This afternoon’s cuppa: Gevalia Hazelnut cappuccino
Here’s my syndicated feature story this week on a big milestone for pro wrestling…
Those who saw the critically acclaimed 2008 feature film “The Wrestler” saw a less glamorous aspect of the multimillion-dollar pro-wrestling industry.
For every wrestler who makes it to the WWE spotlight, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, who never made it that far and toil in the sport’s lower echelons, and many more who were once stars and have now fallen from the heights because of age, injury or other issues.
Actor Mickey Rourke’s Randy “The Ram” Robinson character in “The Wrestler” is more than a decade past his prime, scratching out a living in New Jersey working at odd jobs, signing autographs and competing on weekends in independent matches.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
On Saturday, Aug. 29, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, NBC premieres a one-hour version of the four-hour pay-per-view “WrestleMania 25” extravaganza, called “The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania.”
If “WrestleMania 25” participant and “WWE Raw” wrestler Triple H (real name Paul Michael Levesque) has anything to say about it, he and his fellow wrestlers will end their careers in reasonably good physical shape and with money in the bank.
“That movie accurately portrayed our business,” he says, “a very small facet of it. Here’s a guy who was on a big level at one time, but is no longer doing it, scraping to get by but can’t let go.
“It’s no different from the music business or the actor in local community theater who can’t admit the fact that maybe the dream is past. It happens in every walk of life.”
Another issue raised in the movie is the use of steroids and other drugs to bulk up physiques and improve performance.
Says Triple H (who is also the son-in-law of WWE honcho Vince McMahon), “We have a very strong wellness program, which encompasses very stringent, random drug testing. We’re tested for all anabolic steroids, any kind of performance-enhancing substances. We’re also tested very rigorously for recreational drugs.
“But we also have — which even a lot of sports organizations don’t have — a true wellness program, because it not only encompasses those things, but twice a year we have very rigorous cardiac testing.”
After all, pro wrestling is theater, and fans want to see their favorites in the ring as often and for as long as possible. But as with any physical occupation, the candle burns twice as bright but half as long.
“It’s like being in the NFL,” Triple H says. “The career span is not necessarily the longest. We have financial planning for guys. We have been helping them to have a normal life. Once you’re out of the spotlight, how do you go back to being a normal guy? Do you still have money left?
“We offer that to all our talent that are current, and we also have programs for talent that have worked for us in the past.”
As to whether “The Wrestler” should be required viewing, Triple H says, “Well, sure, and hopefully it did smarten some of them up. But it’s not how much you make; it’s how much you save. At the end of the day, when the cheering stops, you want to end up in a good place.”
Of course, as in any facet of entertainment, long-term success can depend on intangibles.
“It’s the charisma thing,” Triple H says. “That’s what really draws people into our business. It doesn’t matter if a guy is 7 foot or 5 foot, doesn’t matter if he’s 300 pounds of muscle or 300 pounds of fat. It’s about having charisma.
“Mick Foley wrestled with us for years and was a No. 1 best-selling author and all those things. I don’t think Mick ever lifted a weight in his life if it wasn’t attached to food.
“He’s in terrible shape, but he’s one of the biggest stars we ever had.”
Also, to have a long career in pro wresting, you shouldn’t actually punch out somebody unless you plan on paying the price. In “WrestleMania 25,” Rourke jumped in the ring and hit wrestler Chris Jericho. Despite fight training as an actor, he left a little the worse for wear.
“Mickey wanted to be there,” Triple H says. “Then at the end of the match, as only the WWE can do, we got him involved, and he knocked out Chris Jericho.
“There’s a very fine line between punching somebody with intent to physically hurt them, and then something just strong enough to really look good but not to physically harm anybody. I believe Mickey broke his hand. He hit Chris on the top of his head or something and broke his hand.
“But ‘WrestleMania’ was a very exciting event for us, and Mickey was a big part of it.”