By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Look at that. I’m back for a second Monday in a row, and this week, I come complete with a brand new Twitter account. Who would have thunk?
A lot has happened over the last seven days in the world of pro wrestling, and as if that’s not enough, we now find ourselves immersed in go-home week for one of WWE’s four tentpole events, Survivor Series. Does anyone care about brand supremacy? No. Are we sick of grown men arguing over who gets to be a team captain? Yes. Does it feel like what used to be one of the neatest premises for a pay-per-view has been criminally bastardized in the name of capitalism, egotism and lazy thinking?
But I digress.
Actually, on second thought, capitalism, egotism and lazy thinking have a lot to do with this McGuire’s Monday. So, let’s not waste anymore time, shall we?
INDEPENDENT … WHAT?
The biggest story over the weekend in wrestling wasn’t Talk-N-Shop-A-Mania 2. Nor was it the change of two different titles at some weird, barely-seen Impact half-PPV. Instead, that award went to Zelina Vega (real name, Thea Trinidad), who was let go by WWE.
First, the essentials. WWE recently made a mandate that its wrestlers must get rid of its third-party, money-making ventures such as Twitch. Vega, who developed quite a following on the website in the first place, refused to do that. Then, she tweeted these magical three words.
“I support unionization.”
Within what felt like seconds, news broke that she was fired (though she was presumably aware of her release before she tweeted). As a result, she took to her social media accounts to thank WWE, her fans, and so on and so forth. According to, well, pretty much everybody, she has a 90-day non-compete clause, so don’t expect her to show up and give Brandi a huracanrana on Dynamite quite yet.
Perhaps the most striking thing to come from the ordeal was the revelation that Vega was making more money from her Twitch account than she was through her WWE contract (or, at least so says Dave Meltzer). If that’s true, then that’s nuts for a couple reasons.
One, who knew you could make that kind of money by dressing up in costumes and streaming footage of yourself playing video games? I mean, really. What a time to be alive. And two, who exactly does Vince McMahon think he is? Actually, we know that answer: A greedy dictator who is as cut-throat a businessman as all the characters on “Succession” combined.
But, in reality — and my apologies for going all Ryback here — he’s not just that greedy dictator; he’s also a capitalistic egotist that has sunk into his lazy days of thinking like Ric Flair used to sink in the figure-four on Sting.
The way he views the pro wrestling business in 2020 is antiquated. No longer should the biggest name and/or brand in an industry cling onto the veil of something as obsolete and irresponsible as independent contracting in a world where so many workers have so few rights without a union. That’s first.
Second is the hypocrisy with which the heads at WWE work as they take away the ability for wrestlers to capitalize on their fame. And, remember, this comes at a time when a fundamental element of the financial equation for all workers, house shows, has been taken off the menu, and a global pandemic has brought so many industries (and people) to their financial knees.
If the wrestling world is inherently and historically a strange place to live, then the WWE Universe is kind of like if The Truman Show was a documentary and not a scripted drama. At the head of it all is McMahon, and while we can all file our gripes about his insistence on tearing up scripts on a dime and writing bad television shows these days, the one thing that so many of us should never ignore is his penchant for playing God. He loves it.
And don’t get me wrong: Count me in the millions of wrestling fans who view McMahon as a visionary who utterly changed the course of an entire industry for better and for worse. When (or if) he ever passes away, the wrestling world will owe him not just everything, but a piece of the future, whatever that is, for how far he advanced the weird world of pro wrestling when he was at his best.
But if you look up the phrase “drunk with power” in some dictionary somewhere, I’m pretty sure you’ll find a photo of him with that signature wry smile of his. He chooses who wins, he chooses who loses, he chooses who the company gets behind, he chooses who gets to wear titles, he chooses who graces your television screen, he chooses theme music, he cheeses wrestling attire … he probably chooses if the pretzels at the concession stand have salt on them.
Which, of course, brings me back to Zelina Vega. She’s talented. Very talented. And her act with Andrade in NXT clicked awfully well before Vince got his hands on it. Why she wasn’t used more often is a question I’ll never know the answer to, but I do know that, viewing her work from afar, she was deserving of more than what they gave her. The same could be said about a ton of talent there, yes, but in this case, it’s twice as curious, why?
Because even if she wasn’t given the opportunity to further her pro wrestling profile — and thus make more money at her day job — due to the decisions and tastes of a singular individual who has the ultimate say, then she should, at the very least, have the ability to make more money in other ways. I work at a newspaper for a living, but I also bartend four nights a week. Does my newspaper care about that? No. Because if nothing else, my newspaper knows that newspaper people barely make any money.
Plus, the two jobs don’t compete. And for those arguing that Twitch is a competitor with the WWE — and yes, I’ve read all about how the company is hiring people to potentially begin its own little version of Twitch — you need to stop before you get too far ahead of yourself. One describes itself as “the world’s leading live streaming platform for gamers and the things we love.”
The other owns the rights to a “Judy Bagwell On A Pole Match.”
Vega will be fine, of course. She says she still wants to wrestle, and you know there are companies out there that would love to bring her in after those three months are up. Until then, she can Twitch all she likes and while I acknowledge it’s cynical, you can’t deny that this dust-up will ultimately help her profile. Now, as for her husband …
JOIN WHAT DOT COM?
A friend sent it to me over the weekend and it was too good for me to not tweet out: “What if this actually happened?” is what he sent, and with it was a picture of Tom Budgen (WWE’s Aleister Black, Vega’s real-life husband) in front of a Dark Order backdrop. The colors even matched with one another to boot.
And thus I pose the question to you: Would the addition of Aleister Black in the Dark Order help elevate the faction or drag down Black’s popularity with the masses?
We won’t know the answer for a while, if ever, as Black reportedly asked for his release from the company (or to return to NXT, depending on which site you read) and the company promptly denied it, as the company so often does. In the meantime, it feels like they have nothing for him on the main roster, which is a shame because man, I love that theme music.
Still, his situation, to me, is a classic example of yet another old trope that could go away in professional wrestling …
PUT ME IN, COACH
You hear it a lot from the old-timers, especially the ones who host podcasts these days. Jim Ross, who I love and have all the respect in the world for, talks often about “maximizing minutes” and being happy “just having a jersey.” All that’s well and good, and sure, I can buy into there being a shred of reality to those maxims of accountability that Ross and others preach about achieving success in the wrestling business.
But in my mind, the single most obvious argument against that idiom begins and ends with the success of NXT. If talents are left to themselves to try and get over in NXT, and then they do, in fact, get over, then why can’t they get over again once McMahon sinks his claws into them? Or, are we to believe that Triple H is simply just a genius booker who knows how to use talent in ways that nobody else does?
My guess is that, like most things in life, it might be a combination of the two, but even so, the notion that success is right in front of you in the professional wrestling business and all you have to do to achieve it is work hard is … well … inaccurate. There are plenty of wrestlers who work hard and have been working hard for decades with no real progress or hope in sight. You can’t lay that entirely at the feet of them — unless if your relationship with naiveté is wildly unhealthy — and in fact, it might even be wise to acknowledge that this stuff is entirely subjective to either one person or a very, very small group of people who make the decisions.
And with someone as erratic and stubborn as McMahon steering the ship, for instance, results will forever promise to vary. I say this because after seeing Vega and Black’s respective runs in NXT — and then seeing how contrasting their time on the main roster in WWE turned out to be — it’s hard to merely hide behind the old “you just didn’t do your part” argument.
Yes, it’s up to the talent to stay in shape, constantly evolve, get better every day and blah, blah, blah (insert your own self-help banter here), but their success also depends on the moods and decisions of others. This isn’t selling used cards. You don’t get a promotion if you move $100,000 worth of product off the lot by the end of the month. Instead, this is a line of work where you are at the mercy of temperamental bosses and even more fickle fans.
A cruel way to earn a living? Yes. One at which you have to be fully committed to in order to succeed? Unquestionably. But did anyone say it was going to be fair? Well, as far as I can tell, there’s no such thing as “fair” in pro wrestling. Speaking of which …
A DOUBLE STANDARD?
Leave it to Dave Meltzer to bring awareness to something I hadn’t considered after all the Vega news went down: Bruce Prichard. On Wrestling Observer Radio, he mentioned how Prichard is in essence the only person allowed to have other money-making ventures in WWE (outside of, well, movies or TV appearances, presumably).
Many are wondering why Prichard is able to keep going at his “Something To Wrestle With” podcast — which, by the way, has no affiliation with WWE — while so many of these other personalities are again at the mercy of one man’s business decisions. As Meltzer pointed out, it was in Prichard’s contract to continue doing the show when he came back to WWE, but one has to wonder in the wake of all this Twitch stuff, if that provision will be revisited.
For my money (which is very little), it should be. As one former president used to say, “the optics aren’t good” on something like this, and if the brass at WWE have any common sense (or common decency), then they should at least consider forcing Prichard’s hand or — gasp! — maybe bring his podcast back to the network? Just a thought.
And finally this week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say once again that you ought to go out of your way to watch the Filthy Tom Lawlor vs. Fred Rosser match that aired on NJPW Strong this past Friday. It was a love letter to a time in wrestling that made wrist-locks look like they could break an entire arm. And while my review on it is up on this site, don’t listen to me, friends, and just see it for yourself.
One more piece of television you might want to check out? How about the Paul Bearer documentary that the WWE Network released as part of it’s “We Love The Undertaker” month. Speaking of a guy who lived and loved the business, it’s great to see the real life Bill Moody get his due. Without Paul Bearer, it’s hard to think the Undertaker’s legend would be as fruitful as it is today.
So, cheers to you, Mr. Moody. And now, it’s onward and upward to the return of the Gobbledy Gooker on Sunday.