(2) Would Larry Zbyszko have ever become a 'living legend' if Bruno Sammartino hadn't been his next door neighbor and Verne Gagne his father-in-law?
(3) Would Brutus Beefcake or Hercules Hernandez have ever got a start if they hadn't been Hulk Hogan's boyhood buddies.
(4) Would Dallas Page have a 'wrestling' career or Kimberley Page 'the Nitro girls' if it weren't for Eric Bischoff's personal indebtedness.
This article (from Wrestling
Eye, September 1990) describes the cronyism and nepotism 'behind the
scenes' of pro-wrestling promotions.
'NOT ALL GUTS AND GLORY' Pro-wrestling is as difficult to break into as a high school clique. It is one of America's last "father and son" industries; an industry where it is definitely who you know, not what you know, that is important. Consider how many stars in the sport are second generation wrestlers: Curt Hennig, Greg Valentine, Greg Gagne, Tully Blanchard, Barry Windham, Kendall Windham, Randy Savage, Lanny Poffo, Ted DiBiase, Kerry Von Erich, Terry and Dory Funk, Eddie Gilbert, Jeff Jarrett, Owen Hart, Bret Hart, David Sammartino, and so on and on.
"But there are plenty of wrestlers who are not sons of former wrestlers," says the naive would-be grappler. And he is correct. However, to get through the maze that is the road into the sport, the beginner needs a guide who can also get him through the front door of even the smallest promotion. A guide who knows the password. For example.
West Texas State University has a fraternity of professional grapplers who have helped each other through the ominous front door. Tito Santana, Tully Blanchard, Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, Manny Fernandez, Barry Windham, Scott Casey, Ted DiBiase, Terry Funk, Stan Hansen and the late Bruiser Brody are alumni of that institution.
Other wrestling fame hopefuls have gotten through that doorway with the help of friends or family members who are established wrestlers. Hulk Hogan's boyhood pals and former training partners are Ed Leslie (Brutus Beefcake) and Ray Fernandez (Hercules Hernandez). Jim 'the Anvil' Neidhart is Bret Hart's brother-in-law. Larry Zbyszko was Bruno Sammartino's next door neighbor.
'many great wrestlers are forced to the wayside because they don't have the proper connections.'
Another way to get through the front door without knowing the password is to possess some marketable attribute such as being a known athlete in another sport. Many, many pro grapplers are former college wrestlers or football players. Many others have gained notoriety in other sports such as Wahoo McDaniel, Steve Williams and Brian Pillman in pro football, Scott Norton in arm wrestling, Bad News Brown in judo, Ken Patera in weightlifting, Tony Atlas in body building, the Barbarian in sumo wrestling, Doug Furnas in power lifting, Paul Diamond in soccer, and Shohei Baba in baseball.
The lucky few who make it into the professional ring soon discover that their problems have just begun. And they are not problems caused by the pain of a spinning toe hold or a belly-to-belly suplex. The wrestling business is full of stories about promoters who cheat and abuse their grapplers. The crowd at a house show can shrink dramatically when it comes time for wrestlers to collect their pay checks. Many smaller promotions pay wrestlers only 40 or 50 dollars per match. To complicate the injustice, wrestlers on this level have to pay for their own travel expenses and hotel stays. This is a signficant problem since the average wrestler is on the road quite often.
'When Dusty Rhodes was chief booker for the NWA .... the only wrestlers who got a push were Dusty's pals and cohorts.'
It should be noted that promoters have many problems of their own. They have to contend with state athletic commissions that impose absurd regulations while knowing nothing about the workings of the pro wrestling business. Often promoters must scamper to fill a spot on a card when a contracted wrestler fails to appear.
And of course, it is the promoter who must take the loss when only fifty people attend a wrestling event.
Alright, you've made it into the business and have managed to survive the low pay and torturous travel schedule. How do you become successful?
To reach the hallowed ground of a major promotion such as the WWF or the NWA, where life is still tough but pay and working conditions are better, the rookie wrestler usually must toil for four or five years in small independent promotions before he will even be considered for work in the majors, other than prelim shots. Exceptions such as Lex Luger, who became an NWA headliner after only two years in the business, are rare.
You have worked hard and have mastered ring technique and pacing. You have a varied offensive attack that mixes a high flying aerial style with good mat work. Will you be guaranteed stardom? Of course not. In the modern wrestling world to become a star in the majors, it is usually necessary to look like a cross between King Kong and Arnold Schwarzeneger. How do you get like that? Simple. Steroids. And while that muscle building drug comes a whole host of new problems. Steroids are illegal unless prescribed by a doctor for a specific medical problem. The need to get huge to make you a star is not a medical problem. The side effects of the drug are just beginning to be understood by the medical community. One need only listen to Superstar Billy Graham's account to know the horrors of that existence.
But aren't there some wrestlers who become stars without taking steroids? Sure there are. But stardom without steroids in the majors requires various kinds of special situations. You must be a wrestler who possesses a special skill. Competitors like Japan's Great Muta who has a dynamic aerial skill, Ric Flair who is a master ring tactician, and Hacksaw Jim Duggan who masterfully uses a two-by-four, have all achieved stardom without loking like superhuman giants. A friend on the promotion's booking team is another way to get that much needed push.
A pushed wrestler is one who the booking team includes in its major promotional angles. He becomes an important part of the overall promotion. Consequently, a friend on the booking team can be an important ingredient of success. When Dusty Rhodes was the chief booker for the NWA, insiders said that the only wrestlers who got a push were Dusty's pals and cohorts.
Other wrestlers, even those with superior skills, were left to wallow in prelim matches. Then there is the other side of the coin.
'the bookers may stop a wrestler from using the full range of his ring skills.... in case they overshadow the work of a pushed star at the top of the card.'
Many wrestlers with superior skills have been held back simply because someone on the booking team did not like them. Dislike can range from the personal to the professional, but the result is the same. The ill-favored wrestler will not receive a push. And in the wrestling-star game, only the pushed survive.
Then too, the booking team may tell a wrestler that if he wishes to continue to work, he cannot use the full range of his ring skills. Why would a booking team want a wrestler to use only a portion of his skills? Well, a wrestler with superior aerial skills may be so good that his spectacular performance would overshadow the work of a pushed star at the top of the card.
So you have seen the dark side of the sport. How tough it is to break into the business. The gruelling road schedule. The low pay. The difficulty of hooking on with a major promotion. The often chaotic nature of the wrestling star game. Still want to be a professional wrestler? Well, you were warned.
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