On yesterday's edition of Off The Record on TSN in Canada (available to watch on TSN's website), host Michael Landsberg opened a segment about illegal head shots in the NHL by dropping this bombshell:
This morning we taped an interview with Mick Foley, the wrestler. It will run on Wednesday next week and it will blow you away. He believes he has suffered permanent brain damage from blows to the head.
In the 3 years since Chris Benoit's brain was examined post-mortem by the Sports Legacy Institute, shots to the head in pro wrestling have become more scrutinized than ever before. On top of that, 11 months ago, Andrew "Test" Martin, who did not work a high risk style, was revealed to have similar damage, which caused some people to further examine the whiplash effect of the flat-back bumps used throughout the wrestling world outside of Mexico, where rolling bumps are used. Three months ago, I posted this in reply to Bryan Alvarez's piece for In Media Res about the infamous Rob Terry chairshot in TNA:
One thing I've been wondering about, especially since Andrew Martin's post-mortem brain exam, is how big of a problem the flat-back bumping style used outside of Mexico in terms of concussions (well, other injuries too, but right now, let's stick with head injuries)? Remember, a concussion is the brain slamming into the skull. One doesn't have to hit their head to do that. Whiplash can do it. Martin wasn't known as a guy who took a lot of punishment, and he still had a profoundly damaged brain. What does that say for everyone in wrestling right now in terms of brain damage?
In Mexico, wrestlers take rolling bumps and when you combine that with the prominence of trios matches, the country has a lot more wrestlers who can work at a high level much later in life. Black Terry (almost 58), Negro Navarro (53), and Solar I (54) are all having great matches on a regular basis in 2010. Satanico was one of the best in the world well into his 50s, including being the cornerstone of a long feud that drew lots of money and critical acclaim when he was 52 in 2001. In the US, the 2 most notable wrestlers who didn't bump flat, Ric Flair and Diamond Dallas Page, were able to work at a much higher level than most past middle-age. There has to be something to it.
Georgia State University professor Shane Toepfer replied with this:
David, I think you make a really important point in this discussion that raises even more questions. Bryan's example is horrifying in the wake of what we have learned about head injuries, standing out as extreme, and not in a good way. However, what are the implications of something as routine as a flat-back bump potentially causing similar harm, especially as they build up over time? It really adds a whole other layer to the conversation over whether wrestling is "real" or not, when even the most routine and "fake" aspects of the performance may have very real consequences.
To their credit, WWE has started to require developmental wrestlers in FCW to wear helmets while practicing bumps onto crash pads. This is a major step forward because trainees take ridiculous amounts of repeated bumps. They've also banned chairshots to the head. Over the course of the last decade, with money becoming no object, the most elaborate stunts have generally involved crash pads and clever camera angles. Unfortunately for Mick Foley, these changes came too late for him.
Fresh out of wrestling school in 1986, those that knew of him were already talking about how good a bumper he was. At one point, an older wrestler compared him to Mike Boyette. Foley was puzzled and mildly offended, as Boyette was best known as a job guy who had most recently done a losing streak gimmick in the UWF. Another wrestler explained to him that it was a compliment, as Boyette was considered the best bumper in the business.
Foley became Cactus Jack, developed a reputation for taking wild bumps on the independent scene, and eventually ended up in Memphis, where he started to ramp up the danger level and took a high flat back "Nestea Plunge" bump off the apron to the floor several times before thinking better of it and shelving the bump that caused him such horrible pain. He moved onto Dallas and made a mark with a very risky trademark move: A running elbow drop off the apron to the floor, expertly shot by "Video Bob," the leader of the promotion's production team. Soon, he was doing this in every TV match, and when he went to WCW for the first time, it became his trademark. While in WCW, Jim Cornette convinced him to take the "Nestea Plunge" bump again to spice up a match with Mil Mascaras.
Over the next several years, he took every insane bump he could think of. He had plenty of substance, as he had a strong grasp of wrestling psychology, knowing when to take the bumps for the maximum crowd reaction. In WCW, he was injured (and temporarily paralyzed) taking a powerbomb on the unpadded floor by Vader. He would try more dangerous versions of his elbow drop, like doing it off the second rope to the floor. He eventually moved to ECW, where a trend was starting: Unprotected chairshots to the head. He joined in, even when he turned heel and did a gimmick where he derided the fans for wanting such dangerous bumps and chairshots.
He moved onto the WWF with a new character: Mankind. When the company hit its boom period, the unprotected head shots moved there, and Foley took a dozen of them in an infamous match with The Rock. Before that, he took two falls from the top of the (older, shorter, but still high) Hell in a Cell cage, the second one knocking him out as a chair fell with him and blasted him in the jaw. While the big bumps started to worry fans about how far he had gone, the match with The Rock and the fallout from it put a bigger spotlight on the head shots. The match was infamously featured in the documentary "Beyond The Mat." Around the time of Beyond The Mat's release, he appeared on ABC's 20/20 with his wife, who noted that he had trouble remembering how to get home at times. Some fans have told stories of him walking back and forth down a hotel hallway, unable to remember where his hotel room was.
He retired as an active wrestler not long after the film's wide release. Recently, his condition has become a widely discussed topic of concern again. His 4,442 word rebuttal of Dave Meltzer was so bizarre that a lot of people wondered if he had something wrong in his brain that would cause such a reaction, similar to the emotional control problems Bret Hart has admitted to having as a result of post concussion syndrome and a stroke. A month and a half later, he buried the hatchet with Dave and appeared on Wrestling Observer Radio, where he extensively discussed his own head injuries and the issue in general (just read Keith's whole post, it's too much to paste here). Most notably, he noted that after talking with Chris Nowinski, he realized that he had vastly undercounted the number of concussions he's had. He thought he had about ten, but he really had at least forty to fifty.
And now we have this. It should definitely be an interesting show and could be a major eye-opener.