Why It’s OK For Heels To Get Heat From Real Injuries

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Much to the sadness of wrestling fans, Becky Lynch is out of this Sunday’s Survivor Series event to heal a broken nose and a concussion suffered this past Monday on Raw at the hands – or, rather “hand” – of Nia Jax.

WWE would make a point to single out Nia Jax and her punch as the reason why Lynch’s nose is broken. A day after Lynch forfeited her Survivor Series match against Ronda Rousey on SmackDown, Nia would make a rebuttal – and a savage one at that. In a tweet, Jax would respond to criticisms of her injuring Lynch by saying “we don’t deliver mail, things happen. Is anybody gonna ask me about how my fist feels?”

If Jax didn’t have enough haters in her mentions when she originally busted open Becky’s face, she sure does now. To be fair, we’re quite positive that Nia Jax didn’t mean any real ill will against Lynch in her tweet, and we don’t think she’s an oblivious jerk either. She’s just trying to play one by heeling it up to get a little bit of heat on her and to grow a storyline.

A heel using a real life injury – an injury that they inflicted onto someone themselves, mind you – to progress a storyline is nothing new in wrestling. Owen Hart broke Stone Cold Steve Austin’s neck, and he quickly started bragging about it while wearing an Owen 3:16 shirt.

Earlier this year, Sami Callihan accidentally smashed a baseball bat over Eddie Edwards’s face over at Impact Wrestling, and Callihan turned it into a gimmick as “the most dangerous man in professional wrestling.”

More recently, Tegan Nox injured her knee off of a suicide dive during her match with Rhea Ripley at the Mae Young Classic 2. Rather than wishing her opponent a speedy recovery, Ripley continues to use Twitter to show (well, claims to show…this is a work after all) zero care for Nox’s well being. She even went as far as to dress up as Nox for Halloween; knee brace and all.

An oft-forgotten example of such a thing was in 1972 during the Ox Baker vs Ray Gunkel feud. Back in the day, Baker’s finishing move was the Heart Punch, where he would literally punch his opponent in the chest. During an August 1st match with Gunkel, he’d punch the babyface in the chest, and later that day, Gunkel died.

Later, autopsy reports would reveal that Gunkel suffered from an undiagnosed arteriosclerosis and he died of heart trauma, but fans blamed his real life death on Baker’s Heart Punch. Rather than give a public condolence to Gunkel and deny being the one who hurt him, Baker owned up to it as a heel character and used Gunkel’s real death to progress storylines. Keep in mind that this was done at a time when wrestling was more real to fans.

Things would come to a head for Baker in 1974 when after repeatedly Heart Punching his opponent over and over again during a match, fans were angered enough to incite a riot.

Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about audiences rioting over people like Nia Jax for injuring people. At worst, people like Jax just need to fight off mean tweets and scathing comments these days. However, this still brings up a concern across the wrestling community. Is it really appropriate for heels to talk smack like this about people they hurt?

No matter the year or era we live in, a wrestler trying to be a heel in the face of a real injury is always going to inspire the ire of fans around the world. For many fans, they think heels staying in character in light of (sometimes career threatening) injuries is insensitive. Are these fans right to be frustrated and enraged when heels do this?

It’s certainly a polarizing stance to take, but while we understand why fans take issue with wrestlers like Nia Jax who make light of serious injuries, the wrestlers are doing nothing wrong. They’re just doing their job.

There is an old saying in the business that states the show must go on. No matter what. In this business, wrestlers have to keep up appearances, no matter what. This slogan would demand for wrestlers to keep up appearances, even in the wake of a scary situation or tragedy. Even Rhea Ripley kept it cool and refused to break character while Nox was in tears, reeling from her knee injury.

Going back to the Edwards/Callihan incident, pro wrestling guru Jim Cornette discussed Callihan’s callous approach to addressing what happened, and despite how he feels about the man personally, Cornette praised Callihan on his podcast for “doing it right.” Cornette elaborated that in the old school days, if a heel accidentally injured a fellow worker, they would apologize to them in private, but in public would own up to what they did like a badge of honor for the sake of heat.

Furthermore, it’s usually only the fans who take umbrage with a heel’s approach to storytelling. It’s rarely ever the wrestlers themselves who have a problem with it, because they understand why it’s necessary.

When asked to comment on the Edwards/Callihan situation, Impact star Petey Williams also praised Callihan’s approach to the storyline, and why it was so necessary to begin with. He said, “It is very good for business that he said he’s not sorry. Because, you know what happened? The next week, more people tuned in because they want to see Sami get his butt kicked by Eddie. This is what a grudge match like back in the 80’s and even before that, this is what a grudge match should be!”

At the end of the day, wrestlers essentially have two jobs to do every night for the fans: put on one heck of a show and try to sell the next show. Callihan sold the next Impact show (and a few more after that) by highlighting himself as a despicable human being who did a despicable thing. For a lot of fans, that calls for go-away heat, but for many others, that makes them want to tune in every week to see the villain finally get his comeuppance.

Heels doing stuff like this is just the way of the business. Always has been, and it always will be.

As Williams pointed out, the biggest issue fans have with this method of storyline progression is that the lines between reality and wrestling are blurred – more blurred today than they’ve ever been and more than any other entertainment business. When a wrestler shows no remorse for injuring their opponent, we find it hard separating the character from the person who plays them. So when Sami Callihan said he wasn’t sorry about injuring Eddie Edwards, many of us mistook a character’s words for the real person’s gospel.

For the Callihan situation at least, we can’t hate Callihan too badly for his egging people on for heat when the guy he injured encourages it. Eddie Edwards himself spoke with Wrestling Inc. to say that as much as it sucked to get hit in the face with a baseball bat, he did like that it got people talking and he liked all of the attention it brought onto his company from major media outlets like TMZ.

“That’s something we had to run with,” Edwards elaborated. “To not run with that would be stupid so I think we made the best of a kinda weird and crazy situation. We made the best of that going forward and I think that momentum has kinda stuck around and we continue going forward with that.”

Next: Aleister Black Tells An Entire Story With Just One Line

The bottom line is that injuries suck. No one wrestler ever tries to injure their opponent on purpose and its an unwritten cardinal sin in wrestling for a wrestler to not protect their opponent at all times. However, the best thing to do under such unfortunate circumstances is to make an entertaining storyline out of it, and hopefully in the process, make some money for both parties involved.

If that calls for heels to say some harsh words about another wrestler’s injury, then by all means, heel away.

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