By: Billy Wiles (ECW original)
When a young man or woman thinks about getting into Professional Wrestling they have big dreams and role play many things in their minds. What should they wear, what “gimmick” should they use, what is a cool entrance song and should they be a good guy or a bad guy? Then, reality hits and those thoughts change to, where can I go to get proper training, I need to get into the gym and start eating right, I need to tan, where do I order boots and gear but there is 1 question that was asked for ages that you will never hear anymore and that’s “how do I get my wrestling license”?
A wrestling license? YES, A pro wrestling license. When I broke into pro wrestling receiving your pro license was a huge milestone for any burgeoning wrestlers career. Back then in New Jersey you needed a license from the State Athletic Control Board. There were different government entities in each state with various names such as Athletic Commission, Department of Occupational Regulation, and Office of health and services but all the same, you needed these agencies special dispensation in order to work on a show in that particular state. These bureaus also governed promoters, referees, managers and time keepers. In many cases Pro Wrestling was treated on par with boxing.
When I started in New Jersey, in order to receive my license I had to pass a physical and fill out all necessary paperwork wherein I had to note where and by whom I was trained. Each state had its own procedures, some very lax and some very strict and rigid. For example in VA I just needed the promoter to fill out the paperwork, pay the fee and have the ring DR listen to my heart and take my blood pressure right there backstage and Boom I was good. They would then mail me my license but in New York the task was much more daunting. There was a 4 page physical complete with EKG test and bloodwork. Then I needed to get fingerprinted and have a backround check run.
In 1997 New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman signed legislation that deregulated Pro Wrestling and with the swoop of a pen, Kayfabe as we knew it was dead. Many other states followed suit or at least toned down their constraints. Still a few states remained committed to the task of maintaining some governance over the industry like Maryland where even bleeding was outlawed. Even just as recently as 2020 AEW and ROH were both fined by MD for the use of blood.
Also in 1997 I had the fortune to wrestle Balls Mahoney in a match in Baltimore which would cause Balls to be banned from wrestling in MD for a number of years. We had just worked a show for ECW in Belmar NJ earlier that afternoon and jumped in the car and raced down to Dundalk MD to work there for the M.E.W.F. (Mid Eastern Wrestling Federation) which is now Maryland Championship Wrestling. Balls already having cuts on his head from the aforementioned ECW show said “open me up” which means punch him hard enough in order to open the wounds. I refused, which just made Balls mad. The more I said no the angrier he got till I finally relented. A few closed fists to the forehead and GUSH, blood is everywhere. I knew what was about to happen. We are immediately told to end the match, to which Balls said “F” no! We keep going until the commissioner, an older gentleman named Lou whom we all knew and were fond of but was very strict. I liked Lou a lot, he was the kind of guy who knew you by name, where you were from and asked about your family. A genuinely nice guy. He comes to ringside and stops the match which provokes Balls to get on the mike and lay into this poor guy with some of the worst verbal abuse I’ve ever seen. I just slipped out of the opposite side of the ring and headed to the dressing room to hide. Balls would not be seen in MD until WWE got his license back during the WWE/ECW run.
Is the deregulation of Pro Wrestling good or bad? I believe that Pro Wrestling does need to be regulated. Everyone involved needs to be licensed. This means they will have to be trained by a reputable school or trainer. This will absolutely increase the cost of doing business but in turn only the serious professionals will run or be booked on shows. This will weed out the backyard “feds” that do nothing but undermine the authenticity of companies who actually do good business. It’ll eliminate the shady “promoter” who leaves before intermission without paying anybody.
When the local fans go to see Pro Wrestling and are treated to 125 LB kids in Hot Topic t-shirts play wrestling, it turns them off and when a decent indy fed does come around the fans won’t turn out because they were burned the last time and won’t spend their hard earned money and be taken again. It’s called “Killing the Town”.
To regulate or not is still a hot debate among those in the business. Like I said before, I believe in regulation but I don’t think the government should be involved as they tend to overregulate because they love power. Is the answer a union? I don’t know. Perhaps we’ll talk about that next time…