Friday night at the NJPW G1 Special, Hiromu Takahashi took a scary bump off an errant Phoenix suplex delivered by Dragon Lee. It stunned observers at the time, given that Takahashi landed on his neck and seemed to skid across the mat in that position. Takahashi was able to finish the match. However, it was later reported that Takahashi was taken to the hospital and may have a broken neck. Certainly, I hope for a speedy recovery for him, as that is the most important takeaway from this right now.
In the aftermath of the injury, social media has devolved into an argument about the safety and well-being of wrestlers. Is New Japan to blame for the wrestlers’ high-risk matches? Dragon Lee, who is coming off an exhausting schedule? WWE, for being the worldwide leader in the industry not doing enough to curb risky behavior in the ring? Or is this just the chance one takes for stepping between the ropes?
Instead of assigning blame and getting into emotional whataboutism, let’s look at these arguments as they are constructed, from the bottom-up:
Pro wrestling is inherently dangerous. I don’t think anyone will argue that. Injuries can occur at any time, on any move, even the most mundane. There are also extenuating factors that can contribute to injuries, such as experience giving/taking moves, travel schedule and fatigue of the participants, etc. And sometimes…there aren’t.
Was the move taken by Takahashi more dangerous than a clothesline or an elbowdrop? As someone who has admittedly never been in the ring, it sure seemed that way. Even as there are risks to any moves inside the squared circle, some moves carry more risk than others. At this point, it should be about being judicious in taking those risks. It would be a nearly impossible ask to remove those risks completely.
Some believe nothing is wrong in the industry – that wrestlers know the risks when they enter into the business, they are adults who are of sound mind and can make decisions about the moves they execute in matches on their own, and should not be held back by any governing body. If they choose to sacrifice their future for high-risk moves in the present, that’s certainly their right as an individual. That knowledge doesn’t tend to make fans any more comfortable with the outcome of those decisions, as in the case of Takahashi.
Is there more danger in what wrestlers in New Japan do, than, say, WWE wrestlers? Defenders of WWE will point to debilitating injuries to Honma, Shibata, and now Takahashi, all within the span of 18 months. They’ll say that the Strong Style New Japan is known for is more dangerous. There is also the cultural difference between Japan and America, where wrestling in Japan is more sport and therefore made to look more “real” than in America, and specifically WWE, where it’s more about “entertainment,” and thus, theoretically, lower-risk, because appearing to be “real” is no longer a top priority.
Then there are those who believe that, despite steps taken, WWE’s in-ring style is still a ticking time bomb, especially on major shows. WWE’s schedule is rugged, even if it is scaled back from the 80s. The sheer number of hours of TV WWE needs to fill means more opportunity for injury. And though no one walked away from recent matches such as Mustafa Ali vs. Buddy Murphy on 205 Live and the North American Championship Ladder Match at NXT Takeover: New Orleans with any serious injury, it still shows WWE relying heavily on high-risk gimmicks, even at the developmental level.
Yes, wrestlers still get injured in WWE. The injury list got longer yesterday with the announcement that Fandango will be out six months with a torn labrum in his shoulder. As I stated earlier, wrestlers will get hurt. The argument some are making, that Takahashi’s injury doesn’t prove what he was doing is more dangerous because lots of people in WWE get hurt, is like saying jumping off a building carries the same risk of injury as driving a car; sure, people get in car accidents all the time, but there are precautions taken to limit the severity and frequency of those injures. Jumping off a building is a much more high-risk endeavor. That’s why you don’t see people do it as often. The move Takahashi took, even if it had been executed successfully, was still an unnecessary risk (in my opinion). Those are the types of moves that wrestlers and companies should be working toward eliminating.
There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of injury in professional wrestling, no matter what steps are taken to ensure the safety of the competitors. “Risk” is also a sliding scale – what is risky to one fan/observer/wrestler may not be risky to another.
However, companies and wrestlers have the ability to mitigate those risks. But as long as the bar for what constitutes a good match is raised, as long as fans are desensitized to even “good matches” which thus takes more to get them to react, leading to more to higher-risk maneuvers, the business will continue to trend in that direction.
Greg Parks hosts the “Wrestling Night in America” Livecast every Sunday night on PWTorchlivecast.com. Read additional columns from him at PWTorchVIP.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks. Comments, questions and feedback are welcome, and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.