Cult of ROH: Injuries in the Indies 2?

Everyone had a strong reaction when it came out that Nigel McGuinness was injured again. On Friday, July 24, Jerry Lynn held him too low on his Cradle Piledriver and put his head straight into the mat. McGuinness was concussed, and going on what rumors you believed, it was between his third and sixth concussion in ROH.

I had to roll my eyes. Was there ever a wrestler who took fewer risks and still managed to get hurt so often? A guy who spent all of last year in slow mat holds and throwing clotheslines managed to cripple both arms, come back, and nearly die taking exactly one head drop spot on a supercard weekend.

The obvious point was also there. If both arms were healthy, could he have adjusted himself or lessened the impact? Could this be blamed on him coming back too soon? Or blamed on coming back to main events too soon, rather than shorter stuff on undercards to readjust?

This week he addressed ROH on the Videowire. In a somber monotone he managed to blame the fans for him wrestling too hard. He swore to protect himself by changing entirely to the “old British style” of wrestling. Especially given how stark the interview was next to the goofy beer-based promo Cabana and company cut in the same Videowire, it managed to strike two chords.

Firstly, can McGuinness make this work? His early ROH stuff was a bad imitation of Jonny Saint, wouldn’t befit a top heel, and indicated he wasn’t much of a technical mind. He truly broke out as a striker, and even in his best period, only had great technical matches with Aries and Danielson.

Certainly mat wrestling can work in ROH. Danielson made greatness out of little holds, knowing when to pause and when to emote, how to vary offense and how to repeat it so that things were fresh and built up. In comparison, when healthy McGuinness did the same few holds in the same order constantly. Highly sympathetic opponents like El Generico made those things work, but in general McGuinness lacked the pacing and explosiveness that make Aries and Black’s mat wrestling patterns work.

If he’s going to truly restructure the way he wrestles and can work his charisma into it, he’ll be fine. People are rightly skeptical, though, that he can actually do it. I fear he’ll be purposefully boring and we’ll sit through a month of snarky debates over whether that’s drawing good heel heat, if there is such a thing as bad heel heat, and ultimately a bunch of people will be told they are stupid and hate ROH despite having paid to watch it.

And all that excludes that he’s enormously injury prone and it’s still incredibly plausible that he’ll further injure his arms in a freak accident on the mat. Any physical therapist can tell you that sustaining some of his holds with a bad back and torn bicep is tempting fate.

So that was one chord he struck, and it burst into flame wars around youtube and message boards.

The second point is not whether it’s your fault. In real life, no, it isn’t. Coming back so early and getting hurt in the ring was McGuinness’s fault for doing it, and Lynn’s fault for not protecting his opponent. Never mind that fans overwhelmingly voiced desire for him to stay out.

Nor is the second point what we should do about wrestlers who wrestle hurt. Most of them wrestle through pain, you don’t know half of the major injuries they sustain, you aren’t donating money to medical funds, your opinion won’t stop them – you are an audience member and nothing more. We went through all of this when McGuinness announced his premature return with Injuries on the Indies 1.

The second chord he struck is what wrestlers work through. When ROH stars make their rare comments about the state of the locker room, they likened it to Red Cross camps with how many people were hurt in some way. Some guys go through extraordinary feats, like B.J. Whitmer wrestling for several months in 2006 on a badly injured leg. Now McGuinness has returned not yet fully healed. But these are merely extreme cases of what most wrestlers go through. Whether it’s in ROH where guys wrestle a couple dozen nights a year in demanding matches, or WWE where it’s over a hundred less dangerous nights, wrestlers get hurt and work hurt. Sometimes you have to marvel at how a guy could be tough enough to no-sell a chairshot at all, and sometimes you have to realize that everyone in the ring is in pain and is driven enough to overcome it.

I criticized Mitsuharu Misawa a lot in his last years. He was too slow to sustain the stories he knew how to tell, especially in a puro environment where younger guys were innovating on what he helped established. Amongst his peers, Akiyama and Kobashi could move faster and do everything he did. He still had obvious talent, but it became painful to watch a man to whom wrestling looked like such a chore. If you paid attention, you knew how much wrestling was hurting him, and so though it’s a tragedy, it’s no surprise that word came out he wanted to retire at the end of this year.

But if you watched Misawa’s glory years, you knew he was once one of the fastest and most intense wrestlers alive. There were clear sparks of his old self in even his most broken down performances. If you watched matches in-between the glory years and the later NOAH period, you could see how he changed. And you began to appreciate that to not wrestle at his absolute best meant he was hurt. It wasn’t just that he was slow; it was that pain and injury put limits in front of him. And that’s why I couldn’t enjoy a Misawa match for years – because he was suffering to perform at a low level.

And a normal wrestler risks a lot. A quote often attributed to Arn Anderson goes, “Every night I’m in the equivalent of a car wreck.” The point wasn’t that one match was dangerous; you can walk away from car crash unscathed. The point was that a successful wrestler was living through the equivalent of hundreds of car wrecks a year. People like Ric Flair, Danny Hodge and John Cena, who could sustain crippling injuries and return to the ring in good shape, are lucky freaks and mad men. Perhaps anyone who stays in pro wrestling is mad.

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