Today's Rumor Roundup included a tidbit that has been making the dirt screen circuit over the past week. To quote
my nemesis the irreproachable Randall Ortman:
Corey Graves announcing his retirement at NXT Takeover: R Evolution the way he did was apparently a direct shot at CM Punk.
I have no data to back-up this supposition. I don't even know where it started. I've seen it attributed to The Wrestling Observer, but have not heard or seen it there myself. Cyncial bastard that I am, I can tell you that it was the first thing that crossed my mind after "that sucks" while Graves was announcing his retirement on the NXT Takeover: R Evolution pre-show. And I commented as much to my partner Matt Roth on our post-show reactions videocast.
At that point, it was just one of many thoughts I had on a night of pro wrestling that triggered lots of them. Then I saw this:
This was way too deliberate to be an accident. The Savior of Misbehavior is a nice performer, but he was never the central figure on NXT. Guys with more history transitioned to the broadcast booth without fanfare. Developmental roster members have moved on from WWE and wrestling due to injury without mention.
Here was someone that most fans who only discovered NXT with WWE Network weren't even familiar with, getting a featured spot on the kick-off to a big live event that would be watched by an audience with a lot of hardcore wrestling fans - people like you and me, who go to independent shows, follow wrestling news online and listen to podcasts.
Podcasts like Colt Cabana's The Art of Wrestling, where CM Punk was quite vocal about the deficiencies of WWE's wellness policies and medical team, and the company's lax approach to concussions.
The YouTube follow-up, where frequent Punk target Triple H (a new board member at the Sports Legacy Insititue who also might be concerned about the public's perception of how he handles talent issues, especially brain trauma) thanks Graves for his hard work and personally demonstrates the company's commitment to those who suffer the consequences of working in such a dangerous profession, was too much to be coincidence.
A couple of things I should make clear. One, I don't for a second buy into the notion that Corey was singled out for this treatment because he looks like the Straight Edge Superstar or had a similar gimmick. Graves' situation came to this juncture, and rather than release, quietly take care of or move him to the announce desk, they capitalized on a public relations opportunity.
Two, that's what I believe this was - a PR opportunity that presented itself, not a rib on Punk or an angle cooked up to lampoon the UFC's newest star. Just like the glut of injury treatment videos hitting the company's social media channels, Vince McMahon and team can't sit back and let Punk's version of events frame the story any more than they already had. They also can't directly respond to his allegations for both legal and image reasons. Things like showing how they are supporting Graves' pursuit of his dream in a safe manner, and providing examples of Dr. Chris Amman and his staff providing good medical care are how they can control the conversation, and create the impression that this - not Punk's stories - are the reality.
If the spin being spun here is rooted in actual reality, either because the Best in the World wasn't remembering correctly or telling the truth or because WWE has corrected and improved their medical and wrestler-care efforts since his exit, there's nothing wrong with this push. In fact, if you'll excuse the use of a catchphrase here, it's best for business.
If, however, this is masking the kind of treatment Punk described, or is a case of their cleaning up their act while the heat is on with a plan to revert back to their old ways when things cool off, then that's negligent and borderline evil. Corey Graves needs to not be the only contracted worker to ever receive a financial commitment in exchange for working in a non-wrestling capacity. Triple H needs to do more than just appear in these videos and on stage with Chris Nowinski.
And guys like Dolph Ziggler, who reportedly suffered concussion syndrome effects nearly as severe as Graves, probably should be protected from themselves and kept out of ladder matches.
Making a big deal about taking care of Corey Graves a week after Punk told the world that he was pressured into flying to Europe with a concussion is smart PR. It's what Wall Street would expect a major corporation to do.
But if it isn't indicative of the way in which WWE actually takes care of their employees, it's as sleazy as an executive from Big Tobacco claiming cigarettes don't cause cancer.