15th April 2020 could well go down as the darkest day in the history of wrestling entertainment. We often rant and rave about these fighters as they play their chosen roles of heroes and heels – forgetting that they are real people with real lives and families.
Confused? That’s how the wrestlers and WWE staff must be feeling right now. Why? Because the WWE has just fired some and furloughed the rest right in the midst of a pandemic. That’s right, a company which is worth over 5 billion USD, which is known for not offering any retirement benefits – not even insurance to its fighters – and whose CEO has just been appointed in a special committee to help America revive its economy by the President has suddenly cut its staff loose, sending them adrift in turbulent waters. Colour us surprised – not.
As of this moment, Kurt Angle (Yes, that Kurt Angle), Rusev (Miroslav Barnyashev), Maria Kanellis, among many others are no longer a part of the WWE.
The whole thing is surreal. Rumours abound that some of them have only been furloughed and maybe rehired once this crisis is over – which really says a lot about the business, especially as most of them have dedicated their lives and health to the organization. Blood, sweat and tears don’t come much more literally than this. Some would say this financially makes sense for the business, but throwing your best people overboard when they most need you is not a good look for the brands, and wrestling fans may be rethinking their allegiances to the organization. To top it off, the firing was allegedly done with all the grace of a bad breakup – a cursory meeting to inform them they will receive updates over text. The entire situation reeks of callousness (and now Vince McMahon is going to help run the country. We truly live in the dark timeline). What makes it worse is that just a few days ago, the WWE announced that they have over $500 million in cash reserves and that they could even turn another profit this year, despite the pandemic.
How will these cuts affect the locker room? Especially when you take into account the fact that most of these wrestlers have risked life and limb for the organization. The WWE may never be the same again.
Of course, this may not stop people from signing on with the company. Those 3 initials are still incredibly powerful, but this may make them think twice. Take AJ Styles for example; he has just lost 2 of his real-life best-friends as well as his in-show henchmen which will affect him mentally as well as professionally.
Events like these don’t just go away. Fans have a long memory. For example, WWE’s numbers took a massive hit after they entered a deal with Saudi Arabia, one which left a bad taste in the mouth. Wrestling fans may partake in visual violence, but they have a certain code of morals too, and such actions will only erode brand loyalty.
The folding and bankruptcy of XFL set Vince McMahon on a downward trajectory only for Trump to offer him a hand – after all, birds of a feather flock together. To top it off, WWE was deemed an essential business in Florida – We’re still trying to wrap our head around that one.
The current situation has taken chunks out of everybody. English Football perennial chokers, Tottenham Hotspur, came out with a statement saying they were going to furlough members of their non-playing staff a couple of weeks ago. Football fans were absolutely outraged with that. Liverpool who followed in their statements also had to suffer from abject humiliation from across the footballing strata. Sure, both clubs have made amends and changed their tune since then, but the damage has been done and goodwill once lost isn’t easily regained (Imagine paying millions in brand-building activities only for such silly decisions to reverse it all. What a waste). WWE should’ve learnt its lesson from the woes of these clubs, but for now, they continue forth with blinkers on blind to the discontentment and disillusionment of their fans. Outrage is spewing over the web, and the organization may need to do some hasty course-correction.
Imagine being someone like Gallows and Anderson who pretty much headlined Wrestlemania 36 and gave tremendous performances, only to be shown their papers in a couple of weeks.
We know wrestling is a ruthless business, but as John Oliver stated in his show exactly a year ago, professional wrestlers need to be shown some form of protection, lest they are taken advantage of, again and again, leading to eventual addiction, depression and suicide, which has sadly been the norm for too many of these fighters.
Here’s hoping that World Wrestling Entertainment takes the right decision soon – though we wouldn’t be holding our breath for it.
- Written by Hriday Sharma and Pritesh Patil.
- Non-exhaustive list of fired and furloughed fighters: Kurt Angle, Rusev (Miroslav Barnyashev), Drake Maverick (James Curtin), Zack Ryder (Matthew Cardona), Curt Hawkins (Brian Myers), Karl Anderson (Chad Allegra), Luke Gallows (Drew Hankinson), Heath Slater (Heath Miller), Eric Young (Jeremy Fritz), Rowan (Joseph Ruud), Sarah Logan (Sarah Rowe), No Way Jose (Levis Valenzuela), Mike Chioda(Who has been in the company since the late 80’s), Mike Kanellis (Mike Bennett), Maria Kanellis, EC3 (Michael Hutter), Aiden English (Matthew Rehwoldt), Lio Rush (Lionel Green), Primo (Edwin Colon) and Epico (Orlando Colon Nieves).