Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Card Subject To Death

This post would have been a lot more relevant about three weeks ago, but I since I have some time now, why not knock out a backlogged post before the end of the month?

If there was anything more shocking than the end of the Undertaker’s undefeated Wrestlemania streak at Wrestlemania 30, it was the announcement of the sudden passing of the Ultimate Warrior only two days later. He had returned to the WWE after putting aside decades of bitter acrimony with the company to be inducted into WWE Hall of Fame that Saturday and appeared on Monday Night Raw the day after Mania; the following day he would be dead of a heart attack.

The Warrior’s sudden passing was reminiscent of the unexpected death of another wrestling icon of 80s and 90s, the Macho Man Randy Savage in 2011; also from a heart attack.

Thinking back I was filled with much sadness upon realizing that everyone involved in their famous match at Wrestlemania VII was now dead: Ultimate Warrior, Macho Man, Macho Man’s valet Sensational Sherri (drug overdose, 2007) and Macho Man’s former valet Miss Elizabeth (drug overdose, 2003) who would reunite with Macho Man in the ring after the match. Given the circumstances of their separation two years earlier and fact that Macho Man's loss meant he had to retire from wrestling (spoiler: he didn't), the reuniting at the end was pretty much the most dramatic moment in Pro Wrestling history (though I heard a lot of those shots of crying fans were planted).*

Even sadder than the grim legacy of this match is the downright ludicrous death toll of the rest of the card:
  • Both wrestlers from the second match of the night, the Texas Tornado and “Canada’s Strongest Man” Dino Bravo, would be dead by 1993. Tornado would take his own life (becoming one of the five Von Erich wrestling brothers out of six that would tragically die before their father) while Bravo would (as bizarre and as sordid as it sounds) be murdered by Canadian mobsters relating to his involvement an illegal cigarette smuggling scheme.
  • Both wrestlers from the Intercontinental Championship match, The Big Boss Man and Mr. Perfect would pass away within a year of each other; Mr. Perfect in 2003 from drugs and steroids and Boss Man from a heart attack in 2004. Mr. Perfect’s manager Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was diagnosed with throat cancer since 2007 but is fortunately still hanging in there.
  • The British Bulldog Davy Boy Smith, who defeated The Warlord, would die of a fatal heart attack in 2002, possibly related to past anabolic steroid use. Both wrestlers were absolutely roided up to the gills during this period, just massive.
  • Monster heel Earthquake (who broke into the WWE with Dino Bravo) who defeated the ever unimpressive Greg Valentine in a squash would pass away from bladder cancer in 2006.
  • As for tag teams, one half of the tag team Demolition, Crush, who lost to the team of Genichiro Tenryu and Kōji Kitao, died of possibly steroid related causes in 2007. 
  • The Legion of Doom demolished Power and Glory but both teams would later lose a member within a year of each other. Road Warrior Hawk of LOD would pass away from a heart attack in 2003 while Hercules would also die of a heart attack in the following year.
  • As for non-wrestlers: commentators Gorilla Monsoon would pass away in 1999 at age 62 and “Lord” Alfred Hayes passed away in 2005 at 76, both were due to generally declining health. Monsoon’s son, referee Joey Marella would sadly die in a car accident in 1994 at age 31. In contrast, of all of the celebrity guests only George Steinbrenner (2010) has passed away so far. Some are still going strong in their 70s (ring announcer Alex Trebek, Chuck Norris), and 80s (national anthem singer Willie Nelson, guest commentator Regis Philbin). Although I do always worry about Macaulay Culkin’s health these days.
  • The Undertaker, who made his Wrestlemania debut and started his famous streak with a squash win over Jimmy Snuka was technically already dead to begin with.
While some of the deaths are unforeseeable disease, other natural causes, or random accidents, this is way beyond the standards of any actuarial table. Unfortunately, Wrestlemania VII isn’t just a grim statistical anomaly, pretty much every Wrestlemania up to the death of Chris Benoit (which really become the ultimate example of the horrifying physical consequences of the profession) has had someone who died. I can’t imagine that sort of death toll when thinking back at all the Super Bowl teams or World Series participants. Things seem to have immensely improved in the modern WWE with wellness programs and awareness of medical issues like concussions (the 80s and early 90s was sort of a perfect storm of hard partying, institutionalized steroid use, and ignorance of long term health affects.) but wrestling still often extracts a brutal cost to those who choose to make their living in the squared circle.

*I also want to note that it was a complete and utter travesty that the Ultimate Warrior got up after Savage nailed him with FIVE CONSECUTIVE diving elbow drops. Imagine someone getting up after five Shawn Michaels Superkicks, five Stone Cold Stunners, five Attitude Adjustments. There was no need to make Macho's finisher look so weak or Warrior that outrageously strong.

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