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READER ALERT: For all the latest wrestling happenings, check out our News & Rumours section.

Wrestling has gone too far
Ring game pushing the envelope



By RYAN PYETTE -- Calgary Sun
  The death of Owen Hart last week has raised questions about the state of wrestling. Resident wrestling writer Ryan Pyette takes a look at where wrestling is today and where it may have to go in the near future.
 
 So, where does professional wrestling go from here?
 Certainly, the World Wrestling Federation will never again hook one of their wrestlers up to a cable and lower them from the rafters into the ring.
 That was confirmed yesterday when WWF owner Vince McMahon told the Detroit News the particular stunt that led to Calgary wrestler Owen Hart's tragic death in Kansas City would never be repeated in his organization.
 But that doesn't mean pro wrestling won't continue to push the envelope, won't keep pushing the bizarre-o, Jerry Springerish, adult-oriented sex-and-violence storylines that have catapulted the WWF to astronomic TV ratings and world-wide mainstream attention in the '90s.
 That doesn't mean wrestlers won't perform death-defying stunts anymore.
 That, too, was confirmed.
 Wrestling fans love to be entertained.
 They love to see high-flying, shocking moves, and the WWF, in particular, prides itself on giving fans what they want.
 But there's that line. Wrestling fans don't want tragedy, it's too blunt a wake-up call to the millions of fans who turn on the TV to watch Owen and the other WWF Superstars as part of an escape, a fantasy world where things aren't real.
 Calgary's Hart family, the Royal Family of Wrestling, have said for the past few years that the ring game has changed for the worse, only to be called disillusioned and behind-the-times by get-rich-quick naysayers.
 "Frankly, wrestling was getting so far out and my poor brother Owen was a sacrifice for the ratings, that's how I look at it," sister Ellie Hart said last Monday.
 "They kept on getting more and more far out with the gimmicks and angles ... We figured sooner or later somebody was going to end up with a tragedy because of the direction wrestling was taking with both the WWF and WCW (World Championship Wrestling)," she said.
 That direction steered wrestlers away from children's comic book heroes into the realm of adult-oriented soap operas, filled with sexually-suggestive behaviour and high-risk physical manoeuvres.
 Ed Whalen, the local broa-dcasting legend who made a worldwide name for himself as the host of Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling, questioned the values and messages today's wrestling portrays to children.
 "Wrestling today is crap, it makes me sick," said Whalen last month.
 "It's not for children at all, and there's absolutely zero athletic ability involved now. It's all about sex and sticking with these adult storylines."
 Based on the fractional amount of actual in-ring action presented during a weekly two-hour telecast, wrestling today is less about true athletic grappling and tumbling, and more about shock value and testing physical and societal limits.
 Steve Lucescu, who has performed stunts or co-ordinated them for more than than 180 movies, told Canadian Press this week that Hart shouldn't have been put in a situation so fraught with disaster.
 "He (Hart) got into the wrestling business to wrestle, not to dangle 100 feet off the ground," said Lucescu.
 "I read Tuesday that Owen Hart had done this stunt several times, but it's absolutely ridiculous to think that just because he did it several times that he was qualified to do it," he said.
 "You might be a stunt performer for 10 years before you even get the chance of doing a big fall like that."
 "We're not stuntmen," echoed Owen's brother, Bret 'Hitman' Hart. "We take our falls on the mat."
 And it's why Stu Hart, the true patriarch of old-time wrestling, is correct to call for a wrestling committee empowered to look out for the safety of today's wrestlers -- the WWF's greatest human resource.
 These committees work.
 A committee might have saved Owen Hart.
 If it might have saved him, then it's worth having around.
 Bret tells us Owen agonized over having to perform the fateful stunt.
 And this is what makes his terrible death so ironic. There was no one more cautious, no one more careful in his profession than Owen.
 When Owen was last in town, we talked about this new brand of "hardcore" wrestling, the matches where wrestlers hit each other with chairs, poles, garbage cans, bats, and other stuff, with the matches often spilling onto the streets outside the arena.
 Owen hated it.
 "I tried one hardcore match like that and I got hit with a guitar, and it cut me for a bunch of stitches," said Owen.
 "So I spoke up about it and said: 'I don't want any part of that anymore.'
 "I'm a good, technical wrestler, I'm under contract and I wrestle for the WWF, but I'm not going to risk myself to become popular with the fans with a bunch of gimmick matches where I could get seriously injured. I just want to finish my contract and enjoy spending time with my family."

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