Collective Thoughts: Risk vs. Reward in Today’s Pro Wrestling

wrestling aew rey fenix luchasaurus

Welcome back for some more Collective Thoughts. I had a slew of things I have wanted to talk about over the last couple of weeks, most of which being the huge amount of risk I see in wrestling these days and the rewards that may or may not follow behind it.

When you hear a lot of old heads talk about the wrestling business, one thing that always seems to come up is the ideology that “every bump should mean something.” Just that statement alone means something in the sense that the human body only has so many falls in it before it starts to break down and you want to make the most money you can before it starts to go. Obviously, the wrestling we see today is vastly different than it was 30 years ago, but the most glaring difference is the amount of risk the guys will put themselves through just to entertain the fans.

The argument could be made that entertaining the fans is something you want as a wrestler, but at a certain point, you have to put your own well-being into consideration. We didn’t see guys like Magnum T.A. or Dusty Rhodes falling off ladders and putting themselves through flaming tables just to have an angle that goes nowhere. Sure you had things like scaffold matches, which had to be the worst idea anyone has ever come up with, but those were special occasions and normally a blow-off between combatants that had been at each other for a while beforehand. You didn’t see these guys quite getting into the matches we see today, although, I think there is a place for both to live together.

The question is, where did the shift come into focus? There is a famous Kevin Nash line in a podcast with Eric Bischoff where he stated “I’ll say it to the day I die, one of the biggest parts of our business that died after the Hell in a Cell was when Mick Foley fell whatever he fell through that table. Because now we took a work and made it a stunt.” Those are strong words and while I don’t think he meant it as a dig to Mick, he is kind of on to something. I have heard numerous wrestlers in the past talk about fans coming up to them and just wanted to talk about the Mick Foley spot off the top of the cell. I remember seeing it when I was a kid and like everyone else, was positive I just watched a homicide on TV.

The thing about that bump, whether you love it or hate it, is that people are still talking about it today. It goes back to what I originally said about making bumps and risks count. Now, was this an extreme example? Yes, but I think it’s important to talk about it in the grand scheme of things. It skyrocketed Foley into the main event picture and he would go on to win the WWF Title on three separate occasions, which was probably a reward for everything he put his body through. Plus, he was one of the best workers in the business. You could also look at matches like the TLC match at Wrestlemania X-7, and while most of the guys are still working today, you can only imagine the toll it has taken on their bodies. Again though, it is a match that lives on in our minds to this day.

If you compare that to what we see a lot of times today, I think Foley and ECW are responsible for the shift in the business as a whole. After that bump and ECW’s continued success throughout the rest of 1998-1999, it brought a whole group of wrestlers that would have been laughed at before and gave them a chance. The catch with it, though, is that these guys had to put themselves through serious punishment for the fans and the company to get behind them. As many stories as we hear of guys working for ECW with no money being paid out and the serious bumps these guys were taking, a lot of it ended up being in vain. Obviously, you have the standout moments that live on, but how many Balls Mahoney bumps into thumbtacks have been forgotten? I would venture to say a lot more than we remember. It’s not like guys like Danny Doring and Roadkill went on to have sustained success in the business. I did love that team, though.

This brings us to wrestling today. I remember when I first started writing for the site, I mentioned that I thought AEW reminded more of a new ECW than a WCW clone everyone had been comparing it to. I still think that rings true for the most part, and AEW has put on matches that people haven’t seen on a big network since the Philadelphia promotion was in full swing. The comparisons between Heyman and Khan aren’t really noticeable, but you have to give both of them credit for putting on matches that might make a network and even fans turn away and are really sticking to their vision.

I have noticed more and more though, some of these things are coming and going and the guys involved are getting absolutely no reward, at least in the storyline, for what they are doing. The most recent example is Rey Fenix taking a Chokeslam from Luchasaurus off the apron in which his arm looked like it turned into sawdust. Thankfully, Fenix didn’t have any major damage, but that could have been a lot worse. It bumps like that though where you step back and say “was this needed?”. There are a lot of other ones as well (I am looking at you Exploding Death Match), but that one happened just a few weeks ago.

I don’t mean to sound like an old man at the party, but I can get into wrestling and not have a million scary bumps. Look at the Bryan Danielson vs. Hangman Page series of matches. Two guys going out there and working solid matches with no extra stuff and they have had the best couple of matches we have seen on TV. Even simple things like AEW allowing chair shots to the head, although very few between, make me wonder why this stuff is being done. Now, I do think this kind of stuff can be used effectively, I just wish it was used less often. I don’t need a street fight every single week, whether it’s a watered-down WWE one, or an actual bloody street fight on AEW TV. I think both have a place in wrestling and if used sparingly, can be an effective tool. I also wish big-time moves like The Canadian Destroyer and just The Piledriver, in general, weren’t used in every single match. The latter is used less than the former, and while The Destroyer is a hell of a move, it loses a lot of its shine when used so frequently, and it’s dangerous as hell.

At the end of the day, I like what AEW does for the most part. It has storylines that keep us engaged and the match types do feel fresh. I just wish stipulations were used more effectively and were mainly used to advance a hot storyline instead of throwing six guys together on Dark and calling it a Street Fight. I would comment on WWE having those kinds of matches too, but we all know it should be called a Kendo Stick battle where someone goes through the announce desk.

To add a little wrinkle to the story, there was a quote from WWE in the Toronto Star recently where they acknowledged AEW this week and said:

“If you look at the gory self-mutilation that bloodied several women in the December 31 event on TNT, it quickly becomes clear that these are very different businesses. We had an edgier product in the ‘Attitude’ era and in a 2022 world, we don’t believe that type of dangerous and brutal display is appealing to network partners, sponsors, venues, children, or the general public as a whole.”

I think wrestling fans completely agree that they are two different businesses, and while the really gory stuff is offputting at times, I would take that over a watered-down sports-entertainment product any day of the week.

What do you think? Is wrestling too reliant on the risk and not getting enough in return? As always, hit me up over @collectiveheel on Twitter and let me know your thoughts. I will be back next week with more 1999-era WCW and we will be going into the summer with Bash at the Beach. Take care of yourselves, and more importantly, each other. I will be back soon enough with some more Collective Thoughts.