During the week of October 16th, 2017, currently, unemployed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance against the National Football League. For those unaware, during the last couple NFL seasons, Kaepernick decided he wasn’t going to stand during the playing of the American national anthem. We aren’t going to get into whether or not that was a good idea, but it was a choice he made and stands by (no pun intended). However, the controversy that emerged from his action has led to him eventually being released by the San Francisco 49ers, and since his release, Kaepernick has yet to find work in the NFL.
So what does this have to do with professional wrestling? We aren’t connecting this to his most vocal critic President of the United States Donald Trump and his former role as an on-screen rival of Vince McMahon. What we are wondering is if anyone in professional wrestling has suffered what Kaepernick in his formal grievance has complained he is a victim of, which is collusion. By collusion, Kaepernick means that there is a united effort by current NFL owners to not give him the opportunity to play.
Again, how does this relate to professional wrestlers? Unlike the NFL, professional wrestlers are independent contractors that aren’t represented by a union; they represent themselves. They run the risk that if something happens to them, unlike in the NFL, they don’t have some form of protection like benefits and pension. Collusion is awkward to apply to wrestling since most major promotions work on their own and bring in talent from one place or another if it benefits them. The objective is to earn as much as possible, both and the performer. If it wasn’t, why do business with one another? So the idea of independent promoters working together to prevent someone from working for them seems like a bit of a stretch.
Just like any employee has a different relationship with their upper management team, the same applies to wrestlers and their relationship with these promoters. Often times more notable talent is brought into a promotion’s event, and their name value will help the promotions draw a tremendous crowd. The opportunity for return is tremendous. And regardless of whether this is North America or Japan, the talent is brought in to help the company achieve its primary goal, and that’s selling tickets. Of course, there have been instances where talent leaves such a bad impression on those who have brought them in that the chance of a future working relationship is unlikely. During or after the event it will end with a ‘Thank you for your time, and we appreciated your effort in helping us with our show. If things went well that would continue with a ‘We look forward to working together with you again in the future’. They’d essentially exchange pleasantries with the hopes of once again making money together.
The same could even be said about major promotions such as Ring of Honor, Impact/GFW, New Japan Pro Wrestling and WWE. However, unlike independent promoters, talent is brought in and in many, if not all of the cases signed to exclusive contracts, and thus the working relationship is exclusive. Fans are well aware that while some promotions may not refer to other promotions they are well aware of them and the talent that they boast. This doesn’t mean, however, that they follow closely what happens with the talent in those other promotions, or how they work with management there. For instance, even if a former WWE talent leaves on bad terms, that doesn’t mean it translates to a poor working relationship with Impact/GFW or Ring of Honor. On the contrary, it may often be a better relationship, and we could speculate why. Maybe it’s better pay, greater writing for their character, or higher status.
One example of this was the departure of Alberto Del Rio, who became Alberto El Patron in Impact/GFW. He has often said how happy is now about his role in the promotion and how he is glad to be where he is. Now, he said a number of things that weren’t very kind about his previous employer, but that is hardly grounds for all companies to unite and prevent El Patron from working. It was one relationship and one company. Of course, that was before Del Rio was released by Imapct this week after a no-show last weekend.
Too often promotions are more concerned with just staying afloat. Since some smaller independent promotions may be in competition with each other because of geography, working together in a united front to prevent someone from working for any and all promotions is less likely to happen. In some cases, smaller promotions may work together to cross-promote the appearance of notable talent, in order to have fans attend both events and send everyone home happy. Something would have to happen that is so unprofessional it not only leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the promoters but those that watch the event as well, for that person to be completely removed from any an all events.
Stories will often float around about bad relationships that have existed between talent and smaller promoters who have behaved unprofessionally, but a working relationship had barely been established. That leads to a different scenario where wrestlers agree amongst each other to not work for specific promoters, different from the idea of promoters coming together to not employ talent like the NFL owners have done, according to Kaepernick.
There is only one scenario that could lead to collusion in wrestling, but in this case, it is just as much about is talent refusing to work with another performer. After their time in WWE together, CM Punk suggested that Ryback wasn’t responsible in the ring and took liberties with him, in the process injuring him. However, after speaking with independent wrestler Mike Orlando recently, he shared a very different story of Ryback, one that presented him as not only responsible in the ring, but had a richer and deeper repertoire of moves that fans expected to see from him. Two different wrestlers with two very different accounts of Ryback.
For collusion to occur, it would have to be an issue of safety, with one performer essentially compromising their own career after potentially costing someone time in the ring as well. The situation would have to be one where someone not only took liberties in the ring but had a reputation for doing this before. This past summer, while competing for Mexican promotion AAA, Sexy Star and Rosemary faced each other as part of a multi-women tag match at the promotion’s annual TripleMania event. At the end of the match, Sexy Star intentionally injured Rosemary, and in the process generated a huge amount of attention from peers and the press, because what she did break an unspoken rule among talent, and thus broke the trust of anyone that would have considered employing her. The rule is ‘we put our trust in each other, protect each other’. We had an individual that seeks out what meant the most to them, and that was to walk away as the ‘winner’. Many promoters have assessed the situation and came to the same conclusion that they will no longer be bringing in Sexy Star to appear on their shows. Regardless of what money could have been earned from having her on the card, and her potential appeal to a Latin community, it is the safety of the other workers that have to be protected. The risk of having talent injured, or alienating talent by bringing in someone that isn’t trusted, isn’t worth it. Star suggesting it was all a misunderstanding is hardly enough reassurance. Plus, if promoters were to bring someone in that is universally disdained, and, despite the promoters reassurance that nothing would happen something did, they could face some form of suit. The long and short of it is they wouldn’t do it and we can’t blame them either.
Everyone has a right to make a living and while accidents happen, could collusion among promoters be warranted? After reviewing the possibilities of when it could even be possible, the only justifiable reason not to bring talent to a show is that element of danger. If promoters run the risk of something potentially bad happening to their talent, they just can’t risk the liability. This very different from what took place in the National Football League, which was a political stance taken by someone, but what is common in both instances, is a concern about bad publicity.
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