WWE: Reassessing The Bump Card by Marc Madison

The bump card. It’s a term not many ever hear or say, but it is something that really should be addressed. For those unaware, the bump card is refers to the number of bumps a wrestler takes until they can no longer compete. For each wrestler, their card is specific to them. For some, it was one unfortunate move that spelled the end of their career, while for others it was the accumulation of bumps they took over and over again that eventually led to them deciding to end their careers. When we hear stories of guys that literally crippled themselves for the business like The Dynamite Kid, we marvel at what they did for as long as they did. Kid’s ongoing back injuries contributed to his career coming to an end. When reading his book ‘Pure Dynamite,’ it was clear that a consistently stiff fighting style was among the factors that wore him down. When I had the opportunity to speak to Del Wilkes, he spoke about the abuse his body would take competing in Japan, which wore his body down and ultimately ended his career. In wrestling injuries are inevitable.

Think about wrestlers from years ago; many of them had careers in North America that spanned a remarkable number of years. The reason was pretty simple: there was less risk taken with their body as it pertained to bumps, and most were well protected in the ring. Age often contributes to a wrestler’s time ending in the ring, but many actively competed til they reached a seemingly advanced age. That is one of the arguments out there today as we try to explain the proliferation of injuries in wrestling at the highest level.

The other argument that exists is that those learning their craft today have been competing already for about a decade or so, with them only now been seen on television. So in fact today’s talent has had to endure so much physical sacrifice that by the time there are in a position to be on television, like a Cesaro, Kevin Owens or Seth Rollins, they have already been worn down. For example, Kevin Owens has already suffered a couple of setbacks in his time with the WWE, only a few months into his time with the company. He has battled for a number of years in promotions such as PWG,ROH and in Japan. Owens’ body has faced a very stiff fighting style, and after 15 years he’s just now getting the chance to be seen on a greater stage in the WWE. Did those matches and that time in those promotions shave years off of his career? We won’t know for sure until Owens hangs up his boots.

The degree to which injuries are suffered is different entirely from person to person. For example, a suplex that is repeatedly applied to someone causing them to land on the back of their neck and head will unquestionably cause an incredible amount of pain, depending on who is delivering, the move. The question I ask is, can we prolong someone’s career and thus extend the life of their bump card? The answer is, probably not. It’s a shame really, but when you think of the commitment wrestlers have to their character, and how they are committed to using certain moves, then we can see that changing their style likely won’t translate well.

Early in his career, Randy Orton would attempt a number of leaps off the top rope. However, after suffering several shoulder and neck related injuries, he had to adjust his style in order to maintain a career. For Orton it was a smooth transition, as his moveset was adjusted with his change in character. It worked for him, but that isn’t to say it would work for everyone. A recent injury to Orton, however led to speculation as to what surgery he needs to have done to maintain his career. It was reported that he dislocated his shoulder throwing out the garbage; there have also been reports that he may need neck surgery which could keep him out of action until early 2017. Could injuries have caught up to Orton? The recovery process may be what determines whether or not he will or won’t want to return. He has earned millions, is recently married, and may be fine trying to come back at his own pace.

In comparison, Daniel Bryan was beloved for his straight ahead style of attack; fans loved watching him. It was great to see this style of performer until it eventually caught up with him. In the case of Bryan, his body has taken abuse for over a decade, having competed in Ring of Honor and Japan. When he returned to the ring after a neck injury he continued on with his style and method of attacking his opponents. The problem was when he returned, he didn’t make the adjustments to his style that would have prevented him from being injured once again. And, once again, the abuse his body has suffered has led to him once again being left to watch from the sidelines.

Some wrestlers don’t have the chance to even make it to a main roster because of injuries. In NXT, announcer Corey Graves had to end his career due to severe concussions. There wasn’t a set number that dictated when he would have to end his career, but nonetheless his promising career was ended early. There is no way to predict it or even prevent it because it’s personal to each wrestler. Another sad case is the Cal Bishop, recently released from NXT. As seen during WWE Network’s ‘Breaking Ground’ program, Bishop had great promise. His character was engaging , and he really appeared to be progressing well. The problem in Bishop’s case was that he had a shoulder that would consistently pop out of its socket. He had it operated on a few times, and rehabbed it as well. Does this mean that Bishop has reached a roadblock and won’t be able to compete anymore? Only Bishop knows that for sure. He hasn’t decided to retire or even end his career.

There are some wrestlers whose ability to overcome injuries has made them almost super human; one name that unquestionably comes to mind is John Cena.Cena has injured shoulders, his nose, his elbow, but has been able to come back time and time again. Could he simply be fortunate, to be able to recover the way he is? In all likelihood fortune has something to do with it. It could also be that his style lends itself to being able to have a long career because he doesn’t necessarily take the risks that some of the others may have to take.

The bump card seems like something fans have to feel torn about. We want athletes to give their all, and we’re bothered when we see the same old things happen in matches. If we think about it, the talent takes risks for our reward. The risk is something talent are fully aware of, but it just seems like an interesting conundrum that we are in as spectators.

The whole discussion of this bump card really stems from the number of injuries that have plagued the WWE recently. Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton,Cesaro, Nikki Bella and Tyson Kidd are among the prominent names within the company that is currently injured. In the case of Kidd and Bryan, their careers are even in question. Has the risk that each of these men and women has taken for the company put them in the position that they are? That’s the difficult part because each one of them isn’t doing more than what they are asked to do. They take risks, and sadly these are the consequences of those risks that, conversely, make their character what it is. Another factor that tends to come up is the schedule. The grueling schedule tends to be what plagues a number of the talent, as their body doesn’t have the opportunity to recover quickly enough.

One has to wonder about the recovery process as it applies to a number of the talent. This past year there was a court case initiated between former WWE champion CM Punk and WWE Physician Dr. Chris Amman, regarding alleged improper protocols in the handling of Punk and his situation. We won’t debate on the validity of this case, but do ask, are the talent trying to get back into a position to compete quicker than they should? Did Daniel Bryan come back sooner than he should? Are some contracts structured in a way where talent are paid to perform, rather than earn a salary over the term of the deal? If they are, then it’s unfortunate. In other sports, talent are paid regardless of their condition. There is no way to predict that this baseball player will tear his ACL weeks after signing a new contract. The same should apply to pro wrestling.

So where does that put us moving forward? As it stands with pro wrestlers, sacrifice comes with the job. That won’t change in the least. They want to perform, and know that unless they make those sacrifices they won’t get noticed. Think about those that have taken bump after bump in order to get called upon by the WWE. Is the suffering worth the reward? For a number of them it is. It’s hard to dispute what guys like Steve Austin or Bret Hart gave to this industry. But all it takes is one bump to sometimes set in motion the end of their career. For Bret Hart, the kick he received from Goldberg led to a concussion that led to the end of his career, while a piledriver gone wrong was what put the wheels in motion for Austin’s career to end. As a fan, I don’t want to see wrestler’s careers come to an end because of injury, and I don’t think they do either. The bump card may lead to the end of someone’s career, but it’s also a concern due to the number of significant wrestlers whose career has been put on hold because of injuries. As our society has changed, and given the expectation to be entertained is such a part of the sport, this may only get worse.

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