NEWS, HISTORY AND ANALYSIS THAT MATTER TO THE SERIOUS WRESTLING FAN
EDITORIAL: STEALING LIFE, CHEATING DEATH...
Published Monday, November 21, 2005 by DEVELOPMENTALspotlight | E-mail this post
The Pro-Wrestling Chronicle will occassional run editorial peices. These editorials represent purely opinions, and should be taken as such.
STEALING LIFE, CHEATING DEATH
The untimely death of Eddie Guerrero early Sunday morning was regretfully nothing new in the shadowy world of professional wrestling. In a business that strives to keep its secrets so closely guarded, no acceptable answer has ever been given as to why so many who step through its doors pay so dearly for admission. No response is given to fans who are conditioned to care for these athletes, only to have them taken from this life suddenly in the primes of their lives with no explanation. In an industry that sees the past as something better off forgotten, reaction to these tragedies lasts for exactly two hours in prime time, sometimes four. Death has a pecking order. You might get an entire show dedicated to your memory, or maybe a ten bell salute and a music video. Or maybe, if your life wasn't so relevant, you'll get a graphic displayed as the show comes on the air. In the end it really doesn't matter, because once the screen fades to black, it's back to business as usual. As the most powerful man in American wrestling has said so many times in the face of tragedy, the show must go on.
And it goes on without you. The problem of early death ceases to exist. You cease to exist. To recognize your life is to recognize your death, and to do that is to acknowledge the uncomfortable: that you and so many of your colleagues should be alive, but for some reason, you aren't. Unless your tragedy can be neatly packaged into a DVD, or a new tag team can form a shallow tribute to you, your life is better off forgotten. And the show goes on.
To blame Vince McMahon for these tragedies is the easy way out. The media doesn't mind, nor do lazy thinkers. This solution is too shortsighted. These are problems that face the wrestling industry as a whole, and they go back at least 25 years. What we are currently experiencing is the tail end of the peak of the worst period for the death of wrestlers that the United States has ever seen. If any good news can come out of such a morbid period, it is that these tragedies should ideally soon wind down and usher in a future much less devastating to so many families and fans, and serve as a lesson to the next generations of professional wrestlers.
Twenty-five years ago, professional wrestling and America were both entirely different than they are today. Steroids were legal until 1991, and easily obtainable. To live like a wrestler was to live like a rock star. Stories were not exaggerated of many wrestlers working a 30 minute match, drinking, doing drugs and partying all night, getting a few hours sleep, doing some crank, driving all day, working out and then doing it all over again. It was a vicious though necessary cycle to preserve the way of life. Healthy diets were not the priority that they are now. A dozen raw eggs a day were a routine source of protein --nobody knew that with the protein came 900% of the recommended daily intake of cholesterol. Wrestlers like Michael "Hawk" Hegstrand injected themselves with things as extreme as monkey hormones to get an edge. From many modern wrestling books written, we can gather that many wrestlers did massive amounts of steroids at the time. The schedule was in most cases much more grueling, with World Wrestling Federation wrestlers working over 25 shows a month some months. The money was so incredible when wrestling went national that the mindset was keep up or get left behind. If you weren't working in the WWF, you were working all over the United States, and often times in Canada, Mexico and Japan where acquiring any poison in the world really wasn't all that difficult. The women, the money, the Cadillac, the lifestyle... they seemed too good to be true. And with every decision that is made in this life, there comes a price.
In 2005, territorial promoters who's obligation to a man lasts only until he burns out a town and moves to the next are extinct. World Championship Wrestling -a company that employed what seemed like a hundred wrestlers, yet where nobody answered to anyone- is gone. Thankfully for the sake of professional wrestlers and their families, Extreme Championship Wrestling is no more. In the promoter Paul Heyman's last public appearance, he apologized for being late to the ring, stating he was "in the back smoking a joint with [Rob] Van Dam". As a wrestling mind, Heyman was and still is a genius. As an authority figure who looks out for his wrestlers, he was a failure, allowing wrestlers to work while impaired, presiding over what has been reported to be one of the most drug-laden locker rooms ever, and even allowing a wrestler to walk through the curtain so intoxicated that he removed his pants in the middle of the ring in front of children. Professional wrestling, for all intents and purposes, is now a one-company industry in America though others are clawing their way up. However, the aftershocks of the 1980's wild west climate of professional wrestling are still reverberating today.
In many ways, it is a positive that Vince McMahon and Dixie Carter are the only two individuals that matter in American wrestling, because it means that professional wrestling has gone corporate. Both World Wrestling Entertainment and TNA Wrestling as a division of Panda Energy have to answer to their shareholders, and their employees have to represent their parent company in the appropriate manor. As callous as it seems, every wrestler in either company has become an investment whose livelihood the wrestling industry is accountable for to shareholders. With more and more WWE talent being recruited and trained in-house, WWE is more responsible than they have ever been for the young men and women who they make international stars out of. Drug testing is still desperately needed in professional wrestling as it is in all professional sports. However, while the pressure of substance abuse may still exist in the confines of the locker room, the reality of the ramifications is no longer a mystery, and ultimately it us up to the wrestler of 2005 to decide if the temptation of a better body, a bigger payday or a crazier party is worth the home-shattering consequences. The honeymoon period is over. Wrestlers believed themselves to be invincible in the 1980's. Twenty-five years and a dozen headstones later, the message is clear. And wrestlers are catching on.
In 2005, the wrestling business has matured, but is paying dearly for the mistakes of its past. Almost every single unexpected wrestling death of the last decade involves a wrestler who spent a lot of time going up and down the roads during the wild west era of the 1980's. The WWE wrestler of current day is a different breed. A Playstation 2 has replaced a bar fight. The internet and cell phones have replaced a line of cocaine. A healthy, low-fat diet, good cardiovascular conditioning and responsible, well researched use of steroids and supplements have replaced unhealthy meals at diners and steroid binges. At current day, athleticism is demanded by fans of professional wrestling who have grown bored with the immobile, lumbering giants of yesterday. A long road trip is six shots in eight days overseas, where catering and hotels are provided, not the 16 days straight that the WWF ran in the 1980's. With the internet and media as all encompassing as they are today, being caught with drugs or domestic abuse or a DUI are enough to get a wrestler fired and never reconsidered for employment in WWE again. No one is giving PCP to strangers on airplanes and touching the female's breasts when she is passed out and vomiting, or putting lighter fluid in a fellow wrestlers inhaler as a rib in 2005. Wrestlers have matured, and wrestling has matured with it. There is a dress code. Wrestlers are cross-promoting themselves in ways they have before. In music, in acting, in literature. Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle are the wrestlers new talent cite as influences more often than Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. Vince McMahon has survived a trial that could have put him behind bars for 20 years, and he will not allow himself to become the defendant in another. Many of the next generation of stars -Edge and Carlito and Christian- are not the bulked up hulks of the past. Lance Storm, Christian, Edge and John Cena take pride in what they are able to do clean, without steroids. Many wrestlers, including HHH, don't even consume alcohol. Those new stars who have the finger pointed at them for possible use of steroids won't be in the business for 20 years, or even 10 in most cases with recent WWE release patterns, have better research at their disposal, and they won't be eating or doing drugs in the way stars of the past have. Wrestling is hopefully positioning itself to have an early mortality rate no better or no worse than pro football for example. Whether this is something to be proud of is a matter of opinion.
To say that there aren't still problems in wrestling would be naive. Wrestlers still party. The excessive use of painkillers and other prescription medication is still very much an issue to follow. The new steroids, or ephedrine, or whatever too-good-to-be true supplement of the moment that will eventually become illegal is probably available and being abused in wrestling as we speak. However, while warnings on labels and lectures from doctors fall on deaf ears, a friend and father sharing a locker room with you one day and being found dead in his hotel room the next speaks loud and clear. A simple look at how the average wrestler chooses to spend his free time now and 20 years ago speaks on the lessons catching on. Young, healthy wrestlers like Lance Storm and Jay "Christian" Reso saving well and being in the position to retire in their 30's speaks on the lessons catching on. Professional wrestling is an industry that can offer a lifetime's pay for eight years of service and open unlimited doors on the way out, and the responsibility of saving well and making healthy choices can't be placed on anyone but the individual performer. That lesson is catching on.
In the 1980's, a finger could be pointed at promoters for the epidemic of wrestling deaths that would occur 20 years later. In 2005, the finger must be pointed at every single man and woman who calls themselves a professional wrestler. Every wrestler is replaceable in the grand mechanism of professional wrestling, every human being in the grand mechanism of their family is not. Those who have become professional wrestlers in the last five years now share a locker room with the ghosts of those whose mistakes should be guiding the decisions of every wrestler that follows.
For Eddie Guerrero, it was too late. The mistakes of his past eighteen years followed him from El Paso to Tokyo, stalked him from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, loomed over him from Atlanta to New York, and finally and regretfully closed on him early one morning in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Eddie Guerrero did steal life, and he did cheat death. Guerrero, by every indication, should have died when he crashed his car on New Years Eve of 1999. He should have died when he crashed his vehicle one year later. But for some purpose, Eddie was granted a little more time. A little more time to lead as an example of someone who made mistakes, turned his life around and didn't want others to do the same. A little more time to be in that locker room, and use a gift his colleagues claim only he had, detecting their worries and guiding them with an inspirational scripture or simply a listening ear. When Eddie's own worries were weighing him down, he was there to support Dave Batista as his wife was suffering from cancer. He was there to believe in others who needed help believing in themselves.
Unfortunately in this life, bad decisions can take good people. Eddie Guerrero was a good person, a positive person. Someone others around him found easy to love and admire. Almost like his savior Jesus Christ, Eddie Guerrero defied death the rainy evening his car slid off the road, and returned to guide and inspire those around him, to make people smile and to lead by positive example, before finally being taken to a better place.
The message of Eddie Guerrero will continue to cheat death to generations of wrestlers to come, as those who step in to the locker room that Eddie Guerrero once occupied continue to make better decisions in the present that will affect them when they are 38 years of age. Hopefully, some day the stars of tomorrow can sit down in good health with their grandchildren and tell them stories about the time Eddie Guerrero tore the house down, and for another few moments in time, Eddie Guerrero will have stolen life once again.