Let me start off by pledging not to get into any of the backstage rumor stuff with Lio Rush (or Sasha Banks or anyone else). I’m not back there, I don’t know what really happened, and this stuff has degenerated to the point where people are willing to believe and run with whatever version of events supports how they already feel about the people involved. Workplaces, all workplaces, have people with agendas and when you have media chomping at the bit to make their names off of breaking stories you got an easy road for people on all sides to get out a story to make themselves look good or someone else look bad. So I’m not gonna bash either of them and I’m not hopping on a white horse for them either. I am gonna focus on Lio’s reported money issues stemming from his chump change NXT contract that isn’t sufficient to cover life on the main roster. Now the easy thing to do is to say ‘he signed it, too bad’ but in it seems like we have an ongoing problem in the entertainment industry where starry eyed prospects end up in onerous contracts that put them in dire straits, and it needs to be talked about by us fans.
Do the companies deserve all the scrutiny for carrying on like they do? Hell yes. But on the labor side, here’s the thing: it’s a job and a business, period. It’s not a dream. Dreams are what you have when you’re sleeping at night. You go into this like it’s a dream and not a job and there’s a good chance you’re going to get screwed in the process. Whether it’s Vince McMahon, a record executive, studio executive, sports team, or some of these folks that run news/opinion aggregation sites, they are out to pay you as little as possible while getting as much work out of you as possible. And that’s exactly what they will do unless their hands are forced. These people do not pay you out of benevolence they do it out of obligation, and you better understand that walking in. Do I sympathize with Lio here? Yes. He’d been in the indies, then in Ring of Honor where they didn’t do much with him (yeah they ‘underutilize’ people, too). An offer to move up was too promising to turn down so he took it. I’m not faulting him for that at all. But I hope he sees the error of just jumping on it so quickly.
And that’s not to absolve Vince here. Those contracts that NXT and 205 Live guys sign should have escalator clauses that account for getting called up to the main roster. Being stuck with an NXT salary while dealing with main roster travel expenses is no good. But guess what? You gotta ask for that, they’re not just going to give it to you until it becomes standard operating procedure because everyone is demanding it. It’s high time to stop just signing the paper because you want to be there so bad, be it in WWE or anywhere else. Yes they are going to screw you if you let them. That’s not about wrestling that’s life – loans, employment contracts, gym memberships, you name it. Read the damn paper before you sign or get someone else to read it for you if you need help with it. Because if you don’t, once you sign you’re locked in. And it’s not like there isn’t precedent – guys like Lex Luger and Goldberg had agents in tow 20 years ago. They got heat for it and were tagged for not loving the business, but they didn’t get taken for a ride either.
And that goes the same for people on the main roster. There’s been a lot of chatter about how they can and do freeze people’s contracts to account for time they were out injured. Yes that’s a crappy thing to do but it’s in the contract. Stop just signing them. I mentioned in an earlier piece that their independent contractor status has been held up in court and survived government audits; John Oliver going on TV and calling it illegal doesn’t mean a damn thing so stop repeating it. Deal with reality here. Don’t sign the damn paper, whether it’s with WWE or another company (don’t make the mistake of thinking that they don’t do suspect stuff, either, just because Evil Vince isn’t running them). Hell even Daniel Bryan admitted to not bringing in an agent until he re-signed last year, and that in previous negotiations he just signed the paper. The one thing you can do is withhold your labor by not signing. Don’t sign. But what if I can’t get the terms I want? You gotta do what my father told me to do a long time ago: be willing to walk. That’s it.
But what if I can’t get what I need from anyone else, either? Then maybe it’s time to consider another profession. That’s cold and hard but it’s real. I would love to write for a check but no one hiring pays enough for the amount of content they’d want from me to start somewhere at the bottom. It sucks, but it’s life. So I do this for fun in my spare time and I stay at my day job. If circumstances change so will I but if not I do this for my own enjoyment and the nice comments, not to make someone else money while I work full time for them and get chump change. The best way to win, or at least survive a negotiation is to be willing and able to say ‘screw it, I can live without this’. And whether you’re a veteran in the business or a kid just getting started you gotta see this for what it is (a job) and treat it accordingly. You gotta be able to just say ‘maybe a career in this business just isn’t happening for me’ if you can’t get in on terms that will meet your financial needs. And us fans share some blame. We romanticize the struggle of people busting their ass for no money before they make it big but that’s not helping anyone here.
I’m going this hard because while I sympathize with the predicaments some are in they could have been avoided in a lot of instances. Don’t think that AEW is going to come in and solve all that by being better than Vince, either. They already walked back all the ‘revolutionary’ stuff they implied they’d be doing or supporting and are going to operate like a wrestling company. I don’t see a union happening in the near future because that requires a level of cooperation that doesn’t look plausible at this point. It also would require a few guys to be willing to sacrifice their careers for the greater good, and I just don’t see that happening. So you’re left fending for yourself, and the one ace you have is the ability to just not work there be it WWE or anywhere else. Entertaining the possibility of just not going into the business on the front end may be better than struggling with the working conditions after you’ve signed and are obligated. It sucks that people in arts and entertainment face these choices when they just want to make a living doing what they love but the only way to force things to change to hit them with the chance that they may not have a labor pool at all unless they’re willing to do better.
But now that’s it out there’s an opportunity to effect some change. As a fan I support them all getting what they need and getting paid in line with the value they add. But my support comes with the realization that they are going to have to do something different than getting upset after the fact even if they are justified because that isn’t gonna solve anything.