25 Mar

We call it professional wrestling, but for much of it’s history was it really professional?

Up until the 1980’s wrestling was a wild west show, a frontier show, close to it’s roots in the travelling shows, the fairs, and the carnivals of the century before.

Small regional promotions put on small shows, in small bingo halls and arenas, in front of small crowds, and apart from in the 1950’s the only television deals were regional deals, so there was no real money in the industry.

In those days the athletes were athletes, they were rough, tough bruisers, the real deal, guys that had graduated from the school of hard knocks, and went out night after night, after night to entertain these small crowds, while picking up bumps, bruises, and breakages along the way.

People like Verne Gagne left home at 15, to make his way in the wold.

Roddy Piper was even younger, he got expelled from school at 14, came home, got into a fist fight with his father about the expulsion, packed his bags and walked out the door.

By 15 he was 400 miles away and making his pro debut.

To live like that you have to be strong and Rod was, he wrestled, he boxed (Golden Gloves winner), and he was an American Judo Champion, and he was out every night working his butt off, to keep a roof over his head.

Back in those days you worked.

People talk about the gruelling schedules these days but they are light compared with how they used to be. Piper wrestled over 7000 times in his career, and these were not the 3 minute matches we see on a Monday nights Raw, these were full blown brawls, day in, day out.

Back in the day you were often called upon to wrestle 90 or 100 days straight, with no days off, and with the wages you were getting, and the closed shop nature of the bussiness, you had no choice but to do it.

It was a wild west business.

Then the 1980’s happened, and wrestling went national again, and an endless cycle sky rocketed with it.

You’d finish a match, in one city at 10pm, your body beaten black and blue, sprains, twists, maybe even a fracture, and you’d pop some pills, to mask the pain, get on a coach and travel hundreds of miles across the country for another show, the next night.

And by the time you got to the next city, you’d be tired, and you’d have had no sleep, so you’d take a few uppers, to keep you awake, and you’d climb into that ring again, hoping the painkillers would mask any pains you still felt from the night before.

And then it was rinse and repeat.

With that schedule you didn’t have time to work out properly, and so you’d also take some steroids, and other supplements, to keep you in shape, and so your drug cocktail grew, and grew.

By the late 1980’s some wrestlers were taking upwards of 800 to 1000 pills and supplements a day.

On top of this there was a pressure to compete, a pressure to have the perfect physique, and to engage in ever more outrageous stunts, and spots to thrill the audience.

The out come was inevitable, and one by one this crazy wild west world started taking the lives of various wrestlers.

I read an article on this site the other day, a fictional article, a fairy tale story, that wound up saying nothing happened, nothing changed, people just forgot those that died, and no one tried to do anything about it.

It was a shocking and offensive article, because it was unreasearched, and untrue.

On May 23, 1999 Owen Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event.

He was 34 years old.

He was Roddy Piper’s cousin, and to this day he has never forgiven Vince Russo for writing such a ridiculous entrance.

Russo had no clue about the industry.

He still has no clue about the industry, and everything he touches turns to dust.

Three years later Owen’s brother-in-law, “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith died of a heart attack while on vacation.

An autopsy revealed that past anabolic steroid use may have played a part in his death.

Shortly after that Bret Hart had a stroke, and a few years later Chris Benoit, a friend of the Hart family, murdered his wife and son and subsequently hanged himself.

Tests were conducted on Benoit’s brain by Julian Bailes, the head of neurosurgery at West Virginia University, and results showed that “Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.”

What do you think it does to a man, like Bret Hart, or Roddy Piper, or any other wrestler, watching his family and friends die?

It’s a haunting experience.

Everyday you live with those deaths, and every day you ask yourself, could you hve made a difference, could you have changed anything, could you have saved their lives?

Every day over the last decade or two WWE have taken steps to improve the safety of the sport.

Schedules have been cut down, some moves have been outlawed, unprotected chair shots to the head have been removed from the program, and a wellness program has been introduced that tests for recreational drug use and abuse of prescription medication, including anabolic steroids.

Under the guidelines of the policy, talent is also tested annually for pre-existing or developing cardiac issues.

Anyone caught repeatedly in breach of the program will be offered rehab, and suspended, or fired.

I won’t say the industry is drugs free today, sport never will be, but it is at last becoming professional.

Thirty years ago you stumbled out of the ring, and popped some pills, before getting on a bus to your next destination.

Today you leave the ring, and the first thing that happens is you see a doctor, that travels with the shows, who checks you over to see if you’re OK.

Thirty years ago you took pills to survive, but today you’re regularly tested, to ensure you don’t become dependent on pharmaceuticals, to survive.

Thirty years ago you might work one hundred days straight, but today you get a couple of days off each week.

It’s a different world, and it had to be.

The old world saw many deaths, people like Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Chris Benoit, and Brian Pillman, but it also saw a few survivors, from amongst their friends and families, people like Roddy Piper, Bruce Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Cowboy Bob Orton.

Look at the WWE today, look at the roster.

You have David Hart Smith, Natalya Neidhart, and Randy Orton.

Do you think their surviving family members would have let them anywhere near a ring, if it wasn’t a different world today?

The world of professional wrestling is finally growing up, and finally living up to it’s name, and becoming professional.

Whatever we think of Vince McMahon, and whatever we think of his motivations, we have to salute him for that.

He took a rough, tough, frontier sport, a sport that fostered a culture of drugs and death, and slowly, over the years, he has cleaned it up, he’s got rid of the Vince Russo’s, the wild and crazy stunts, and instead brought in a culture of safety, security, and wellness, setting bench marks that I hope other promotions will follow.


4 Responses to “Pro-Wrestling”

  1. chinmay March 25, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Simply amazing article Chantlle. I am really grateful that you invited me to read your blog.

    Even today life of wrestlers from minor leagues is still not so great. In fact, if we move out of north-america and head south, it is more dangerous from what I have read.

    When it comes to WWE, I want them to take one more step in ensuring wellness of the superstars. That is psychological assistance. Staying away from family, playing a gimmick which is in fact alter biography and constant pressure has worse effects on mind.

    Anyway, again as i said above, fabulous work.

    • Chantelle Toombs March 25, 2011 at 7:09 pm #


      Just started here, so I’m wasting a lot of time trying to get the thing looking and working as I want it lol


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