Chapter 6: Protecting the Business By Matt Murphy
Before any wise-ass can make a joke, I’ll beat him to the punch. Yes, I realize the irony of including a chapter about protecting the business in an expository book available for any fan to consume. In my defense, just about everybody who has ever worked in the wrestling business has spoken candidly about it in public. Those who damn me for it are hypocrites.
Wrestling is a funny business. In baseball, Chris Carpenter can try like hell to strike out Ryan Howard and then go out to dinner with him after the game: nobody will bat an eye. A fan won’t say, “Baseball’s fake because I saw them eating together after the game.” In UFC, two guys can train together and then fight against each other without needing to worry about people questioning the legitimacy of UFC. So why is it that, in pro wrestling, fans respond this way, especially if they know the outcomes of matches are predetermined? Because storylines project friction between characters to sell wrestling tickets.
Obviously, most fans with triple-digit IQs know wrestling is a work, but you shouldn’t celebrate the fact or even discuss it with fans. Casual magic fans know that a magician doesn’t make a rabbit supernaturally appear in the hat. But if the magician says, “Here’s how I do it” before his performance, do you think the fans will enjoy the show the same?
The fan who wants to know the inner workings of the business has access to everything he will ever want to know. Outlets like Wrestling Observer and PWInsiderelite.com are outstanding resources for this kind of information. On the other hand, those fans don’t represent the entire market. Many fans like being surprised and don’t want to know the secrets, which is why we don’t expose it openly. Some fans will read this book (hopefully plenty of them), but it won’t be the fan who doesn’t want to be smartened up.
Wrestling still has to be presented as a shoot. Wouldn’t it suck if a wrestler talked about how he plans to work the crowd and sell the leg during his pre-match interview?
In the big companies, wrestlers were once fined, suspended, or fired if a babyface and a heel rode together, especially if they were in the middle of a feud. I’m not sure if it’s still that way. In independent wrestling, it’s common to see babyfaces and heels riding together, mostly out of necessity, and I don’t see much of a problem with it. However, I see a big problem with two feuding wrestlers hanging out before, during, or after the event in front of fans. Not meaning to sound sexist, but many woman wrestlers I’ve met have been the worst about this.
I really hate it when I see two wrestlers trying out spots for their match before the doors open. Usually, there are people in the building who are not a part of the business and who don’t need to see wrestlers practicing moves. Even if it’s just one person who sees, he will tell three people, each of those people will tell three other people, and so on.
Harley Race preaches kayfabe. When Trevor Murdoch and I were closing out our rookie years, I was preparing to return from a knee injury and pitched the idea of turning heel, changing my nickname, and feuding with Trevor. We were best friends, inseparable, and about to learn just how serious Harley was about kayfabe. Harley went with my idea, but then told us that we were no longer allowed to be seen in public together. That meant no going to the bars, chasing women, or Easter dinners at Country Kitchen together. We had to meet at our houses late at night (since we didn’t want the many WLW fans in Eldon to see us walking into each other’s houses during Christian hours). Basically, he grounded us from one another, but we had a hot feud that included Texas death matches, leather strap matches, and the first-ever WLW first-blood match. The story wouldn’t be complete, or honest, if I didn’t write the epilogue. Two summers ago, I finally realized that Harley worked us. Together, Trevor and I raised some hell and when one of us got heat with the WLW office, the other was usually involved in some way. Harley agreed to the feud in an effort to try to force Trevor and I to behave ourselves in the name of kayfabe. He divided and conquered two of his best—and most immature—wrestlers. It’s funny that it took me seven years to figure that out.
Do I smarten her up?
During an event years ago, I limped down a hallway after receiving medical attention for a foot injury when another wrestler asked me if the injury was serious. A girl I’d never met before in my life glared at me and sternly said, “Kayfabe!”
I later learned that her boyfriend was a wrestler—one trying to get work with WLW, for that matter. He ended up working for us, but I had a long talk with him about his girlfriend’s remark.
Same wrestler, different girlfriend: Harley was about to give the wrestler the biggest win of his career when the wrestler’s girlfriend asked Harley, “Who’s going over in his match?” Harley changed the finish and the wrestler never got a win like the one he was to get that night.
There’s nothing wrong with smartening up a girlfriend or a wife, so long as she knows the boundaries. Just from being around me for the last five years, my wife knows more about wrestling than some wrestlers. But she knows that, when around others, she does not discuss wrestling as anything other than a fan (preferably not at all). If she has opinions, I don’t mind her expressing them to me in private and I am glad to help her understand things—she’s made sacrifices for this business and deserves to at least understand what it is she’s sacrificed for—but I still won’t let her tell a wrestler that he needs to work on selling more believably.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: tell her what you feel you should or must, but make sure that she knows that under no circumstances may she abuse your trust by speaking about what she learns to anybody other than you in private. That is, unless she decides to get into the business herself. And then, my friend, you’re screwed.
Chapter 7: Dollars and Nonsense
The Internal Revenue Service is like state athletic commissions on steroids (we’ll talk about commissions and steroids later, too): don’t toy with them.
In 2003, I received a letter from the State of Missouri threatening to suspend my wrestling license if I did not prove that I filed taxes from 2000 through 2002. I was out of the business and didn’t care, but the joke was on me. After several demanding letters, the state intercepted my tax rebate check before it arrived in the mail. Instead of a tax return, I received a Notice of Debt Offset which claimed I owed more than $8,000 in state taxes for the three-year period.
I called somebody at the state, who told me that the tax owed was based on the average salary of every professional athlete who earned money in Missouri, including the St. Louis and Kansas City professional football and baseball teams and every WWE wrestler who was licensed in the state—and me and every other independent wrestler. I argued that classifying me with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was like comparing a guy who did Civil War reenactments to Tom Hanks, but the state didn’t care. I didn’t heed their numerous warnings and I was held liable for the debt.
Since you are an independent contractor, you should treat your wrestling career as a small business. If you make more than $600 (I think) in a year from any company that keeps records, you should receive a Form 10-99 and those earnings will be shown under Nonemployee Compensation. You will most likely lose money as an independent wrestler, but regardless you need to show this loss or profit.
You cannot file for a Refund Anticipation Loan (RAL) if you have a 10-99. I almost beat up an accountant once over this because he tried making me pay him not only his fees, but also the RAL application fee, even though he was a CPA and should have known that my RAL application would be denied. He acted shady about it, and I really wanted to yank him out of his wheelchair and tear him apart. Yes, he was in a wheelchair but, paraplegic or not, a con man is a con man and he tried to con me.
Keep receipts for everything and claim everything you can. My office was in my home last year, so I divided the square footage of my office by that of my entire house and determined that 25 percent of my home was used for business purposes; thus, I claimed 25 percent of rent paid as a business expense. I used my new computer mainly for business, so I claimed that along with Internet service and all software used for business. Since part of my job was to be plugged into current wrestling storylines and happenings, I had to watch every wrestling program on cable television and pay-per-view (tax deductions). I documented every meal, hotel, and expense. I even claimed the dress clothing I wore for my on-air appearances as a play-by-play announcer.
You need to keep a mileage log, because that might be your biggest deduction of all. This should include an entry for traveling to the event and one for returning home from the event. Use a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet if you can and keep a copy on your computer. The first column should be the date. The next column is your beginning point, the town from which you departed. The third column is the town to which you traveled, fourth is the reason for your travel (i.e. Montana Championship Wrestling event), fifth is your beginning mileage, then your ending mileage is sixth. Subtract #5 from #6 to get column #7, your mileage.
I don’t recommend keeping receipts for having promo pictures made, because then you may need to have record of every one sold. I preferred to just leave those out altogether.
Understand that, due to the cash nature of this business, you might end up being more likely to be audited than Joe Average. Don’t freak out, just keep solid records and file honestly. I know this may be hard; the majority of wrestlers I have met are both procrastinators and exaggerators. Don’t be ashamed; I was, too.
If you make it to WWE, hire somebody to do your taxes for you and file quarterly. WWE does not deduct taxes, so if you wait until the end of the year, you might end up with a tax obligation of $50,000 or more.
You will most likely show a loss as an independent wrestler. It’s crazy, to think that you’ll have to work a regular job to support your wrestling habit. Imagine reuniting with a high-school friend for the first time since you began your wrestling journey. If you told him the whole truth about this business, he’d think you were out of your mind. “Okay, so you get the hell beaten out of you, have no health insurance, and lose money?” he’d ask. “And your chances of making it are one in 500? You’re insane.”