Take care of the men and women in the ring.
It's a simple message, yet a very straightforward one that was publicly expressed by Chris Jericho.
Jericho is no stranger to the high-risk, daredevil world of professional wrestling. He's been in the business for most of his 47 years and grew up in an environment where pain was a way of life (his father was a pro hockey player and he’s a graduate of Stu Hart’s infamous Dungeon).
But Jericho has remained relatively injury-free and has continued to be relevant in today’s brand of sports entertainment. He also has missed little time in the ring due to injuries.
That’s partly why he sounded a warning in a recent interview on Sirius XM’s Busted Open podcast.
Jericho cited a serious injury suffered by IWGP junior heavyweight champion Hiromu Takahashi at the NJPW (New Japan Pro Wrestling) G1 Special in San Francisco on July 7. Landing directly on his head in sickening fashion, Takahashi suffered a broken neck following a botched Phoenix Plex involving Dragon Lee.
While New Japan is extremely popular among hardcore fans and has expanded its reach in North America, a number of pundits have been critical of the promotion’s stiff, realistic “strong style.” But dangerous moves aren’t limited to New Japan.
It’s true that many companies, including WWE, have put restraints on performers. But an inherent level of danger exists every time a wrestler steps through the ropes. There’s an instinctive desire to create highlight reel-worthy moments for fans who crave that danger and performers who want to dazzle.
Just ask a hardcore icon like Mick Foley, who sacrificed his body night in and night out to give fans moments they would never forget.
Even ring announcers aren’t immune, as Hall of Fame broadcaster Jim Ross can attest.
Ross was injured while taking an unplanned bump as he was calling a match at that same New Japan show in San Francisco.
The 67-year-old announcer suffered bruised ribs on his left side, a bruised left lung and a sternum injury during the Jay White vs. Juice Robinson match when the combatants knocked a piece of the guardrail into the broadcast table, knocking Ross over.
Ross reportedly had spoken to NJPW officials before the show to make sure nobody did any spots around the announce table because he knew all too well that accidents could happen outside the ring.
“For the record, the ‘bump’ I took at ringside was not a storyline-driven matter nor was it discussed,” Ross later said. “I think I broke a rib. Couldn’t put my roller bag in the overhead today after a sleepless Saturday night.”
Safer and smarter
With Jericho’s sterling reputation in the business, it’s quite possible that some performers on the New Japan roster just might take heed of his recent message. Jericho expressed his admiration for New Japan, where he carries the IWGP heavyweight championship, but stressed the need to work not only safer, but smarter. He cited a recent conversation with the talented Will Ospreay.
“It’s up to the individual guys. I actually had a conversation with somebody — with Ospreay, and people were saying, ‘Oh he’s gonna be the next Dynamite Kid.’
“And I’m like, ‘Dude, you don’t want to be the next Dynamite Kid, and this is what they’re saying about you. So these dangerous moves that you do that don’t matter — stop it! You know, you need to be working when you’re 47 like I am.’”
Jericho said he dismissed the advice of the late great Nick Bockwinkel years ago when Bockwinkel told him he was doing “too much” in the ring.
“Now, I did my share of crazy bumps and took my share of bad bumps, but as you get older, it’s the proverbial thing. I remember Nick Bockwinkel told me like in 1992 at a TV taping in Winnipeg when he was there as a color commentator, ‘You do too much.’
“And I remember thinking like, ‘What an ---hole thing to think?’ But I’m like sure, he’s just jealous because he can’t do these moves. That’s what you think when you’re a young guy. It’s Nick Bockwinkel! And now as I’m older, Nick Bockwinkel is one of the greatest. I’ve modeled characters after him. He’s right.”
Jericho, who has displayed the ability to constantly reinvent himself during his long and illustrious career, agrees that wrestling should be stiff and should be strong style. Just not dangerous. An example, he says, was a match he had last month with Tetsuya Naito.
While the bout was extremely hard-hitting and even brutal at times, and Jericho felt the effects for days, he adds that he was sore in a good way.
“I had cuts all over, my back was sore — you know the feeling after you've had a great match. It's not a dangerous feeling but you get out of bed and you’re like, ‘Ah that hurt.’ That’s what wrestling should be. It should be stiff, it should be strong style, but not dangerous.”
Don’t risk your future for high-risk moves in the present. There is no future in suffering debilitating injuries.
“And that’s what I want to try and tell some of these guys in New Japan that have this great style, I mean, these guys are having this amazing match, but don’t be dangerous! We’re still human beings, we’re not action figures that you can just dump on your head and just get up and go ‘OK, what’s next guys?’
“You have to be careful of that and cognizant of it, and I think some of the guys are starting to understand it more. If they get more guys in there to work with people like myself, they will learn. Because I won’t do those bumps, because it doesn’t matter, it’s not gonna make me any more money if I do it or not. And that’s what this business is about — making money and putting the proverbial (butts) in the seats.”
Jericho recently specified two holds that he will never take again – Kenny Omega’s one-winged angel and Kevin Owens’ apron power bomb.
Both moves hurt, says Jericho, and “wrestling is not supposed to hurt like that.”
Ronda Rousey will make her local debut when the WWE Live Summer Slam Heatwave Tour returns to the North Charleston Coliseum on Aug. 4.
A double main event will feature Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins against Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre, along with Braun Strowman against Kevin Owens in a Street Fight.
The B-Team will defend their Raw tag-team title in a three-way match against Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy, and Elias and Constable Baron Corbin; Alexa Bliss will defend her Raw women’s title in a three-way match with Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss.
Also scheduled to appear include Sasha Banks, Bobby Lashley and Jinder Mahal.
RIP Mr. Saito
Masanori Saito, one of the greatest wrestlers to come out of Japan, passed away July 14 at the age of 76 following a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Saito was a top-flight performer who held titles in numerous territories over a career that spanned several decades. Playing the stereotypical, salt-throwing Japanese heel, Saito was voted the best technical wrestler in the world in 1984, even though he was 42 years old at the time.
A former AWA world champion and WWF tag-team champion, Saito began his mat career in freestyle wrestling and represented Japan in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo before turning pro the following year.
With Mr. Fuji as partner and Captain Lou Albano as manager, Saito shared the WWF tag title on two different occasions. Saito, at the age of 47, later defeated Larry Zbyszko to win the AWA world title in front of 63,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome.
Saito also held the world tag-team title twice with Kinji Shibuya during the ‘70s, and also with Riki Choshu and Shinya Hashimoto in Japan.
One of his most memorable feuds was in his home country where he had a highly publicized showdown with the legendary Antonio Inoki. The two concluded their rivalry with an infamous two-hour-long Island Death Match on Ganryujima Island in 1987.
Saito became a trainer and mentor for young Japanese talent after retiring in 1999. He was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2009.