Cult of ROH: Injuries on the Indies

This week ROH announced Nigel McGuinness will wrestle June 26th against Claudio Castagnoli. The doubleshot is supposed to mark his return to regular competition, and it elicits some awkward feelings for fans. McGuinness was suffering from a torn right bicep and severe hematoma and separated AC joint in his left, forcing ROH to take the title off of him back on Wrestlemania weekend. It’s exciting to get a world champion back, how healed is he if he’s returning before his farewell show hits DVD?

He left Ring of Honor at the beginning of April, giving him about three months to recuperate and train before facing Castagnoli. The biceps tear in particular required surgery he opted not to take because of an expensive deductible. In an interview with Powerslam Magazine he listed money and the four-month post-op recuperation as untenable because, “I don’t make the sort of money that I can do nothing for three or four months.”

The whole business is a bitter pill. Ring of Honor has lost its holy aura with fans since Pearce took over, but this is a problem that’s always been around. Vince McMahon is infamous for paying medical bills and getting people time off. Ring of Honor does not do that for its wrestlers. It’s a smaller company that has to worry about profit. That doesn’t make it any easier when one realizes one less Ric Flair appearance might mean they could have paid for McGuinness to get the attention his body needed.

That’s assuming he had to have it. This enters the realm of celebrity gossip, speculating and judging famous strangers on second- and third-hand information. Perhaps one arm healed enough to compensate for the other, though the tear would not just go away. Many wrestlers tough out serious injuries for their careers. And even if it is seriously threatening to his long term health, it is McGuinness’s decision. What are wrestling fans supposed to do here?

The safest option is apathy. Many will take the position that wrestling is mere escapism, and that you don’t have to care anything more than paying for a ticket and cheering until you leave. You don’t have to care about the wrestlers.

But chances are you’re a decent human being and this isn’t how you really feel. The best and worst moment I’ve had at a live wrestling show was during All Star Extravaganza 3, when Mark Briscoe flew off the top rope and landed headfirst on the concrete. The crowd went silent in five seconds. I listened and did not hear anyone chide him. The thousand fans barely buzzed as people ran out to check him, break up the barricade and carry him to the back. We couldn’t see him with everyone standing, and the most noise during it all were people passing on the information, “He’s moving his hands.” Jay Briscoe actually tried to continue the match, and fans moved to cheer him in support, but it was half-hearted. Half the heart wanted to cheer what Mark’s brother wanted to do, and the other half kept looking in the direction of the EMT’s.

It was the worst because I feared I’d seen a man paralyzed if not killed. It was the best because a thousand people who came to be entertained were willing to stop the show out of concern for another.

It went that way because people care about the performers. Like so many social experiments have taught us, apathy diminishes the more intimately people are presented with something. In a world where you can’t know how healthy McGuinness is, it’s possible to believe he’s healed and go on like normal. If he’s noticeably injured in front of you, concerns rise. If he breaks down during his return, concerns rise. But before we even see him, many of us are going to be concerned for his health. Compassion is an instinct that even a brutal hobby doesn’t kill in all people.

So what if we care, though? Us caring doesn’t imbue us with the right or ability to stop McGuinness from returning. I’ve seen a few message board posts suggesting a collection should be started for McGuinness’s surgery, ignoring that it’s been months since he should have had it, and he’s clearly made up his mind against it. You can’t stop him, you don’t have the money individually to change it, and even if you do, you’re not going to offer it. You might as well abandon the feeling and enjoy whatever happens.

Except that attitude makes you the kind of jackass that convinced ROH to turn McGuinness heel in the first place. Critics praised the style of his promos in late 2007 and early 8, overlooking that he directly complained that we didn’t care about his concussions and turn muscles, and that we didn’t care if he wouldn’t be able to get on the floor and play with his kids some day. His fictional persona said that, but it was true to the sentiment of some very vocal fans. Their sentiment remains the logical progression of the attitude that the wrestlers don’t matter and they should just entertain us.

And if you care about wrestlers at all, the problem is compounded by McGuinness’s style. He wasn’t sacrificing his body in risky flying moves. He was hitting people as hard as he could. That same Powerslam Magazine interview he made sure to mention that he knocked KENTA loopy with the Lariat that gave him the hematoma. There’s a degree of karma-like justice to a stiff wrestler hurting himself, though it’s something most fans jump over arbitrarily. Other stiff indy wrestlers are bashed, and then Stu Hart and Stan Hansen are lauded. That’s another basic human trait, though: if we like you, we’ll overlook a lot. Still, one has to worry that if he hurt himself trying to impress on stiffness before, how endangered might opponents be if he starts compensating for physical limitations?

The wrestler/audience relationship is a queer one. They’ll say fans don’t understand wrestling, then judge matches by how well the crowd reacted. We think we could do better, then never stop watching. And no matter what we feel or how strongly we feel it, McGuinness makes the decisions for his own life. And no matter what pushed him to make that decision, he isn’t necessarily correct. A wrestler is not ready to come back merely because he says he is. We have hundreds of cases of wrestlers returning too soon and re-injuring themselves. That people argue to the contrary the same week that Ken Kennedy rushed to the ring and injured himself again is downright ridiculous.

Pondering all these problems is enough to drive a man moderate. It explains the appeal of apathy: not having to think about the questions or feel any of the answers. It’s human. But so, too, is compassion.

While that’s it from me for this week, if you’re still craving wrestling media we’ve got:

-Vinny Truncellito has had two stellar articles lately, on compromising visions of what you want wrestling to be and the original ECW.

http://wrestling.insidepulse.com/2009/05/18/alternate-reality-by-vin-tastic-the-grim-reaper-of-performance/

-David Ditch covers Vader’s new shoot, puro history and NOAH’s current roster cutbacks.

-And the Rabblecasters begin to lose their identity in the realm of impersonations.

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