-WWE Concussion Policy Could Change Pro Wrestling Forever
COMMENTARY | In just over a month, three WWE wrestlers have suffered concussions. I could use this fact as further proof that professional wrestling is not as "fake" as many people think it is. But wrestling fans already know there is a big difference between "fake" and "predetermined." Pro wrestlers' bodies endure a physical toll that very few athletes in other sports can even imagine.
Since early May, Dolph Ziggler, Fandango, and Tamina Snuka have each suffered concussions in WWE matches. These are real concussions, not kayfabe injuries invented by the WWE creative team to further storylines. Dolph Ziggler missed a pay-per-view and was out of action for over a month with his concussion. Fandango and Snuka have not wrestled since their head injuries.
If the WWE's treatment of concussions sounds familiar, that's because it parallels similar trends in other sports, particularly the NFL. Former players who suffered concussions and are now dealing with their after-effects are suing the NFL. At the same time, the NFL is levying severe punishments against players whose actions could lead to concussions.
Even players in other pro sports leagues, like MLB's Justin Morneau and NHL's Sidney Crosby, have missed extended time after sustaining concussions. So clearly, the WWE would be remiss if it did not also take concussions seriously. Given the number of wrestlers who have died early deaths, the WWE is to be applauded for treating any injury with a new level of severity.
Future of pro wrestling and the WWE
While any clear-headed fan has to approve of the WWE treating concussions more seriously, one also has to wonder what this means for the future of professional wrestling. Although many fans complain that Roger Goodell is trying to turn tackle football into touch football, the NFL remains just as popular as ever. However, if recent safety trends continue, some fans also wonder if NFL games will look like the Pro Bowl in 25 years.
Fortunately, in the controlled world of professional wrestling, the WWE is free to dictate the style of action in the ring. One move that the WWE made years ago to help prevent concussions was to outlaw the piledriver. Although an experienced wrestler still occasionally brings back the piledriver in a big WWE match, the move is on the endangered list of finishers.
But with three diagnosed concussions in just over a month, you can bet the WWE creative team, bookers, and executives are wondering if they need to seriously overhaul their product. Very soon, we could see head shots from foreign objects like tables, ladders, and chairs be eliminated from wrestling. With many old school fans already upset with the WWE's TV-PG product, would this drive even more wrestling fans to MMA?
But even that wouldn't completely eliminate concussions in the WWE. Powerbombs, kicks to the head, and getting thrown out of the ring are just a few of the literally dozens of wrestling moves that could cause concussions. Of course, there is a lot more to wrestling than head shots. Promos, storylines, and most moves wouldn't be impacted. But the WWE would look unimaginably different if it evolved in this direction.
Still, no one ever purposely sets out to injure his opponent in wrestling, so the concussions that are currently happening in the WWE are all accidents. And I believe that accidents will continue to happen (albeit less frequently) if the WWE enacts more safety measures for its matches. This could lead to vastly different WWE programming than we currently see on shows like Raw and Smackdown.
Imagine this scenario. John Cena is wrestling in the main event of a future Wrestlemania. And on the last episode of WWE Raw before Wrestlemania, Cena is booked in a tune-up match. In the match, a slight botch causes Cena to hit his head too hard on the mat and he shows post-concussion symptoms. He would be held out of Wrestlemania and the professional wrestling equivalent of Armageddon would begin.
We already saw this scenario play out on a much smaller scale when Dolph Ziggler, who is the current World Heavyweight Champion, missed a WWE pay-per-view with his concussion. We could soon be witnessing a future in which the WWE's top draws are held out of all in-ring action and only do promo work in the weeks leading up to major pay-per-views like SummerSlam and Wrestlemania.
What would this do to the ratings and attendance at WWE events? Again, I'm not suggesting the WWE should return to the caveman era of pro wrestling and ignore concussions. I'm simply saying that we could be headed down a path that NFL fans are already dreading. The good news is that the NFL is maintaining its popularity despite predictions to the contrary and hopefully, the WWE also can figure out how to keep its fans happy and its wrestlers healthy.
These are difficult, complex issues and it will be interesting to see how the WWE and the professional wrestling industry adapt in the coming years.