Although most fans enjoyed AEW’s second offering, Fyter Fest, the biggest talking point following the show is understandably the unprotected chairshot to the head Cody Rhodes took from Shawn Spears.
Cody Rhodes and Darby Allin wrestled to a time limit draw at AEW’s Fyter Fest and it was an excellent match that got Allin over as a gutsy underdog. The match itself featured risky spots, which is essentially a trademark of Allin’s. But more disturbing was a spot that occurred after the match’s conclusion, in which veteran performer Shawn Spears hit Cody Rhodes in the head with a chair. Rhodes did not protect himself from the chair shot and a thunderous silence rushed over the crowd after this harrowing spot.
Spears and Rhodes are two seasoned performers who rarely take unnecessary risks in the ring, so it was surprising to see this spot take place. It was doubly shocking to see an unprotected chair shot to the head in an AEW ring, given that the promotion has emphasized prioritizing the safety of its wrestlers – namely guaranteed healthcare for its wrestlers.
Wrestling fans have become more aware of the dangers of head injuries, as even repeated sub-concussive blows can lead to CTE, which causes the deterioration of neurons in the brain. CTE can lead to irreversible behavioral and cognitive changes, depression, abuse and suicide. These are all effects wrestling fans have seen on beloved performers, with Chris Benoit being the most chilling example of what brain injuries can do to a person.
While it was, on some level, comforting to see droves of wrestling fans lambast AEW for this unprotected chairshot and asserting firmly that these have no place in wrestling, this reaction isn’t specific enough.
Because the question shouldn’t be why AEW did this. The question should be how did this even happen.
It should be obvious to anyone with some semblance of rational thinking and empathy that unprotected chair shots are bad and I’d like to think the executives at AEW are among that crowd. There’s reason to believe that AEW didn’t plan on this spot happening in the first place.
I’m inclined to believe Tony Khan and The Young Bucks about this incident, because this unprotected chair shot to the head is the antithesis of everything we’ve seen from “The Elite”. It didn’t seem planned and, again, I’d like to think that AEW are smart enough to not do something like this on purpose.
But the problem is that’s not good enough. Khan’s “You could build the safest airplane in the world, but if there’s a pilot error, there’s a pilot error,” is an absolutely ridiculous statement to make in the circumstances.
The reason why a “safe” airplane is “safe” is because it accounts for a pilot’s errors and would create safeguards that prevent these errors from becoming fatal. Yes, accidents happen, but the reason why air travel is so safe statistically is because a variety of measures are taken. If a crash occurs, it’s because there were multiple systemic failures in a complex, coupled system.
A pro wrestler using a real chair to bash another wrestler over the head is an accident, but it’s also an accident caused by poor planning and negligence. Unlike air travel, setting up a pro wrestling spot isn’t a complex system. But like air travel, it is coupled. Multiple parties are involved in setting up the spot, it has to be approved by an executive, props must be chosen, and the proper props must be available.
This means that if a real chair were used in the place of the gimmicked chair, there was a failure in the system. And this should have been accounted for by AEW.
It can’t be that easy for an important, planned spot where Shawn Spears hits Cody Rhodes with a gimmicked chair to set off an intense storyline, perhaps around a kayfabe head injury, to go awry. The minor mistake was the use of the real chair, but the major mistake on AEW’s part was the fact that there was seemingly no oversight or safeguard.
Although it may seem like I’m exaggerating the need for AEW to have more oversight for one spot in one match, the fact of the matter is that unprotected chairshots to the head should never happen in pro wrestling. I think any reasonable person can agree to that. So in order to actually prevent that from happening, there needs to be a reckoning whenever an error occurs.
Khan yammering on about a “pilot error” is so laughably stupid, because could you imagine that being the response from, say, an airliner if a catastrophe occurred? One chairshot in a match isn’t equivalent to a plane crash (duh), but I find it interesting that Khan’s tone is more dismissive than accountable. Thankfully, Cody isn’t concussed or seriously hurt, but that’s down to luck. The outcome could have been much worse, and AEW can’t neglect what happened here.
Because Cody’s unprotected chairshot wasn’t the only dangerous spot at Fyter Fest, and chairshots to the head aren’t the only way wrestlers can be injured. Just weeks ago, wrestling fans were shocked at Aerostar’s dive in AAA. Who is to say that at a future AEW event, another, larger error could happen as a result of a simple backstage oversight?
Accidentally swapping a gimmicked chair for a real chair seems like an innocent mistake, but it’s more sinister than that: AEW planned poorly and could have easily paid the cost. Could something worse happen in the future?
That’s why it’s so important for AEW to be transparent in the aftermath of this incident. They need to release a full statement outlining what happened, why it happened, and how they’ll make sure this doesn’t happen in the future. Will wrestlers like Spears and Rhodes be instructed to treat gimmicked chairs like real chairs in the future? Because it seems like nobody could tell the difference between the two.
The incident itself also brings up the idea of “consent” in pro wrestling. “Consenting” to a dangerous spot simply isn’t just about saying “yes” or “no”. Consent can be manipulated based on information available, peer pressure, fan bloodlust, or even coercion from an employer or boss. For example, NFL players were told about concussions, but they were never truly informed about how damaging brain injuries can be and how often they occur in football.
There’s consent and then there’s informed consent. Hopefully, AEW has received the latter from their wrestlers and understands that there’s a threshold involved in labeling something as informed consent.
If AEW wants to have more hardcore matches or Darby Allin “Coffin Drop” spots on the apron, have they went over all the specifics with their performers? It’s one thing to passively understand about CTE, subconcussive blows, or even the risk of painkiller addiction in later life as a result of mounting injuries, but it’s another thing to actively understand these risks.
That takes education on the part of the promotion and it’s worth noting that WWE superstar Alexa Bliss recalled having her mind opened by a concussion expert amidst her own struggles with brain injuries.
I’d like to assume AEW will do the same with its talent – and it could even make wrestlers like Allin more hesitant about how often and when they choose to engage in high-risk spots like apron bumps – but assumptions aren’t good enough.
As Khan’s response after Cody’s chairshot indicates, AEW may not be taking backstage protocol and wrestler safety as seriously as we’d like. Because it’s one thing to talk a big game, it’s another thing for a novice group of executives to understand how to implement detailed protocols to prevent an even worse accident happening in the future.
Accidents may not happen on purpose, but they are preventable. And when they happen, a wrestling promotion as big as AEW had better be ready to answer while taking steps to make sure something worse doesn’t take place in the future. Consider this a small warning sign at their second show.