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A look in to the history of performance enhancing drugs, pain pills, Vince McMahon's role and the controversy today.
Ask any non wrestling fan about wrestling and without a shadow of doubt they'll say it's fake. Ask any wrestling enthusiast or expert about wrestling and they'll respond with an "It's fake but...," umming and arring because they have to once again explain that it's predetermined, but it hurts.
I'm personally not happy with calling wrestling fake whatsoever. I hate to regurgitate this, but looking at the Benoit tragedy and the death of Eddie Guerrero wrestling isn't fake, it's painfully real; real to the deceased wrestler's friends, their family and to an accepting portion of wrestling's followers.
Once upon a time wrestlers were slow paced portly sons of guns that certainly looked like they could knock you the fluff out, could get a crowd screaming with a good series of back and forth solid action, but didn't look like a jumbo jet. In the 60's and 70's it was hard to pick out a wrestler that was cut and had a six pack and if they did they were probably playing a pretty boy who would get put in his place by a legitimate bad ass male.
For a while I've been slightly on the defensive with Vince McMahon and his role in a lot of the recent controversy. Can one man really be held responsible for all of wrestling? Surely personal choice has something to do with it. It's up to the wrestlers if they enhance their performance with drugs right? It's just bad life decisions.
Then I began to look in to the period when wrestlers began to get bigger looking. Leading the pack was a Mr. Hulk Hogan. In the 80's the Hulkster was part of a new breed of wrestler that were well in to the 6ft range and a good 300 plus pounds in weight. Maybe they saw something in Hollywood or in the body building boom but guys like Hulk Hogan didn't want to be bad ass anymore they wanted to be big and good looking cereal box material.
It was grapplers like Hogan that caused promoters to change their booking methods. Many felt that to give the impression of a realistic bout they needed to get similar sized wrestlers to face him.
At this time a Mr. Vince McMahon JR who would later try to start a body building federation was on his world domination spree and saw these big, now money making men, snapped them all up, grabbed some celebrities and created Wrestlemania. Yes Vince was just being a good business man but there were many times he could and should have realized a change was needed. Sports Entertainment was born but so was scandal and controversy that went dangerously further than the mafia like NWA business deals.
Vince molded celebrity and wrestling together, secured closed circuit television and took PPV to new heights. Wrestling was being watched by everyone but less care was given towards the ideology of the wrestlers themselves, leading the public to believe bigger was better.
It's at this time that a strong message was sent to Pro Wrestlers. If you want to be in the main event, if you want that magazine cover and if you want to make the serious money you have to be huge, ripped and not necessarily a great worker. So they began to pack on the pounds and to the majority of wrestlers this became second nature and just part of the business.
Along with this new culture came increased work schedules, with touring and house shows. As a Pro Wrestler you were expected to remain in great shape, work every day and then party with the boys at night. There's only so much of this the human body can take so when getting in the ring began to hurt, pain pills were prescribed. When getting in to bed after partying was hard, downers were introduced. When getting up the next day to make your flight uppers were suggested and to cope with the loneliness and the road recreational and harder drugs were taken. As the years passed so did the style of wrestling. One night you take two bumps, the next night three, the night after that a chair shot, the week after that a suplex on the concrete. You may be bruised, a bit achy, times that be 5-10 years and you can't walk. Pop a pill and you feel great, the money's still rolling and you still have a job. 5 more years later and your dead. Heart attack, enlarged heart, overdose, suicide.
The schedule is a big problem and I also believe concussions and constant bumps are also a major problem. Look at UFC those guys get concussed, those guys take legitimate punches and kicks to the head but they don't die. That's because the don't fight every single night.
In the early 90's Vince McMahon was indicted for giving wrestlers, most publicly Hulk Hogan steroids. He missed a jail sentence and shortly after created a drugs policy. Smaller wrestlers like Shawn Michale's and Bret Hart were pushed to the top but as the media attention died down the policy was scrapped. Experts claim that WWE had to drop the policy as WCW had a competitive advantage and this is where Vince is not entirely to blame with the way the industry was going. But fast forward to today and history seems to be repeating itself. Only this time WWE has no major competition.
I received an email from somebody calling me an assclown for writing something negative about Ken Kennedy's recent interview for the Sun newspaper here in the UK. Well I just want to extend on the comments. On numerous occasions, on his website and in his interviews Kennedy has stated that steroids and drugs WERE a problem in the wrestling business but aren't now, not in his era. Mr Kennedy, your era is the era that Eddie Guerrero died, that Kurt Angle nearly died before handing in his notice, that Benoit killed two innocent people. Your in the era that has Bobby Lashley, John Cena, The great Khali, Batista and Triple H on top, behemoths, freaks of nature. Most of the WWE roster looks more roided up than the generation that is dying.
If you're telling me that in just a couple of years the Wellness policy has changed all the problems in wrestling then lets at least wait 5, 10 years down the line before you start plugging its results. How many of your friends will be dead then? 10 more grueling years of the WWE schedule Ken might change your outlook. maybe you hit 40 and you need a few uppers and downers to continue? When Mr. Perfect, Rick Rude, Bossman and so on were your age they were probably in the same enthusiastic mind set. And who are you to say the policy is working. You don't know if some wrestlers have problems, you aren't with them 24/7. Look at Benoit nobody thought he was the loose cannon he was.
Kennedy is also one of these people that say drugs and steroids are in all walks of life and that's just something people do. Right this is to the readers, ask your friends, parents or bob next door if in their industries jacked up freaks walk around and a good proportion of them die before the age of 50. Is Jason at the gas station taking steroids on his lunch break? Maybe a little pot or alcohol but he and his buddies at McDonald's aren't dying and astronomically alarming rates.
The fact of the matter is that WWE is biased towards big guys, they seemingly always have been and always will be. When Randy Orton lost his muscle mass Triple H laughed because he couldn't fill a suit. In a recent WWE Magazine Triple H says "somebody must have put him in the dryer," referring to Bobby Lashley in a college photo. Triple H is the most influential wrestler in the locker room and if that is his mindset then it must be a good proportion of the other's as well.
Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were midgets when they first started in wrestling. It took them until their mid 30's to make it big and that's big as in their achievements but also big in terms of muscle mass. If they hadn't pumped themselves with performance enhancing drugs throughout their careers they may have never been noticed by WCW or WWE, but they did and a few short years after embracing each other at Wrestlemania they're dead.
When ever WWE decides to push a smaller star they piss their pants and pull the rug out from under them. Take Rey Mysterio probably one of the most exciting smaller guys in wrestling history. The fact that he is so different to most WWE stars makes him that much more unique, but even he has bulked up a lot since his early years and was even named in a recent steroid sting. We could have seen some of the freshest matches ever seen, but instead he was jobbed to everybody and then creative wondered why it was a disaster.
Lets get real now. Wrestling is no different from 10 years ago. Big men are still on top, wrestlers are still dying and smaller guys are still looking for a way to break the glass ceiling. What message is TNA sending their talent when Scott Steiner, Test, Tomko, Angle, Abyss, Sting, Matt Morgan...Are given more TV time than them? The same message WWE has been giving wrestlers for years. God bless congress for looking on to both of these promotions.
It's not hard to have an off season or cycle wrestlers. Its not hard to give your stars training programs and introduce personal trainers and experts to help gain muscle. Its not hard to push smaller more athletic guys. What's hard is seeing another wrestler die. Wrestling isn't fake it's painfully real.
By Keelan Balderson (View/Submit feedback here)