Dom Vitalli brings a hard lesson from inside the business about the current “wrestling boom.” Is it real or social media fabrication?
Ever since the clock struck midnight to ring in 2019, there has been a buzz around the wrestling world that things were about to get interesting. Hopes were high and expectations were set in hopes of changing pro wrestling as we know it, all for the better. Many exciting things have happened since that time, but also, many questions are still unanswered. We could very well be on the cusp of something monumental, but then again, it may just be a couple small steps in the right direction. Let’s take a closer look.
One thing that needs to be considered is that wrestling fans, as well as many of the people within the pro wrestling world, live exclusively inside the “wrestling bubble”. Being passionate fans of something that many of us have watched for most of our lives, it is very easy for us to become blind to reality. The supporters of “viral” wrestling see it as innovative, fun, and different. As this may be true to us wrestling bubble folks, the people on the outside who, let me remind you, are the VAST majority of the general public and the money we need to thrive, tend to see it differently. Sure these types of stunts and shows might be a blast in a bar full of 200 people, but what happens when we try to grow?
What happens when a non-wrestling person, whether it be a potential sponsor or larger venue, see some of these things and want nothing to do with it? Money gets taken out of all of our pockets. Then we get stuck in dive bars, trying to hawk enough t-shirts to make it all worthwhile. Pretty bottom-feeding for a “booming” industry, wouldn’t you say?
It should also be known that we are far from what a “wrestling boom” actually is. Let’s look at the numbers. According to wrestling historian and one of the greatest wrestling mangers to ever do it, Jim Cornette, in the territory days across the United States, there were approximately 320 full-time professional wrestlers whose sole job was that of a wrestler. Now some of you Cornette haters reading this may have already lost focus, but I urge you to come out of that wrestling bubble for a few minutes. So that’s 320 full-timers across the U.S, working nearly 5-7 nights per week.
Working a town weekly, drawing multiple of thousands of people to that town. Now let’s look at February 2019. We will take WWE out of the equation since they are in a whole other stratosphere of their own. Towns are usually run once per month, maybe bi-weekly at most. Top independent draws are in the 1000-2500 range, and that is not regular. Promotions that run the same city once per month struggle to break 250 fans per show, and that is on the high end. Wrestlers are working 2-4 days per week with 4 being on the high end, and most are working much less.
Being entrenched in the wrestling business both on the tail end of my in-ring time and the transition into behind the scenes for various promotions, I have a pretty good idea what some of the best wrestlers on the independent scene are earning. If I were to make an educated guess, I would say that maybe 100-150 wrestlers that are not affiliated with WWE are making a decent full-time living from just wrestling, meaning, wrestling is their primary source of income. Also, I stress the word “decent”.
There are many wrestlers out there that pride themselves on saying they are “full-time pro wrestlers”. Meanwhile, they live in a 3 bedroom apartment, sharing it with 4 other people in a shitty part of town. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s not a decent living by any standards. Compare the crowds. Compare the dates. Compare the numbers. They just don’t add up to equate a “boom”. Keep in mind, we didn’t even visit the Hogan 80’s or Austin 90’s eras.
We have to ask ourselves, “What are we presenting? How can we get as many eyes on wrestling so we can monetize those fans?” Again, thinking outside the wrestling bubble, the phony and hokey looking stuff just isn’t going to do it. Show some of these “viral” clips to some of your friends or co-workers who are not regular wrestling fans like you. Watch and listen to their reactions. Sure they may laugh or think what they saw was cool, but the inevitable question will come; you watch this shit? There is no sense of urgency for them to see this in person.
If you are a wrestler, show them these videos and tell me how it feels to have to answer, “THIS is what you do”? One thing that many people forget is that the eras that drew the most money were when the major fan bases at the time felt a sense of realism with what they were watching. In the territory days, the fans lived and died with the baby faces and were out for blood when it came to the heels. In the Hogan era, kids were enamored with The Hulkster and begged and pleaded for their parents to spend their money on tickets, shirts, posters, dolls, and anything else with his face on it. Males 18-45 could relate to that hatred Steve Austin had for Vince McMahon. Fans that watched the genesis of the nWo just weren’t quite sure if what they were watching was a work or not.
The formula is quite simple, yet we have gotten so far away from it. Independent wrestling in 2019 thinks too much in the mirco instead of the macro. They are much more interested in making $20 today rather than $100 for the next ten years (these figures are for example only).
I really do think pro wrestling is in a much better position today than it has been in quite some time. It is up to the wrestlers, promoters, bookers, etc to ensure that we can all reach that next “boom” period. Realism sells, just ask UFC. Sure dick flipping and puking on each other is interesting to some, but anybody can do those things. Not just anybody can be a believable professional wrestler and get paying fans to emotionally invest in what you do That right there, is the true “art” of professional wrestling. History tells us, that’s where the money is.