It was the biggest show of the year for Ring of Honor and Final Battle had its share of good and bad. From my viewpoint inside the barricades to fan posts’ afterward, there was WAY too many chairshots. One is too many in my opinion… but are those of us concerned for the well-being of athletes missing the point? Or doing all we can?
Legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka says the best way to stop football players from leading with the crown of the head on tackles is to remove the helmets. In wrestling, promotions and promoters have to give more authority to referees and stop legislating wrestler safety with the pencil.
When I was in the WWE, Vince would occasionally want the referees to enforce the rules. If one or both wrestlers are outside the ring beyond the ten count, call for the bell. The heat goes to the boys, not the referee. I always thought it was a great idea but over time, everyone would get a little lazy and then back to the old habits. But referees with authority, almost autonomous, are a great way to keep some integrity in matches and add some safety to the chaos.
Most referees are trained to wrestle or have wrestled before. The late Brian Hildebrand was a great referee who could have a better match than many on the cards of which he refereed. Scott Armstrong’s in-ring ability speaks for itself. In ROH, both Todd Sinclair and Paul Turner are trained to wrestle. Referees also have heart and care about the men and women they referee for. They must know that it’s all right for them to call what they see, regardless of the consequences.
If you make the referee look like crap for swinging chairs before the bell, the referee should throw it out. At Final Battle, it also would have prevented the Briscoes from absorbing unfair punishment. Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin should know that what they did was wrong. The hope is that Ring of Honor officials will let them know. If Paul Turner, in hindsight, could reevaluate his position in that match, he would have thrown it out…. Because he knows what is right.
If the referee throws out a match once, they boys will get the message. Of course, over time, they will forget so it’s up to the office to remind them…. That the referee is the decision-maker and the referee will never, ever get in trouble for making a judgment call based upon the safety of the wrestlers.
There are times where circumstances lead to matches that are likely to be violent, as was the case with Kevin Steen vs. Steve Corino but even in those cases, promotions like Ring of Honor have to remember this rule. You must protect the wrestlers from themselves. We cannot, as rational, caring adults, allow wrestlers we are concerned about to affect their long-term health with the use of outside instruments such as barricades and chairs.
Now that Kevin Steen is reinstated into ROH, he must know that for him to get what he wants, he must remember he is a talented wrestler first. Fans appreciate his talent and don’t want to see him prematurely end his career. For Steve Corino, I hope he can enter the next phase of his career sooner rather than later. While I always have and always will enjoy his wrestling, he’s given me more than enough. He’s given all of us more than enough.
I sat next to Nigel McGuinness, calling the matches at Final Battle with the former ROH World Champion and there were about a dozen times where Nigel physically winced during the event. It’s no secret that his in-ring career came to a premature end because of multiple concussions, having suffered too much for his art.
I hope that there aren’t others who will wind up like him but it’s an unfortunate inevitability, with the conditions of the industry being what they are. Promotions and promoters deal with human capital and have a responsibility to always be the adults in the room. Trust me, the fans will appreciate you for it.
If you wish to comment, please do so on Twitter @RealKevinKelly. Thanks and Happy New Year!