During an interview on The Town with Matthew Belloni, WWE President Nick Khan was asked about the treatment of lower card wrestlers in WWE. After stating that everyone in WWE is treated humanely, Khan used the Will Smith / Chris Rock slap incident at the Oscars as a reference point for discussing preferential treatment of top stars in WWE:
“[Will Smith] wasn’t escorted out of that room...part of it was that he’s Will Smith. And you know, tough to have security grab him and toss him out of the building. So I get the position that they were in.
It’s the same way with us. It’s a meritocracy. So if you’re at the top the card, maybe you have a bigger dressing room than the person at the bottom of the card. But everyone has the same opportunity to earn their way there.”
It makes sense that Roman Reigns has a bigger dressing room than Ricochet. That’s just how show business works. The top stars are going to have nicer things than everyone else.
But Khan’s claim about everyone in WWE having the same opportunity to reach the top of the card is completely absurd. WWE is definitely not a meritocracy in that respect.
It used to be easier to figure out who the top draws in pro wrestling were back in the days where live gates and pay-per-view buys were heavily influenced by the stars or matches advertised for those events. But today’s business model for WWE (and AEW) is primarily focused on content creation. That’s why WWE set record level profits in 2020 during the early months of the COVID pandemic despite the absences of top stars Brock Lesnar, Becky Lynch, Roman Reigns, and Ronda Rousey, as well as no paying audience. The content machine kept churning along nonetheless, and the money kept flowing in. Today’s pro wrestling isn’t like Major League Baseball where you can just look at a few basic stats for each player and get a sense for which ones are performing the best and should receive more opportunities and money.
Looking beyond that, though, you can easily see from WWE’s booking that a wrestler’s chance to succeed or fail is heavily dependent on Vince McMahon’s predispositions about their size, gimmick, and personality. The list of wrestlers who succeeded at a high level in NXT but flamed out in weeks in WWE is comically large. That’s almost entirely because of the whims of Vince McMahon. It’s not Karrion Kross’ fault that WWE immediately cut his legs off by taking his entrance and Scarlett away from him on the main roster, booking him to lose his first match on Raw, and then giving him a stupid helmet to wear. Ditto Keith Lee not fitting into Vince’s mold of how a big man should wrestle.
Look at Omos. The guy has been undefeated in WWE for a year. It’s certainly not because he’s better at pro wrestling than everyone else on the roster or drawing crazy money and ratings for WWE. In fact, he may very well be the least skilled wrestler on the main roster. He is pushed because he is a very large man, and Vince McMahon has a strange fixation with size. His matches are terrible and he hasn’t shown much improvement, but that hasn’t stopped him from receiving opportunities over many other more talented performers on the roster.
That Shane McMahon and his terrible MMA moves were booked in top matches at WrestleMania and Saudi Arabia events in recent years is because he’s the son of the boss. His return to WWE in 2016 was a big deal and likely helped move tickets for WrestleMania 32, but his act grew stale within a couple years. It was just sad watching Kevin Owens and
Matt Riddle have to sell for him earlier this year at the Royal Rumble.
Dolph Ziggler also recently explained why WWE is not a meritocracy. One day he is champion, the next day he’s not on the show. Over his 15+ years in WWE, he had to learn to stop trying to find logic in the decision-making process because it frequently comes down to the whims of one man, rather than the skills and performances of the wrestlers.
Some people will point out the success of smaller wrestlers like Daniel Bryan or Rey Mysterio to try to argue that everyone in WWE gets a fair shake, but those guys are the exception, not the rule. And they had to work ten times harder to have a chance to reach the top than physically bigger wrestlers. It’s been forever since Mysterio was booked like a top star anyway. He’s an all-time great wrestler largely because of his work prior to making it to WWE.
Not only is Nick Khan wrong about wrestlers in WWE all having an equal chance to succeed, but it’s probably not the best idea to compare star treatment in WWE to the Will Smith slap. Will Smith got away with abusing another person because he’s a big star. Nick Khan’s statement that “It’s the same way with us” doesn’t exactly help in the argument that lower card wrestlers are treated well in WWE, because it sounds like top stars can get away with shady behavior that lower card wrestlers cannot. Then again, he’s probably telling the truth there. Charlotte Flair reportedly went off script last November in a segment and suffered no repercussions, likely because she’s one of the top stars in WWE.
Okay, I’ve rambled on enough on this topic here. Now I’d like to hear what you have to say about Nick Khan’s claim that WWE is a meritocracy. Let me know in the comments below how you feel about wrestlers earning their way to the top in WWE. Does everyone in WWE really have the same opportunity to reach the top of the card, as Nick Khan indicates?