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“AEW has health care and dental for the performers,” Y2J told the former wrestler and Minnesota governor. “You’re talking about a big sports team mentality instead of the every man for himself mentality the business had for years.”
Although the outcome of their matches might be scripted, many of the injuries wrestlers suffer are not. Performers have chipped teeth, been busted wide open and, in many cases, torn muscles or broken bones mid-match. The physicality demanded of them often comes at a great cost, in more ways than one.
For years, the WWE has come under fire for its treatment of Superstars, most recently by John Oliver in a 23-minute segment on Last Week Tonight. The WWE hires Superstars as exclusive independent contractors, meaning they can’t work for anyone else but they’re still not employees of the company.
Additionally, WWE doesn’t offer health insurance, though it does pay for surgeries if a Superstar gets injured while performing. Ventura asked Jericho if that would change in AEW, or “is it going to continue slave labor in wrestling?”
Jericho, who will face Adam “Hangman” Page on Aug. 31 in a bout to crown the inaugural AEW World Heavyweight Champion, said he’s an employee of AEW, an aspect that attracted him to the company from the promotion he spent more than 18 years in.
“From a business standpoint, there was no choice,” he said. “AEW was better across the board, from the guarantee I was given, the contract I was given, the employee status, the healthcare.”
At first, it appeared the healthcare benefits would only be available to AEW in-ring talent who were also company executives, like Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks. In May, Rhodes said other wrestlers would receive similar benefits. “There are several wrestlers outside the [executive vice president] element that are going to receive benefits and health care,” Rhodes told Bleacher Report. “That’s a first for wrestling, and these are slow and steady steps and I’m super proud.”
AEW owner and President Tony Khan—who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and English soccer club Fulham FC— has also said he’s looking to have a lighter schedule than the WWE, thereby putting less strain on the wrestlers’ bodies.
Numerous WWE Superstars are looking to jump ship to AEW, per various websites, and Jericho believes the offer of healthcare benefits might be one reason for that. “There’s a lot more of that going on, and I think that’s going to continue to grow, which will force eventually WWE to follow suit, or else everybody will want to leave to come to AEW, which is already happening anyway,” he said.
You can see the full interview below (which starts at 14:25):