Professional wrestlers are under constant stress - as those involved in a business that “came out of the closet” not too long ago, there are lingering perceptions that the superstars fight every day. Would they be okay if someone called professional wrestling “fake”?
How do you go about defending the industry, which had ousted itself as choreographed, but wants you to take it seriously? When CM Punk decided to try his hand in mixed martial arts, more than anything else, the fans ridiculed him by saying he was going to get his hands dirty, this time for real.
The professional wrestling business comes with a price tag - a burden of sorts. What separates the truly phenomenal athletes from the rest is their ability to suspend the fans’ disbelief and make it seem real for those couple of hours.
This led to the “strong style” technique practised by the Japanese wrestlers, where they willingly smack each other senseless. From throwing legitimate kicks and punches, to connecting with finishers that can easily cripple their opponents, it is the price they pay for choosing the more combative route than a theatrical one.
No one really wants to open these can of worms, as the business itself suffers from an identity crisis. While there is the old school mentality of respecting and protecting “kayfabe”, there are the new wrestlers, who’ve embraced the uncertainty of the industry - a lack of clear guidelines that define the business today.
Not too long ago, Bret Hart - a living legend, came out and slammed Seth Rollins for being an unsafe worker. This transpired after Rollins inadvertently ended Sting’s professional wrestling career, and also smashed John Cena’s nose.
Since then, Seth injured himself while going for a flip power bomb near the turnbuckles, and was also involved in an incident which saw Finn Balor dislocating his shoulder, resulting in Balor relinquishing the WWE Universal Championship.
On the outset, Hart’s comments were taken seriously. As a performer, Bret was known for his ability to put on great matches, while being relatively safe. However, one needs to understand that Bret competed in a completely different era - an era where flashy moves were few and far between, while a lot of focus was given to mat wrestling.
Comparing Rollins’ situation to AJ Styles’ on the independents
When AJ started competing on the independent circuit, he obviously came with a reputation. AJ’s finisher - the Styles Clash - is a dangerous move. However, the real question is - what is not dangerous in professional wrestling?
There is a reason why the wrestlers train themselves for years before going pro. Anything from a back body drop to a scoop slam can result in catastrophe, if the person taking the move, or the one controlling the momentum of his opponent’s body doesn’t know how to execute it properly.
The same situation was seen with Styles. When you’re taking the finisher, it is imperative that you don’t tuck your head - something that few of his opponents did, resulting in serious injuries. As a professional wrestler, one of the basic if not the most important things you’re taught is how you take a bump, and how you need to receive certain moves.
Seth’s turnbuckle bomb - Is it Seth’s fault?
When you talk about the Sting incident, or the one involving Finn Balor, it is not possible to put the blame on one individual. Professional wrestling is a strongman ballet - the two opponents need to be in sync.
While Sting’s case could be brushed under the rug as a one-off incident, considering he was well into his 50s and couldn’t take much physical abuse, inspecting Balor’s injury might give us our answer. Balor was hurled back first into the barricade - a move that comes with massive risks.
Comparing the sequence that led to the injury with a previous instance when Rollins launched his opponent into the barricade might give us a clearer picture, whether Rollins was really at fault.
Look at the two videos - one of Rollins launching Balor into the barricade, and another one of Rollins doing a similar move on Dean Ambrose.
You can clearly see that Balor tried to break his fall by using his shoulder, to lessen the impact. However, his shoulder popped in the process, while Ambrose took a clear hit to the back, by expanding the impact area. Was Balor at fault for using his arm to lessen the impact? Absolutely not; but neither was Rollins.
The John Cena incident - Was Rollins too rough with Cena?
The other incident that Bret pointed to while calling Seth “unsafe”, was when Rollins’ high knee broke Cena’s nose during their bout. Rollins even commented on the injury, stating that Cena leant into his knee, instead of leaning away from the move, thereby reducing the impact.
“That was really bad. Dude, he looked gnarly. I felt so bad. It was just a knee, we were trading shots and I threw a high knee just for some separation so we could get to whatever the next thing we were doing was and for whatever reason ... look, John'll be the first guy to admit he's a clumsy fella.”
“He's not a graceful individual. When he's not sure about stuff, for his own protection, a lot of times he'll put his body into whatever you're doing. When you're throwing punches at him or forearms, he leans a little bit.”
Much like moving away from a roundhouse kick to lessen the impact, Cena ideally should’ve leant away from the knee; however, John closed in, resulting in Seth’s knee smacking into Cena’s nose.
That was yet another case of an opponent not taking a move cleanly, rather than Rollins being unsafe with his opponents.
As Bill DeMott recently stated during an interview, we are nowhere near Bret’s calibre to judge if a superstar is safe or not. However, it takes two to tango - a sentiment which holds true for professional wrestling more than any other sport.
Calling Seth an unsafe worker is perhaps a misguided sentiment. Can Seth be a little more cautious? Sure; so can everybody else in the locker room. It is easy to point fingers, but in hindsight, his opponents would take part of the responsibility.
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