Examining the Evolution of Concussion Awareness in WWE

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Examining the Evolution of Concussion Awareness in WWE
Paul A. Hebert/Associated Press

Curtis "Fandango" Hussey's issues with concussions last year kept him out of action for an extended period of time, and in a new interview with BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat, he discussed the brain injury.  In examining his own experiences, it serves as an interesting look at how the treatment of concussions has evolved over the years in both WWE and pro wrestling in general.

Last year, there were three wrestlers on the WWE roster who missed significant time due to concussions: Fandango, Christian and Dolph Ziggler (who suffered another concussion in January).  With the restrictions that concussions put on air travel, they couldn't even make non-wrestling appearances.  This affected Ziggler most of all, as he was in the middle of the hottest run of his career, having cashed in Money in the Bank to win the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio on Raw the night after WrestleMania.

The big takeaway from Fandango (who suffered his concussion in the above match with Zack Ryder) talking about his case in the BBC article is that more and more, it's becoming clear that WWE is not just relying on the "ImPACT Testing" protocol to clear wrestlers.  This was alluded to in the past when WWE.com provided updates on the injuries to Dolph Ziggler (was awaiting balance testing) in January and Christian (needed to pass an in-ring exertion test) in September.  They're not just going by a number, they're waiting until symptoms are long gone and checking for them every way they can think of.

Concussion prevention has also changed radically, starting with training in the developmental system.  The typical pro wrestling "flat back bump" is a whiplash motion where even the slightest error can very easily cause a concussion.  Taken to its logical conclusion, that means a beginning wrestling student, like the athletes and models WWE recruits from outside of the wrestling business, is most likely to suffer a concussion early in his or her training.

WWE is taking steps to combat this.  The first was that starting a few years ago, beginners were required to wear head gear while landing on heavily padded mats until they had gotten their technique to the point they could bump in a ring relatively safely.

The opening of the WWE Performance Center last year saw the introduction of another big change, a new special "high flying" or "highspot" or "crash pad" ring.  It looks like a regular ring from afar, but the surface is a giant crashpad and one of the corners has a platform for stability on top of the standard turnbuckle.  In this ring, both rookie and experienced wrestlers alike can get more acclimated to coming off the ropes or practice new moves, respectively, without any wear and tear on their bodies, whether musculoskeletal or neurological.  The lack of stability means that it's not replacing standard rings for performance or even much of the training anytime soon, but it's a giant leap forward.

There's probably more we don't even know about.  Throw in the most obvious changes like the end of chair shots to the head, which are long gone, and clearly they're on the right track.  Maybe it's a pipe dream, but I'm somewhat hopeful we'll eventually see a WWE where technology evolves to the point that something with the stability of a traditional ring can be built to be safer to bump in like the high flying training ring.

David Bixenspan is also lead writer of Figure Four Weekly. Some of his work can be seen in Fighting Spirit Magazine.

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