Sunday, October 5, 2014

When should wrestlers just hang it up?


When finishing up Drawing Heat, the discussion of The Sheik's latter days begs the question when should wrestlers retire. Wrestlers often lack a plan for retirement and those who once made good money seldom seem prepared to adjust when no longer headliners. For many wrestlers like The Sheik, a nostalgia factor can get a few hundred a show for a while, but this alone is rarely sustainable. For fans too the nostalgia appeal fades when a wrestler's performance can no longer match their legacy and performers once presented as superstars appear much more mortal (ex. watching any of Ric Flair's matches after his "retirement" in 2008). In the post kayfabe period more opportunities are available that do not require to lace up the boots one more time (e.g. fan conventions, shoot videos), but these again are unlikely to be significant income for the majority of wrestlers.
 
Related, I recently read that Terry Funk and Mil Mascaras, both in their seventies, are scheduled for a match in Japan in December. Funk I presume returns from time to time out of passion for the business rather than the need of a paycheck (I'm less familiar with Mascaras).  Abdullah the Butcher, also in his seventies, occasionally wrestles (or just gouges an opponent with a fork). These examples arguably fit a niche that few others could, but does their desire to still perform discourage others from planning accordingly for a life after wrestling?

3 comments:

Melissa Smith said...

Any time I see older wrestlers in the ring, I am afraid that they're going to seriously injure themselves. All those who are "returning," or are referred to as a "legend" automatically induce a wince from me. My roommate is a nursing major, and I've taken my fair share of biology classes (as a bio major drop out), so I know how age affects the body. Let's just say that when you're old enough to be my dad (who is still a good deal younger than Funk and Abdullah), you probably shouldn't be wrestling anymore. You're gonna hurt yourself. It's time to start looking into alternatives-- outside of the arena.

Timothy S. Rich said...

There have been enough deaths associated with professional wrestling and it is certainly conceivable that a wrestler able to collect social security could have a life-threatening injury. Most major promoters would shy away from such a risk, for if no other reason the PR backlash if a wrestler were to be severely injured or die in the ring. Sure, there are ways to book a match in which these legends could minimize this risk, but is it worth it?

Sam Ford said...

There are a few different issues at play here. First, there is the financial one. Guys who have no other skill sets, no other backgrounds, and who are used to a standard of living they can no longer maintain can be lured out for a four-figure payday for a day's work or two, cashing in on their yesteryear. And it's hard to turn down when you can earn more on a Saturday than you can make in a week's worth of work.

Plus, the other wrestlers on the indie circuit may really look up to them and treat them like wise sages, etc. And that gets into what I think is so a propos about the description of The Sheik that Freedman provides. It wasn't money. Sheik made his money. They he couldn't give it up. He spent a good chunk of it trying to keep his act going forever, rather than cashing out when the time passed him by. And I don't know that he was doing his traveling out of necessity of $$$ as much as he was out of necessity of "being The Sheik." In wrestling, you live your character like you do in no other form of entertainment...which means people can't figure out what "retirement" looks like. What does the treacherous Sheik do in retirement? Torture other people in the retirement village? Of course not...so, thus, The Sheik must continue performing for the rest of his life. After all, his wife calls him Sheik. His family calls him Sheik. He works his gimmick at family birthday parties...

It's quite a sad story of being unable to hang up the tights. (And, to be clear, it's far from everyone's story. Glen Jacobs (Kane) already owns his own insurance agency. Many wrestlers had successful simultaneous careers or after-retirement careers, such as Tito Santana, who became a teacher at retirement, for instance...A healthy dose of wrestlers have gone on to be preachers...a few politicians (both of which make a good deal of sense to me)...