August 3, 1997. It’s a date that some wrestling fans remember as the night Shawn Michaels nailed Undertaker in the face with a chair, essentially handing Bret Hart the WWF title. Others remember Mankind battling Triple H in a steel cage match. And while I’m not so sure how much he remembers, I bet it’s a night that Stone Cold Steve Austin will never forget.
On that night, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, The Texas Rattlesnake took on Owen Hart. I don’t remember the match. I remember that bump, that almost ended Austin’s career, and probably could have killed him.
Yeah, you remember it now.
That night did more than shorten Steve Austin’s in-ring career. It changed professional wrestling.
Eventually, WWE looked back on nights like this one and realized it had to protect its performers from needlessly dangerous spots. As a result, the company banned some moves (including the piledriver) for the well-being of its stars.
You’ll never again see a WWE star break their neck taking a piledriver. I don’t care if it’s your favorite move. Banning it was the right move.
Fast-forward nearly two decades. WWE is doing more now to protect its stars than ever before. Unfortunately, not everyone is getting the message.
A few months back, I wrote about indy workers risking their careers and their lives by taking increasingly stupid bumps. That hasn’t changed, and sadly, I don’t expect it to. But I’d think TV wrestling veterans would be smart enough to smarten up.
Some moves are just tough for wrestlers to take, because the very nature of the move violates their training, and basic human instincts. One of those moves is the Styles Clash. Instead of tucking their chins, like wrestlers often do, these guys need to protect themselves by doing the opposite. Now that AJ is on the indies, he’s working with guys who aren’t used to taking the move…and simply, can’t.
There was a close call earlier this year, when AJ spiked Roderick Strong. That was bad enough. This weekend, the news came that UK indy star Lionheart suffered a broken neck…taking the Styles Clash from AJ Styles. I’m not blaming AJ by any means. Maybe it’s the opponent’s fault. Maybe it’s just a crappy move to take.
Maybe, it’s time for the Styles Clash to go the way of the piledriver.
Professional wrestling is a work. The point is to fool the fans into believing a “fake” fight is real. The point is to make sure it doesn’t hurt – but make it look like it does. If you can’t pull off the moves without actually hurting your opponent, it’s time to stop doing the moves.
Besides the occasional tombstone, you’ll never see another piledriver in a WWE ring. I’d be perfectly happy never seeing another Styles Clash. Broken necks are bad for business.