Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Four-Way Ladder Match

I thought the ladder match was brutal- not necessarily because of how many stiff-looking moves there were, but because of the inherent problem of having lots of people in the ring, lots of metal lying around, and lots of aerial moves. As we saw with Joey Mercury's fairly horrific face-plant onto the metal, one unlucky fall in a ring full of ladders is going to mess you up pretty badly. I wonder how many of these matches would actually happen if the wrestlers had a bit more freedom to decide what they would and would not do, because there certainly seem to be plenty of specialty matches that don't jeopardize the wrestlers' health so much.

Even worse, Mercury was back almost immediately on TV wrestling with a mask. I understand the added pressure for him to be working, given that he spent 3-6 months in rehab last year, but it's hard to believe that he would be out there if he had some bargaining power (rather than being the sometime tag team partner of Johnny Nitro, whose future and marketability seem far brighter than Mercury's). I know it's a smart booking move to work injuries into the storyline, but this just seems like yet another example of the unbelievable control WWE has over its "independent contractors".

7 comments:

Deirdre said...

These specialty matches can be brutal, true, but I think they are welcomed by fans and the talent themselves as unique opportunities,
as a chance to really impress those within the company and the fans, to gain recognition, respect and popularity. As a result, some of these matches can get extremely dangerous, with wrestlers trying to top each other, to make a better match of that genre than ever before, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, and injuries occur. It's a tug of war between safety, popularity, respect, and personal drive, resulting in an almost obligatory drive to put themselves in mortal danger from time to time.

Andrew said...

There's no question that fans love ladder matches (although they are starting to get a bit overdone, and have found their way into some free TV programming lately), and I'm sure many wrestlers enjoy them. However, the fact remains that few other specialty matches contain this much uncontrolled movement with so many hard surfaces around the ring that have no give. The various steel cage matches, last man standing, tables matches, even the elimination chamber (!), are all far safer and many of them have far more remaining fan novelty.

Given that, my point is simply that it's hard to see wrestlers, even those with an "obligatory drive", choosing this type of match without the promotion's pressure. I'm willing to concede that there is a macho atmosphere, but I think this particular match stip is the kind of result you get when the promotion isn't forced to bear the full cost of harm to their talent (because they're not full employees, they only have weak contracts with downside guarantees, little/no benefits, etc).

Michael Wehrman said...

Just in case, they announced this very same match for the upcoming WWE Pay Per View (in one week?).

I don't know that I'd consider the organization as so sinister. Without a doubt, like in other sports, there are pressures to perform when hurt. There are plenty of wrestlers willing to support that claim, and the unspoken knowledge that a person's "spot" on the roster (and where that spot is) is contingent upon their ability to attend and perform at shows.

That said, I'm not convinced that match type is related to that. Sabu certainly never took the easy way out throughout his wrestling career (and, ironically enough, many people lament the kinds of matches he has been having since ECW came back last year, claiming that he is not allowed to wrestle the more dangerous style he's known for). Moreover, I don't know any wrestlers, but I can't help but imagine (as dierdre suggests) that wrestlers consider match types as a "medium" to use the art phrase. Some dabble in cage matches, some dabble in "hell in a cell," and some dabble in ladder matches. Certainly Mick Foley didn't earn his accolades based on the number of shoot-style two out of three falls matches he had.

I'm also not certain that it's a fair claim that ladder matches are more dangerous than others. A cursory glance at the kind of "matches" backyard groups and independent promotions have show a lot more danger, a lot more gimmicks, a lot less crafting for the protection of the wrestlers, than what you can see on TV at the moment.

To be perfectly fair, I'm not certain that Joey Mercury is ready for another ladder match (I'd be wary), so if that's your point, I can see that point. At the very least, however, it was a rather routine maneuver in a ladder match (using the item as a lever). The same kind of injury could have happened if a chair was incorrectly placed or swung in a certain way.

Ender said...

I think both the promoter and the wrestler have a vested interest in showcasing the talent's particular skills in high profile pay-per-view matches, whatever those skills are. For Kurt Angle that doesn't usually require any match stipulations at all. It has more to do with match legnth - he can easily go 20 minutes - and with who his opponent is - he minimally needs someone he can carry to a five star match. For The Undertaker it's the Casket Match or the Buried Alive match because that plays into the supernatural nature of his gimmick. But for a guy like Joey Mercury, whose gimmick doesn't lend itself to any of the pre-existing types of specialty matches, the most expedient and effective way for him to get over with the fans is to prove himself as a breathtaking high flying specialist with superior endurance and the ability to take death defying bumps. No other match showcases those skills like a ladder match or a TLC. He's got to know that ladder matches catapaulted guys like Shawn Michaels and Edge to main event spots. If this is your life, if this is your dream, then it would be very hard to say "Naww. I think I'll just stick to six minute RAW matches with The Highlanders until the fans get bored with me and you eventually let me go." None of which is to say that the WWE doesn't put a lot of pressure on their talents in other ways. Just like at the high mortality rate for ex-wrestlers in their early 40s. But it's a mutual pressure - a pressure on the wrestlers both from without and from within.

On a side note, did anybody recently read about the controversy surrounding New England Patriots coach Bill Bellicheck and former linebacker Ted Johnson? Johnson claims that Bellicheck 'made' him practice even after he'd sustained multiple head injuries and that today he suffers from memory loss and clinical depression because of it. Bellicheck says Johnson never asked to sit out. It just makes you wonder if Bill Bellicheck, one of the classiest, most respected coaches in the history of the NFL, is still finding himself right in the middle of controversies like this then what's going on with a guy like Vince McMahon? I'm sure these types of questions are a constant reality.

Sam Ford said...

WWE's in an interesting position when it comes to style and particularly what they want to see out of wrestling performances. Vince has generally paid for the surgeries of performers injured under his watch, and it takes away substantially from profits when a wrestler is out for months at a time, so WWE has realized in the past three or four years how it needs to move away from a purely high-spots oriented style.

We know that Vince in particular does not like "extreme rules" matches, and there is some value in not having a roster of wrestlers who have damaged their bodies to the extent of a Sabu. Jeff Hardy was definitely headed in that direction. In fact, there are people in the power structure at WWE who do not care at all for high spots matches like this ladder match.

But it's always a struggle. This type of match, on occasion, is a big draw, and wrestlers can make their reputations on it. Look at Mick Foley. That fall, from what I understand, was not pushed on him by the company, but he has gotten more mileage out of those two falls in the Hell in a Cell match than almost anything else in his career. In that way, it was a lifetime highlight reel moment that was "worth it." But, if he had missed that table or landed head-first or a variety of other scenarios, it could have been a completely different story.

I agree with Andrew's point in that the company has to take responsibility for the style of the matches, but I think it's often a case of saving people from themselves and reigning them in from trying moves that they shouldn't be doing.

Ender said...

Brock Lesnar's shooting star press against Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania (20?) comes to mind. The story I've heard is that Lesnar had been instructed not to do the move because it was too dangerous, and he'd agreed, but he basically hijacked the match by doing what he wanted anyway. He landed really, really wrong. It looked like he snapped his neck. Vince didn't say "Good job."

Alex Maki said...

Yeah, he came back so soon to capitialize on the injury and the press that it got through wrestling fans. He couldn't go through the waiting process and get "all better" and then try and benefit from his injury. Mercury needed a break, and even though he is in Nitro and Melina's shadow now...he's getting another 15 minutes of fame.