Published on August 1st, 2019 | by Ian Goodwillie0
The Creative Side Hustle
We look at the increasing number of professional wrestling stars breaking kayfabe to promote their brands. Is the creative side hustle fair and necessary today?
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Straight outta Romeo & Juliet, that quote might be one of the most famous to ever come from the pages of William Shakespeare. And to some people, it might seem weird that I’m about to use it to parallel the careers of professional wrestlers.
If you know anything about the world of professional wrestling, both in the ring and behind the scenes, you know it’s positively Shakespearean up in there.
On Twitter, a popular place to praise your favorite wrestlers and body shame the ones you don’t like, Lance Storm and Jordynne Grace engaged in a spirited but professional and respectful debate regarding wrestlers using openly using their real names outside the ring. This has become a bigger issue over the years as kayfabe, the consistent portrayal of what happens in the ring as real, has fallen further and further by the wayside. It used to be that the heels (bad guys) would never be seen associating on the road with faces (good guys) to maintain the legitimacy of in-ring storylines. Now, heels and faces in the ring post vacation selfies with each other on Instagram.
The destruction of kayfabe came up on Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast a few years ago when Paul “Triple H” Levesque was a guest. Stone Cold asked the question and Triple H somewhat lamented the loss of kayfabe but acknowledged the benefit of the new reality.
Enter Jordynne Grace.
Jordynne is a relatively young performer but she’s a beast in the ring. She’s impressively talented and incredibly strong, known to body slam fans into her opponents on the floor. She sells t-shirts with a legal release on them in case you want to go that route. Recently, Jorydnne adjusted her Twitter profile to include her real name, Trisha Parker. Her essential point is that actors don’t continue playing their characters outside the movie set. Why should wrestlers have to keep their game faces on 24/7? At the very least, they should have the choice in how to handle that.
Lance Storm, a legendary wrestler and instructor, came to the defense of kayfabe. As a vanguard of the old school methodology, Lance supports the idea of maintaining the illusion as part of the overall fan experience and for the sake of storytelling.
It’s important to note at this point that Jordynne and Lance could not have been more civil, professional, and polite during this discussion. There was no name calling. No faux outrage. Just two professionals who care about the industry exchanging ideas on a topic. It was refreshing to watch two adults talk on Twitter without resorting to overt dickery.
But I digress.
Fans and industry pros lined up behind each wrestler, supporting the time-tested idea of kayfabe or it’s evolution into something new. It was an interesting conversation but also somewhat of a stalemate as neither side was really right or wrong. Then Xavier Woods jumped in mix and changed the game.
Xavier Woods is a long-time part of the WWE roster as a member of the record-setting and uber popular team The New Day. His real name is Austin Watson but wrestled for years as Consequences Creed and Austin Creed. And under the name Austin Creed, he has built a massive YouTube content brand called Up Up Down Down that focuses on the world of gaming, something else he is passionate about. Xavier Woods is the name WWE gave him to wrestle under when he joined their company, a practice WWE has implemented for many wrestlers so that they maintain creative control over their characters whenever possible.
Taking a step back from kayfabe, Xavier looked at the conversation from the perspective of wrestlers being contracted creative professionals. Again, Xavier Woods is the name the WWE gave him to perform under. And if the time comes that he leaves the WWE, he does not get to take the name with him. WWE owns that name, that character, and that brand. Xavier is building his own brand outside of that specific arena as Austin so that he’s not starting from scratch if he parts ways with his current employer.
Not that he’s planning to anytime soon.
Ultimately, there’s a reason why Dwayne Johnson pushed away from The Rock once he transitioned his career to movies and TV. The Rock is WWE’s brand, not his. It’s also kind of hard to be taken seriously as an actor with a name like The Rock.
The reality is that wrestlers are contracted to create content by companies like the WWE. They do not own that content. The company does. For a wrestler who has put all of their eggs in that one basket, that becomes an issue when you leave a company and have to begin again 20 years into your career.
The situation is more than similar to the positions a lot of comic book creators find themselves in during this prolific era of comic book movies. They see characters they created and storylines they developed play out on big screens, content none of said creators own. They see these movies make billions while little, if any, of that money makes its way back to them. But that’s the reality of the contracted creative professional; you got paid for your part in the process. What happens after that has little to do with you.
Modern comic book creators who work for big companies rightly have their own persona side hustles. They have their own independent comic book properties that they maintain ownership of as well as other creative gigs and projects outside the comic book realm. A lot of creators build a recognizable name with Marvel or DC, then parlay that success into their own independent projects. And if those creators part ways with the big companies, they’re not stranded.
That is essentially what Xavier Woods is trying to do with Up Up Down Down. It’s a creative side hustle that keeps fans familiar with him under any name outside the WWE. The difference between pro wrestling and comic book creating in this scenario is that very few comic book writers and artists are forced to change their names when the join a new company.
Can you imagine DC telling Brian Michael Bendis that he had to writer under the name Terry James Watterson when he joined their company?
In the end, kayfabe was exceedingly important to wrestling and is still is in a lot of ways. But like so many other aspects of the industry, kayfabe has to grow and evolve with the times. I respect Lance Storm’s opinion incredibly but in the era of social media, maintaining the illusion of kayfabe has become nigh on impossible. Why not lean into it and use the opportunity to build a brand and an identity that will carry you no matter where you end up in life?
In an industry where your fortunes can do a 180 without any notice, it’s good to be prepared.
No matter what your name is.