KELLER'S TAKE KELLER'S MAILBAG: Reaction to Jerry Lawler heart attack on Raw, how this should change pro wrestling
Sep 11, 2012 - 3:45:39 PM
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By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor
Shawn Valentino asks: This incident with Jerry Lawler is eerily similar to the Ricky Steamboat situation a couple of years back. I remember you and Bruce Mitchell did a long audio retrospective of his career and in the next couple of weeks he had that health scare where he could have died. Not so coincidentally, it was also after he was in the ring and took a beatdown from Nexus. And now here we have Lawler returning to the WWE ring with a steel cage match one week and a short match this week and he has a heart attack. I was always one who was really uncomfortable watching Flair in the ring the last fifteen-plus years. Do you think this should be a wake-up call that WWE should not have wrestlers take part in physical angles or matches after a certain age? Let us say they put in a blanket policy that they will not allow wrestlers over 50 in the ring. I am saying this as a person that did enjoy Ric Flair's final WWE match and some of the Vince spectacles, but is it worth the risk putting someone so far past their physical prime in the ring?
WK: I think serious thought should be given to an age cut-off for physical activity in terms of an angle or match, and 50 is probably about right. What Bret Hart did last night is probably just fine for someone who has passed wellness tests for the basics such as blood pressure and no history of heart attacks or a medical history that suggests they're vulnerable. What Lawler did, though, goes well beyond what Bret did.
In the case of Lawler, though, he never stopped wrestling regularly. His long-time friend and former business partner in Memphis, Randy Hales, told me two weeks ago that Lawler still considered himself a wrestler who happened to do color commentary on Mondays, rather than a retired wrestler who moved on to become a color commentator who still occasionally wrestles.
It had to make WWE feel more comfortable putting Lawler in the ring that he never stopped wrestling for any length of time and still took indy bookings on the side. It's also worth noting he continued to wrestle because he loved performing as a wrestler, not because he needed the money.
Reality struck last night, just as it did after the Ricky Steamboat angle, that the human body is especially vulnerable at an older age when put the rigors of flat-back bumps and throwing dropkicks or having elbows dropped on your chest from a 200 pound high-flying muscular athlete, as Zolph Ziggler did to Lawler on Raw last night.
So not only did we likely watch Jerry Lawler's last match last night (let's hope, in fact, that's the case), but we may have seen the last physical activity (beyond what Bret Hart did last night) of anyone in WWE over the age of 50. With the history of Lawler and Steamboat, WWE would be scrutinized heavily if this were to happen again and end even worse. The Lawler and Steamboat incidents were too close for comfort for them and their family and friends. It's simply not worth the risk, and really to an outsider, having a 63 year old man - no matter how youthful he looked and how active he was - wrestle on national TV (not to mention after a long day of travel) was crazy to begin with.
PWTorch Smackdown reviewer Michael Cupach via Twitter @thewadekeller: Tons of questions from co-workers today about Lawler. Half think it is a work! Yikes!
WK: This is just one of many comments I received via email and Twitter and Facebook of people either asking if it was real or a work or telling me about people who asked them if it was just part of the show.
It is so sad to me that when real life health emergencies like last night's on Raw with Jerry Lawler, because WWE has reenacted the scene the night Owen Hart died so many times to sell storylines, that people don't know when it's real or not real, even when Cole stresses that "this is not part of tonight's entertainment." WWE should have never reenacted the distressed look on the faces of announcers that resembled the night Owen died to get across worked storylines, because the emails I'm getting asking "if this is real" would be less likely to be happening.
Once Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler delivered the sad, tragic news of the death of Owen Hart, WWE should have committed to never having the camera point at the announcers at ringside as they solemnly talked about a wrestler being hurt in an angle. It always left a bad taste in my mouth, and I've been critical of it every time it's happened in the last 12 years. It seemed like they were cashing in on the emotions of the night Owen Hart died, and almost trying to blur the line of reality and fiction to make Owen's death feel less real.
Pro wrestling should be able to draw without going so far with an angle that announcers need to delver somber news in a tone that resembles an announcement of someone dying. There are so many ways to tell a story effectively that going to that particular camera shot and announcers delivering news with that somber dead-serious tone shouldn't be on the table as an option they "must" use. Yes, many of us can tell the difference, and we know the code phrase "this is not part of tonight's entertainment" in the justification WWE uses to rationalize using the same approach to add emotional resonance to angles, but I know because of all of the anecdotes since last night's Raw that too many people can't differentiate between the two, and they believe WWE would actually sink so low as to do a fake heart attack angle.
World Class Championship Wrestling had Fritz Von Erich have a fake heart attack back in the mid-1980s. It was considered a classless, desperate angle capitalizing on the emotions fans had over the death of his sons. So those who think pro wrestling promoters would pull a fake heart attack stunt don't know wrestling history. It's been done before (including by Ric Flair in the mid-'90s live on Nitro) and shouldn't be done again.
In other words, wrestling promoters should not be studying footage of how a real life emergency looks and how a real life friend like Michael Cole reacts so they can re-enact it some day to sell some storyline because they can't sell tickets with more traditional, tasteful approaches to building anticipation for seeing two wrestlers battle for a title or to settle a grudge.
What would you do if you were WWE? Create a new hard policy that no one over a certain age can wrestle? Or take it on a case-by-basis? Email me at email@example.com. Also, if you have a question or topic you'd like me to address in Keller's Mailbag here at PWTorch, send to firstname.lastname@example.org and put in subject line "Keller's Mailbag." Thanks!)
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PWTorch editor Wade Keller has covered pro wrestling full time since 1987 starting with the Pro Wrestling Torch print newsletter. PWTorch.com launched in 1999 and the PWTorch Apps launched in 2008.
He has conducted "Torch Talk" insider interviews with Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Steve Austin, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Eric Bischoff, Jesse Ventura, Lou Thesz, Jerry Lawler, Mick Foley, Jim Ross, Paul Heyman, Bruno Sammartino, Goldberg, more.
He has interviewed big-name players in person incluiding Vince McMahon (at WWE Headquarters), Dana White (in Las Vegas), Eric Bischoff (at the first Nitro at Mall of America), Brock Lesnar (after his first UFC win).
He hosted the weekly Pro Wrestling Focus radio show on KFAN in the early 1990s and hosted the Ultimate Insiders DVD series distributed in retail stories internationally in the mid-2000s including interviews filmed in Los Angeles with Vince Russo & Ed Ferrara and Matt & Jeff Hardy. He currently hosts the most listened to pro wrestling audio show in the world, (the PWTorch Livecast, top ranked in iTunes)
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