Former WWE Superstar Alex Riley has opened up the debate on unionization within the wrestling business, saying it would help to protect all the talent rather than just the stars of the business.
Riley competed in WWE from 2007 when he joined their developmental territory of Florida Championship Wrestling until his release in 2016. His most notable run came as The Miz’s protégé and even accompanied The Miz to the ring for his WrestleMania main event against John Cena in 2011.
Now speaking to Booker T on his Hall Of Fame podcast, Alex Riley has made the case for the controversial subject of unions in professional wrestling.
For Riley, he sees wrestling as comparable to professional sports where unions are commonplace:
“I’m not here to say that I have it all figured out. However, I love the business of sports entertainment. I love the people, I love it. In that vein, they need, and I’ll say this, the WWE management is fantastic. They’ve done so much, it’s real, it’s the NFL. The thing, when I was watching it at home, the WWE compares, and I’m going to speak about WWE because I’ve never been to AEW (and I hear they’re fantastic as well), they compare themselves to the NFL, the NBA. Those people have unions. That’s just the facts of it.”
“And I really feel the art of sports entertainment is one of the most beautiful, artistic platforms of expression that we have. I believe that it’s going to be, if it isn’t already, the future of American programming. It’s lasted longer than anything. We have AEW now, we have WWE, we have Reality of Wrestling. I was speaking to you yesterday about the Monday Night Wars. How exciting were the Monday Night Wars? I know I didn’t have a cell phone in my hand during the Monday Night Wars, I know I wasn’t tweeting, I know wasn’t on Instagram. I know my eyes were locked in and glued onto what was happening.”
“And then you said the other day about WCW and that somebody had to go. I don’t want anybody to go. I want sports entertainment to be a pinnacle structure of programming for the United States of America forever. Why would it not be? Why does one company, and I know they were battling for business and that was part of that generation. One of them had to go. But if it can be in a way where we’re all working together and we’re all evolving through television together, I think that’s the best way to utilize that business. I just do.”
Booker T then pressed Alex Riley on what he sees the benefits of unionization would be in an industry that has actively worked against it in the past:
“First of all, it would give the talent a stronger voice. That’s number one. So that just goes without saying. If things would be more balanced. I’m not trying to negate the fact that the person drawing the money at the gate gets the money. You give the star the money. That would make no, logical sense. But the people that are supporting, the people that are trying to climb and replace the star. Give them feet to stand on, give them something to push off of. Give them a pay structure and a belief system that allows them to stand on two feet and go after the main guy. New stars right? People that can stand on two feet have a family.”
“I spent ten years in that business, and I gave my life to it. And anyone who says otherwise, I’d have to have a conversation too. I worked my ass off there, I’m proud of the work I put in there. I really am. There needs to be a platform for the people that are not the stars, to stand grounded on two feet, know that their job is secure and reach as high as they can for the brass ring. I don’t want to get too much into contracts right now and the way they’re structured. It’s not for me to speak of right now. But I believe there is space in there to unionize, to allow for a more grounded, more opportunistic playing field to aim to replace the star in a fair, equal way. If you’re working for AEW, if you’re working for Reality of Wrestling, if you’re working for WWE, you should go there knowing you could be the next guy. You know what I mean?”
Alex Riley then concluded by saying his vision is for all talents in any wrestling company to be able to feel a sense of security in their job, rather than just those sitting atop the tree.
“What I think it does, and again, I’m here as a voice. Maybe not the voice but certainly someone that sides with…you know the star is protected right? Let’s be honest about the business. The star is protected. The three stars, four stars, and you know they’re probably going to hate me for saying it but whatever, they’re protected. But the guys that are trying to be the stars, I’m speaking to them. I’m speaking to the hundreds of people that are there who have no idea what’s going on and whether or not they’re going to make it. And it’s not fifty of them now, it’s a hundred of them.”
“I’m just trying to balance the understanding of what I believe a sports organization provides. I have been close to the NFL. I didn’t play in the NFL, but I have been close. I have been in those locker rooms. I have been close to the NBA. There is an understanding there of professionalism and I believe the union helps protect that.”
Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura was a proponent of unions in wrestling in the seventies and eighties. Ventura had a falling out with WWF megastar Hulk Hogan when he found out that Hogan had told Vince McMahon about Ventura’s maneuverings to form a union.
More recently the subject came up after Zelina Vega was released by WWE in 2020. Vega was released by the company after a disagreement over WWE putting an end to their contracted talents working with third-party platforms including Cameo and Twitch. On the day of her release, Vega tweeted “I support unionization.”