Saturday, November 10, 2007

Weight Classes Could Help Drug Problem in Wrestling

When you turn on the television to watch wrestling, what do you see? Big beefy bodies usually. Tall, muscular heavyweight wrestlers are the rule of thumb in wrestling, for a variety of reasons.

I do not think the average person understands how difficult it is for a person to weigh in over 200 lbs. on a six foot frame and have a low body fat percentage. There is a reason that people that have body types like that are on the covers of magazines and can make good money with such a physique - it is not common. And, while having the talent to become a WWE star is not common either, proficiency at a sport does not necessarily require the physique of a Greek god.

Look at the sport of football. Big beefy offensive linemen are often promoted as being complete pigs because of their physique. Hell, football players like Mike Golic have even made careers after their playing days on the idea that linemen are eating machines. I’m sure everyone has heard a story about a local pro, college, or even high school team’s linemen going to some kind of buffet and being asked to leave after eating plate upon plate of food. In the NFL, these guys are athletes of the highest magnitude, and weigh an average of 285 lbs.

I ask you to take a look at your favorite NFL team next Sunday. How many of those players look as “ripped” as the WWE wrestlers? How many of them are built like bodybuilders? These guys are of the same height and weight as required by the WWE and are some of the highest paid athletes on the planet. They are required to be in the best possible physical condition to compete at the highest level of their sport.
Not to look like they are in the top condition to compete at the highest level.

According to people that I have spoken to that have been to places like OVW, or that have been scouted by Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., the only major wrestling promotion in the United States is not interested in any wrestlers who are under 250 pounds, and under 6’2” tall. In addition to those minimum requirements, they expect their wrestlers to have “the look”. “The Look” is a catch-all term meaning “the look of a bodybuilder”.

Chris Masters is a great example of this. This is a guy that, from the outside looking in, was not a great wrestler. The WWE even promoted him as having the body of a Greek god – thus he was branded “The Masterpiece”. Outside pressures (such as wrestlers dying and/or murdering their families) forced the WWE to start testing its competitors for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs and illegal narcotics such as marijuana. Suddenly, Masters found himself suspended. Then, he was ridiculed on television for losing weight while not taking the banned substances. It should be no surprise then that he failed another test, and was suspended again shortly after gaining most of his muscle mass back.

Last week, Masters was suspended yet again, and then released. No where did we hear any reports about McMahon or the WWE putting Masters into a drug counseling program, or the FBI or ATF questioning him about where he was getting these substances. This kid was chewed up and spit out by the WWE machine simply because he had “the look” and they required him to maintain this look. Afterall, wrestling skill was not important.

I am willing to bet that there are about 25 wrestlers who had a fair amount of publicity and reputation that, if they had debuted in the WWE in 2005, could have gained a fan following and drawn more money for the company than Masters. But, they were not winners of amateur bodybuilding contests like Masters. Nor were they all over six feet tall.

Simply put, the WWE does not hire the best wrestlers in the world; they hire people who look like models. Alex Rodriguez is poised to become the highest paid athlete in the planet, and I guarantee that not one team that is thinking of signing him has debated whether or not he has “the look” of a baseball player. No, A-Rod can prove all he needs to with a look at his stats. If he looks nice in his underwear, maybe he can pick up modeling work endorsing… underwear. Charles Barkley was always known as the “Round Mound of Rebound” because he was pudgy. Barkley also was a multiple time all-star and is on his way to the hall of fame because he could play basketball. Not because he had six pack abs.

So, why is having “the look” so important in wrestling? A look that, simply put, is not natural.

According to the American Heart Lung and Blood Institute, a person who is 6’2” and 250 lbs is obese. A person of that size would have a Body Mass Index of 32.1 – 2.1 points over the obesity threshold. While the ignorant masses watching RAW every Monday may look at stars such as John Cena and think that this is what an athlete is supposed to look like, it is actually the exact opposite. Looking like what the WWE wants is unhealthy.

I think there is a simple solution to all of this: weight classes.

The hottest fighting sport in the world right now is the Ultimate Fighting Championships. UFC is destroying the WWE when it comes to pay-per-view. UFC PPV events average about 400,000 buys – and they now take place on a monthly basis. While they may not generate the television revenue that WWE does, UFC sells nearly double what WWE does on PPV. When you ask people to name UFC stars they will often name Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Quinton Jackson, Rich Franklin, and Ken Shamrock. Except for Couture, none of those men fight as heavyweights for UFC. And Couture has fought most of his career as both a heavyweight, and a light heavyweight.

So, if no one wants to see average size people fight, why is UFC destroying WWE at the PPV box office? While there are a variety of factors why UFC may be a booming business, my argument is that the size of the competitor is not one of them.

Vince McMahon and people of his same train of thought will tell you that people will not pay to see “small” wrestlers because they want to be entertained by “larger than life characters”. That mentality comes from the fact that for years, the most prestigious title in all of sports was the Heavyweight Champion of the World. In Boxing. Why was it prestigious? Because the heavyweight division had characters like John L. Sullivan, Jack Johnson, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and many, many more. These were all first class athletes, sure. They also were first class personalities. Guys like Jerry Cooney may have been good fighters, but they had no personality, so they were not stars. Roy Jones, Ray Leonard, Shane Mosley, Oscar de la Hoya – these guys are stars too because they had personality – despite not being heavyweights.

The WWE machine is about creating and branding a “personality”, rather than letting an athlete’s real personality shine thru. The territory days and the studio style of promo have gone away in favor of the WWE telling someone what their personality is. The WWE does not sign the best personalities it can find, they go for the bodies that define what wrestling should be to Vince McMahon.

What UFC has done is find a formula for promoting the personalities of their fighters in a way the WWE no longer does. UFC has press conferences, interviews with legitimate media outlets, and lets their fighters be themselves on their television shows such as “The Ultimate Fighter”. UFC has promoted their heavyweights as hard hitting and their smaller fighters as quick and exciting. Guys weighing in at 170lbs and standing 6’5” is not as uncommon as you might think. Heavyweights weighing in at 265 lbs and not having ripped six pack abs are the norm. Hell, guys like Chuck Liddell even get over with the fans because their bodies are more like a “working man”. UFC shows the monster eight hour workouts that guys like Tito Ortiz put themselves thru – and you see that Ortiz isn’t as ripped as Chris Masters. Ortiz trains to fight. Vince McMahon seems to have forgotten that is what is supposed to be going on in the ring – a fight.

“Weight Class” is a dirty phrase in wrestling. Everyone wants to be heavyweight champ, not a “junior” champ. Well, at least in the United States. Other than when WCW promoted the Cruiserweight Division in the late 1990’s, no major promotion in the US has given non-heavyweights a forum to get over a different style of ring work. In Japan, maybe you could debate if it was more prestigious to be the IWGP Heavyweight or Junior Heavyweight Champion in New Japan. In Mexico, the most prestigious championships are the CMLL and NWA Light Heavyweight Championships. In UFC, the division where the big money marquee matches are is the Light Heavyweight. Two guys under 200 lbs. fighting for a title can draw 20,000 paying fans to an arena in Japan, Mexico, and the US – but not for the WWE. Or so says Vince McMahon.

Currently, the WWE has three different heavyweight championships. They have zero singles championships for non-heavyweights (or did you not notice that the Cruiserweight Championship disappeared after Hornswaggle won it?). Is it even at all possible to conceive that there are not enough wrestlers out there less than 200 lbs. for the largest wrestling company in the world to put together a division for them, but they have so many good heavyweights that they put together three different divisions for them?

Maybe the WWE product would become less stale, fewer wrestlers would die, and ratings and buyrates would increase if the WWE actually promoted wrestling by athletes instead of crappy acting by bodybuilders.
Here is what the WWE could do:

  • Hold a tournament to merge the Raw, Smackdown and ECW Heavyweight titles, as well as the US and Intercontinental titles. The winner would be the only heavyweight holding a singles title in the WWE. Plenty of room in this division for guys like HHH, Batista, Undertaker, Mark Henry, Khali, Randy Orton, Bobby Lashley, Ken Kennedy, John Cena, and others.
  • Hold a sixteen man cruiserweight tournament, with the winner getting the revived Cruiserweight Championship. This would only be for wrestlers who weigh less than 200 lbs., such as Super Crazzy, Matt Hardy, Shawn Michaels, Carlito Colon, Cody Rhodes, Chavito Guerrero, Montel Porter, Greg Helms, Elijah Burke, Stevie Richards, and Edge.
  • Introduce a “Welterweight” Championship for wrestlers weighing less than 175lbsWrestlers such as Shannon Moore, Rey Misterio, Jr., Jimmy Yang, Jeff Hardy, Spanky Kendick, Paul London, CM Punk, The Miz, and John Morrison could compete in this division.

    I’m not even going to get into tag teams, as that could be another topic completely (Hmmm… next week’s blog topic?!?), but you cannot tell me that the prospect of a card with three big title matches consisting of Batista/Undertaker, Hardy/MVP and Morrison/Punk would draw worse then anything they do now – because that is the same damn thing they are pushing now.

    The difference is that by introducing titles for different weight classes, you keep wrestlers healthy, and you have to bring something to that weight class to get a shot in the first place. Bigger isn’t always better.

    Just ask Chris Masters.


    grmd61 said...


    Jedd Johnson, CSCS said...

    When a guy like Cena or Masters registers as obese with that system, that is all the proof you need to know it is limited. Bodybuilders register heavy because of the increased muscle mass, which is not unhealthy mass, and the BMI system does not take that into account.

    Nikita said...

    grmd61 - WWE wrestlers (or any other wrestlers for that matter) are not members of the Screen Actor's Guild, and do not pay dues to that union. Some wrestlers on an individual basis may have a SAG card due to appearances in movies or television shows, but not from working for the WWE. It is the same as Baseball players not being in the SAG even though their events are on TV - they are in the MLB Players Association. No union represents professional wrestlers (in the US at least).

    jedd johnson, cscs - I do not doubt that the scale used is limited. But what it does is help validate what I am saying - wrestlers pack too much weight on their bodies in order to fulfill a pointless job requirement. My point was that pretty much all of the titles in the WWE are useless because they do not represent anything. Yet, if they had actual weight divisions with champions representing that weight class, not only would the titles mean something, but maybe it would start to change the "bigger is better" culture of a wrestling locker room.