March 30, 2013
Chris Gough is a Missouri guy. He graduated from Mizzou in 1999 and lives in Kansas City. In his words, “I would love to give back to my own state.” The problem is, he can’t afford to do that.
Gough, an anchor/producer for Time Warner Cable Metro Sports in Kansas City, also is the creator and promoter of Metro Pro Wrestling, an upstart group that runs shows at Turner Recreation Center in Kansas City, Kan. Metro Pro stays on the western side of the border because state licensing requirements and fees make it financially detrimental for Gough to bring his wrestling shows to Missouri.
“As a promoter, I will not run a show in Missouri because it is not financially possible to do that and not lose money,” he told me in a telephone interview. “(The fees) are a roadblock for me.”
While Kansas has plenty of venues to choose from, Gough said Missouri has even better options. But Kansas doesn’t mandate that pro wrestlers secure fee-based licenses every two years or undergo physical examinations and blood work in order to perform; in Missouri, promoters also must pay $400 every other year, as well as $150 per event.
Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, has sponsored HB 659, a bill in the Missouri Legislature that would make licenses for pro wrestlers, mixed martial arts fighters, barbers and massage therapists, among other professionals, voluntary instead of mandatory. Workers in some of the affected fields, especially cosmetologists, have argued that because of the work they do with chemicals, removing the mandate would be detrimental to their profession and potentially harmful to customers.
Pro wrestling is another matter entirely.
“All That” Matt Murphy lived in Eldon until moving to Wisconsin in October. He wrestled from 1999 to 2002, when he was injured in a car accident, and again in 2011 and 2012, working a few Japan tours and WWE shows.
“During my 2011-2012 stint, I was licensed in Missouri and used it for just one show,” he wrote in an email. “The independent wrestling business is cold everywhere, but it’s ice cold in Missouri. Instead, I traveled to surrounding states to wrestle.”
Murphy said a wrestler has to shell out $200 to $400 by the time they pay for a license, physical and blood work.
“It’s costly and it’s hard to find wrestlers who are willing to get a Missouri license, especially if the wrestler is a former star who gets steady work across the country,” he wrote. “It just doesn’t make financial sense ... if you’re an independent wrestler who’s making little, if any, profit from each show or if you’re a former star who could get the same payday working in a state that doesn’t have a commission.”
Gough was a writer for WWE, starting as an intern in 1997 then joining the promotion full-time from 1999 to 2003. He said the larger promotions such as WWE and TNA, which had a show in Sedalia in October 2010, can afford the $40-per-wrestler license fee and other mandated costs, but “it’s not economically feasible for upstart companies. For these guys who want to be weekend warriors, there are so many fees” that working in Missouri is a losing proposition.
Missouri mandates that pro wrestlers get a physical every year and blood work every six months; women must sign an affidavit stating they are not pregnant at the time they will be performing.
“A wrestling-license applicant doesn’t even need to demonstrate any skill or prove he has been trained,” Murphy wrote. “It’s regulated because of the money the state makes from WWE shows. WWE can afford it, but independent promotions and wrestlers can’t. If they want to tax ticket and merchandise revenue, that’s fair. But that’s where state involvement should end.”
The list of Missouri “wrestling contestant” license holders features scores of references to Stamford, Conn., and Nashville, Tenn. — home bases for WWE and TNA, respectively. The number of Missouri hometowns pales in comparison.
Murphy was the first graduate of the wrestling school operated by legendary star Harley Race, who operates World League Wrestling out of Eldon. Aside from WLW and Mid Missouri Wrestling Alliance, based in St. Louis, “there isn’t much happening in the state,” Murphy wrote.
On Thursday I spoke with a representative for the Missouri Department of Insurance and Professional Registration, who asked that I email him with my information requests. I asked what the purpose of pro wrestling licensing is, what the license fees are used for, what impact HB 659 would have if it passes and whether, as Murphy contends, regulating an activity with a predetermined outcome “is absurd.” Unfortunately, I have not received a response.
There are plenty of arguments for and against licensing and regulation of the occupations that HB 659 would affect. But with the late “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer as my witness, I cannot think of a single reason — outside of government greed — for the state to be involved with professional wrestling other than taxing sales of tickets and merchandise.
For the sake of entrepreneurs like Gough and performers like Murphy, here’s hoping that no matter the outcome of HB 659, Missouri gets its hands out of pro wrestling, creating opportunity for promoters, wrestlers and fans alike.