Joe Babinsack looks at whether wrestlers are independent contractors

One thing that might – just might – create some interest in professional wrestling would be a return to true independent contractors. While there would never be a full return, even a partial return to extending short term contracts could make a lot of wrestlers mired in their current situations a lot more marketable and a lot more meaningful.
Obviously there’s no way the upper card guys are going anywhere: John Cena, CM Punk, Kurt Angle and others at the top of TNA or WWE just aren’t in a position where they are going to jump around. These guys command big bucks and big contacts. I’m not going to argue that.
But there remains a large number of guys that are just getting lost in their current promotions, locked into slots, locked into contracts and with no way of breaking from the pack.
Christian’s appearance in TNA isn’t quite the same thing, but the fact that it happened suggests that there could be more thought about the possibilities. Imagine if TNA negotiated a lot stronger, got a few appearances and a match or two, and how that would have played out: in an age where results are way too predictable because of slotting, because of the “even Steven” booking, because a guy like Christian just isn’t expected to do much these days.
But Christian has a following, a name and a distinctive talent; he could have spurred attention to TNA, a promotion that surprisingly is gaining momentum, but could definitely use the attention just as much as Christian would.
Let’s just imagine, again, if the TNA deal that got that brief appearance was for a few matches, and there was no release of how many. (Let’s also imagine that TNA didn’t involve its historically questionable booking, and either hand the guy the big belt on match one, or build to a match for that belt, or put him over Crimson (like so many people likely expected)).
Who would gain from such an arrangement?
TNA would gain – for their numbers – likely a huge spike, a huge impact. Christian, by jumping those numbers, would show he can move ratings. By the time he came back from the arrangement, he would likely earn some chances he otherwise wouldn’t have received.
Sure, it’s speculation, but Christian’s not the only guy in the industry who could be a fresh face.
There are easily a dozen guys, in both TNA and WWE, that could use a change, that could shake things up, that would make some interesting matchups. Even if any one of those guys got a three month (or some short-term) gig to show what they can do, having a short time to do it would spur both the promotion and the guy to go all out.
Obviously the initial problem is that these guys are locked into contracts, and the WWE contract is notorious for non-compete clauses.
But how is that benefitting anyone?
Look at the situation with Tensai with the WWE. He comes in, he got a strong push, but the WWE soured on him. Maybe the fans weren’t forgiving of knowing that this was Albert repackaged, or something about all those tattoos didn’t click, or maybe we’ve reached a point where confidence is so shot in the WWE’s approach that the fans already gave up before the promotion did.
This may appear to be a bad example, but It think it shows the opposite.
I think it shows that the current system is so broken that introducing an old school foreign menace gimmick, giving the guy a push, these days, is not going to click because fans are so used to the rug being pulled out that the bulk of the fans don’t know any other way, and the long time fans are not buying anything in the short term.
Fan are buying in with limited appearances: The last WrestleMania, with the year-long storyline with The Rock, was a success. The same with The Undertaker and HHH. And while Brock Lesnar is a different animal because of the levels of interactions, I still have the feeling that a solid storyline into SummerSlam will do very good numbers.
Which suggests that the Brock Lesnar approach isn’t a bad one.
(And especially concerning the MMA aspect of few fights per year, not hundreds, but that’s another discussion.)
While very few current wrestlers have the power (literally and figuratively) of Lesnar, the reality of his situation is that he got a deal, he’s played out what the WWE wanted, and now he’s collecting big money for his limited appearances.
If more guys had limited appearance deals, limited duration deals or the ability to cut-and-run on their own, then most of them would take their opportunities and make them meaningful. A guy like Zack Ryder did so much more than any of his peers, but got very little in return. What would his antics, his efforts, his social media skills have done for him if he took that with him, built up a following, and eventually came back?
Or, if the promotion knew he could take his ball and run with it on another Field?
A lot of it is wishful thinking, but unless politics are already playing their part, there was a growing sense that the “independent contractor” situation was going to be an issue for the WWE. Maybe that’s still winding its way through investigations, maybe its swept under the rug, but if it ever appears, we could see more movement.
Which may be bad for a lot of guys, in terms of lessened guarantees, but it would unleash talent to make their own deals. It would also unleash a lot of indy level talents to get better looks, and would also (equally wishful thinking) spur some growth in the indy scene.
These days, the static roster is not a good dynamic for anyone. Having the same guys work with each other on an ongoing basis isn’t doing much for matchmaking, or for improving skills or for actually working matches.
Unfortunately ,the industry continues to grow beyond profitable history. Say what you want about professional wrestling, but its roots were based on matchmaking and creating excitement about the matches, not just putting on a product that fills two hours or so of time.
Perhaps with independent contractors, guys would have more say in how they are used and the promotions would be more focused on using talent instead of abusing them.
Yeah, one more wishful thought.
Some say wrestling is an arena sport, others claim that the era of PPV and Cable TV ratings mean otherwise. But PPV numbers and Cable TV ratings are a diminishing return, and if PPV and Cable Ratings are the focus, then how can that be seen as anything but a failure?

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