Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Dreaded ‘S’ Words of Wrestling

Well, at least one isn’t all that dreaded.

If you’ve been looking over the WWE landscape of late, you’ll notice something troubling about the roster. They’re seeing a huge number of injuries derailing both their best laid plans and PPV headlining matches. The guys and gals on the WWE’s roster are seemingly dropping like flies. At the rate they’re going, the WrestleMania main event will be the two most recent guys to walk into the NXT training facility. The injury bug is biting them across their entire roster, stinging guys in the lower mid-card and eating its way all the way up to their top talent.

A lot of people are wondering why we’re seeing so many injuries all of a sudden. Well, I think the biggest reasons are connected to some of the following  ‘S’ words, and at least one of them we’ll be getting to is word people in the WWE head offices really hate to talk about.


This refers of course to in-ring style.  You’ve got a lot of guys who probably need to scale it back a bit with their in-ring style. It’s just that simple. There are a lot of guys who need to stop going full throttle every time out; especially when their style involves taking a lot of bumps or using high impact moves. This is even truer when they’ve already accumulated multiple past injuries.

Kurt Angle was once seemingly the WWE poster boy for someone who needed to scale it back a bit. Daniel Bryan was at the top of that list of performers right up until he announced his retirement. I picked these two guys as examples for multiple reasons. With Kurt and Daniel you have two guys who will repeatedly tell you they only have one gear (even when working hurt) when in the ring. They’re not the only guys who act this way, but they both have extreme examples in their histories of going like madmen when hurt.

It doesn’t need to be that way. A lot of the guys who are getting hurt lately, and Daniel Bryan was chief among this group, have the ability to change their styles. I don’t even mean just slowing down a bit, but rather changing their actual wrestling style. We’ve seen it before with guys to varying degrees of success.

Brian Pillman is an example of a guy who had to change his style due to a serious accident outside of the squared circle. He went from being a high flyer with a more kinetic style to developing a more mat based and (occasionally) brawling style. Pillman was a smart guy. He knew what was needed to sell a match, and he knew he could do it no matter the style he used. He developed a workable style around his injuries in the hopes of prolonging his career, and he amped up his character to create extra excitement with that aspect of the performance in order to make up for anything fans might think they would be missing by seeing him without his high flying style.

But this isn’t saying that wrestlers who have made a name for themselves by doing certain matches or because of certain moves that get huge fan pops need to abandon those things all together. No, they just need to scale it back a bit for regular shows and (maybe) even more so for the house shows. Yeah, fans who pay their money deserve their money’s worth, but good stories and entertaining matches can be told (and were for years) without extreme styles. Plus, if they save some of their wildest stuff for the PPVs and special events, those things might start feeling a little more special again.

But it shouldn’t just be guys with injuries looking at tweaking their week to week styles. Almost every wrestler on the roster should be doing that to avoid being sidelined. Here’s why.

I see a lot of older fans (and more than a few older wrestlers) questioning why we’re seeing so many injuries all of a sudden. The guys back in the day, so they will say, used to work the grind much harder with more days on the road, more days where they had more than one match, and more nights where they partied hard rather than getting rest. Plus, they worked hurt and “gritted it out” where newer wrestlers sit on the sidelines with lesser injuries. Yeah, this is true, but there’s something else they did back then that can’t be done now. Plus, there’s something in play now the older guys didn’t have to deal with.

“Steroids” and “Specialists”

A lot of people just think about steroids with regards to getting big and buff, but there’s more to them than that. A lot of different steroids and other now banned supplements did slightly different things, but many of them helped at least a little bit with dealing with that grind.

Think about just the steroids for a moment. Go get yourself injured. Break a bone, rip a muscle, or damage some soft tissue. A lot of times they’ll put you on a steroid while you recover. Maybe the steroids being used by pro athletes to build mass are a bit different, but they’ll still share some common traits with the ones your doctor is going to give you. Many of the ones they were taking are still, for a time at least, going to help a body deal with some of the smaller injuries you’d get back in the day. Plus, going back to style, back in the day the styles were a little less high impact and kinetic, so they sometimes didn’t have to deal with as much to begin with. But the steroids and other now banned supplements likely helped them during the daily grind with regards to their smaller injuries.

Pain killers were also used and abused by a lot of wrestlers. They could self-medicate to get through a match or a series of matches, and their series of smaller injuries might not always grow to be as bad as they might now become without the use of certain steroids and supplements. But a wrestler might grit through it back then no matter what because they had to work to get their payday, and if they passed up a big match at a packed house or a hot run on the road, that was money they didn’t get. They can’t do that now. They can’t do it for a couple of reasons.

First, most of the types of supplements and steroids that they were taking back then and would be using today are, as already noted, banned substances, and they’re now thoroughly and rigorously tested for. The levels of pain killers that might have once been in some wrestlers’ bloodstreams would pop a red flag on the same testing used for the steroids. First and second strikes get you suspended. Go for three strikes and you’re fired. Most guys aren’t risking three strikes because there’s really nowhere else to work for many of them where they’ll make money as good as they do in the WWE. So you now have guys working clean (or largely cleaner) while working a style more likely to cause injuries.

Second, you’ve got to pass the doctor’s exam to step into the ring these days. You’ve got to get medically cleared by specialists to be declared ring ready once again. The old fans and pros that are talking about how back in the day the real men in the sport would grit through it and work with broken bones and such ignore the fact that it’s not their call anymore. A lot has changed in wrestling, in the WWE in particular, since the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit and the very high profile nature of the Benoit situation. But wrestling hasn’t been the only place we’ve seen changes with regards to the health of athletes. We’ve see the same thing to varying degrees in boxing, MMA, and football among others. The genuine concern, as well as the fear of liability, has become a much bigger issue. It’s not an option for a major wrestling company, and as a result it’s not an option for the wrestlers.

In 1976 Daniel Bryan would have insisted he felt better, was ready to wrestle again, and he would have done it. In 2016 the WWE doctors said no. He was pushed to take more tests, and they revealed the type of injuries to his brain that would have been horrendously damaging had he continued. This process also led him to reveal that he’d been hiding post-concussion seizures.

Other wrestlers may not have faced or be facing issues to that extreme level, but they still have to face the WWE doctors. The whole flap caused by CM Punk in his post-departure comments about them notwithstanding, they were, and most certainly now are, being very careful about when they clear a wrestler for a return. One of the reasons we’re noting the injuries more than ever these days in major or semi-major promotions is because it isn’t the wrestlers’ call anymore as to whether or not they get to perform.

If wrestlers can’t use the things they used back in the day to grit their way through the schedules they kept, the styles they’re using week to week can’t be kept up all year long on the schedule they’re keeping, and the doctors will step in and sideline them more often these days, there are two things they might have to look at.

“Splits” & “Seasons”

I’ve advocated here previously for the return of the brand split for other reasons, but it would be helpful with this issue as well. The brand split meant some wrestlers had a lighter schedule than they did before and do now. I can’t point to an actual study on the matter, but it does seem as though we’ve seen more injuries more often since the brand split went away.

But even if that’s not 100% the case, the argument can certainly be made that the lighter schedule, giving wrestlers more downtime to rest and recuperate or to heal can only be a positive thing. Certainly not having a guy work two (or sometimes three) brutal televised main events in one week before doing the same again the next week can only help to reduce the physical toll the profession takes on them.

Seasons are a more interesting animal though. The WWF used to run spots during the Attitude Era (essentially taking shots at the NFL) about how they didn’t have off seasons and ran their programming all year long. Well, twenty years later we know more and better about the physical cost pro wrestling has on its performers, and, again, some of the guys now can’t be on some of the stuff some of those guys were on then. Seasons might not be such a bad idea in some cases.

Lucha Underground has seasons. The wrestlers that work there can take time off if they’ve got the financial ability to do so. They might find other ways to be active and/or make money, but they’re not pounding their bodies the way they are when performing. Other new promotions that come along may find that a viable format for both financial reasons and for the longevity of some of their performers.

WWE could theoretically mix the two concepts, running their brands in three month seasons to maintain an all year television presence, but their preexisting PPV events might scuttle that ever happening. They only have one WrestleMania after all, and it would be hard to work both brands into that with a seasonal format for the brand split and probably harder still to make a second PPV event for the brand not running when WrestleMania hits into the equal of WrestleMania in the eyes of the fans.

But, no matter what the WWE or others do, the truth is, looking around the modern wrestling landscape, there may be coming again a need for serious change and evolution in the industry. Every single year we learn more about what the various sports out there do physically to the long-term health of the performers. Every year that goes by we learn a little more about just how “real” wrestling is in all the wrong ways.

As fans, we enjoy the spectacle. As fans, we enjoy the performers. As fans, maybe we should be vocally more supportive of things that come down the pike that seem to be a little outside of the box if they mean the performers we love will have longer, healthier careers and bring us that spectacle over a greater period of time.

Some blog post bonus content of a lighter nature-
I got to sit in on the ESO’s Pro-Wrestling podcast the other week to talk 1980’s wrestling. It was a really fun chat, and you can find it on iTunes or by following the link below. 

The ESO Pro Wrestling Roundtable Ep 22 – Pro Wrestling in the 80s!

Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.

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