WWE Must Take More Care with Changes to In-Ring Style

David BixenspanFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2014

A scarred Cesaro with representative Paul Heyman.
A scarred Cesaro with representative Paul Heyman.Credit: WWE.com

There was an interesting note in the newest issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscription required; h/t WrestlingInc.com) about some recent adjustments that WWE wrestlers have been encouraged to make.  

Apparently, WWE has been encouraging a more aggressive style of working that has led to some wrestlers rushing, which in turn leads to sloppiness and thus to more injuries.

Working in a more aggressive style is in and of itself not necessarily a problem.  There are definitely wrestlers in WWE who would benefit from taking charge in the ring.  Jack Swagger sticks out as one of them, as he's a much more dynamic performer when he's more aggressive.  There are ways to be aggressive and safe.

There was another component to the change, though: some experimentation with the idea of throwing hard, fast strikes that "just miss" instead of traditional working punches.  When a strike that was supposed to "just miss" connects, it's bad news for the wrestler eating it.  

Due to the change in style, there has seemingly been a rise in the rate of injuries like concussions and eye pokes, with the Observer noting that the latter happened to Cesaro (this past Monday on Raw against Kofi Kingston) and John Cena (in a house-show match with Bray Wyatt) in recent weeks.

That is certainly a problem.  Eye pokes were, until recently, very rare in pro wrestling.  For two to happen so close together would be alarming under any circumstances.  That both happened as the company is experimenting with style changes is a big warning sign.

If the idea is to get the talent working stiffer or more snug so their strikes look better on TV, I'm all for it as long as it's done safely.  

At the last show I went to, the Raw in Brooklyn a few weeks before WrestleMania, I was sitting in the front row.  I've been ringside before at WWE shows, but I can't recall another time in recent memory where everyone's offense looked so terrible.  Even Sheamus's forearms to the chest looked bad, and that's a pretty safe spot to lay in heavier.

So I totally get where they're coming from.  I'm just not sure this is the way to do it.  

WWF/WWE-style wrestling has, going back decades, usually been more of a loose-looking style than in other promotions, leading to the nickname "The Whiff" among newsletter readers.  There are plenty of exceptions, especially in recent years, but if you watch older shows, wrestlers like Bret Hart with crisp, believable execution stick out more than they would in other companies.

Bret Hart prided himself on working a safe style.  It didn't consist of throwing home run punches that just missed.  He developed the skill of looking crisp while barely touching his opponents.  Same goes for someone like Dick Murdoch or Jerry Lawler, guys who threw punches that looked liked they connected but in reality barely touched anyone.

If there's any kind of edict about the style having less holes, then it should just be that the wrestlers should use the most realistic looking shots they've been trained to throw.  If their pre-WWE training didn't do the best job in that respect, there are a number of veterans both on the roster (Goldust comes to mind) and working as producers (like Finlay) who can teach them to be snug but precise.

After all, it's not like this was a huge problem until the modern era.


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