Risks of the Ring

in Speaking of Sports by

Like any red-blooded young lad, I grew up on professional wrestling. Larger-than-life personalities, over-the-top action, beautiful women, and outrageous plotlines are all things that a boy of 11 or 12 finds quite stimulating.

Every boy becomes a man though, and with that evolution wrestling goes from absurdly delightful to delightfully absurd. Suddenly what happened at the last pay-per-view isn’t as important as paying the mortgage or going to parent-teacher interviews.

Once I outgrew wrestling I never gave it another thought. I couldn’t name five guys who currently perform on television. That’s not to say I don’t respect what they do. Honestly, I’d say professional wrestlers are among the best athletes in world, not to mention their commitment to spending 320 days a year on the road living out of their own pockets.

As disinterested in wrestling as I am, I didn’t really consider what happened to the guys I grew up watching. It’s no secret that many of them died young, while many others were only out of the limelight for a short time before returning to action for a big payday. But what about guys who took other paths?

The answer lies as much in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, a horribly depressing look at a broken down former wrestling star, as it does anywhere else. That film followed the fictional Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson as he wrestled in high school gyms and rec centres for fans who appreciated him for what he was more than for what he’d become.

A real life ‘Ram’?

This weekend, it seems that story will come to our own backyard.

Legend City Wrestling has heavily promoted a series of shows in St. John’s and Clarenville, headlined by former superstar Raven. Raven, portrayed by Scott Levy, spent much of the past 20 years in the top promotions in the business with the gimmick of a hardcore antihero, achieving incredible popularity around the world and wrestling on countless epic stages.

Now if you have five dollars, you can see him at the CLB Armoury. Or Club One. Or the Clarenville Events Centre. You get the point.

Raven, portrayed by Scott Levy, spent much of the past 20 years in the top promotions in the business… Now if you have five dollars, you can see him at the CLB Armoury.

This isn’t a slight against Levy or Legend City Wrestling. Quite the opposite. This is the first time pro wrestling got my attention since Hulk Hogan was relevant. But it also draws attention to a human element that makes you think.

This man has given his life to an athletic endeavour that he must have incredible passion for. If he didn’t, he’d probably be a schoolteacher or an accountant. He’s given years to fans by going out every night and falling on concrete floors or getting winged with steel chairs (and no, he doesn’t know how to “take it,” check out Beyond the Mat to see to that point), all in the name of the business.

His reward? Top billing at the CLB Armoury.

Working without a net

To me, that doesn’t seem fair.

Professional wrestlers are at remarkable risk for injury and most don’t have the means to cover themselves with insurance. Especially guys like Levy, who are closer to the finish line than they are to the starting gate, and never made millions along the way. In fact, Levy launched a lawsuit against Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment to that very end, claiming the promoter gypped him out of health benefits.

Classy move there, Vince, how much did that add to your boundless wealth?

The case was thrown out by the judge, and Levy is left approaching 50 years old performing at independent shows with no obvious financial safety net. I hesitate to call it sad, because I’m sure there are worse ways to make a living than doing something you enjoy all over the world, but I’ve definitely heard happier stories.

The next time you happen across pro wrestling on TV and think it’s fake or that the risks aren’t real, think of a guy like Scott Levy and the thousands of others who don’t even have it that good. The risks are very real, they just don’t all happen to be inside the ring.