I should be doing homework right now. I have a lot of reading to do about airway management for Paramedic class. Yet, here I am typing away at my keyboard about something that has very little to do with my studies. I’m a wrestling fan, and a writer. I’m a wrestling fan, a writer, and a wrestling fan who writes about wrestling. That means that sometimes the bug hits and I feel the need to write about something wrestling related. In this case the bug started to form last night in the Wrestling with Words group chat. During the night as I ran a few calls on the ambulance my mind kept returning to a specific topic. That leads me to the now, where I damn well know I should be reading about airway management, and instead I’m going to write about wrestling more safely and minimizing hard/flat back bumps.
My good friend, and if he’s not yours he should be, Skillcrane (@naturalbornheel on Twitter) was a part of the Wrestling with Words group chat last night. As we joked back and forth the chat became a little more serious as I broached the idea of writing an article about why Daniel Bryan’s retirement should be a wake-up call to wrestlers and promoters that they need to retrain audiences as to what to expect from the performers and the events they attend or watch. Skill asked if I had seen a Ricky Starks bump from the most recent episode of NXT. I had not, and it wasn’t until this morning when I decided to watch said bump. Here’s a video of the bump in question,
On the surface the expected, and most likely reaction is that of, “Wow, what a freaking bump!” Something along the lines of how cool the bump is, the height that Starks managed to get on the Hip Toss to the outside from Colin Cassady, etc. This is where context is important. The bump taken by Starks in this case is extremely dangerous. It’s most likely bumps of that ilk that led to the early retirement of Daniel Bryan. The question I have is; coming out of that bump did Ricky Starks make a bigger name for himself and was that dangerous bump worth it in the long run?
My answer to that question is no. Because first and foremost, unless you previously knew of Ricky Starks the NXT broadcast gave you no reason to know Ricky Starks. He wasn’t named by either Corey Graves or Tom Phillips. His bump happened, a few slight reactions were provided by the commentary, the fans showed mild interest; then the broadcast, and match, moved right along. Starks was a nameless jobber in that match, and to the majority of the NXT audience he left as a nameless jobber who took a needlessly dangerous bump that they had forgotten about as soon as they turned their WWE Network feed off.
It’s not new for jobbers, or enhancement talent if you will, to take dangerous bumps. What has changed is the gravitas given to those bumps. A prime example of how much things have changed would be the way Big Van Vader breaking the back of Joe Thurman was treated back in 1993. Around this time Vader had just won the World Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Championship. To help to try and impress upon the audience how fearful people should be of Vader WCW used the January 09, 1993 episode of Worldwide to show a handicap match where Vader faced off against Thurman and TA McCoy. Like the Ricky Starks match above, this match only lasts a few minutes. It ends after Vader hits a Chokeslam followed by a Powerbomb, both on Thurman, which appears to leave Thurman in dire straits.
The key difference is in presentation. Thurman has taken a pair of stupid bumps, mainly because he bumped using improper technique. However, WCW gives Thurman a name. They hammer home the seriousness of the bumps he takes, and Tony Schiavone on commentary makes sure the audience knows that Thurman’s back was broken following those bumps. The truth of the matter, at least the truth that has been reported by people like Mick Foley, is that at worst Thurman suffered a stinger. What matters though, is that while his bumps were poorly executed and ultimately foolish, they were treated as a big deal by the audience at hand, the commentary, the promotion, and the wrestlers themselves. The bumps ended up serving a purpose, and they were not the easily dismissible norm.
Fast forward back to Ricky Starks, his NXT bump, and Daniel Bryan’s recent retirement. We have reached a critical stage in the landscape of professional wrestling. The “Top this” approach to wrestling has provided numerous short term gains, but very little in the way of long term benefits. I know that people will argue that Bryan has achieved notoriety, a healthy bank account, and more from his numerous dangerous bumps taken throughout the years. He’s also accrued a serious concussion problem, it has been reported that he now suffers from concussion related seizures, and in this day and age of CTE awareness I think we all have a general idea of what the future holds for American Dragon.
Frankly, it’s sad to think about the above. I loved Daniel Bryan (American Dragon, Bryan Danielson, or whatever other names he used) as a performer. He will go down as both one of the best wrestlers to ever compete in pro wrestling and one of the most beloved by fans and peers alike. I got oodles and boodles of enjoyment out of Bryan’s work in the ring. I don’t like thinking about his future in a CTE aware world, but it is something that I firmly believe fans, fellow wrestlers, and promoters need to start thinking about long and hard.
A guy like Ricky Starks doesn’t need to be taking the bump he took on NXT just as much as Joe Thurman didn’t need to take the bumps he took against Vader, or Daniel Bryan didn’t need to take horrific bumps night in and night out for years. As fans we have helped to create a culture where big bumps aren’t just expected, they take place with very little fanfare. A wrestler can kill him or herself for our enjoyment and our reaction is, “Okay, that was cool, now what else can you do?” There’s no way that I see wrestling continuing to grow with such parameters in place. There’s only so far the performers can take the “Top this” approach. Personally, I think there are major issues that need to be addressed when a Shooting Star Press to the floor has become a ho-hum event.
I’m not necessarily advocating a turn to a completely mat based style. Everyone who reads my work on the regular or follows me on Twitter knows that I do prefer #GrappleFuck, Lucha MatCore, World of Sport grappling, old fashioned Catch-as-Catch Can, or Shoot Style to just about every other style of wrestling that is out there. That being said, wrestling does not need to completely become those styles for it to be safer in terms of big bumps or flat back bumps being minimized. The key word there is minimized. Promoters need to flex their muscles and performers need to smarten up and realize that less is more. Making me care about the Ricky Starks bump to the floor would mean more for Starks, the product, and the business as a whole. Give me a reason to care about the death defying stunts when they happen. That’s certainly not too much to ask, is it?
Fans can be retrained to have different expectations out of wrestlers, events, and promotions. If the promoters and the workers really want to they can adjust the way that we as fans watch wrestling. It can be done, and it needs to be done. The best example I can present to you of this is Chris Hero. He will outlast his contemporaries because of how he has changed his style to minimize flat back bumps and unnecessary bumps in general. He still takes big bumps from time to time, but because he doesn’t do it all throughout a match the moment when he does take a big bump has far more meaning. Hero should be the model by which all workers, and promoters, attempt to make the change that wrestling needs to make.
I’m not naive, I know that no such change is coming. We had Mitsuharu Misawa die in the ring from an actual bump, a head drop in his case, which he routinely performed. We’ve had numerous injuries to wrestlers from all walks of life that occurred because of the bumps they chose to take. And now we’ve had the fan favorite of all fan favorites have to call it an early career because of the state that reckless bump after reckless bump has left his body in. We know all this, and yet we still expect the wrestlers to top this and top that. We want more action, we want more dives, and we want more bumps. It doesn’t matter if we treat those bumps like they don’t matter, we want them god dammit! That could all be changed, wrestlers could have longer careers, be safer, and we could enjoy more of the very best of the art form we love so much from the performers we love to watch so much. Instead we want more, and we want it now, to hell with the consequences. Wrestlers can change this, promoters can change this, and even fans can change this. It must be changed, it needs to be changed. Every day that the change doesn’t come about is a day closer to someone becoming the next Daniel Bryan.
(All videos copyrighted and owned by WWE)