Tony Kozina, the face of what's wrong with wrestling (via Scott Finkelstein)
By now, everyone's heard about the escapades of Davey Richards, Tony Kozina and Kyle O'Reilly this past weekend in Iowa. For those who haven't, I've covered it at length on my main blog. Mainly, it boils down to two issues. The first was that Kozina felt disrespected by a 16 year-old wrestler named Ryan Kidd, so he legitimately choked him out during a match on Saturday. The second was that the three walked off with $350 of another promoter's money Sunday without wrestling at all for him. The second thing is in dispute as to what exactly happened. However, the first thing really happened. There's even video of it here. It's not for the faint of heart.
The root of Kozina's ire came from a promo, cut in character, by Kidd if we're to believe his defenders. I don't know what the youngster said, but apparently, it was enough to set off the guy who was nearly three decades older than him to the point where he wanted to choke him out. My guess is all the MMA trappings of Team Ambition made Kozina momentarily forget that this was all supposed to be staged. Okay, that was a low blow. In fairness though, Kozina apparently was offended by some backhanded comments made by the teenager during a training seminar.In either case, Kozina really had no reason to resort to aggravated assault. Let's not sugarcoat this. Kozina, the seasoned veteran, had Kidd's life in his hands, and he decided to toy with it because he was disrespected. It's actually not surprising though, given how much of a carny industry wrestling is. Kozina comes from the "old school", where if a guy "disrespects" you, you beat the crap out of him legitimately. It also bears mentioning that wrestling has traditionally been populated by borderline sociopaths.
Adam Pearce actually recounted an example of when he was breaking into the business about how Bull Pain roughed him up enough to know that he should learn how to handle himself in the ring. He used this account to come out against what Kozina did, but still, why should anyone be afraid of getting shot on in the middle of the ring? Why does being a "legit bad ass" have to count as one of your prerequisites as a professional wrestler?
Wrestling is not a sport. It's performance art, one that requires cooperation between all competitors contained within each contest. In order to perform excellently, you have to trust your opponent. What kind of message is Kozina, or even Pain (even though he never set out to injure Pearce and explained to him why after the match), sending when they show a wrestler that they can't be trusted? It hurts the entire locker room when a guy decides he wants to settle a score not by talking to him or going to the promoter or whatever and ends up going into the ring, without any kind of warning, and tries to inflict bodily harm on a performer. Granted, being able to handle yourself is great to know in life, because self-defense is useful against people who don't give a damn about any kind of law or order. However, no one goes into a match proclaiming to the world that they're going to shoot on the guy in the ring because a guy who would shoot in the ring over something a kid says is a coward and wouldn't want to be shown up by said kid.
It really doesn't matter how bad Kidd "sassed" Kozina. He's not a guy with an attitude. He's a teenager. Teenagers mouth off to adults. It's a fact of life, and unless the teenager is built like Mark Angelosetti and the adult like Kate Moss, the response of physical violence from old to young would be very lopsided. Additionally, if every adult acted on teenage backtalk, then man, there'd be a ton of teens walking around with black eyes, distressed larynxes and broken bones. Civilized society doesn't work that way.
It could be argued that Kidd didn't even belong in the ring, that his promoters in MAGNUM Pro Iowa put him in harm's way by even booking the match in the first place. But there's no reason for a guy with that much size and experience over his opponent should even begin to be excused for his actions. Kozina is a coward and a bully, which is funny to me. Wrestlers like to purport that they're macho and big and strong by beating up people who, in their minds, cannot defend themselves. Yet, what is the reason for most of these "shoot" incidents? Disrespect. Words. Stuff that in the end might be forgotten by a bigger man.
If Kozina was really a man, he would have swallowed his pride and not let the backtalk of a teenager get under his skin so badly that he was sent into a rage. Seriously, who is Ryan Kidd in this business? He's a rookie. Why is it so important that he learns respect when Kozina has so many more influential students who consider him a respectable man in the industry? Is he that insecure?
Regardless of the reason, he did a terrible thing. Hopefully, this will be a wakeup call to people in wrestling that the carny days are over and that people can settle things like adults. Judging by the polarized response (instead of a unified front against this kind of action), it seems pro wrestling has a long way to go before that happens.
Hopefully, it doesn't take an asshole like Kozina keeping the chokehold on a rookie like Kidd for a second too long killing someone in the ring for people to figure that out.