I love professional wrestling. I know it may be hard to believe, considering I write exclusively about how much the business can piss me off, but it’s true. I love pro wrestling, and have as long as I can remember.
But as I get older, the way I appreciate pro wrestling has changed. As a kid, I liked whoever Vince & Co. told me to like. I had my pink foam Bret Hart shades. I cheered when Shawn Michaels took the WWF title in sudden death overtime at Wrestlemania. If I was a kid today, I’d probably cheer John Cena. White meat babyfaces were a-ok with me.
Then along came the nWo and D-X and the age of the cool heel. Wrestling got edgy. And then the edgiest promotion of all caught fire in a shitty little building in Philadelphia, and everything changed.
Weapons. Tables. Dangerous bumps. Nothing was off limits anymore.
Fast forward about a decade and a half to the present day. A lot has changed for the better, with WWE leading the charge. They’ve banned a lot of dangerous moves and bumps, having slowly learned their lesson from the old Owen-Austin piledriver nightmare. They don’t want to lose another bonafide star at his peak, like Edge.
The ‘E has also gotten smart about protecting the talent outside the ring, and when a wrestler’s time in spandex has come to an end. They’ve set up their new performance center, to best manage their performers’ bodies and careers. They’ve offered fully-paid rehab to any talent –past or present—who may need it.
WWE has, finally, begun treating its performers like PEOPLE. They’ve finally realized the consequences of the bumps, and the travel, and the business in general.
It’s time for the rest of the wrestling world to catch up.
A few weeks ago, ROH fans nearly watched a man die in the ring.
That’s long-time ROH midcarder BJ Whitmer, being piledriven on the ring apron by “Mr. Maria Kanellis” Mike Bennett. That’s Bennett not fully protecting Whitmer, because with limited space on the apron, there wasn’t room to properly land. That’s Whitmer’s head crashing into the mat, compressing his spine, and leaving him motionless for 15 minutes.
That may be the end of Whitmer’s career.
Whitmer spent days in a Toronto hospital, with Bennett by his side. He would later be diagnosed with a bruised spinal cord and spinal stenosis. Sound familiar? It should. That’s the same condition that brought Edge’s Hall of Fame career to an uneventful end.
What was it all for? A mid-match bump, in the middle of a mid-card match, in front of a couple hundred fans (AT BEST). Bennett would have rolled Whitmer into the ring, stalled, covered, and gotten the two-count. For what? A lousy pop from the crowd? An ROH chant? What’s the point?
Of course, this lone bump isn’t the only one worth mentioning in this discussion. Less than a month after this bump, another ROH “star” took a powerbomb on the apron, and needed a few minutes before he could continue the match. At one of my first ROH shows, BJ Whitmer and Jimmy Jacobs were both hurt – on a TOP ROPE POWERBOMB INTO THE CROWD. No, seriously. That happened. No padding. No give. ROH chant. No point.
It’s not just ROH. Japanese legend Mitsuharu Misawa died in the ring in 2009, after years of stiff shots, and head and neck bumps left him irreparably broken. Whose fault is it? Is it ECW’s fault? What about the companies that rose from its ashes, like Combat Zone Wrestling and XPW? What about groups that thrive on deathmatches, like IWA-Mid South, Germany’s wXw, and Big Japan Pro Wrestling? Nope.
It’s your fault, and mine. It’s our fault. We cheered Mick Foley, when he threw himself from the top of a cell, through a table. EVEN WHEN HE TOLD US NOT TO.
We cheered when he fell through the cage, and when he bumped in thumbtacks. We cheered when the Rock beat the everloving shit out of him with a steel chair, with a dozen or so unprotected shots to the head. We cheered all those TLC matches, with crazy ladder bumps. I’m sure Joey Mercury’s facial reconstruction and subsequent drug relapse was worth whatever he got paid for that match.
It’s my fault for going to CZW’s tournament of death in 2009. That’s the year after Nick Gage was hurt so badly that he needed to be airlifted to the hospital, and nearly died en route. I cheered as Japanese deathmatch star Abdullah Kobayashi bit into a light tube, chewed the glass, and started bleeding from his mouth. Thumbtacks, glass, barbed wire, and so much more. I cheered it all. Gage is in jail now, after robbing a bank to pay for his painkiller addiction. JC Bailey is dead. The company goes on, and so does the tournament. Why? Because we allow it to. We buy tickets. It’s our fault.
Ultimately, we can talk all day, every day, about trying to protect the workers, but they need to be willing to protect themselves. Nobody forced BJ Whitmer to take that piledriver. Nobody forces all the flips and stiff shots and other career-shortening bullshit you see on the indies. But it happens. These guys take these bumps to make you mark out, to generate buzz online, and catch the attention of the big leagues. Then they can move to Tampa and learn “WWE Style.”
If you want to save these guys from themselves, the only way may be to stop buying tickets. Don’t reward them for stupid bumps by putting money in their pockets. Make them work smart, or don’t let them work at all.
I still enjoy pro wrestling. But these days, I cringe when I see a guy take a chairshot to the face, without putting his hands up. I wonder which shot is the one that turns him into Chris Benoit, or the one that fucks up his spine and lands him in a wheelchair. I worry when I see someone slip off the middle rope, hoping they don’t become the next Hayabusa. Hell, I worried during the Summerslam main event, when Cena appeared to almost drop Daniel Bryan on his neck from the middle rope.
Wrestling can be fun, dramatic and impactful, without guys risking life and limb. It’s why I support(ed) CHIKARA – where the focus is on athletic characters putting on a fun product. It’s the same reason I gave up on ROH. It’s the reason I won’t bother with PWG, or a lot of other “super indies.” Head bump, head bump, headbump, near fall, FANS GO WILD.
Not this fan. Not anymore. Watching 2 guys ruin their bodies doesn’t do it for me anymore. Let wrestling be fun, without bordering on deadly. WWE changed for the better. The product and the boys are better for it. It could happen on the indies, too… but I won’t hold my breath.