Written by attorney Ayuban Antonio Tomas

Triple Threat Match: Independant Contractors v. Employees v. PRO WRESTLING - PART ONE

As promised, this is the first part of my multi-part series: Triple Threat Match: Independant Contractors vs. Employees vs. Pro Wrestling.

If you are not interested in tax law, or professional wrestling, then this publication may not be for you.

In my previous guide, I explained the basic difference between Independant contractors and employees and I set out the 20 factors which the IRS uses to determine which classification is proper in any given scenario. I am now going to apply those 20 factors to professional wrestlers as an illustration of how to conduct this type of analysis. I will limit my analysis to professional wrestlers who wrestle for the largest wrestling company in the country, the WWE (formerly WWF). I was going to attempt to do the complete analysis in one legal guide, but I don't believe the 5000 character limit is nearly enough to cover all 20 factors, so I will cover one factor at a time. This is the first part, so we will start with factor number one:

Instructions: employees comply with instructions about when, where and how their work is to be performed, whereas contractors set their own hours and do the job their own way.

The WWE has no off-season and operates 52 weeks per year. Every single week they have multiple live events where wrestlers must perform to a live audience while being filmed for a television audience. When I say perform, that includes in and outside the ring. Wrestlers are not just wrestlers anymore. They still wrestle, of course, but in addition to that they have to perform vignettes and monolgues which further a story line. The WWE has a writing team that determines what these story lines are and then feed the wrestlers their lines. Some wrestlers, usually the more popular and higher paid ones, are not fed lines verbatim, but rather are given bullet points that they must touch on and they are given the freedom to improvise the rest. When it comes to actual wrestling, the writers and WWE officials pre-determine who will win the match and, in many instances, how the match will move along and how long it should last.

Besides being told what to say when they do get to speak, the wrestlers are told what moves they can and can't perform in the ring.

A few years back there was a wrestler named Paul London who was very popular in the independant wrestling circuit. He had a fantastic "finishing move" which was a 450 degree flip from the top rope ending with a perpendicular chest to chest splash on his opponent, who was laying down on the mat. When Paul London came to the WWE, the officials told him he couldn't do that move because they wanted his matches to be more "grounded" and "in tune with the WWE style." By the way, after Paul London was fired, the 450 splash has been used by a couple of wrestlers rather predominantly on WWE television. Most recently, it has been used by wrestler Justin Gabriel.

A similar situation happened some years ago with a wrestler named Billy Kidman. His move was called a "shooting star press" which was a backward flip from the top rope. Billy Kidman had been using that move for years before coming to the WWE and was generally associated with that move by his fans. The WWE told him he had to stop using that move for the same reasons Paul London was told to stop using his move. Mr. Kidman soon faded into obscurity and was fired. Since then, the shooting star press has been regularly featured on WWE television, most famously by current WWE wrestler Evan Bourne.

Very recently it was learned that the WWE has an internal policy that no wrestlers are allowed to use "knife-edged chops" during their matches. Presumably the reason for this is that the knife-edged chop is a move that fans generally associated with Ric Flair, a former WWE wrestler who is generally considered the greatest wrestler of all times. Ric Flair now works for a rival promotion and the WWE does not seem to want any wrestlers to do anything that might remind fans of Ric Flair.

Besides being told how to wrestle, wrestlers are also told how to look and how to act. I'll explain with a few examples:

In the early 90's, a very well known wrestler named Dusty Rhoades came to the WWE (then called WWF). Rhoades was a top performer for a rival wrestling company and very highly respected as a performer in the wrestling industry. When he got to the WWE, they made him wear a tight polka dot bikini bottom everytime he went to the ring. They also told him he had to dance around like a fool.

Just a few years ago a very gifted wrestler named Nick Dinsmore was brought in to the WWE as a new wrestler. Dinsmore had previously wrestled in the independants and was universally considered a technically gifted wrestler by his peers. The WWE decided that they were going to force Mr. Dinsmore to adopt the gimmick of a mentally retarded man. Everytime Dinsmore wrestled, performed a vignette, or was in any way seen in his capacity as a WWE performer, he had to act like a person with down syndrome.

In the 70's there was a wrestler named William Myers. Mr. Myers was not your average wrestler, you see he was a highly educated man with a bachelor's degree and a master's degree and he had previously been employed as a teacher before becoming a wrestler. Mr. Myers was also extremely articulate. This asset served him well as he would give very articulate interviews and "promos" when he was wrestling for a rival wrestling promotion. When Mr. Myers got to the WWE, they decided they were going to give him a different gimmick. The WWE (then WWF) decided that Mr. Myers was now going to be a bumbling, neanderthal-like ogre named George "The Animal" Steele. Mr. Myers's interviews now consisted of him jiggling his tongue and saying things like "ARRRRHGGHGGHG" and "BLLBBLBLLBBBLaAAARRAR."

I could go on, believe me. But I won't, I think you get the point.

Besides being told what moves to use, how to dress, how to act, and what to say, wrestlers are also told where they have to be and by when they have to be there. They are required to be at the forum several hours before taping begins. They are required to go to WWE studios to tape off-site vignettes and interviews as scheduled by WWE officials. Failure to arrive to these places on time can cost them their job.

Based on the foregoing, it would seem that the WWE provides its wrestlers with instructions much like an employer would provide an EMPLOYEE with instructions.

Additional resources provided by the author

IRS Publication 1779

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