The Anti-Antagonist: On the Edge

Adam Gorzelsky

WWE TLCThe term “edgy” seems to be the current buzzword of choice for the IWC. Fans, including yours truly, have been clamoring for at least a slight injection of adult programming. In related news, recent reports indicate that WWE itself is leaning towards making this a reality.

As I discussed a few weeks ago, I envisioned this edginess taking the form of increased creative freedom resulting from the relaxation of rules governing verbal interactions. While it remains to be seen whether this character-driven edginess will come to fruition, even a casual fan watching TLC could have recognized that in-ring restrictions may have been lifted to a considerable degree.

In short, it appears as though the product has indeed taken a step toward sharpening its edge…For better or for worse, this step apparently involves bolstering the level of high risks and brutality. While it certainly is fair to argue that this may have been an aberration as the TLC event lends itself to increased physicality, this simply hasn’t been the case in recent memory for such themed pay-per-views….In other words, even when compared to recent TLC events or any other PPV featuring hardcore elements, this past Sunday broke the mold.

For the sake of argument, if we accept the premise that this Sunday was the start of a trend, the honest question to ask is whether or not this is a positive development for WWE and the business in general.

Based on the reaction to TLC, I would imagine that most fans would answer the previous question in the affirmative. My initial reaction was similar…I thought we saw a highly entertaining PPV with the six man tag match highlighting a night to remember. While the brilliant booking of that match certainly contributed to its success (especially in the long run), I would be lying if I said that the perfectly executed high spots didn’t have me jumping out of my seat.

I’ll never hesitate to admit that I was a huge ECW fan in the 90’s. I smiled from ear to ear when I saw Tommy Dreamer on Raw as his appearance further emphasized the special connection that guys from that era have with the fans. I’ll also readily admit that TLC at Wrestlemania X-7 is one of the matches that I pull from the library when attempting to show non-fans the level of dedication and passion that can be exhibited in this business that we love.

Aside from the sheer excitement associated with witnessing death-defying acts, I also can’t help but feel that watching this type of action creates a bond between performer and fan…a bond that only can be formed via legitimate recognition that the performer is risking life and limb to provide an unforgettable moment.

Call it a gladiator mentality, but the connection and the appreciation cannot be denied. It’s what I felt watching TLC Sunday and it’s an element of programming that ultimately has been missing for quite some time.

It’s also something that scares the hell out of me.

I was backstage at a Ring of Honor taping this November when Steve Corino fought Jay Briscoe in a street fight. The ending of the match featured a spot where Corino was to be powerbombed from the top rope and onto a section of guardrail that had been propped up by 4 chairs. The chairs were meant to give way with the mat ultimately breaking his fall…a painful spot for certain with the guardrail involved, but nothing that would cause injury if all went to plan.

When the spot took place, the chairs failed to kick out as planned, resulting in a firm landing for Corino on nothing more than hardened steel. The crowd popped huge for the finish and went home happy after a stellar night of wrestling capped off with a thrilling finish…Unfortunately, the scene in the back served as a stark contrast to the jubilation of the fans.

Steve was placed on a backboard at ringside and was carried to the backstage portion of the entrance ramp to await an ambulance. Fear and anxiety gripped the roster as potentially serious damage to Steve’s back understandably was of grave concern. My thoughts immediately turned to the worst possible scenario and my stomach sank thinking about the enormous price that may have just been paid in the name of entertainment.

Thankfully, Steve did not suffer any serious injuries as a result of this incident. Nevertheless, it unquestionably is a moment that has stuck with me and left me questioning whether or not any individual should be asked to place his or her body at such an unnecessary risk.

On one hand, for all of the reasons that I discussed above, I am in no way denying the entertainment value of such action. Along those same lines, I will not pretend to sit on a high horse and proclaim myself to be above such a barbaric form of wrestling. When done correctly, it can provide some of the most memorable moments in the business.

Unfortunately, through no fault of the performers themselves, high spots cannot always be performed correctly. In addition to the immediate risk of catastrophic injury at the moment of impact, we may be approaching a critical period of time to evaluate the long term consequences of this style of wrestling. Guys who hit their prime during the hardcore era have reached an age where the debilitating effects of vicious impacts likely will be apparent in both their bodies and minds…The true sacrifice will be known.

I don’t necessarily believe that WWE will come anywhere near reaching the levels of violence that we saw in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Nevertheless, one has to recognize that companies and wrestlers looking to get their names on the map will do anything to mimic and exceed WWE’s product. If WWE reignites an insatiable desire among fans for an uptick in risky spots, I shudder to think what men and women simply struggling to put food on the table will be asked to do.

The simple answer is that these guys perform the activities voluntarily and could select a different profession that demands less of their bodies. While this may be true, I’m of the opinion that we as fans bear a responsibility to ensure that our demands for entertainment do not push these individuals to endure unnecessary and life-threatening risks…We, like the performers, are the stewards of this business.

In the end, I’m not telling anyone that they shouldn’t enjoy a PPV like TLC…hell, I thoroughly enjoyed it myself…All I’m saying is that we, as well as WWE, should give pause when considering how we define an edgy product.

When it comes to their livelihood, wrestlers aren’t exactly in the best position to protect themselves from themselves. Are we as fans willing to push the business back in a direction that makes this inability seriously dangerous to their health?

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