Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Epidemic Machine

Cena's injury was wholly predictable
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Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Doc Gallows all gave their notices to New Japan Pro Wrestling before WrestleKingdom 10. They're all expected to sign with WWE before the calendar reaches Valentine's Day. If they do, they will represent the biggest outside talent infusion the company experienced since it purchased World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling in 2001, and it will be the highest-profile jumping of ship of multiple wrestlers from one international wrestling company since [REDACTED], Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn in 2000. And if WWE's recent history is any indication, they will all get injured within a year.

Prognosticating injuries is admittedly a grotesque action, and injuries often are predicated on luck. Sometimes, a wrestler just falls awkwardly on a body part, or a miscommunication allows a punch to land with more force than expected. Still, nearly every high-profile wrestler in the company has missed time in the last few years. The list is extensive, almost exhaustive save a Dean Ambrose here or there: Randy Orton, Sami Zayn, Hideo Itami, Sheamus, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Tyson Kidd, Wade Barrett, Nikki Bella, Alberto del Rio, Rey Mysterio, Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Rusev, and once again, John Cena. Cena revealed that he'll require surgery for his shoulder and will be out up to nine months.

Chalking this M*A*S*H unit up to pure luck, however, is fallacious. WWE may be somewhat unlucky, but it also has done scant little to minimize that bad luck. While chance can sometimes ignore even the hardest evidence, an entity can do its best to minimize or maximize its chances of a certain event happening. For example, a spaceship will always have the chance of colliding with an asteroid, but that chance significantly decreases if the crew charts a path around or over an asteroid belt rather than through it. Basically, WWE's current business model constantly sends its spaceships dead ahead through the bulkiest parts of the proverbial asteroid field of injury luck.

Wrestlers get hurt mostly not by happenstance, but in the action of working in the ring. Right now, WWE wrestlers can work in excess of 200 dates a year, including twice a week on television at least. The intensity of the average WWE cable/weekly television match has increased over the years too to the point where apron bumps, dives, and barricade spots are not just appearing once a month in big matches. Being a wrestler has never been as high risk as it is now. Additionally, while WWE covers medical expenses, it doesn't offer health insurance. To boot, wrestlers have made claims against WWE doctors of ignoring maladies they deem non-serious, and management expects wrestlers to battle through nagging injuries. The most heinous claim emanates from CM Punk, who alleged that WWE doctors told him to treat what he thought was a serious staph infection with a "Z-pak."

This caustic cocktail of working conditions has, in my opinion, coalesced into an epidemic of injuries for a company that should know better, that can afford to know better. Forget the implications on storytelling and narrative; a decent company should do more than what OSHA requires by law. WWE, however, skirts even those bare standards by terming the wrestling talent as "independent contractors." Even though their contracts state that they can't work for anyone but Vince McMahon's human flea circus, they still have the same title of a true independent contractor has with regards to choosing clientele, which to me is the smelliest bullshit imaginable.

So, until something changes within WWE, guys are still going to get injured at an alarming rate. Plans will have to change, and nothing can be prepared more than a month out, which is fitting for a company with the creative vision of WWE anyway. Injuries to the new prize employees Nakamura, Styles, and the Bullet Club will be inevitable, and WWE will only have itself to blame.