#2. The Training School Is Insane
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There are schools for pro wrestlers, just like with any other vocation (it's not the sort of thing you can just go to the park and practice on strangers). And the training schools -- especially the ones back in the old days -- are brutal. Remember, everybody knows that continuing to perform through the injuries is a key part of the job, so that's how they filter guys out. And by that I mean they do their damnedest to cripple you. If you get injured and come back for more, the trainer sees you as worth their time. Hulk Hogan, famed wrestler and enemy of shirt sleeves everywhere, had his leg broken by his trainer in his first session. It's not quite as brutal these days, but let's face it: As long as wrestling is wrestling, the training is going to be about seeing if you can survive the equivalent of getting repeatedly run over by a spandex-wearing garbage truck.
"I'd invite you to feel my abs, but you'll be getting pretty personal with them soon enough."
During one of my training sessions, we were going to practice back body drops, a move where you are thrown, flip in the air, and land on your back. I had never practiced the move before, so their way of easing me into it was to have the biggest guy at the school (I'd say he was around 7 inches taller and well over 100 pounds heavier than I was) throw me into it.
The second time I tried it, he launched me as far as he could, which caused me to rotate too far. I wound up landing square on my ass, which severely (and permanently) damaged my back. I was too hurt to stand (I later found out I had a compressed spine, along with a bruised tailbone). So instead of a stretcher or something, I was carelessly rolled out of the ring and onto the ground (note: if you ever endure a serious back injury, it is advised that you not then immediately go flopping off of a high surface onto a concrete floor).
"Get back here, pussy! It's only a little paralysis!"
One of the guys asked if I was out for the day. When I said that I was, he demanded that I begin fetching them water. Since I couldn't walk, I crawled on my hands and knees into the kitchen and attempted to fill a pitcher from my knees. After crawling with it back to them, the other wrestlers and the trainer ignored me and went about practicing moves. And that's how it was -- injuries like mine were seen as part of training, and thus part of life for a wrestler. I still live with the pain today.
So what's the reward that makes all of this worth it? Not much ...
#1. Almost All Wrestling Positions Are for Low Pay
When I wrestled, $50 a night was considered a good night. In the independent leagues, that's about as good as it gets, other than a few exceptions (such as if the wrestler is well known and loved, like when Raven left the WWE to go back to being an indie wrestler in 2003). So unless you work at the top echelon in the WWE or TNA (which is extremely hard to break into) where the top people make upwards of $10 million a year, you are not going to make a living from working as a wrestler. It's like a pyramid, where only the few guys at the very top get to make big money and become beloved stars of the silver screen.
The average promoter at the indie level just can't afford to shell out a lot of scratch. If they bring in a guest star for a show -- a more famous wrestler like Mick Foley or, more rarely, a celebrity (ladies and gentlemen, paranormal expert Bill Bean!) -- they likely have saved that money up for a bit. Certain promoters can pay more, especially if they're an established company -- for example, Resistance Pro Wrestling in Chicago pays pretty well, thanks to being run by Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan (no, really). But even with all the power of mid-'90s alternative rock behind the event, it still may not pay enough for most wrestlers to go full time. Your average independent wrestler likely works a regular 9-5 job and tries to wrestle anywhere from one to 10 times a month, depending on what the schedule will allow.
Even in the WWE, the pay for most wrestlers isn't great. Not everyone you see on screen is a well-paid regular -- local wrestlers are hired all the time for shows, often not even to wrestle. Sometimes scripts call for "security guards" or some other extras to get in on the action, like if the story involves a fight breaking out backstage, and nine times out of 10 local wrestlers are hired for that event. A lucky few get to enter "squash matches" where they get to fight a billed wrestler (and lose badly, to make the star wrestler look strong). I know some wrestlers who worked for the WWE in a few minor appearances; the top pay was around $3,000 for the tournament. While that is a quick buck, remember, most of these wrestlers then have to go right back to their regular jobs.
"Just put the reports on my desk. I'll get to them after the Vicodin kicks in."
Even among the headlining wrestlers in the WWE, the guys who are taking home six figures have to deal with the fact that A) you can't do this job forever and B) the WWE has no health insurance. So all those horrific daily injuries? Well, let's just say that "huge" salary diminishes with all the medical bills. Want to buy health insurance for yourself to cover them? Make sure you're sitting down when they tell you what your premiums are once you tell them what you do for a living.
So to review, it's almost as if pro wrestling is built on a system designed specifically to filter out all but the absolute craziest of human beings. Which ... actually makes sense, if you think about it.
Related Reading: If you liked learning about life as a wrestler, why not read about what it's like to work as a Dominatrix? Or get the perspective from life inside a mental institution? Cracked has made kind of a habit of talking to people lately: including this escaped Scientologist.