It might not be “real” in a competitive sense, but the moves that are done in the ring are very real – and very risky.
It’s become a habit to have a sly giggle at the WWE’s ‘Don’t Try This!’ safety announcements, but they’re right to stress the potential dangers of professional wrestling.
We saw it a fortnight ago, when R-Truth and Miz had a mix-up, resulting in Truth crashing on to his back outside the ring.
We saw it last week, when Jesse Sorensen broke his neck in his match against Zema Ion at the start of the Against All Odds pay-per-view.
And now we learn that Randy Orton will not be competing in Elimination Chamber due to yet another concussion, which is something Christopher Nowinski said would be the case a couple of weeks ago and nobody believed him.
Austin Aries and Shannon Moore have both been telling spectators that they need to have more respect for the talent because of the dangers inherent in the business, with Moore saying: “Please have respect for anyone good or bad that puts themselves into a ring risking it all every night to entertain. Thanks for your support.”
But should wrestlers be having more respect for themselves – and cutting down on these dangerous manoeuvres?
Former WCW star and WWE and ECW tag champion Lance Storm has been urging wrestlers to stop taking unnecessary risks, and to cut out the risky moves – not just the high-flying ones. (Shanna told us earlier in the week that she thinks her injury stems from an opponent using her MMA skills in a wrestling ring, meaning that she’d been put at needless risk without warning.)
Storm’s said he doesn’t like Sheamus’s Celtic Cross because of the impact to the recipient’s head; he tried to talk Tara out of attempting a 450 (“You don’t need it. Learn from others’ injuries“) and he said you don’t need high-risk spots to have a good match.
He’s also said that it’s not about the move itself – it’s about who’s doing them, arguing that many moves shouldn’t be attempted depending on the wrestler him- or herself.
He sums it all up thus:
With a botched Shooting Star on Impact a botched Hilo on RAW and the disasterous Moonsault at PPV maybe we need more Working less Stunting
— Lance Storm (@Storm_Wrestling) February 13, 2012
Wrestling fans, unsurprisingly, had mixed reactions to this declaration, with some saying that fans want to see the amazing moves. Storm responded in typical forthright style: “Well let the people break their necks then.”
It’s not like this is a new problem, though. We all remember Brock Lesnar’s shooting star press in 2003 (Haskins even referred to himself as ‘doing a Brock’); in Simon Garfield’s excellent book ‘The Wrestling’ (which was first published in 1996), he quotes Adrian Street as saying:
“The trend now is all for aerial moves and high flying out of the ring, but people are so busy working for the moves that they haven’t got an ounce of personality between them. You’ve got to bring the audience into the ring with you. If you’re not telling a story in the ring, then people aren’t going to come back. Wrestling has always been about telling stories.”
Street didn’t mean simple showmanship. He and many of his contemporaries placed huge emphasis on the importance of technical wrestling skills, and using them to put together and narrate a story. Is it possible that sometimes this is being neglected with the push for the spectacular?
One UK-based wrestler I spoke to agreed. “The art of storytelling isn’t something everyone understands and that creates the pop factor, where the crowd pop for the moves rather than the wrestlers,” he said. “If you dive off the top rope five minutes into a match then how do you top that? You have to go bigger and higher to get the bigger pop: I think a lot of people take unnecessary risks to please the crowd, the higher the risk the more room for error.
“So a lot of wrestlers throw in these meaningless high spots to get a pop from the crowd and risk their health doing it. The same pops can be quite easily achieved by telling a story instead of diving over the top rope every two minutes. Personally I think Dusty Rhodes got a bigger reaction from raising his elbow than Jeff Hardy did jumping off a 20ft ladder.”
Of course, accidents always happen. Competitive or not, professional wrestling is a contact sport and people will pick up injuries no matter how hard they try to limit their risk. But perhaps it’s time to reassess the risk of high spots, just as the industry did with shots to the head and blading.
And fans also have a responsibility. No matter how amazing it may be to watch gravity-defying moves, I would much rather wrestlers entertain us without regularly risking their necks – or their lives.