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MMA, wrestling, and regulation

By Zach Arnold | June 26, 2007

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By Zach Arnold

Update: Jim Rome devoted most of his radio show today on the topic of Chris Benoit and professional wrestling’s place in American culture. Michael David Smith says that perhaps the health risks of pro-wrestling have been overstated.

Here are the comments I will make on the Chris Benoit story and why I am writing about it on this site. It’s easily one of the most tragic events to affect the professional wrestling industry, and given the litany of heartache that has come out of this business that’s saying a lot. There’s more dirt about the wrestling business coming out tonight. Had to be expected.

But there’s a more public side to this story that is about to rear its head that people in the wrestling business fear and loathe – the concept of regulation. Chris Mannix in Sports Illustrated today raises this issue.

I’ve had some very passionate discussions with people inside of wrestling who I truly respect who think that it is complete garbage to even try to bring up the issue of regulating pro-wrestling in relation to the Benoit story. You have to separate the wrestler from the person’s private life and you can’t try to connect what happened in wrestling with what happened in the grizzly murder-suicide.

My counter-argument to that statement is the following: Do you believe that people in the professional wrestling industry have displayed a sufficient ability to self-police and regulate themselves? My answer is clearly ‘no’ and I don’t believe anything is going to change any time soon until there is heavy state or federal regulation of the wrestling industry. Bringing that argument up is taboo when talking with people in wrestling because the costs of regulation and medical testing would cripple the independent scene.

There is an MMA tie-in to this story, but it may not be a tangential one. Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio discussed it yesterday and I do think it is a valid point. MMA has regulation and is regulated by the state athletic commissions. There is drug testing. There are MRIs and CT scans. When fighters do suffer concussions or heavy bodily trauma, they are medically suspended. In professional wrestling, it’s the complete opposite. It’s injury after injury, steroid prescription after steroid prescription to not only look a certain way but to also try to heal up quicker from injuries.

There’s also the argument that ‘roid rage’ had nothing to do with the murder-suicide that Benoit was involved in. Fair enough. Bryan Alvarez at F4W Online:

But the reality is also that steroids have been a part of this business for decades. Wrestlers have been on steroids since at least the 1960s, and probably earlier, and you don’t hear about them going nuts and killing their wives and children. You hear about them dying early of enlarged organs, but not double homicide/suicides. To place the blame on steroids is horribly simplistic.

However, what about the ability of the professional wrestling industry to deal with wrestlers who face serious mental and physical illnesses? I’d say the track record, in my opinion, is not very good.

The larger question for people in wrestling is this – should professional wrestling be regulated the way MMA is right now? People inside the wrestling business might be appalled by that question, but I think they would be surprised at the fan reaction to that question. Another angle to that question – should everyone else who does a good job in professional wrestling be punished by the (lack of) actions of those in WWE? My argument is that WWE *is* perceived to be the whole business and whatever happens to WWE trickles down and effects all the promoters. WWE right now has little credibility on various issues with the general public and that lack of credibility does effect everyone else in the business.

What are your thoughts on the idea of regulating professional wrestling in a similar manner to MMA?


  1. ABC News: DA – Wrestler’s son may have died in chokehold
  2. WOAI (TX): Sometimes, the less you know – the better
  3. CTV (Canada): Benoit tragedy raises question of steroids link
  4. Marc Ambinder: Chris Benoit, murderer
  5. The Washington Post: WWE and USA wrestle with fallout from Chris Benoit case
  6. The LA Times: A fatal weekend fueled by steroids?
  7. The Sydney Morning Herald: Wrestler’s deadly flip out mystery
  8. New York Newsday (Ellis Henican): Pro-wrestling sowed seeds of disaster
  9. The Edmonton Sun: Wrestling with cowardice
  10. The Associated Press: Double slaying and suicide baffle police, wrestler’s fans
  11. The Examiner: Murder-suicide latest black eye for pro-wrestling
  12. Sportsnet (Canada): Bizarre, strange and sad
  13. The Winnipeg Sun: Shock & sadness, people in wrestling react
  14. The Toronto Star: Deadly script of a ring legend
  15. The New York Post: Wrestle Maniac’s ‘roid rage – insider a killer’s doomed love tale
  16. The Edmonton Sun: City rocked by tragedy
  17. CNBC (Darren Rovell): WWE’s McMahon should have apologized
  18. WMC TV 5: Local Memphis wrestlers stunned by Benoit murder-suicide
  19. Fox News: Nancy Benoit – a career woman in wrestling
  20. ABC News: Logging on, letting it out – grieving online
  21. The Daily Telegraph: Wrestling with real demons
  22. The Public Eye (CBS News): Summer of steroids?
  23. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Benoit left trail of calls, online messages

Topics: Media, MMA, Pro-Wrestling, WWE, Zach Arnold | 22 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

22 Responses to “MMA, wrestling, and regulation”

  1. Jonathan says:

    I don’t think that you need to focus so much on professional wrestling…I think that 86% of your audience is here for the MMA scene. But it is your site and you should do with it what you want.

  2. Zach Arnold says:

    Which is why pro-wrestling related posts are extremely rare on this site. I’d also say that a) there is a crossover of wrestling fans who follow MMA and b) it’s MMA that is in a better spotlight and position than wrestling is now. If I’m an MMA fan, I’d be glad right now as opposed to how a pro-wrestling fan is feeling tonight.

  3. Liger05 says:

    Regulation would be good but practically impossible to administrate. The opposition would be huge as promoters and wrestlers would see it as harming there own business. The schedule of the WWE means a guy suffering a concussion can not then be told he has to take 3 weeks off for intance and Vince couldnt have that. Indy guys are working all over the place to get paid and feed there families. Again how would they react if they forced away from the ring?

  4. I started out as a pro wrestling fan in 1992 and only crossed over to MMA in 2001. Just like Zach said, as (Japanese) MMA has it’s roots in pro wrestling, it should definitely be covered on the site.

  5. Preach says:

    I think it’s the other way around, Jonathan. At least most of the regular posters are people who either crossed over from Pro-Wrestling, or, like me, are still a fan of both, judging by the comments (and i’m not just talking about the Benoit tragedy). I’d say most users have come here via Zach’s other site, Puroresu Power, where he used to report on MMA before creating Fight Opinion.

    And to be honest, it’s this diversity that makes Fight Opinion stand out of the masses of other fight-related sites. You’ve got MMA fans, Boxing fans, Kickboxing fans, Pro-Wrestling fans, but without the animosity displayed against each other that you find elsewhere. You could never have a discussion about a deceased pro-wrestler on Sherdog, without a bunch of idiots writing “Bah, fake ass wrassler. Hope they all die”. You can never have a story about boxing without someone saying “Boxers are one-dimensional. Blah. MMA ROXXORS!!!1 ROFLOMG!”. You got nothing like that here, and that’s a good thing. But it doesn’t mean that Zach should extend pro-wrestling coverage on FO, that’s what Puroresu Power is for. But an occasional story here and there, no problem…

  6. Rob says:

    Not a wrestling fan, though I have seen it a few times over the years… but personally, “regulation” doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, it’s not a sport to require regulation. They aren’t actually competitions… I mean, they clearly require high degrees of athleticism… but they’re shows. They’re entertainment. It’s like saying acting should be regulated.

    Steroid and drug tests, whatever the actuality, the rhetoric is that it is in place to prevent unfair advantages in competition. There’s no “real” competition in wrestling. There’s a script and a predetermined outcome. Doctor shopping and over prescribing is already illegal…

    And honestly, I don’t see what in the Benoit case would justify the argument. Saying “well, this or that kinda regulation or testing” could’ve prevented the tragedy strikes me as disingenuous. You can’t really know whatever it was that drove the situation to the place it ended up. Even all the supposition in mainstream media about “roid rage” is making my teeth ache…

    And you should totally write about whatever you feel like. That’s what the internet is for… Anybody doesn’t like it, they can get to steppin….

  7. Bryan says:

    Aside from the “roid range” angle being put forth, another possibility to be considered is that this act was the product of the onset of dementia as a result of concussions. With the recent suicide of Andre Waters (one in a line of former NFL players to do this) a big deal is being made about the impact concussions are having on them later in life.

    Here’s a link to an article on it:


    Considering that Benoit was a wrestler for twenty years and constantly landing on his head being hit with chairs and choosing to jump from the top of a rope or ladder to the canvas or another person, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if repeated head truama led to dementia which led to the ritualistic murders of his family.

    Considering that they’re technically performers and not athletes I’m not sure if the WWE could be legally compelled to sumbit its talent to an athletic commissions tests. But it’d be nice if they could catch things early and prevent things like this from happening. And if nothing changes and wrestlers keep dying so young and doing crazy things like this, you’d have to think that eventually an opportunistic politician would go after pro wrestling.

  8. Jonathan says:

    I used to be a big fan of pro wrestling…and I occasionally still watch old school Mid-South and NWA shows on Youtube. I grew up watching “RAW is WAR” and “Monday Nitro” when I was kid. But when WCW folded, I didn’t find myself watching the WWF and all of its sex appeal. Years later, I downloaded a highlight video from Kazaa…showed a Japanese fighter coming out to U2’s “Beautiful Day”. That fighter was Sakuraba and to this day, he is still my favorite fighter. So yeah, I guess I am one of those people who “crossed over” from pro wrestling to MMA. But I for one, being a MMA fan, do not feel any semblance of good from what has happened. I’m not looking at this as some joke at pro wrestlings, nay, three individual lives expense. I don’t think that that is a fair comparison, and I seriously doubt anyone being like “Yes! I hate pro wrestling and this will totally sink pro wrestling and make MMA bigger then the NFL”

    The real tragedy here is that two people innocently lost their lives and the bulk of the discussion seems to be centered around either a) Roid rage and regulation or b) how great of a wrestler Chris Benoit was.

  9. MMA Fan says:

    This is horrible. This will end up splling over to MMA. Steroids will be a bigger issue now as all the knee jerk ass holes are going to want to go regulate the fight industry. This has the potensial to kill indy wrestling.

    This will give pompus jerks like Garcia in Cali more freedom to continute to bust everyones balls. You can love wrestling or hate wrestling. This story does have major ramifications for the MMA industy as well as prowrestling.

  10. Euthyphro says:

    The two industries are inextricably linked. In Japan, MMA evolved from pro wrestling through the “shoot-style” before Takada, a famous pro wrestler, fought Rickson Gracie. There’s a legitimate reason to cover a major pro wrestling story here as opposed to celebrity scandal.

  11. Zach Arnold says:

    And this story is garnering major press attention in Japan as well… 🙁

  12. Royal B. says:

    So if these guys are actors Rob, where are their agents? Are they getting SAG wages? Are they part of the Teamsters?

    Either get a proper union in there and treat these people as actors or get the ACs to regulate pro-wrestling as an athletic function. There is no in between road. Union or regulation. PERIOD.

  13. GassedOut says:

    Just thinking out loud here. But does “Safety of the Athlete” actually mean anything to anyone in the pro wrestling/sports entertainment world?

    It does in MMA. It’s why regulation exists in the first place. Unfortunately, this will be the excuse for state athletic commissions to become absolutely draconian.

    Pro wrestlers are highly skilled athletes in their own right. I sure as hell would be hard-pressed to sommersault around the ring like that anymore. Hell, I don’t much care for break-falls since back surgery. But there MUST be some kind of protection put in place for them, whether the Chris Benoit story is part of this or not. I think there is a better case for this than the story of a murderer. It’s the story of a true victim of the need to be bigger, better, and flashier for ratings and money. Owen Hart.

  14. Rob says:

    Royal B… they probably should have agents. These guys don’t have lawyers or representation when they negotiate contracts with the WWE or other groups? That’d be kinda surprising, but like I said, don’t know much about the business of pro-wrestling. But I do not that it’s not a sport, or a competition… it’s a scripted athletic drama. As such, I can’t see how it’d fall under the purview of any state athletic commision.

    You can’t make people form a union. So you can’t “get” a union in there. [Though didn’t Jesse Ventura try to start a union back in the day?] Anyways, you’re clearly passionate, but you’re setting up a false dualism there to arrive at whatever conclusions you kinda want.


  15. cyphron says:

    Yes, there definitely should be regulation, if only to stop the steroid abuse.

    Imagine that you’re an employee working a job that requires you to have big muscles to retain your popularity and that your paycheck, pay raises, or even your ability to keep your job revolves around how much muscle mass you have. Everyone else uses steroids at work. You don’t like steroids, but do you have much of a choice if not taking steroids means that you could lose your job and can no longer provide food for your family? It’s a vicious cycle.

    There should be regulation, if only to provide safety for these wrestlers and their families.

  16. Kev says:

    The union won’t solve the steroids issue. We’ve already seen what unions do for drug testings, thanks Donald Fehr. It’s either regulation and unions, or regulation only.

  17. Zack says:

    For the record, I discovered this site via Puroresu Power. I found Puroresu Power through the old Inside Fighting site that had lots of links to anything Fight Related. That was before Michael DiSanto sold out the MMA media and the site went to shit.

  18. Chuck says:

    I found this site through Puroresu Power. Great sites. And yes, I do believe pro wrestling should be regulated. Certain state athletic commissions still oversee wrestling (my homestate, Pennsylvania, still oversees wrestling. Not too strictly though). You still need a promoter’s license to have shows in Pa, Maryland, New york, etc. One state that needs state overseeing is New Jersey. Good lord it’s a mess in New Jersey, the indy scene especially. You know how many feds run shows who get fan attendances in the double digits? New Jersey used to oversee pro wrestling, until Vince McMahon told the NJSAC that wrestling was fake. And to think, NJSAC is probably the second best athletic commission in the States for boxing (behind Nevada, and possibly California, depenmding on who you ask).

  19. Mike says:

    Lifelong wrestling fan, here … I’m done. Never spending another nickel on pro wrestling, ever. I’ve looked the other way too many times. Whether or not it would be appropriate for there to be a congressional investigation, I’m never supporting this horrible industry with my money ever again.

  20. MoreThanUFC says:

    I just got done watching Glenn Beck on CHN. Benoit bound his wife, then placed his knee to her back and pulled up on her throat in some bizarro wrestling move. He then left her for two days in the same place.
    He choked his son to death in a room full of poster of none other than himself. The son had arms full of needle marks where authorities are speculating that he was injected with human growth hormone since he was small for his size, possibly having dwarfism.

    May that fucker burn in hell.

  21. Chuck says:

    “The son had arms full of needle marks where authorities are speculating that he was injected with human growth hormone since he was small for his size, possibly having dwarfism.”

    It’s not that he had dwarfism, he was retarded. Usually mentally retarded people are short, it’s just what it is. Fragile X Syndrome to be exact. And I agree, Benoit should burn in hell.

    And to Mike. Don’t swear off wrestling in general. Just the WWE man. And as Colin Cowherd (who I have a new found respect for) said, “stop feeding the monster”.

  22. chairibofjustice says:

    I haven’t watched wrasslin’ since the days of Playboy Buddy Rose, I was a small child then.


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