World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest and most successful wrestling company in the world, is like that friend you knew in your early-20’s who wanted to party all the time. Boundless energy, a seemingly unlimited source of revenue and the ability to slam back vodka shots all night. They could exit the club at 7AM and be ready to do it all again only a few hours later. You know the kind of person I mean – vomiting from too much drinking was simply considered ‘halftime’ and they chewed up pills like they were Vitamin C tablets. They lived their life like it was a 24/7 dance music video. When you wanted a quiet weekend, they reacted as if you said you were planning to fuck, cook and eat their dog.
That friend of yours is probably dead and buried now but there’s nothing on this earth that can kill WWE. Instead of partying, this multi-million-dollar company’s philosophy is an absolute onslaught of wrestling every day of the year. An unstoppable, unrelenting behemoth of non-stop sweat-soaked in-ring action blanketed in sponsorships, fireworks and maniacal cackling. They unleash so much of it in a constant wave that you won’t even have time to remember what happened two weeks prior because you just witnessed five straight hours which made that previous period of time completely null and void.
Movies and books end. TV shows have an off-season. Sport has a set number of matches, then some kind of championship game followed by significant time off so the athletes can rest, recuperate and renegotiate their lives. WWE doesn’t do this. It is all year round and has been that way for decades.
If WWE has a method in its madness and a purpose that it spirals towards, it is Wrestlemania. Once a year, attended by thousands and watched by millions, this extinction level event extravaganza is their Superbowl. Their Grand Final. Their season finale. With a stadium venue booked years in advance, WWE bring together absolutely everything in their arsenal and spew it forth for the world to marvel at. All their wrestlers, staff and fans join for one day and turn the volume up to 11,000. It is near impossible to look away even if most of the dozen-or-so matches on the card are tedious, poorly-planned rubbish.
With that in mind, outside of Wrestlemania is where the true creature that is WWE lives and breathes. You’d think after an annual event of this size, which costs millions of dollars and takes months of planning, a company would want to have a nice, peaceful retreat. This organisation doesn’t subscribe to such human beliefs because less than twenty-four hours later, they are back at it with a three-hour live show bursting at the seams with even more wrestling. Just like every other week.
Let’s break this down.
As of this writing, WWE have two main weekly live shows: RAW and Smackdown Live. They are screened on the same cable TV network and are three and two hours long, respectively. They are held in different US cities every week for each show (and sometimes overseas) on Mondays and Tuesdays. Both shows are attended by thousands of fans regardless of which city they are in. Different wrestlers travel to each city every week to engage in matches (occasionally more) in one night. Directly after the match or at the absolute latest the next morning, wrestlers travel to their next event either by car, bus or plane.
In addition to Raw and Smackdown, WWE hosts non-televised live events and tours around the world, a weekly live show showcasing the cruiserweight wrestling division (205 Live), a weekly pre-recorded show featuring their in-development talent (NXT, which also has multiple live non-televised events throughout the year), multiple live pre-show and post-show panel discussion programs which are tied to RAW and Smackdown and several multi-day specialised tournaments which are held separately to any of these aforementioned shows. These can be seen on WWE’s own streaming on-demand service, the WWE Network.
None of what I’ve laid out here even includes the main events or ‘pay-per-views’ (more on these later) which currently occur approximately every three weeks and are by far and away the most important dates on the WWE calendar. These are shows like the Royal Rumble, Summerslam, Survivor Series and Hell In A Cell and last anywhere between four and six hours (depending on how long the pre-show lasts, which includes more matches).
Eight of these events have happened so far in 2017 (in cities mostly separate again from weekly shows) with a further six scheduled between now and November. Both RAW and Smackdown are designed to build momentum to each of these shows with feuds between wrestlers and the culmination of storylines. The weekly shows directly preceding the pay-per-views are called ‘go home shows’ and are specifically written to get everyone to a frothing stage of hype for the main event matches that will explode in the ring in a few days time at the corresponding big show.
Bakersfield, California. St Petersburg, Florida. Odessa, Texas. Phoenix, Arizona. New York, New York. Seattle, Washington. Portland, Oregon. Huntington, West Virginia. Lexington, Kentucky. Nashville, Tennessee.
This is the tip of the exhausted-just-looking-at-it iceberg when it comes to the inhuman travel schedule of this company and its employees for the next couple of months. If you’re not one of the upper echelon of superstars in the WWE, it’s up to you to throw your gear into a car and drive to the next town in enough time to get ready to do it night after night after night.
Turn up at 3AM in some backward-ass town to ask Buford the motel owner for a key to a room while his inbred kids pester you to sign their t-shirts before they go out lighting fires in their backyard while all you want to do is scream into your mildew-soaked pillow because the painkillers are barely keeping your searing knees from destroying you and you start to shake uncontrollably at the thought of doing this all again in a few hours while the fans barely give a damn and oh dear God I wish Sharon never left me I could have been goddamn good to her aaaaarrrggghhhh.
I’m only guessing that’s what a mid-to-low tier wrestler’s daily life is like. It probably doesn’t apply to everyone. The point is, while most of us get out of the same bed every morning to go to the same job in the same building day in, day out, WWE and its hundreds of employees are perpetually screaming at top speed through the night to their next destination so they can attempt to fulfill their best ideas and fan’s desires. It is deranged.
That’s not even taking into account the fact that the actual work that is performed every day would most certainly put normal human beings in hospital for years and have them live out their lives drinking bread instead of eating it. Somewhere in amongst all these events and shows and traveling, wrestlers must find the time to keep their bodies in peak physical condition. Because as ‘fake’ as this business appears to be, it can only be performed at the highest, most-convincing level if you spend more time in the gym than you do with your kids.
On the odd occasion WWE places a ‘normal’ person in the ring with their shirt off, the difference between us and the colossal beasts that wear fluorescent tights is staggering. Even most wrestlers that seem average-sized manage to tower over us mere meatlover-pizza-inhaling mortals to the point where we come away from live events feeling like we just visited Mount Fucking Olympus.
With countless matches happening every week in numerous cities, severe injuries to these behemoths are inevitable. Sometimes top stars get knocked out of competition for anywhere up to a year while they undergo surgery and rehabilitation. However, the engine of WWE keeps turning. This monster can suffer enough cuts and scrapes to bring down the most mythical of beasts but it never stops churning and eating and devouring. It has gone through more legitimate scandals and controversies in the last twenty years than most companies would see in ten lifetimes.
If it was any other publicly-traded, listed-on-the-NASDAQ corporation, WWE would have been buried years ago with its executive staff brought down in shame. Prison sentences would have been handed out, reputations destroyed and careers burned into cinders before being tossed into the nearest sewer. Shielded from the eyes of children and spoken only to future generations in hushed whispers for fear of your family becoming pariahs.
As a preventative measure to avoid this grim future from happening, WWE has spent years oiling its machinations to a high-mirror shine so it can keep chugging along regardless of consequences. It is an empire of such monstrous streamlining that it has slowly designed itself to be completely impregnable despite any external or internal calamity that may occur. From a level of corporate success – free from moral quandary or human emotion – Nikola Tesla could not have designed a more perfect machine.
Who the hell would submit themselves to being part of such an enterprise? Professional wrestlers, that’s who. There will be more focus on them as individuals later in this series but as it currently stands, WWE has hundreds of wrestlers currently under contract. Some only make a single annual appearance while others are backflipping off the top turnbuckle five times a week. There are even wrestlers who barely make any appearances at all but remain on the payroll simply due to long-standing friendship, politics or contractual negotiation.
Their ages range from nineteen to over fifty years old. They come from all corners of the planet of various gender, ethnicity, religious background and personal belief. Overall, this colossal organisation employs champions, losers, jesters and demons in every form you could imagine. Hulking monsters to petite pixies. Comedic clowns to brooding killers. All coming together under the same roof.
This slick beast has no real competition. There are other wrestling companies and promotions around the world and some of them even do the whole wrestling thing better than anyone. But the fact remains that WWE in 2017 is without peer or fear of persecution. And that gives them the freedom to function however they damn well please. No matter how many careers are destroyed, no matter how much potential is wasted, no matter how many baffling and self-destructive decisions are made, WWE always comes out on top.
The millions of fans will never stop worshipping at this altar. Ticket sales, streaming subscribers and a herculean merchandise division outweigh any fan concern or viewer outrage. Everyone just keeps coming back. Because for the majority of people wanting to dedicate themselves to this form of ‘sports entertainment’, WWE are the only game in town.
All because of the machine.