KELLER: An apology to Matt Hardy - and plea to the industry to better deal with wrestlers with similar problems
By Wade Keller, Torch editor
Matt Hardy wrote on his MySpace page that the reason he gained a gut over the past two years was his battling an injury - a torn abdominal muscle.
He also wrote in his blog that the "try to be cool" guys hiding behind keyboards made fun of him for not taking care of himself or staying in shape. He wrote:
Basically, in a nutshell, my intestines were slowly tearing through my abdomen.. Which affected my training greatly, my in-ring work, and my physical appearance. My intestines were slowly swelling because they were all outta wack and protruding through my abdominal wall. But I sucked it up and gave everything I had. I haven't been able to do a sit-up in two years. And as I totally expected, The lil "wanna be cool guys" that feel like bad-asses behind a keyboard LOVED to make comments about my weight gain because I was being lazy.
If Hardy is being sincere, and all of his weight gain was purely due to medical reasons, I apologize if any of my observations of his weight gain came across as being at all critical or mean-spirited. I haven't gone back and looked at my exact wording, but I'm sure no matter what the wording was, it was frustrating to have a problem he couldn't control be as noticeable as his weight gain was. If some bloggers out there were mean-spirited and took glee in his getting out of shape, perhaps his comments were more aimed at them. Given his recent Tweets aimed at me, I assume I'm included (if not the star of) his "want to be cool" guys.
It is difficult to stay in shape as a wrestler, especially as one enters the mid-30s and metabolism slows down, but the eating and drinking doesn't adjust accordingly. Hardy has boasted enough about late night drinking fests that it was safe to assume his weight gain included empty beer calories ingested for recreation. If he was drinking beers most nights every week, and couldn't do situps and was in constant pain, it would be difficult to take off those calories through extra cardio and cutting calories - especially during the psychological challenge of working injured.
Hardy's gut did affect his appearance, and this is a cosmetic business, and I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point out changes in appearance that could affect someone's ability to be perceived as an athlete or trying to stay in shape. Many wrestlers have had challenges over the years with medical issues creating steep challenges, such as Big Show and Raven, to name two. Hardy may have had a "valid medical reason" that contributed to his weight gain, and perhaps he cut as many calories as he could and only drank beer now and then as a release from the pressures of working injured (and blogged and Tweeted about it whenever he did).
There was a simple solution for him to avoid fans, writers, bloggers, and anyone else from pointing out that he couldn't physically keep himself in the type of shape he was accustomed to: Take time off when injured. Or at least reveal why he was unable to keep up his cardio routine and fess up that the Matt Hardy fans had known for ten years was going to lose a step and gain a few pounds because of a nagging injury.
I'd side with the former, not the latter. Too many wrestlers are working injured these days. Edge's ankle injury could be one of those many wrestler injuries that occur due to overcompensating for another nagging injury.
Matt Hardy wrote about the temptations to keep working through an injury, even if there's little hope of that injury healing itself and a likelihood of the injury getting worse.
But here's a little taste of how tough and annoying the last 2 years of my life has been. For two years, I've been working with a slight abdominal tear, a genetic defect that I was actually born with. Even though we torture ourselves every night in that ring for each of your guy's entertainment.. But don't get me wrong, we love it and chose to do it. The tear hasn't been anything that has really over-affected me performance-wise.. Until.. My appendectomy. From when I returned in April 2008, my abdominal tear became gradually worse. I was having a U.S. Title run I was very proud of.. So I sucked it up! I became the ECW Champion, and was having one of the best runs of my career, and the abdominal injury really started bothering me.. So I sucked it up! I wanted to get it fixed before it got really bad.. BUT.. I had an issue with Jeff on TV which would ultimately lead us to wrestling one another at THE show of all shows, Wrestlemania. So I sucked it up and got through it!
For years - actually more than 15 now - I've advocated in writing that wrestling promoters of full-time promotions should build in mandatory roster-wide time off of substantial stretches of time two or three times a year for wrestlers. The arguments in favor of it are compelling, the arguments against it are profit-driven and ultimately counter-productive and self-destructive.
If WWE booked Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy, and Matt was working injured, but he had a four week or six week off-period scheduled afterward, WWE would have been prepared to wrap up his feud and then during that off-time Hardy could have gotten the rest or surgery he needed. Instead, because there's no planned mandatory off-time for wrestlers, when they get hot, they keep working. Oftentimes wrestlers work with excruciating injuries and it takes pain pills or even alcohol to get through the pain and get to sleep at night. Wrestlers who have been part of this cycle have ended up addicted and oftentimes either in treatment with shortened careers or dead.
Some wrestlers aren't going to tell management when they're hurt. Some would have no problem telling management they can't keep going right now, but others fear repercussions. They fear being seen as weak or not willing to tough it out like Wrestler A did when he had that nagging injury or Wrestler B did when he had that problem at home. It's a business that fosters a mentality of toughing it out and being dedicated to the machinery.
The timing of injuries is often terrible. Wrestlers who work hard to get to the top are often at the age when injuries are more likely to occur or have built up over time. Just when they get that break they've sacrificed so much for - including, more than occasionally, relationships and marriages and families - such as Hardy's U.S. Title run and ECW Title run and a chance to perhaps be a top tier heel on Raw - is when they most need time off.
A wrestlers' union of some type could help. It doesn't have to be the traditional model with an outside organization "taking over" and setting rules. It could simply be an organization led by a three veteran retired respected wrestlers who have seen it all and been through it all who are paid based on a small percentage of wrestler salaries being shaved off (say, one tenth of one percent - which on a roster of 100 wrestlers with just an average salary of $100,000 would be $200,000 total for the three retired wrestlers to share - or $66,000 each for a year out of which would come travel expenses). Those veteran wrestlers would take turns traveling on the road and they'd be a go-between for wrestlers and management, and anonymous tips from other wrestlers could lead to the veteran wrestlers stepping in and telling management to pull a wrestler with a nagging injury from the road. The details could be worked out, but there's a rough brainstorm of a scenario that stops short of a full-fledged wrestling union but would act as a go-between for wrestlers and management to deal with issues that wrestlers might not ever feel comfortable talking to John Laurenaitis or Stephanie McMahon about.
Even better, though, is for management to institute mandatory time off. It would force creative to write endings to wrestler storylines, giving wrestlers an end-point to work towards and a set-time to get surgeries for nagging injuries done or just heal up with rest. If every wrestler got six weeks off twice or three times a year, it could be enough to save WWE from having to deal with the situation on Smackdown this week, which lost two top heels in Hardy and Edge for more than a month, and likely several without any time to prepare for it.
Wrestling is a tough business, and wrestlers are going to end up injured. No "solution" should have to prevent all injuries. That's an impossible standard to meet. But either of the above scenarios, with room for tweaking of course, would surely lead to better longterm welfare of wrestlers, with fewer injuries that come at the worst times and cost the promotion more money and creative stress than mandatory systematic roster-wide time off would. The aggregate benefits of a wrestler having six weeks off twice or three times a year during WWE careers, which often span 10, 15, 20 years without extended injury-free time off, might save WWE a lot of money as wrestlers keep themselves in better shape physically, have better home lives that save them mentally, and in some cases gives them enough peace and solace and recovery time to keep them off of the road that inevitably an unacceptable percentage have taken over the years - the road to drug addiction and too often death.
So, I apologize to Matt Hardy, sincerely, if any of my analysis and commentary came across as "trying to be cool" or disrespectful. I can't give the unqualified apology some Matt Hardy fans may want, though, because wrestlers who can't do sit-ups or stay in shape simply should not be wrestling. They shouldn't be "toughing it out." And they shouldn't be criticizing people who point out the fact that they aren't going at the speed they used to or aren't looking like a well-conditioned athlete anymore.
I will not apologize now or ever for observing a wrestler is out of shape, because it's a big business and cosmetics are a big part of it (bigger than ever, due to Vince McMahon who changed the perception more than any promoter in history of what a wrestler needs to look like to get a push from him). But his commentary is a reminder to all of us who write about wrestling for fun or for a living - as I have for nearly 22 years - that physical changes are often brought upon by injuries and illness. It's up to management to step up, know their wrestlers better than I can from my position, and pull wrestlers such as Matt Hardy from the road - no matter how hot his character is - so he can get better before he gets much worse.
PWTorch editor Wade Keller founded the Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter in 1987. Over 1,000 weekly issues have been published since. He launched PWTorch.com in 1999. He has hosted a weekly pro wrestling radio show in the early 1990s on KFAN, hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series in the mid-2000s, and been quoted as a pro wrestling analyst in dozens of major newspapers and on dozens of radio shows and TV shows over the past two decades including NPR, Fox News, the Washington Post, and ESPN Magazine. He has conducted lengthy exclusive insider "Torch Talk" interviews with dozens of pro wrestling's top stars and promoters over the last 20 years including Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, Jesse Ventura, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Vince Russo, Ed Ferrara, Eric Bischoff, Lou Thesz, Bruno Sammartino, Jim Herd, Kip Frey, Jerry Lawler, Jerry Jarrett, Jim Crockett Jr., Verne Gagne, Roy Shire, Jim Cornette, Paul Heyman, Ted DiBiase, Goldberg, Mick Foley, Samoa Joe, Eddie Gilbert, Gabe Sapolsky, Konnan, Jim Ross, Lance Russell, Gordon Solie, Terry Taylor, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Rick Steamboat, Larry Zbyszko, Al Snow, Kevin Sullivan, Sabu, Paul Orndorff, Lanny Poffo, Honky Tonk Man, Road Warrior Hawk, Bill Watts, and many more.
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