Wrestling should be wregulated

The past year has been a rollercoaster ride for the world of professional wrestling. Industry juggernaut World Wrestling Entertainment posted some of its largest profits to date, anchored by the WrestleMania 23 event becoming the highest-grossing wrestling card ever. All the successes were immediately forgotten when longtime WWE star Chris Benoit killed his wife, son and himself over a weekend in June. When homicide investigators found a large supply of anabolic steroids in Benoit’s home, it caught the attention of the United States Congress, who are presently conducting an investigation on drug use in wrestling, citing that millions of impressionable children watch the programming on a weekly basis. The investigation has raised the debate on whether wrestling events should be regulated like mixed martial arts events.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship spent a two- or three-year period getting their events regulated, which generally required each fighter to be licensed in each state where the group runs shows. The licensing process usually consists of an annual physical and blood screening, followed by fighters consenting to random drug tests whenever fights occur in a state. State athletic commissions also usually issue precautionary injury suspensions following events, preventing fighters from rushing back into the ring too early. While it’s still possible to be on performance-enhancing drugs in mixed martial arts, it’s pretty damn difficult in the state-sanctioned big leagues.

Wrestlers are generally bulkier than mixed martial artists. The UFC has divisions for fighters weighing up to 155 lbs, 170 lbs, 185 lbs, 205 lbs and 265 lbs. Recent census data indicates the average American male is about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 185 lbs, roughly corresponding with these divisions. Because of a mix of competitive balance, drug testing and weight classes, it’s rare to see any grotesquely large guys in UFC. UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk may lose his title and be banned from fighting in California for a year following a positive steroid test in July. President Dana White has said in interviews he plans on withholding all bonus money from UFC events until drug test results are available, meaning fighters could lose up to half of their prize money for a positive test.

Wrestlers, meanwhile, are rather large. While the circus-like nature of the business results in promoters fudging the heights and weights of the performers to make them seem larger-than-life, there are very few of them who weigh less than 200 lbs. The average wrestler is somewhere around 250 lbs. These guys are generally the same type of athletic person that fights in UFC. WWE wrestlers travel 300 days a year and have no “off-season,” yet have physiques that are nigh-impossible to attain without chemical assistance or divine intervention.

The 2005 death of WWE star Eddie Guerrero raised a lot of public concerns regarding steroid abuse in wrestling. Guerrero had gone on record on numerous occasions before his death noting he had used steroids, and his autopsy results were noted as being consistent with long-term steroid abuse. The publicly-traded WWE quickly installed a Talent Wellness Policy, banning the use of narcotic drugs and steroids without sufficient medical documentation and policing violations within the company. This week, ESPN, Sports Illustrated and the New York Daily News reported an ongoing criminal investigation in Florida had uncovered numerous top WWE performers purchasing steroids over the internet without sufficient medical documentation from Orlando-based Signature Pharmacy. Most of these purchases occurred after the installation of the Talent Wellness Policy.

The lure of big money is pretty hard for anybody to resist. When the temptation to cut corners and use performance-enhancers exists, it’s understandable some will choose to take that road. Sixty-four performers in the big leagues of pro wrestling have passed away over the last ten years, despite the wrestling companies policing their own drug and steroid abuse. The UFC had a reputation of being barbaric and pursued regulation as a means to shed that image. Pro wrestling’s body count far outstrips that of mixed martial arts, but wrestling has managed to wriggle free from regulation talks due to its “entertainment” label. Sport or entertainment, real or fake, it’s time for somebody to step in before more lives are lost.

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