How do we maintain professional wrestler wellness?

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Answered by: Jamel, An Expert in the About The Wrestlers Category
My first experience at a live event was Wrestlemania 2. Sure, it was closed captioned, but that's the way it was back in the mid-80s. You bought a ticket and watched the show in a stadium on a screen. Everyone was there to see Hulk Hogan fight the seemingly unbeatable King Kong Bundy in a steel cage match. Hulk came in with busted ribs, and we were genuinely worried about his well being. However, what we learned a year later(when on screen enemies Jim Duggan and Iron Sheik were caught by police together, with a ton of drugs) was that it was all part of the theatrics.

From that moment on, the general reaction to anything pro wrestling related is "it's fake." And yes, it IS a scripted show that contains acts of violence, like your normal police or crime drama. The difference is the "theatrics" are actually physical athletics, and that leads into the main problem with American wrestling(specifically, WWE): no human being can take this kind of punishment 300 nights a year.

The biggest ongoing problem with pro wrestlers is the lack of professional wrestler wellness options. Instead, there was a serious abuse of painkillers and steroids throughout the 80s and 90s. While it has gotten somewhat better(WWE sponsors a wellness initiative), one look at the wrestlers themselves shows you that they are still taking something. They use the juice to get bigger, because larger than life figures are promoted better in WWE. However, in order to get into the mid card/main event, you need to persevere. You can't take time off or else someone else will get your spot. You know what they say: out of sight, out of mind.

That's where the painkillers come in. And this, combined with the juice, is a lethal cocktail. If the wrestler's also into alcohol and/or heavy drugs, it's even worse. The wrestlers who have passed away (partially or totally) from substance abuse is too long to list so I'll mention a few notable names: Chris Benoit, Eddy Guerrero, Brian Pillman, Sherri Martel, Rick Rude and Curt Hennig.

There is also a group of wrestlers who you can tell simply should not be out there. They give their bodies to this sport because they love it, but do not realize their bump card is expired. The most glaring example of this is Kurt Angle. He has been asked to quit for his long term health numerous times, but doesn't seem to get the hint.

Wrestlers live with pain throughout and long after their careers. Here's something to think about: whenever a wrestler falls on his/her back, it's similar to a 30 mph car crash. Each wrestler has a 'bump card': a specific amount of falls he/she can take before their back gives out. They do this Saturday through Wednesday, and maybe they get Thursday and Friday off. The cycle continues.

The solution to this professional wrestler wellness issue is glaringly simple. The best part is that it is already in place, in Japan. The major wrestling companies (All Japan, New Japan, NOAH) run 2 week tours, then they allow their talent to take 2 weeks off. They are treated with respect, and if they cannot wrestle, they are taken off the card and given time to rest. As a result, most wrestlers are able to wrestle longer.

Will they adopt that system in America? Unless the wrestlers decide to unionize, I doubt it. That's right, they are considered 'independent contractors.' There is too much money for WWE in the current touring system that gives wrestlers no time to rest. In my eyes, they are treated as badly as circus animals. But until someone with money and clout steps up and unionizes the wrestlers, this vicious cycle will continue.

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