BJ Whitmer's head crashed into the ring apron and he soon lay motionless outside the ring flocked by medical staff, referees and Mike Bennett.
It was Bennett's piledriver that ended the match, that forced Whitmer to spend the weekend at the hospital and that could have left him paralyzed. Pro wrestling is inherently dangerous, but the incident on Saturday at a Ring of Honor show in Toronto reminds us of the piledriver's destructive capabilities.
To execute a piledriver, the attacker lifts his opponent upside down and drives their head into the mat. A wrong angle or a slight slipup can lead to a broken neck.
Whitmer appears to be one of the lucky ones, having come out of an errant piledriver relatively unscathed. The Ring of Honor veteran and four-time tag team champion could have been forced to trade in his wrestling boots for a wheelchair. For now, all signs point to recovery.
As Arda Ocal of BaltimoreSun.com reported, "Whitmer was moving his arms and legs and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd as he was being taken away on a stretcher to a local hospital."
Kassius Ohno later provided an update via Twitter regarding his friend.
Whitmer later began to do his own updating.
He appears to have survived his scare on Saturday without suffering a major injury. The incident, though, rekindles a debate over the piledriver's place in wrestling.
It's a move that UGO.com listed as the most dangerous move in the industry. WWE took the move out of its roster’s repertoire for the most part. It was gone the way of blading and chair shots to the head, fading from the present and residing mostly in the past.
WWE's violence is as controlled as possible. Opponents attempt to protect each other and angle the way they fall to limit injury. Vince McMahon apparently believes that it's too difficult to accomplish in regards to the piledriver.
When CM Punk broke company policy by piledriving John Cena in a match earlier this year, per SEScoops.com, "Vince McMahon stormed out of the arena at the conclusion of RAW" clearly angry over the spot.
McMahon knows firsthand what a botched piledriver can do to his Superstars. At SummerSlam 1997, Owen Hart hit a reverse piledriver on Austin, a move that nearly took away the Rattlesnake's ability to walk.
Austin spent the rest of his career dealing with neck issues. He underwent surgeries and endured intense pain. Dr. Henry H. Bohlman of the University Hospital Spine Institute told USAToday.com that Austin "was a paraplegic for about a minute" and that "it's a wonder he wasn't quadriplegic or dead on the spot."
Stone Cold was no stranger to the danger and impact of the piledriver. Years earlier, Austin broke Chono's neck in 1992 with the same move.
An injury can occur at any point in a wrestling match.
A knee can give out or a wrestler can slip while atop the turnbuckle. The piledriver, though, is one of wrestling's most unforgiving moves. A mistake has head meet canvas in a violent collision.
In order to make the move look real, wrestlers have to flirt with danger. Performing the move too safely, with the victim's head and neck too protected by the attacker's thighs might turn the piledriver into something silly.
Instead, one athlete drives another athlete's head downward.
Done right, the one delivering the move uses his legs to prevent skull and canvas from meeting. Should something go slightly wrong, though, and you get what Whitmer experienced on Saturday.
Mike Killam of WrestleZone.com wondered if wrestlers performing a dangerous move like the piledriver is worth the risk at a small-scale show. Killam wrote, "My $15 bleacher ticket is not worth getting paralyzed, or contracting a blood disease."
Others may wonder if the move is worth the risk at all. Having banned the move from his company, McMahon appears to think it isn't.
On one hand it's a move that has been a part of wrestling for a long time. Terry Funk, Jerry Lawler and Paul Orndorff are among the many men who made the move an exciting part of their matches. WWE may have banned it, but the piledriver is still a part of the industry as seen by the Whitmer incident and when Bully Ray hit Sting with the move at this year’s TNA Slammiversary.
The piledriver is dramatic, powerful and a stunning visual.
Every wrestling promoter and every wrestler has to decide how much tradition and the thrill of the piledriver outweighs its risk. Sapping the violence from wrestling would leave it unwatchable, but a move capable of snapping vertebrae, of leaving a man paralyzed has to give everyone pause.
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