There's a time and a place for everything in professional wrestling. As much as I'm a Mike (now Michael) Bennett fan, a Ring of Honor house show in Toronto is neither the time or place to piledrive anybody into a ring apron.
It's certainly not my right or responsibility to nag, lecture or guilt Bennett for performing a dangerous wrestling move. I'm not a wrestler. I don't know. As much as I can sit on the sidelines and shake my head, there's still a perspective I can't, and probably will never know about. But from where I'm standing, and out of the perspective I do have as a fan who's seen dozens of his favorite wrestlers crippled, killed or retired from stupid decisions over the last twenty years, it matters to me that this message gets out there.
In one of the many phenomenal shoot interviews with Kevin Steen on HighSpots.com, he changed my opinion about blading (the act of cutting yourself open during a wrestling match), and it's something I'll probably never go back on. Wrestling fans love blood in their product, especially since WWE started outlawing it, but the truth is it's almost always unnecessary. If you haven't seen "The Last of McGuinness" I sincerely hope you check it out – it'll change your world view.
Nigel McGuinness – ROH's current on-screen authority figure – will never blade again, and encourages everyone to adopt that philosophy. That's not preachy – it's a harsh reality. Blading is a dangerous relic from an ancient time in the business, and one that lead to his forced retirement and took a severe toll on his health. I prefer Steen's take though, which is along the same lines but argues more towards the line of responsibility and moderation rather than a cold turkey approach. He, as do I, believes that there's a time and a place for everything.
Michael Bennett didn't blade in his match against B.J. Whitmer Saturday night – that's not the point. What he did was perform a dangerous move, a move we've seen end careers of icons on much bigger stages, at a live show. This wasn't pay-per-view, or even television. It wasn't WrestleMania, Monday Night Raw or the Tokyo Dome in front of 50,000 New Japan wrestling fans. It was a live show for an indy company.
Going back to Steen for a second, he and El Generico wrestled one of the most dangerous matches I've ever seen in an ROH ring at Final Battle 2012. That ladder war was cringe-worthy…but it was important. You could make an argument that Ring of Honor simply doesn't draw enough at any event to merit doing some of the insane spots those two did, but in the case of Steenerico, not only are they comfortable with each, and trust each other with their lives, but it was an important match for their careers, and the fans felt it. Sometimes things naturally progress, and you have to give the crowd that "extra something" for their time and money. But again, there's a time and a place for everything.
Maybe it'll rub some fans or wrestlers the wrong way that I'm insinuating there's a price on what you should do for the fans. But hell, I'll come right out and say it: THERE'S A PRICE ON WHAT YOU SHOULD DO FOR THE FANS. This is your life. Too many wrestlers have lost theirs, or at least their livelihood, because they couldn't draw that line in the sand between reality and the workplace.
Mick Foley got thrown off and through a Hell in a Cell, but it created a career-defining moment that millions of people will never forget. Was it worth the price? Jesse Sorensen made a similar career-defining moment. Was it worth the price? Brock Lesnar almost shattered his neck coming off the top rope at WrestleMania. Was it worth the price? One of the greatest of all time, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, almost didn't have a Hall of Fame career because of a piledriver, in a mid-card Intercontinental title match. Was it worth the price?
Please don't go out and hunt down Michael Bennett for what happened in Ring of Honor Saturday night. This isn't a witch hunt. Bennett is a genuinely nice guy, a good worker, and I don't believe for a second he thought he was being unsafe, or that Whitmer didn't know exactly what he was getting himself into. This is an issue that extends far beyond a house show in Toronto. There are entire promotions I won't support because I don't feel right doing so – CZW for instance, makes me physically uncomfortable with some of their intentionally "ultraviolent" matches. I will never pay to see New Jack wrestle a match. (That's also because he's an awful human being. When Chris Cash told me he wanted to call up New Jack the night Jerry Lawler was hospitalized, to have him on the show, I outright told him I wouldn't watch Voice of Wrestling again.)
There has to be a line. There has to be a point at which wrestlers EVERYWHERE, in EVERY PROMOTION take a step back and ask themselves, "is what I'm doing worth it?" Maybe the move you're doing can result in a safe, rewarding situation were the fans pop, you get that coveted match of the night pat on the back, and everyone goes home happy. But what about the unintended consequences? Maybe a guy like Lex Luger, or Kurt Angle, or Scott Hall, or anybody who wrestled in the late '80s or '90s, started taking pain pills or drinking alcohol to deal with nagging injuries sustained from these "safe and rewarding" situations?
When I was younger I used to love hardcore wrestling. It was brutal, extreme and more importantly, my parents didn't want me to watch it. But now I'm a full-grown adult, and there's several guys in the business I would consider a friend. There's some I dont' know on a personal level, but I like enough to genuinely care about their career, and their life when the wrestling business is done with them. Both Bennett and Whitmer are among that second group of guys.
There's a time and a place for everything, and there has to be a line; people need to start stepping up and saying "no, it's just not worth it. Not this time."
Sometimes it is worth it. For Mick Foley, it was worth it, but the man has still given more of himself to us than was ever necessary. For CM Punk and John Cena, in one of the best matches of this year, it was worth it to dust off that piledriver. It wasn't worth it for guys like Eric Kulas, Quentin V. Jackson or everyone who ever hit Chris Benoit in the head with a steel chair. It wasn't worth it for Nigel McGuinness when one blade job ended his career.
Wrestlers, if you're in the back putting together your match, and thinking about what you can do for me, the fan, to make my night extra special…please be safe. My $15 bleacher ticket is not worth getting paralyzed, or contracting a blood disease. Go home to your wife and kids. Live your life, and have a career without pain pills and booze. Between you and me, that'd be the most rewarding thing you could ever do for the fans.