The biggest and most recognized wrestling company in the world, by a considerable margin, it is safe to say that the WWE has more people looking at their product than any other company in the industry. That doesn’t mean that many of their viewers understand much of what goes on behind the scenes which inform the shows that we watch each week. That is what motivated us to put this list together, to educate the unaware of what seems to be happening backstage at most WWE shows.
When putting together this list we set out to inform our readers of some agreed upon facts about the goings on in WWE. Don’t worry, we won’t be including anything that is incredibly obvious, like the fact that wrestling is predetermined (gasp) but keep in mind when reading this that people’s knowledge bases are different. As a result, some readers may think that some of the things we list are common knowledge but let us tell you that not every wrestling fan follows the industry closely enough to have any idea what is happening. We’ve never actually been able to make our way behind the curtain ourselves, so we’ll be depending on accounts of those who have to populate this list. Additionally, where possible, we put a premium on facts that have been confirmed by many former WWE employees.
15 It’s A Tough Life
Becoming a WWE superstar is the dream of almost every indie wrestler and loads and loads of fans that never end up getting off their couch, but how many of them realize how hard the grind actually is. Wrestling multiple times every week of the year, aside from the occasional request for time off that some believe is a risky career move, you may have the money to buy a home but you’ll barely be there. Expected to show up at work if you’re ill, unless it is severe enough that it is clearly impossible, if you want to work for the WWE you might as well become used to the idea of sickness not mattering.
If you do manage to actually get a day off then congrats but when you work for Vince McMahon and are popular, even when you’re not supposed to be working you can expect to have to make appearances. Whether that means waking up early to call into a radio station in a town that the company is going to soon or if your casual lunch is inundated with fans, the point is your time is always company time. Wake up, eat, work out, drive for hours on end or take a flight, go to the arena, wrestle, shower, meet with management, find somewhere to eat, try to relax and do it again becomes your entire existence.
14 Championships Matter
Over the last several years there have been wrestlers like Road Dogg Jesse James, that have claimed that wins and losses don’t matter. A way of saying that since everyone knows wrestling is fake when a wrestler loses pivotal matches it doesn’t change the way fans see them, any actual fan would likely tell you it’s wrong. That said, we suspect that there are very few people in the business who would say that winning and losing championships don’t matter(except Vince Russo who thinks of them as props), especially when it comes to the first title win.
Aside from the fact that many performers were lifelong fans who dreamed of winning the big one, there is a good reason that so many champions are obviously emotional when they prevail. When you’re tapped to win a title in the WWE, it most often means that Vince McMahon believes that you are amongst the best in the world. Furthermore, unless you are given a championship as a transitional move, it means that the most powerful man in the industry believes that putting you in that position will make him money. We can all try and pretend that the validation of power brokers in our industry doesn’t matter to us but most of us are fooling ourselves and in wrestling, it is the difference between n being a star and a nobody.
13 Pre-taped Audio Is Cooked
With Smackdown going live, the WWE doesn’t broadcast as many pre-taped shows as they used to but for those of you who watch Main Event or are longstanding fans, your ears have been deceived. What do we mean? Have you ever noticed that some wrestlers that get mixed to bad responses from the crowd on RAW suddenly come out to a much better response? There’s a reason for that. Have you ever noticed that sometimes you hear a lot of cheers or boos from the crowd but when you actually look at the people in the stands they don’t seem to be reacting? There’s a reason for that.
Turns out that the WWE has a long history of “sweetening the audio” on shows that were previously recorded. So, when Roman Reigns got some pretty healthy reactions as a beloved good guy on Smackdown when the crowd thoroughly rejected him on Raw, it is because the audio was tampered with. After all, a company that has a long and documented history of exaggerating their attendance numbers (there’s an extra behind the scene fact for you) would likely have no problem piping in the sound a different wrestler received to make their star look good, right?
12 Most Wrestlers Aren’t Rich
Don’t get us wrong, the WWE’s top stars, like John Cena, Brock Lesnar or the former members of The Shield, take home healthy pay cheques but Heath Slater isn’t rolling in the money. We have never gotten our grubby hands on a real-life WWE contract and they are never going to willingly reveal this highly private information but there have been a number of leaks over the years. According to such reports, there are several WWE performers (especially among the women) that we see every week that are only guaranteed around $75,000 a year.
For some of us, a number like that sounds fantastic but there are a few things to keep in mind. First of all, these people are legitimate television stars that work for a multi-billion dollar company and they can only depend on upon a salary like that. Also, the fact that they get a part of their merchandise sales if they are fortunate enough to have merch, and bonuses for Pay-Per-View matches, is nullified because wrestlers are expected to pay most road expenses. Meaning they have to pony up for almost every meal, hotel room, car rental, gas and any expense that doesn’t include air travel and the occasional bus trip. At certain times of the year, like WrestleMania, more expenses will be covered as the WWE will rent lots of rooms in a single hotel but these incidences are few and far between. Think about how much money it costs you when you take a road trip and remember that these people have to pay for an almost endless one. Then consider how much of their salary that could eat up. Yup, a lot of them aren’t getting all that wealthy.
11 Commentators Tightly Controlled
Turns out, there is a pretty good reason that men like Michael Cole and JBL sometimes sound so incredibly unnatural and forced. Those headsets they’re wearing are far from decorative as Vince McMahon is usually screaming directions at them throughout the entire show. When we are forced to listen to the stilted and clearly forced laughter of grown men reacting to the latest incident of sophomoric humor, keep in mind they have a man in his seventies yelling at them to laugh harder. When they suddenly put on their serious announcer's voice and act like they’ve just seen something truly horrific, somebody is forcing their hand.
In fact, after Mick Foley left the WWE and went to TNA for a few years, he framed his decision as being heavily influenced by how intolerable he found his short-lived Smackdown announcing experience. We can’t blame him either as it sounds horrific to try to sound natural and entertaining while your ears are constantly being treated to the angry rants of your boss for your slightest missteps. Additionally, a recent leak of the notes that announcers have to follow which specifically rule out using words like hospital, pro wrestling, interesting and fans makes it sound like the job is a nightmare.
10 Wrestlers Get Held Back
For years and years, many people who represent the WWE, whether it be champs like John Cena, execs like Stephanie and Triple H or Vince himself, have claimed that they listen to their fans. What that is supposed to mean is that each week when fans cheer and boo, on top of the feedback the company gets online, it is supposed to help them decide who their stars will be. Sometimes that is true but a lot of the time it isn’t at all.
Look at Zach Ryder, a wrestler who went out on his own and created a huge following online. He has been given two extremely short pushes that ended with him being taken off TV and treated like a joke again. What about Damien Sandow/Mizdow? After he became The Miz’s body double fans couldn’t wait for him to come out each week and they cheered for his every move and expression. Now he finds himself on the unemployment line. Even Daniel Bryan, who the WWE finally relented and put the title on, was then given a feud with Kane, almost certain death, and everyone knew it was only a matter of time until he was uncrowned. Meanwhile, Roman Reigns became the heir apparent to John Cena’s top spot, despite being booed out of buildings for months on end. The WWE likes who they like and they’ll play lip service to listening to their fans but they really mean that fans who respond the way they train them to.
9 Ref’s Roles
Have you ever been watching wrestling with someone who isn’t a fan and they remarked how useless the ref must be, working a fake match. First off, wrestling isn’t fake it is predetermined. Secondly, wrestling refs have a whole lot of responsibility that aren’t immediately obvious. That is why all WWE referees wear earpieces these days, as they are constantly receiving information from the back. Used to inform the men and women who are working in the ring if they need to wrap up soon or stretch things out for whatever reason, the men in white and black are an instrument of communication.
Probably their biggest responsibility though is how they position themselves. Can you imagine how awful it would be if they stood in front of the wrestlers, ruining the home audiences view? They also obviously need to play their part in the story of the match, including remembering when they need to miss a moment so a bad guy can cheat, when they need to get hurt or when the need to hand out a DQ. Then, there is their more obvious role, which is to actually count the pins, enforce the rules and keep everything under control. All in all, refs are almost as important to a match going smoothly as the actual participants.
8 Injuries All Too Real
The biggest skill a wrestler needs to become good at in order to enjoy a lengthy career is learning how to properly “take a bump”. That means they must perfect the ability to have moves performed upon them and be hurt as little as possible by it. Additionally, they need to become great at pretending like they’ve just suffered a terrible blow. So, it stands to reason that when we see a wrestler writhing in pain on the mat that he is just putting it on right? Maybe that isn’t as true as you think.
There are the obvious exceptions, of course, the times in which a wrestler is injured badly enough that the match needs to come to an end or when someone takes months off because they need to recover. That is far from the only time, though, that wrestlers actually hurt themselves, as most wrestlers will tell you that they are almost always nursing an injury of some sort. Think about it, the human body was not designed to withstand this kind of activity day in and day out and although everyone involved does what they can to ensure that injuries are rare, they really are doing these things. They really are being slapped across the chest hard enough to break the skin. They really are being kicked in the face. They really are being thrown into a table, ladder or chair. No matter how much you gimmick a ladder to break when hit, they really are being rammed into an inflexible piece of steel and it hurts, a lot.
7 The Politics
So, you’ve done the impossible and been given your dream job as a wrestler in the WWE. You’ve just hit the easy street, right? Wrong. All you have to do is go into the ring and put on matches that get the crowd and more importantly your bosses to believe that you have what it takes to be a star right? We’re afraid things aren’t quite that simple. Turns out that almost everything you do can be used against you by anyone who happens to have the respect of Vinnie Mac.
Agents, Producers, Writers, Talent Relations, Executives and Significant Share Holders could all possibly dislike you for any number of reasons and do a lot to torpedo your career. Sure, there have definitely been talents who’ve overcome all of the voices of dissent. A great example of the politics in the industry is CM Punk, who reportedly had Triple H and HBK against his rise. The very fact that you have to deal with the backbiting and politics in an industry that depends on the skills of its performers is incredible.
6 Vince’s Quirks
If you’re a wrestling fan and you haven’t figured out that Vince McMahon is either a total weirdo or a robot from the future that had his programming corrupted, you haven’t been paying attention. Even still, the sheer quantity of the idiosyncrasies this man manages to live with is absolutely mind-boggling.
You should feel free to sneeze, right? Considering it is an involuntary action performed by your body you’d think so, but don’t do it around Vince, he hates it. Feel like watching a stand-up special to get away from the wrestling world and let off some steam? Well if you do that, like former WWE writer Freddie Prinze Jr. did, then you can expect Vince to tell you to watch a Santino segment as in his mind the WWE do it better than anyone else. Want to walk by a pool in Vince’s presence, while working on a WWE script and you’re fully clothed. Chances are you’ll find yourself thrown into that pool as it’s the funniest thing ever in Vinnie’s mind. Think that sleeping eight hours a night is reasonable? Don’t tell your boss that, as he believes that sleep is an enemy to be conquered in the form of power naps alone. We could go on and on but we think you’ve probably got the point by now. Vince is a powerful weirdo who forces those around him to put up with it.
5 Main Eventers Wield Power
It should be clear to everyone with a passing interest in wrestling that the WWE lives under the thumb of Vince McMahon and that everything we see each week has been approved by him at some point. He’s not the only WWE power broker, though, as men like Kevin Dunn, long time WWE director and executive of television productions wields a lot of power. That is just one example of a WWE higher up other than Vince that has a huge effect on the company. The group that probably gets the least credit for the power they hold in the WWE is its main eventers.
Not men like Jack Swagger or Rey Mysterio who had a short run near the top and then fell back down the card. No, we’re talking about John Cena, Brock Lesnar, The Rock, Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin. The type of wrestlers that Vince uses as the face of his brand, these fellas are often capable of changing the fates of storylines and other wrestlers that work for the company. The difference comes in the way they use or ignore their authority. Lesnar doesn’t really give a crap about anyone else as long as his cheques cash, so you won’t find him getting in long arguments with creative. He brought in Paul Heyman to do that for him. Cena is a company man who reportedly goes with the flow more than not. On the other end of the spectrum, look at The Hulkster, who has a very long history of getting his friends like The Nasty Boys, Brutus Beefcake and even Bubba the Love Sponge, jobs, and pushes. Steve Austin was mostly concerned about the way his character was used and has even admitted that at his height he could be very difficult to work with and rejected a lot of storylines.
4 Shaking Hands Imperative
We already covered Vince McMahon’s quirks but if that isn’t enough for you to deal with, the boys in the locker room have a number of rules that you must abide by. Chief among them is the extremely serious rule of shaking hands when you arrive at each location the WWE hits. Such an important act in the industry that WWE.com actually published an article titled “The art of the handshake: Wrestling’s most important unwritten rule”, not doing it can ruin you.
A very longstanding tradition that dates back to when wrestling mostly took place at carnivals, even grip strength is important. Starting out with workers grasping each other’s hands, they’d make it look like they were squeezing hard but actually barely put any forced into it at all. It was meant to signify that they knew to make things look painful but hurt as little as possible. Now that a lot of wrestlers use firm handshakes, the major holdover is the fact that junior wrestlers must approach every single worker and shake their hands every single day. For instance, if The Undertaker shows up he will set up shop wherever he pleases and one by one, everyone else who is present will approach him and shake his hand. Break this rule and you will definitely face consequences.
3 Heavily Scripted Promos
Ever wonder why almost all of the promos we hear today sound so generic and similar? That is because the majority of the words were written out, word for word, memorized and recited for the camera. A way of doing things that mostly started during the 2000s, prior to that, wrestlers were given talking points they were expected to hit and were expected to go out there and entertain. A system that seeks to limit the risks of a live microphone as much as possible, a lot of followers rightfully blame the practice for the lack of passion we often hear in promos today.
The only way to break free of this system and regain some level of control over the words you say is to win Vince’s respect in your microphone skills. For instance, men like Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Steve Austin, The Rock, and John Cena are given scripts but are able to rework them and improvise on the fly without fear of reprisal. You may be wondering, how you prove to Vince that you are capable of working under less control when you are always under that level of scrutiny. That is definitely a question a lot of wrestlers have yet to be able to find the answer to.
2 Wrestler’s Court
So, you’re a wrestler employed by the WWE and you get the honor of dressing in the locker room amongst the industry’s biggest stars, every day. What could be better right? Well, you’d better stay on your toes because if you rest on your laurels and offend someone, especially if they are a veteran or are more respected than you, you’re bound to be called in front of wrestler’s court.
A tradition that allows wrestlers to police their own without the involvement of higher-ups, wrestler’s court reportedly works like an actual court of law. Lawyers for the prosecution and defense make their arguments in front of a judge, the most respected wrestler in the locker room, before punishments are handed out. Eat chicken over another wrestler’s bag? When The Miz did that he was put on trial and banished from the locker room for six months, as a result he was forced to get dressed in hallways and public bathrooms. As a final aside on this tradition, it is interesting to note that The Undertaker served as the judge for years and years despite the fact men like Steve Austin were bigger stars, nobody was more respected than Taker.
1 Real Backstage Fights
The wrestling business is built on fighting. Pretend fighting in the ring. Pretend fighting in the back. Fighting verbally, otherwise known as arguing, all of these fights are put on for our benefits. There is another type of fighting the industry has been built on over the years that we never get to see, the real incidents in which wrestlers fight one another in the back.
If you’ve ever had a job in a professional environment, you’ll likely know that not everyone gets along. If you let your irritation get to you and got into a fist fight with the person in the next cubicle over, you’d probably be shown the door permanently. In the WWE however, that choice can be the very thing that makes your career progress to the next level. That is because Vince McMahon is a boss unlike any other and only respects people under his employ that refuse to be walked over. The best example we can think of is the result of the fight between Booker T. and Batista. An incident that came to a head after Big Dave made comments about the Smackdown roster; Booker took exception and from all accounts handily won the exchange. Afterwards, Booker suddenly won his first and only WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Trust us, that is just one example. In short, real fights happen backstage at WWE events and sometimes they have more effect than the choreographed ones we see.