EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, June 29, 2001
Stop the stupid risks
While I'm in the good news category, thank goodness Kurt Angle came out of the brutal King of the Ring as uninjured as he did: only a concussion, a bruised tailbone, and five stitches. There was apparently thought given to giving Angle a day off this weekend, but clearly it was decided he didn't need it as he's still on the cards for this weekend's house shows.
Steve Austin was fortunate enough to escape King of the Ring with as little as a sore hand, pain in said hand, as well as pain in his lower back and tailbone.
Chris Jericho suffered a concussion from a chairshot, but it was really just a little one. That doesn't really matter. He's said himself that he's had bigger concussions before, and this one wasn't so bad. In the world of pro football, concussions are cumulative and more dangerous with each successive one, but maybe not in pro wrestling. Mick Foley apparently still has some pain that won't go away, and he hasn't wrestled in over a year.
By the way, if you want to check out any of these and many more gruesome injuries, check out WWFBumps.com, proudly brought to you by the World Wrestling Federation.
If phrased differently, this could easily have been an intro to a column arguing that wrestling really isn't fake at all, but that would be preaching to the converted as I don't see why non-wrestling fans would come here and read this anyway. Besides, that's just not the point.
I enjoy watching wrestling. I love the sport. Don't let the negative tone of this article convince you otherwise. If I didn't enjoy wrestling or care about its athletes, I wouldn't care enough to write this. But I do, and just because I have negative things to say doesn't mean I'm any less of a fan.
That said, I didn't enjoy King of the Ring very much. Don't get me wrong, everyone put forth a great effort and many of the matches were strong. But I don't get any kind of thrill from watching two of my favourite performers go out there are and get dangerously hurt. The two best matches on the card in my opinion, Kurt Angle's match with Shane McMahon and the main event title defense, were both marred by injury. The former match was just gruesome, with more blood than necessary, real glass instead of breakaway, all of the above injuries to Kurt Angle, and some impressive but dangerous moves by Shane McMahon like the shooting star press (which Kidman is afraid to use). The title match included an overeager Booker T slamming Steve Austin over a table too harshly, Chris Jericho suffering a "mild" concussion, and Chris Benoit walking into the match already injured from TLC a few weeks back.
That brings me to TLC, the tables, ladders, and chairs match. Some matches are just built to injure. Hell in a Cell is often one of them. TLC is another. I get a thrill out of a TLC match as much as the next guy, but I always feel a little guilty about watching guys put themselves on the line like that. I always tell myself that it's Wrestlemania or Summerslam and that it's only once or twice a year and it's okay. Airing TLC on Smackdown! smacked of desperation, both to get Jericho and Benoit over and maybe to elevate sagging Smackdown! ratings. It also marks a trend. These matches often steal the show and get fans talking, so it stands to reason that the WWF might try to use them more often. That's not a good trend.
I don't care if other federations put on broken glass matches, barbed wire matches, or exploding death matches. I don't want to see it. It might be exciting on paper, but I don't want to watch talented performers whom I enjoy watching killing themselves for the sake of a quick pop. Last year, I attended one of these generic ultimate fighting contests, where locals basically enter a single elimination tournament, and I left after two matches. Too much bone cracking, too much blood, too many guys finishing the match unable to walk out the door. This kind of stuff is barbaric, and if it were what the WWF stood for, then organizations like the PTC would be dead right in their arguments.
I think of the WWF as fun entertainment. I take my girlfriend to some of the shows, and she likes it. I extol its virtues to friends and family. But they don't want to watch something akin to ancient Roman gladiatorial games, and neither do I.
Last year, when the Hardy brothers were in full crazy stunt mode, I wrote that I didn't want to see them get hurt. [Sep. 1, 2000: Save The Hardy Boyz] I was concerned for their safety. What I didn't realize is that in a short time, they and others in the WWF have raised the bar for risk-taking. Now every wrestler does it, at least a little bit more than before.
It's not like everything else the WWF is perfect, and the only way they can improve is to take stupid risks. They should take all the time they spend planning these stunts and then staying in hospitals, and put their energies toward creating more in-depth storylines and stronger mat wrestling and brawls.
North America does not produce lucha wrestlers. We produce brawlers who wrestle in the lucha style and then get hurt.
Ironically, these injuries aside, this was one of the best weeks for wrestling television following a strong King of the Ring pay-per-view. I would love to have talked about how the WCW Invasion is turning around, ever so much. I can't do that, though, as long as I keep reading announcements of more and more folks out for one, two, three, and six months. It has to stop. I don't want to watch Hoganesque matches with six moves and no selling, but there has got to be a happy medium. By medium, I mean not insane, and by happy, I mean relatively injury-free.
An argument could be made that injuries are a part of this sport, and Triple H's torn tendon would make strong evidence. But if this is that kind of sport, then that's all the more reason to try to prevent injuries and not take additional risks. With so many stars out, surely this also makes business sense to the WWF, who will soon need those WCW wrestlers just to replace their own ailing superstars. Oh wait, with Booker T defending his WCW title against Buff Bagwell as a house show this weekend, with Y2J against William Regal topping that card, I think that's already happened.
Mark, from Ssaber@erols.com, writes:
"You gotta remember that wrestling storylines are similar to soap opera storylines. Both have to tease big events before they can happen. For soaps, when someone comes back to life (or some other improbable event), they often tease it for a few weeks (or at least tease why the person is still alive). Admittedly I'm talking with the advantage of hindsight having seen the 'real' beginning of the WCW Invasion on Raw last night. The WWF still has time to put together a great WCW - WWF storyline before the two promotions begin working autonomously (at least until the next annual or semi-annual cross-promotion pay-per-view). Give them time, everything will work out and likely very well."
Teasing a storyline does not entail that you can just sort of throw it out there, without much thought. If anything the teasers have to be even more intricately planned, because they have even less time to work with generally. Movie trailers are not randomly-chosen scenes, and Ross and Rachel's long-teased romance on 'Friends' never consisted of random and unexplained dates or embraces. There is logic to both progressions. There is little logic to Shane's WCW Invasion, or at least there wasn't before Smackdown!. There are signs that this angle is improving, and as you said, it will likely 'work out'. Last time I checked, though, 'working out' is not the adjective one uses to describe the greatest of all-time, which this angle has or had the potential to be in North America.
Bond Benton, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Enjoyed the column. There's some precedent on WWF mis-use of WCW talent. When Flair jumped ship to the WWF in the early '90's, there was the perfect opportunity to build a feud with Hogan that could have been the most-hyped, most-watched story in the history of wrestling. For a host of reasons, it never materialized. I think something similar is happening now with the 'invasion' angle. John Madden (American football commentator) once spoke of something called 'paralysis of analysis.' When a person or team thinks so much about what could or should happen that nothing does. Could it be that in thinking so much about HOW to do this angle, they have forgotten WHY to do this angle?"
Well, Mr. Bond, I certainly don't know the details behind the decision not to have Flair feud with Hogan, but I could easily envision a scenario in which management decides that the egos involved are too big and it would never work, or Hogan and Flair both balk at jobbing, or something. Egos in this new regime seem to mostly be in check, so I'm not sure if that argument applies.
Your 'paralysis of analysis', though, makes more sense. Still, this angle hasn't been poorly done in the way that Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness was poorly done (it was silly and stupid), but more as if it seems like the WWF had barely given the angle two seconds of thought until recently, as if they didn't care, the way they don't care about cruiserweights. I'll give it two more weeks before I comment again, though. Maybe one week.
That's all for now, have a safe and happy Canada Day weekend. Thanks for reading and writing in.
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