clicking here. I was quoted in the article and am rather upset about it, because I covered a lot more territory that put those quote in greater perspective.

I said that most independent companies would cease to exist if they had to pay for drug testing. On this level of the business, the monies made don't support a drug-fueled lifestyle. I would suggest that in WWE, you could do all the testing you want but you can't test people and regulate how they live their lives.

What it does not say is that our company was specifically meant to present pro wrestling in a way that gets away from the image of impossibly built behemoths. In fact, if anything, wrestling has shrunk since the 80's. Very few big bodybuilder types are signing up at local wrestling schools. Most of the guys who come through the ranks these days are smaller in size.

We cannot and do not test our athletes for steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Do some of our guys take them? I couldn't tell you. It certainly isn't apparent from the looks of them. On our level, it's not necessary. The shows are drawing because they are well booked with capable athletes telling compelling stories. Wrestling works without that type of "jacked up is better" mindset.

Let's not confuse "wrestling" with WWE. Not all of wrestling is WWE. Not every promoter has the same mindset. In fact, many of our fans, particularly families with children, express to me that they come to our shows specifically because they love wrestling, but don't like the WWE's presentation of it.

If there is any answer to the long string of premature deaths in pro wrestling, it's to create a true alternative to the drug fueled culture that WWE represents. We need companies that can be financially viable by going back to the old school philosophies of doing business. Just because it's not being done on a national stage right now, doesn't mean it couldn't work. That approach, however must start from a local level and be built upward. Few people have the patience to do that. I have spent the past 7 years building my business that way and we are slowly coming to a place where that is happening. We are still years away, but I am more convinced than ever that it will happen.

I am also convinced that pro wrestling will survive and thrive. My hope is that WWE will make significant changes, including philosophical ones, that make this business, and more importantly the perception of this business, a healthier one for those who are in it.

1 comment:

Bix said...

"On this level of the business, the monies made don't support a drug-fueled lifestyle."

Then explain the physiques of much of the ROH roster, which includes a wrestler whose gimmick is that he is on steroids.

There are also plenty of roided up guys in indies much smaller than ROH.

It's disingenuous to suggest otherwise.