One of the striking things about watching old pro wrestling is how much more slowly it moved even 20 years ago. The athleticism was almost all cardio and feats of strength, with burly men (and more rarely, women) asked to lift other burly men up in the air for 40 plus minute endurance tests. It was a 340 or more day a year job, sometimes twice a day, with grueling travel making the stops seem like sweet relief rather than dreaded clock-in time.
It was, in a word, safe. Not in terms of lifestyle; the golden age of wrestling in the 1980s killed people, as the need to regulate the physical highs and lows caused people to turn to drugs and booze. But it was relatively rare for serious in-ring injuries to occur prior to about 1991.
After that, injuries began to mount as pro wrestlers worked a more athletic style. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels popularized a faster, higher impact style of wrestling in the early 1990s. WCW devoted lots of air time to creative, high flying cruiserweights. ECW's blend of hardcore violence and dangerous traditional moves defined a good decade or more of the business.
What was borne of this was a new style of wrestling with the same night after night schedule of the old. It wasn't just work at a measured pace for six straight weeks; it was work at a breakneck pace, doing more dangerous moves and taking harder bumps, for six straight weeks. Serious injuries mounted as the style changed: broken bones, torn muscles, ruptured knee ligaments, all there, all largely absent prior to the style shift.
As fans, we loved it. So we are part of the problem. We should be honest about how much we loved the new style then and love it now. We howl at the table dives. We chant "this is awesome" when two wrestlers counter each flip and tumble, grinding their knees to dust over a period of years. We sing "holy shit" when they crash into each other off of ladders or through barricades. We groan "boring" over and over when the match is too slow. We live for this sort of thing, egging them on to ever faster and more dangerous real time stunts for our amusement.
And they live for it, too. There's not a wrestler with his or her salt out there who doesn't. It's a profession which demands a razor's edge between the healthy and unhealthy, which soaks up the attention of the audience just as much as any actor, circus performer, or politician. Pro wrestling is an eminently social thing.
All of which is a prelude to this plea: wrestlers must stop doing the suicide dive every night. At Sunday's Clash of Champions pay-per-view, Cesaro nearly broke his neck in front of the world with the move.
The suicide dive is a headfirst running dive between the second and third ropes to the outside, where a (hopefully) waiting opponent breaks the diver's fall. Cesaro is one of the best wrestlers in WWE, and arguably the best athlete on the roster. He fucked it up and not even badly, but even a small misjudgment caused him to fall top of his head first into the floor outside the ring. He is sincerely lucky that he didn't break his neck, with a not insignificant amount of his luck being the result of Sheamus adjusting just enough to avert disaster.
If this sounds familiar, it's because it is. Sasha Banks has a habit of nearly braining herself on her suicide dives. The beloved Daniel Bryan's career was shortened in part because he did the move once or twice a night, every night. It's a move which seems very, very easy to mess up, with a slight miscalculation of distance or a trailing leg hitting the bottom rope on the way down spelling real disaster.
This is not a plea based on prudishness or squeamishness, unless wanting wrestlers to stick around for a long time is prudish. The fact is, pro wrestling has long skirted real violence and injury.
Rather, it's just math: if the schedule does not lighten and suicide dives are a regular part of your repertoire, a mistake is bound to come. Maybe at a house show, maybe on a global broadcast, but it is coming. It's the same worry which says that the way pro wrestling matches work now, concussions resulting from all the power bombs (a ubiquitous move) and the knee damage from all the flips (also ubiquitous) will eventually mess up your head and your knees.
The schedule meeting the violence of the moves has to be adjusted, either by changing styles or by working fewer dates. You can probably get away with a suicide dive once or twice a month; you probably can't get away with eight or nine.
This is not simply hand wringing by a fan. Wrestlers think this too.
Heffron touches on something really important about the way pro wrestling ideally works. You save the big, dangerous stuff for rare occasions. The more you do the dangerous stuff, the less special it is, and the more everyone has to go bigger the next time. It's an arms race. Heffron should know—he came through ECW during its high point and, while he didn't work a particularly dangerous style, he was around one of the big wrestling-wide escalations.
There is plenty of precedent for moves being banned. WWE banned the piledriver, which is probably far safer, years ago, after a freak botch by Owen Hart left Steve Austin temporarily paralyzed. Chairshots to the head are banned for obvious reasons, and the brainbuster is banned for fear of all the weight coming down on the top of someone's head might break his or her neck or skull.
Still, it's hard to believe the suicide dive would be banned. Not just because we demand it and wrestlers love it for its enticingly reckless visuals. It's because it's so hard to do. Even if WWE were to ban it—and the bans normally only come when a top tier wrestler is injured by a move—it would never be banned in the dozens and dozens of small wrestling promotions. The best we can likely do is hope that the near-accidents remain just that: only nearly things.