Every year, hundreds of aspiring superstars enroll in wrestling training camps all around the world. They are all inspired by what appears to be a glamorous life as a professional wrestler on television for World Wrestling Entertainment. For many, their pursuit of a career in the ‘squared circle’ has evolved from years of following the sport as a fan and buying in wholly to the effective marketing of Vince McMahon and his team which have dominated the television airwaves. The WWE is more than just a sport, responsible for several emerging trends online and visible through social media.
However, there is much more to securing a job with the WWE than most imagine. Reality television programs such as the WWE’s own Tough Enough may have painted an unrealistic, over-simplified picture for would-be headliners about the path to a long-term career in the pro mat game. While we seem to be introduced to a steady flow of new blood and compelling characters, most fans don’t realize that the names we get to know from their weekly exploits on television represent only a small percentage of the number of men and women who are lacing up their boots every weekend in armories and community centres across the continent, all with the aspirations to one day headline WrestleMania.
For those people spurred to action by the mantras of chasing their dreams, hoping to become the next John Cena, here are ten important facts about securing a contract with the WWE that you really need to know. If a career as a professional wrestler is your ultimate goal, you may want to write these down.
10. The Right Start is Key
While many commit themselves to the physical and emotional sacrifice to train for a career in professional wrestling, it is important to do your homework before you put any money down at a wrestling training school. Sadly, there are many schools out there that have fleeced naïve hopefuls of their life’s savings with the promise of delivering them to the doorstep of the WWE but are unable to produce. If you aspire to be signed to a WWE contract, first investigate the schools. You want to find out which of them have produced talent that has been signed and which trainers are well-respected by the industry. It doesn’t take long to separate the wheat from the chafe, but it is an important piece of research to do. At present, one of the best schools to kickstart your career seems to be Lance Storm’s Calgary wrestling camp.
9. Athleticism AND Charisma
The sport of wrestling has changed over the past generation, and with it, the type of talent that the WWE is looking for has evolved. At one time, if a wrestler was a great athlete and able to perform between the ropes but had poor public speaking skills, they might have been assigned a manager to do their talking for them. In today’s modern era of wrestling, there are very few managers still a part of the landscape, and wrestlers getting their start now are expected to be the ‘whole package’ – both athletic and charismatic. Which means being able to engage audiences on the microphone, and in the ring. But it’s not enough to just be a great athlete and speaker. Wrestlers who can best expect to have a long and fruitful career in the WWE need to be both humble and coachable.
8. The Recruiting Environment Has Changed
In the past, wrestlers who were seeking to get the attention of recruiters in the WWE organization were counseled by the veteran wrestlers and those who had been fortunate enough to spend part of their careers with the company to stay on the radar. The direction was to send promotional material and follow up with phone calls often to show one’s desire to work for the company as well as their commitment to the sport and their efforts to adapt and improve. However, when former wrestlers who could best assess talent (and relate to the ambitions of those on the other end of the phone) were removed from these key positions and replaced by employees with no wrestling background, the culture has changed. Now, when wrestlers approach their business in this traditional manner, they are cautioned that their behavior could be classified as harassment. Some of the staff in talent relations seem to have little regard to the power that they have to define someone’s career, perhaps ignoring some very deserving wrestlers.
7. The Wellness Policy Conundrum
When Hulk Hogan emerged as the face of the WWE in the mid 1980s, he heavily influenced the look of a WWE champion. Hogan and others that followed such as the Ultimate Warrior stand as benchmarks of appearance that has led many on wrestling’s independent circuit to identify that bigger is better. As a result, many who aspire to grace the rings of the WWE have relied on performance enhancing drugs such as steroids to help develop the image that they feel will attract the attention of the WWE recruiters to at least secure a tryout. However, post-litigation on the steroid issue and enforcement of the company’s wellness policy, some wrestlers are showing up to the doorstep to the WWE to find out that the choices they have made are all for naught – upon first sight, WWE officials are advising that the hopeful wrestler won’t pass the required drug test and they are summarily dismissed.
6. There is an Age Limit
At a wrestling conference in Las Vegas in 2012, Jim Ross told a packed room of wrestling professionals that if you are over the age of 35, and haven’t made it in the wrestling world yet, that it isn’t going to happen. Unlike in previous generations when a wrestler had a chance of being picked up to appear on the circuit even for a short time, now when talent relations is considering talent they are looking at someone that they can invest in over the long haul. They expect that with television exposure, merchandising and pay per view buy rates that they will see a return on their investment over several years. So, even wrestlers with an incredible track record and unparalleled talent – perhaps even those to have held the World Championship under another banner – who seek an opportunity on wrestling’s grandest stage, may be told simply that they are too old to invest in.
5. What Buzz Do You Already Own?
There was a time in wrestling’s ascent that successful athletes from other sports held a significant worth in the wrestling game. This was especially true for football, where the recognized toughness of competitors on the grid iron translated into box office success. The same was also true of wrestlers who could lay claim to military service as part of their work history. In the current era, as the WWE expands its market to dominate new demographics, they are also looking for the metrics that matter. What size of following does a given wrestler have on social media? What success and visibility do they have with audiences beyond wrestling? These are considerations now in the electronic era. When C.M. Punk was signed from the independent scene to the WWE, he was heralded as an “internet darling” that was a fan favorite of the online wrestling fans who touted themselves as educated connoisseurs of the sport.
4. The Money Isn’t Great Right Out Of The Gate
Not long ago, Tyler Reks walked out on his WWE contract electing to leave the wrestling business entirely. According to Reks, the value on his entry-level WWE contract provided very little in the way of a suitable living after all required road expenses were deducted from the proceeds. Yes, we have read the numbers associated with the guaranteed contracts of the top stars – wrestlers who have been proven to sell tickets and are in a good position to negotiation their own terms. However, starting out at the bottom of the ladder, many are unpleasantly surprised to see what the compensation package looks like. It’s then you will want to ask yourself – am I in this to make money, or am I in it for fame? You may not get both.
3. NXT Purgatory
Notwithstanding the recent surge in interest for the NXT brand of the WWE, many wrestlers are thrilled to sign a contract with the WWE to fulfill their dreams. However, many are dismayed when their advancement from the WWE training environment and up through the ranks gets stalled at the NXT level. Some wrestlers, such as recent recruit to the main roster, Tyler Breeze, spent five years or more in NXT. Breeze had to go through many different characters and names until he finally found a character that connected with the fans. What some wrestlers fail to recognize though, is that even though they are making money in NXT, that may be as far as they go. Many wrestlers may waste years before they finally discover that the uncertain and high-risk world of professional wrestling simply isn’t for them.
2. Family Ties Are No Guarantee
While the wrestling world is filled with many ring families such as the Guerreros, Harts, Von Erichs and Ortons, it may often seem to the wrestling fans that being aligned as part of a wrestling bloodline is a fast track solution to secure a contract and continue the family business in front of a new generation. Certainly, there are a number of second and third generation stars that have made an impact for themselves and may even be considered to have eclipsed the achievements of previous generations. However, there are also those who have had the door opened and have failed to latch on to the opportunity. Teddy Hart, grandson of Stu Hart, was given multiple chances in the WWE and failed to adapt to the environment. Despite his success elsewhere, he is just one of many athletes with a wrestling pedigree that have failed to latch on to a guaranteed contract in wrestling’s biggest company.
1. Right Place, Right Time
Sometimes, all the planning in the world has no influence on your success in professional wrestling. It can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time when an opportunity opens up. Take the case of Al Snow for example. Snow had plied his trade on the independent circuit and had earned some notoriety in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountain Wrestling when he was first signed to the WWE. Assigned to characters such as Leif Cassidy and Avatar, he failed to connect with fans. However, after a short stay in ECW and an opportunity to re-invent himself, Al Snow returned to the WWE to achieve even greater success. He is far from the only wrestler to have the right gimmick, hit at the right time, and have a big payoff.