One of the worrying trends of 2011 has been how chairshots to the head have started to creep back into mainstream American wrestling, after once being thought banned from the major leagues of WWE and TNA, and performers supposedly being dissuaded from using them in ROH, due to the well known postmortem diagnosis of Chris Benoit (and later Andrew Martin) with the degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
WWE got the ball rolling at WrestleMania 27 when Vince McMahon's son-in-law Triple H dug deep into his Attitude Era bag of tricks and nailed The Undertaker with a running chairshot to the head in a spot designed to help them steal the show from everyone else on the card. The ensuing controversy led to a meaningless fine for the two veteran performers involved, but has at least discouraged WWE management from scripting another spot like that since then.
Not to be outdone by the McMahons in Connecticut, last month at the Turning Point PPV TNA minority owner Jeff Jarrett got in the act too when he used a chairshot to the head in his match with Jeff Hardy. Given that everyone in TNA management seems stuck in the late '90s, it's not surprising that they couldn't resist the temptation to go back to the hardcore well for a cheap pop.
But the most egregious offender is ironically the company with the most progressive in-ring wrestling style, ROH. At their Final Battle iPPV last week, not one, but two matches featured chairshots to the head. That's not to mention all the other dangerous spots that risked unnecessary head trauma. Bristling from the criticism that his over the top match with Kevin Steen received, Steve Corino assured everyone in a post on his blog (which can be read after the jump) that he was a skilled magician who knows the secret behind safe chairshots to the head that look dangerous and unprotected. The post was very reminiscent of Raven's argument last year that "chairshots to the head should only be banned if you don't know how to throw one properly".
Corino pointed to the fact that neither he nor Steen suffered a concussion from their hardcore stunt match as proof that the chairshots they took were safe. The problem is that recent research has shown that even subconcussive blows to the head can cause brain damage, which suggests that moves with the highest risk of causing such head trauma should be limited or better yet, avoided altogether, in favor of safer alternatives. There's plenty of ways to make a match look gritty and violent without resorting to chairs to the head, and a true magician would not need to use such shortcuts to convey that brutality.
The blame for these chairshots doesn't rest solely with the performers themselves, but also ROH management who seem to be happy to hide behind the plausible deniability that they didn't explicitly script the chairshots to the head, even though they sanctioned the use of chairs in those two Final Battle matches in question, as Bryan Alvarez reported in this week's Figure Four Weekly~! newsletter:
There were no chairshots to the head scripted into the show, and one source noted that management was very unhappy with them. The wrestlers in the tag match "got excited," and though the match was built around chairshots (as evidenced by the TV angle where Shelton Benjamin's ribs were injured with a chairshot), none were supposed to be to the head.
So unhappy with them that chairshots to the head somehow keep happening on their biggest show of the year, yet nobody ever gets punished for it. The phrase to "have one's cake and eat it too" comes to mind.
Meanwhile, as I was writing this post, Zach Arnold via Twitter brought to my attention the latest death via head trauma of a wrestler in Japan. As Frank Pozen reported yesterday, add 21 year old female wrestling trainee Miwako Nomura to the long list of those who died far too soon thanks to the physical toll of the modern wrestling business:
I am sorry to report that Happy Hour trainee Miwako Nomura died at age 21 on Dec. 27.... According to the police investigation, Nomura complained of headaches on November 15. She went to hospital and was cleared. The next day, she collapsed during practice and was rushed to the hospital. She underwent surgery for a cerebral hemorrhage and never regained consciousness. Cause of death seems to be acute heart failure but police are still investigating and will issue an official statement in January. Her death is being treated as an accident and it does not appear that there will be any criminal charges. My guess is they are trying to determine if a blow to the head led to Nomura's death.
My name is Steve Corino and I am a magician.
Not in your normal David Copperfield-way, but in the pro-wrestling way.
If you are reading this on WorldOfCORINO.com, there is a 99.9999999% chance you know that professional wrestling is simulated violence. A fighting illusion. A live action play filled with drama, comedy, characters, danger, and athleticism.
In April of 2012, I will celebrate my 18th year in this industry that I have loved since I first started watching in 1981. In 18 years I have had 7 documented concussions and probably at least 7 more undocumented concussions.
I am NOT proud of any of them.
I have scars on my face, arms, and chest that will remain there forever. Battle scars. I've suffered a broken jaw, three broken teeth, my hearing in my left ear taking away, compressed vertebrate in my neck, separated shoulder, separated AC joint in the other shoulder, a fractured elbow, fractured vertebrate in my lower back, and I think my right hip is degenerating.
Damn, I wish this wrestling was 100% fake.
Unprotected chairshots have become taboo in the wacky world of pro-wrestling. And for good reason. The advances in concussion education has shown what combat sports, including pro-wrestling, can do to the brain. Its scary.
But chair shots can't take all the blame. There are kicks, bumps, clotheslines, etc that can jolt the skull.
The Balls Mahoney chair shots that I took in ECW were stupid. I was a kid trying to make a name for myself. I tried to be tough. It was so dumb and naive. I urge you to listen to this weeks Extreme Odd Couple Podcast and I go into this subject more in depth.
Fast forward to last Friday. Ring Of Honor's Final Battle 2011. I'm in the fight of my career vs. Kevin Steen. Each of us took a shot each to the head with a chair. But neither of us got a concussion. Why? How? Magic?
As much as I, along with Steen and I'm sure the Briscoes, wanted to put on a great match and show our toughness, there was no way we were going to put ourselves in danger. Without exposing the whole process, adjustments were made to make things safer.
Could things have gone wrong? Of course. But they would have been accidents, not irresponsibility that myself and others displayed in ECW (and other companies).
My match was brutal. There were chairs, tables, trash cans, and a rail. Looked dangerous. It could have been. But we are professionals. I think what we did more then anything was build drama. The story was so good going in. The suspension of disbelief was higher Friday then I have felt since the Chicago Street Fight in 2010.
The most painful thing that I took at Final Battle was when I hit the post with my shoulder in the first minute of the match. It was a miscalculation on my part. I thought I had one step left and I ended up eating the post. My fault.
Pro-Wrestling and Sports Entertainment can be dangerous. It is dangerous. People get hurt everyday. But you also need to know that most of us, with what we know now about head injuries, can modify the dangerous elements.
Pro-Wrestling is Magic and when done right you should believe what you are seeing is real.
In NO way am I going to justify unprotected chair shots. If you are a wrestler and are not taking precautions before that shot, then you need to. Anything that causes damage to your brain needs to be modified. You owe to yourself, your family, and your fans.
LOOK dangerous. Don't BE dangerous. Be a magician.
To the fans that were upset and are upset, thank you. Thank you for caring enough to express your concern. As a guy that has always felt unappreciated, it is nice to know people care. There are times when wrestlers feel like the fans could give two craps about their health.
I don't want to see any more premature deaths in this industry and I also think the fans are sick of it.
Most of us hate to admit it but Pro-Wrestling IS Sports Entertainment. We are athletes, actors, stunt men, travel secretaries, and more. Being a Pro-Wrestler is a hard, but freaking awesome job. Its time we take care of ourselves.
If you see me do anything like I did at Final Battle, know that I know what I am doing and took every precaution to help the risk of injury minimize.
I am the proud father of a 15 year old son that I love with all my heart. He doesn't want to grow up without a dad or with a dad that is "bump drunk". No one does and I won't allow it.