One of the biggest stories in professional wrestling this summer came out of last Saturday’s TripleMania event, the biggest show of the year for AAA, one of the top lucha libre promotions in Mexico. Going in, one would have expected the buzz to be the result of the main event, where, as expected, living legend Dr. Wagner Jr. lost his mask to Psycho Clown after a 32-year career. It was a celebration of one of the great wrestlers of his generation, who managed to live up to the legacy of his father, who was arguably an even bigger star in his day. Instead, all anyone could talk about was the women’s title match earlier in the card, where Sexy Star, the champion, clamped a legitimate armbar on Rosemary, one of her opponents, seemingly with the intent of injuring her.
For her part, the only comment from Sexy Star has been retweeting what her sister said about people believing Rosemary only because she’s the one who speaks English:
This type of thing doesn’t really happen anymore, at least not in major promotions. Wrestlers may still give each other “receipts” if someone tags them in a match repeatedly and doesn’t cut it out, but that’s a natural way of keeping each other in check. But when you really think about it, there might not be anything directly comparable to what happened to Rosemary on Saturday:
- Two wrestlers had no ill will that anyone knows of.
- The one about to lose put herself in position for the planned finish, a submission hold where there’s a wide gap between the legitimate and “working” versions.
- For no apparent reason, the wrestler going over applied the hold legitimately and wouldn’t let go, injuring her opponent.
- The wrestler who caused the injury has refused to take responsibility.
That’s not how this usually works.
“There really is no similar incident,” said top independent draw Cody Rhodes, who pledged to kick Sexy Star out of any locker room he sees her in when he tweeted about the topic on Sunday. “This wasn’t a case of a scramble...or some potatoes [hard shots]...or receipts exchanging. This was an individual prone and waiting for the pre-determined finish. Giving her body.”
That distinction is important: This is not a match that got out of control. It wasn’t even a cheap shot while Rosemary was occupied with one of the other wrestlers in the match, it was an an explicit violation of the trust that was put into Sexy Star’s hands at that very moment. “That’s not shooting or a receipt,” Rhose said. “That’s cowardice.”
Pro wrestling’s most famously violent doublecross came 30 years ago on a non-televised New Japan Pro Wrestling card, preserved only because a fan happened to bring a camcorder. For almost two years, the big marquee feud in NJPW saw the roster feuding with returning stars who had left in 1984 to join the UWF startup promotion. While the UWF began as, more or less, a group that did NJPW-style wrestling, it morphed into a nominally “more realistic” promotion that pushed itself as the real alternative to “fake” promotions like NJPW and its traditional rival, All Japan Pro Wrestling. While the UWF was successful in Tokyo, it had trouble getting a TV deal and folded before the end of ‘85, setting up a ready-made feud for NJPW that did great business (and drew surprisingly bad TV ratings).
On that fateful show in November 1987, the UWF team of Akira Maeda, Nobuhiko Takada, and Osamu Kido faced NJPW’s Riki Choshu, Masa Saito, and Hiro Saito (no relation). Maeda, the superstar of the UWF squad, was already considered something of a hothead: Two years earlier, a match with Satoru Sayama that may have already been getting out of hand ended when Maeda hauled off and kicked his opponent in the groin. Then in June of 1986, when wrestling an uncooperative Andre the Giant, the match devolved into a bizarre stalemate with Maeda chopping Andre down with low kicks and asking for permission to “finish him off.” In both of those incidents, though, there was some mutual weirdness going on. In the 1987 trios match, Maeda waited for Choshu to put Kido in his Scorpion Hold (Sharpshooter) finisher, walked into his blind spot, and kicked Choshu in the face while his hands were occupied. It was a blatant cheap shot that broke the orbital bone of a guy who, in all honesty, probably would have beaten Maeda in a real fight.
The kick comes at the 3:23 mark of the video:
The fans immediately realized what happened, chanting the equivalent of “SHOOT!” over and over. NJPW was in a bind because they had no good way of punishing Maeda publicly, since they couldn’t come out and say that Maeda was being disciplined for something that, relative to the “rules,” was not out of the ordinary. To the fans, he was already going to be the guy who got kicked out of fixed fighting for being too real, so they tried to send him to Mexico, as he hated lucha libre. Instead, he ended up out of the company altogether and started a second UWF.
If Maeda had somehow attempted to claim it was a miscommunication, even with his very obvious plan to kick Choshu while completely defenseless, he would have still had more plausible deniability than Sexy Star does in 2017.
“There is little doubt in my mind that she did this with malicious intent.” explained Dominic Garrini, a former top 10 ranked Brazilian Jiu Jitsu player at blue belt who’s now a rising independent wrestler. “Even in the heat of the moment, Rosemary taps out, but Sexy Star continues to crank on her arm.” Garrini added that there’s little danger to the arm if you keep your opponent’s thumb pointed down, but Sexy Star turned it upward.
To modern wrestling fans, matches that got out of control are mostly of historical significance. In an era where the genre is plainly accepted as a form of entertainment with far less stigma on that than in the past, the novelty of something “being real”—whether in the physical sense or just being something that was not planned—is largely gone. Sure, fans reacted strongly to the John Cena-Roman Reigns fourth-wall-tapping segment on last week’s edition of WWE Raw, but that’s not necessarily because it felt like it “wasn’t supposed to happen.” It clearly was supposed to happen. But the big lines, like Reigns being a bootleg version of Cena, resonated with the fans who really, really don’t like Reigns, and it was possible to suspend disbelief momentarily because it was pulled off so well. Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss clearly don’t like each other very much, but the fan interest comes from their matches against each other having more emotion behind them, not an obsession with those matches being “real.”
In 2017, when we’re all in on how the show works, it’s only natural that actual physical betrayals inspire more disgust than curiosity. Two and a half years ago, when, in Japan’s Stardom promotion, Yoshiko broke multiple bones in Act Yasukawa’s face, putting her on the road to retirement, the reaction was near-universal condemnation. Five years ago, when veteran indie wrestler Tony Kozina roughed up teenager Ryan Kidd and legitimately put him out with a triangle choke for “disrespecting” him, modern fans were aghast at how ridiculously stupid and wrong the whole thing was. Nobody was gleefully chanting “shoot”—the matches were treated as the breaches of trust that they were. In a business that’s way behind the times in a number of ways, that is absolutely one area where there has been positive change.
There are a lot of things in pro wrestling that fans miss that were, realistically, not the healthiest practices for the performers or the business. Self-mutilation to get blood into matches passed untold numbers of diseases from wrestler to wrestler...even though the general public thought they were using fake blood, anyway. And shooting incidents were and are dumb, even if they could be seen as novelties that occasionally made certain wrestlers feel more “real” and spontaneous and dangerous. But they never should have been an issue in a business that relies so much on trust in the first place.