A look into WWE and professional wrestling’s identity crisis
We take a closer look at the identity crisis the wrestling business has been going through for the past two decades.
Earlier this week, Austin Aries sported a nasty bruise near his eye. Aries was fortunate, as it could’ve been worse; Aries was kicked in the face by Shinsuke Nakamura, resulting in Aries getting injured.
Looking at the stiff kick, you’d think they were performing on a PPV or in front of tens of thousands of WWE fans. However, it was during a live event, which wasn’t being taped (or maybe it was for the Network).
For years, the professional wrestlers and the wrestling business itself have been going through an identity crisis. Ever since Vince McMahon ousted the business in ’89, it has been a rough ride for the industry.
From trying to convince people that it isn’t a work to getting used to life post the revelation, the wrestlers are left perplexed, trying to define the line in the sand which enables them to work within the boundaries.
Take the Japanese wrestling scene for example. The Japanese wrestlers are some of the most passionate bunch; a lot of emphasis is given to respecting the business, and the veterans who have been plying their trade for decades.
The Japanese wrestlers try to stay in character even outside the wrestling ring, and a look into how their dojos are run gives you an indication about how serious they are when it comes to the business.
From having the “gaijins” train by cleaning their dojos - thereby teaching them about respecting the place where they work to working a strong style, thereby bringing in a semblance of realism into their product, the Japanese wrestling scene reminds us of the 70s in North America.
But the question remains - how much is too much, when it comes to working stiff, in order to preserve the industry’s integrity?
The recent string of injuries a worrying sign
If we talk about Daniel Bryan’s injury during his independent days, where he almost lost his sight to the stiff style of wrestlers, it isn’t uncommon for the fans to witness injuries.
Accidents do happen, and injuries are a part of the business. In a business where people get dropped on their heads almost every day, miscalculations do happen. In fact, the wrestlers expect to get injured at least once in a couple of months.
However, the recent string of injuries in WWE indicate a changing of styles, which is a worrying trend.
The most significant of injuries occurred when Tyson Kidd was dropped on his neck by Samoa Joe; while Samoa Joe’s finisher can be termed dangerous, he has done it a thousand times safely, and the incident can be brushed under the rug as a freak accident.
However, we’ve also seen the likes of Orton getting busted open the “hard way” (through elbows and not a blade), which could easily result in a concussion.
In an industry where working safe is given the utmost importance, taking hard shots just to bring a semblance of realism doesn’t make much sense. As a matter of fact, almost everyone that watches wrestling knows that the business is scripted - yet another indication of how the business is still going through an identity crisis.
Incidents involving Samoa Joe and Austin Aries
We’ve seen wrestlers breaking their necks and legs inside a wrestling ring.
While wrestlers do get seriously injured at times, WWE has taken measures to ensure the safety of their performers. From banning moves such as the Piledriver and Curb Stomp to restricting the number of high-risk manoeuvres on the main roster, WWE has come down hard on moves that can injure the wrestlers.
However, the recent injuries to Samoa Joe and Austin Aries highlight the problems with the mindset of the performers. While it is refreshing to see two wrestlers beating the living hell out of each other, it comes with a price. Nakamura is legendary for his “strong style” of wrestling, but there is always a risk of his opponent getting seriously injured.
Nakamura hasn’t been the only performer to have accidentally injured his opponents. Seth Rollins has received a lot of stick for injuring the likes of Cena, Sting and more recently, Finn Balor. However, there is a difference between the circumstances under which Rollins’ opponents were injured, and how Nakamura’s opponents got injured.
Joe’s jaw was dislocated after Nakamura connected with the Kinshasa knee strike, while Aries sported a massive injury thanks to a mule kick. On the contrary, Rollins’ opponents suffered injuries due to either bad luck or because they did not take the bump cleanly.
While no one is pointing their finger at Nakamura, one needs to question as to why the performers choose to go with stiff style, rather than emphasising on delivering a believable product.
At the end of the day, we once again come back to the “identity crisis” the business has been going through for the past few decades, and unless we understand the artistic value of professional wrestling, we will witness more injuries which can be easily avoided.
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