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High stakes and high risks: managing career uncertainties in wrestling and gambling

Professional wrestling is a global phenomenon, with the UK, Japan, USA, and Mexico having the biggest following. The style of wrestling varies between each country, but the showmanship, excitement and risks are common denominators. Notable wrestling promotions include the WWE and Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL).

The WWE is the most well-known – it attracts huge audiences from as many as 150 different countries, and it is responsible for one of the best-loved events of the wrestling season, WrestleMania. The CMLL is renowned for the flamboyant style of wrestling known as Lucha Libre (think Jack Black flying through the air with a red cape and blue leggings). New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) is the biggest event organiser in Japan, this style is all about being tough and strong with much less messing around. And All Elite Wrestling (AEW) is a relative newcomer to the scene and is making a play to become the WWE biggest competitor.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, wrestling appeals to an incredibly broad audience. The demographic is split pretty evenly between men and women (60%/40% split), and between adults and kids. As an industry, it can make a large impact on a localised economy. Being the location of a significant wrestling match is not laughing matter. Along with ticket sales and merchandise, fans are spending money in local hotels, restaurants, and shops. When WrestleMania was held in Orlando, for example, it’s estimated that it generated $181 million for the local economy.

What makes a wrestler great?

Professional wrestlers need specific character traits should they wish to succeed in what is a highly competitive profession fraught with risk. Mental strength, a strategic mind, and a nature not adverse to risk are essential. Both wrestling and gambling are precarious choices, and whoever dares to go all the way must be prepared for the unexpected and be ready to fight their way to the top. It’s not unlike the set of skills that are needed to be successful when playing at the newest online casinos or challenging opponents in a competitive e-sports arena.

But wrestlers don’t become John Cena overnight. They have to train rigorously in specialised schools. Training to become a professional can take up to 3 years, and even then, there are no guarantees. If you don’t have the personality or showmanship to go along with the wrestling skills, you’re unlikely to make it into the professional promotions. Check out the film ‘Fighting with My Family’ if you want a better understanding of how the system works.

The Wrestling Gamble

Like any sport career, making it to the top as a wrestler takes commitment, courage, and skill. As anyone sports person will tell you, if you’re not devoted to your sport, you’re not going to make it. The added difficulty in wrestling is that not only is it competitive, but it also comes with an elevated risk of injury. Sure, we know much of what we see in the professional ring is staged for entertainment purposes, but that doesn’t mean that wrestlers aren’t putting their body on the line. So, the gamble comes down to how long a professional wrestler can go without getting a career-ending injury.

In most cases, however, professional wrestlers tend to have careers that last into their mid to late 40’s – much longer careers than the average athlete, in fact. But all that time in the ring takes its toll on the body. A smart wrestler will look to diversify their income as soon as possible. Take Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, for example. Branching out into action movies may have seemed unlikely at the time (I mean, remember when Hulk Hogan went Hollywood – disaster), but The Rock built a wildly successful career for himself outside of the ring. That doesn’t mean he turned his back on wrestling though – he’s constantly teasing a return to the ring.

Not every wrestler can turn movie star, but that’s not the only option. Many wrestlers use their huge social media following to create new streams of income. The WWE alone has over 30 Million followers, and a popular wrestler can have a few million of their own. Cody Rhodes, who won the 2023 Royal Rumble, has 1.7 million followers on IG and Charlotte Flair, one of the best woman wrestlers in history, has 5.3 million followers.

Endorsement deals, TV gigs, merchandising, and other business ventures alone will see wrestlers like these make a super comfortable living outside of the ring. Others may go into training, coaching, and managing other up and coming wrestlers. Whatever they decide to do, they need to start thinking about it early on in their careers so that they don’t get blindsided by their life in the ring coming to an end.

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