Editor’s Note: In light of recent developments concerning Triple H and The Undertaker being fined for using a chair at WrestleMania 27 I have re-posted this piece from Justin Henry. Ironically this piece was published exactly one year ago today.
You can go ahead and admit it. I will, on my own behalf, make the same admission.
If you were a wrestling fan at all as a child, you definitely acted out the action that you saw on TV. I won’t even use “likely” here, because you definitely did. I know I did. Whether it was hitting an unsuspecting friend with your favorite wrestler’s finishing move, or acting out a match while wearing just your underwear in lieu of tights, I think all of us would admit that the wrestling bug latched hard onto our souls.
This level of mania intensified for me in the summer of 1994, when my friends down the street Kyle (my age) and his little brother Joshua (not to be confused with my brother Josh) got a trampoline for Joshua’s sixth birthday.
You know what that means?
We got ourselves a wrestling ring!
Indeed, the mind reeled at the possibilities. Now we could slam each other around with 95% less pain. For roughly the next seven years, myself, Kyle, Joshua, and other friends would converge upon this trampoline to create our own matches.
Although Kyle outgrew wrestling for the most part, Joshua and I became adroit at putting together matches. The story was generally the same: being the older kid, I was the wily mat technician (think Dean Malenko) and he was the courageous high flyer (a la Rey Mysterio). It got to the point where he could hit me with a hurrachanrana and we’d make it look fairly realistic.
Throw a punch? Just pull your head back at the right time. Piledriver? Keep his head from actually contacting the surface. Swanton Bomb? Get my arms up to catch Joshua as he lands.
As thrilled as we all were to have deciphered the complexities of wrestling moves (amateur as we may still have been), there was one glaring omission from our checklist that we never could check off, although we’d tried hard to figure out a way.
We could never figure out how chair shots work.
Kyle had a folding chair in his garage. It was a brown one without the padded seat, so it was just like the ones you’d see at ringside during Monday Night Raw. Through trust and sheer will of wanting to know this secret, myself, Kyle, Joshua, and others tried to figure out how to actually hit the other guy’s head without hurting him.
After some tentative swings and the prospective victim flinching and backing away, I can tell you that none of us ever made contact with our friend’s heads. Ever. We studied tape like football coaches. But, study as we did, it never made sense to us how they do it without hurting the other guy.
Of course, we know the answer now.
It DOES hurt.
It hurts so much that, in an attempt to clean up the image of World Wrestling Entertainment, chairman Vince McMahon has recently put the kibosh on steel chairs being swung at someone’s head.
Reaction to this has been mixed. While many who are cognizant of how repeated brain trauma can lead to extreme cases like Chris Nowinski (early retirement from post-concussion symptoms), Andrew “Test” Martin (dependency on pain killers), Chris Benoit and Mike Awesome (impaired mental capacity), are relieved to see a sound and educated step made toward preventing a future tragedy, there’s a rather vocal group who opposes this change.
Said group generally consists of fans who enjoy the “extreme” side of the biz. When I say “extreme”, I’m generally referring to the genetic make-up of entities such as The Attitude Era, as well as ECW pre-bankruptcy. Over the last few years, especially in the wake of Benoit’s passing, WWE has gradually removed dangerous elements from their programming in an effort to create a more family-friendly product.
Of course, my cynical side believes that such changes are merely a thrust in the direction of damage control. With WWE coming under such heavy Congressional scrutiny over Benoit’s death and the amount of drugs that circulate through wrestling, it makes sense for a mass clean-up to take place.
So first, it was the Wellness Policy. Then it was removal of “tawdry” sexuality (to borrow a Vince word). Then we as fans began to notice that foul language was being toned down, as was the requisite need for blood. As you can imagine, a lot of die hard supporters of WWE didn’t like to watch their show undergo such a tinkering.
With the recent news of chairs to the head being blotted away, there’s been something of an outcry, although the majority of the verbiage has been less than scholarly (“THAT IS SO GAY” seems to be the prevailing thought).
What makes a chair shot to the head so great anyway?
Calling upon my twenty-one years of experience watching ‘rasslin, having seen enough chair shots to be minorly immune to them, I will concede that chair shots can be fun to watch (in a sadistic, car wreck sense), can heighten the drama of a match or story arc, and have been a staple of main events for years, as much so as just about any other part.
Let’s examine this, shall we?
When I later found out that he’d passed away, my perception was forever changed. Whenever I watch ESPNews now, and they show footage of a driver, ANY driver, wrecking during a race, my mind recalls Earnhardt’s demise, since I’d witnessed it on TV live.
If you go to see a circus act involving a man throwing knives at an attractive assistant, he may throw 20 knives and never hit her. You think that it’s awesome. Then a year later, you go see him perform, and he mistimes a throw that plunges his knife into the woman’s chest. Is it still awesome?
Of course not. Risky performances are fun as long as the risk doesn’t prove critical or fatal. To me, once you learn enough about stunt performers being mutilated or crippled or even dying as a result of their revue, then it tends to ruin the flavor.
I know that it wasn’t just chair shots that did Benoit’s brain in, but it was certainly a contributing factor. As such, it makes a metal chair bouncing off of another man’s head just a bit harder to watch.
Next example: heightening the drama. Professional wrestling is sold on the scripted conflict of two or more parties having an issue of some kind, perhaps over a championship, pride, a woman, or anything that could come between individuals. If that’s the cause, what’s the effect? Obviously, the matches, right?
In order to sell $40 PPVs to mass consumers, you need to sell them a product that they’re willing to buy. It goes without saying that you need top-flight performers to do that. WWE has Chris Jericho, Undertaker, John Cena, Rey Mysterio, Triple H, Batista, CM Punk, Edge, Randy Orton, and others who have captivated audiences for the last several years.
Can any of these guys sustain my interest without swinging a chair?
In my case, they can. Guys like Jericho and Punk play such slimy characters, that they can make even a marginal good guy look like a matinee-idol hero. Batista and Undertaker are tremendous stand-up brawlers who have mastered the “dominant monster” routine and carry it well in their performances. Cena, Triple H, Edge, and Orton are versatile enough to work with just about any opponent, and have defined characters that help shape their performances. As far as Rey Mysterio and his daredevil antics go, I suppose it’d be a bit hypocrticial to enjoy them after seeing the Hell that it’s caused on his knees over the years. But since knee injuries are seldom fatal, and are more curable than brain injury, I think I’ll choose hurrachanranas over head trauma any day.
The point I’m making is that you have talented performers that don’t need to incorporate chairs into the act. If you’re watching Chris Jericho and John Cena take part in a twenty minute match, and you’re pining for one of them to get a steel chair or bust the other guy open, and you’re not happy unless they do, then perhaps you need to examine your position in life.
Thirdly, while I understand that chair shots have been a somewhat vital part of main events for a while now, and doing away with them may seem a bit sudden, I ask you this: if you were never told that chair shots were being done away with, would you miss them at all?
Rather, would you notice that they were gone? If you’re engrossed in a bitter storyline involving Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, which is fostered by Jericho’s main spirited promos, Shawn’s sense of heroism and ideals, then that’s a pretty good start. Then let’s say that you add to that layers of character motivation centered around the basic idea of cause and effect: Jericho does something cruel, so Michaels exacts revenge. Then you have Jericho commit another heinous deed, since he’s not one to take defeat lying down. Then the two men continue to see-saw back and forth, peppering their issue with great speeches, good character motivation, and good matches.
So tell me: where are there chair shots required?
You’re telling me that a storyline that’s as good as this, a slam dunk ten-out-of-ten on the veritable scale, would be diminished if a steel chair never comes into play?
I think not.
I feel that if a wrestler cannot get over with the crowd to ANY degree, and that his best qualities are a willingness to bleed and having no issue with his brain being rattled with weapons, then he probably doesn’t bring much to the table in the first place.
It may sound a little bit “un-manly” to have chairs taken away, but it’s really not that bad. In fact, the optimist would say that wrestling is dragging themselves out of the dark ages, and is proving that you can put on a spectacular show without oversaturated and gruesome violence, that which literally harms the valuable performers.
And look: here’s WWE coming off of Wrestlemania XXVI, a show that was built up with intricate storylines and plenty of incredible promos. Meanwhile, there’s TNA, stuck in 1998, trying to use shocking stunt fests and blood and gore to win over an audience, with mostly negative results.
Remind me again why WWE NEEDS to be a source of violent diversion? I’m not seeing it.
At the end of the day, I admire pretty much any wrestler who works hard, is entertaining, and has made personal sacrifices to become good at their craft. Since they’re already working so hard for my respect and my dollar, I feel it’s fitting that I sincerely hope for them to make it home safe to their families, of sound body and sound mind. Seeing Shawn Michaels retire (hopefully sticking to his word) is a reminder that these people have husbands or wives, as well as children waiting for them.
Once you understand that, you then understand why it’s time to quit being primitive, to find a way to put on a compelling show without presenting a risk to the performers.
Outlawing chair shots is a decision that not only uses its brains, but protects them as well.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.
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