Will Wrestle for Peanuts: The Reality of Independent Wrestling
Many folks dream of one day becoming a professional wrestler. This has been the dream of young men and women since wrestling became a thing. Only in the past two decades has wrestling become so much more accessible to the average person. With a slew of wrestling schools spread across the U.S. it seems like a new one is popping up every day. With all these schools there are an influx of independent wrestlers out there, all trying to get a piece of the action, many of which are disappointed by the reality of the industry.
There are so many things to look at when choosing a wrestling school. You want to see what former students have made it to the big time, who the trainers are, the amount of classes you take, the structure of the classes you take, the location, and of course the price. Just because you pay more, does not make it a better school. Just because they have been around longer does not make them a better school. It takes a lot of leg work on the part of the student, to find the right school to fit them. You generally want to find a school that doesn’t take more than 2 hours to drive to each way. You want to find a school that teaches in levels, but also has open rings for you too practice with those with more experience. You want to find a school that wants to build well rounded students, who look, work, and speak as a wrestler should. Most of all you want a school that is honest with students about their potential to make it as wrestlers, and who are willing to build them into the right roles within a company.
Remember these schools still have a bottom line, and that’s to produce money. Yes there are a few schools that aren’t about capitalizing per se, but it takes money to run a wrestling school, and few if any are doing entirely out of their pocket for the love of the sport. A lot of these schools are wrestler mills, and will take anyone’s money, slap them in a ring, give them some training and throw them on student shows. Too few of these schools, and the instructors in them are honest with student’s about their chances in making it, and what it really takes (in most cases) to make it big time. All schools should be offering a variety of courses to teach students the valuable skills of the wrestling industry. For instance, if you are not physically capable of wrestling, you may find you fit in as a manager, referee, ring announcer, commentator, or even in production. There is often no side education in the wrestling business, yet there are a ton of positions to fill. Remember wrestling school could cost you anywhere from $2500-$5000 just to get your beginner training. Many schools charge that for the first year, then a gym fee after.
Let’s say you make it through a school, even a mediocre one, and are ready to take matches in outside promotions. Then what? Are you ready to promote yourself as a full time job? Are you ready to pay for gear, and merchandise? Are you ready to build a recognizable name for yourself across your region? Do you know how to put a package together for the promoters you want to work for, to impress them and get a booking over 1000 other guys or gals on the scene? Then you do get these bookings, and you must worry about gear, gas money, travel buddies, missing events such as birthdays, weddings, and other moments your friends and family may really be angry you dipped out on. But if you cancel the show you may be ruining a story line, losing a belt, or even losing your place in the company. What happens if the promoter doesn’t pay? Do you have a spare tire? Are you prepared to drive 5 hours with 5 people in a compact car, to work in front of a crowd of 10,000 or 10, for 10 minutes, then drive home? These are all things to really think about before you get involved in independent wrestling.
Then once you get established are you ready to build a relationship with fans, so they buy your merchandise? Independent wrestling paydays often range from nothing to maybe a few hundred dollars if you are lucky. And you spend more than that in gas. Not to mention if you need to also get a hotel room, or pay for other travel expenses. Are you willing or able to take time off your day job to travel to shows that are further away but may be a better opportunity? What is your plan in case of injury? Do you carry personal insurance? The other expenses you will incur includes but isn’t limited to; new gear, tanning, gym dues, supplements, eating vast amounts of “clean calories”, which not only costs you money, but time to prepare, and consume as well.
So if you plan on getting involved in independent wrestling you have two choices, take it very seriously and think about all I have written about, and the things that pop into your mind that I haven’t, and take it on full bore. Or get involved as a hobby, find one spot you feel happy with, and don’t bitch about lack of bookings. Wrestling is still a competition. Know and understand the level you want to compete on. Know your limitations. Embrace what you are good at, and figure out what really suits you in the industry. And don’t get fooled by any snake oil salesmen along the way.