How violent is too violent in professional wrestling?
Maybe it's a strange question, but the feud between Bully Ray and Ken Anderson has raised it for me a few times. As I've mentioned both here and on Twitter, I find Ray and Anderson threatening to set each other on fire awkward and uncomfortable.
Violence and professional wrestling are inseparable. After all, what are the aims of a wrestling match? Either wear your opponent's body down until you can pin their shoulders for three seconds, or apply a hold that causes enough pain for them to submit to you. And half the moves wrestlers inflict on each other could easily cause serious injury or death if performed incorrectly. So why do we accept this as normal?
Perhaps it's because the professional wrestler is still influenced by the larger-than-life characters of the 80s and 90s: they're super-human.
Think of a wrestler getting punched. They'll generally reel back and act pained and dazed, but most often, they will respond in kind. Now think of a referee getting punched. They generally go down like a sack of wet porridge and stay like it, don't they? Because referees are human; wrestlers, super-human.
This is why we'll accept wrestlers shrugging off the kind of assaults that real life would find unrealistic. But is there still a place to draw the line? And where?
Let's take blunt force trauma. While we know that head injuries can be deadly serious, we accept that the wrestler is super-human. James Storm hitting somebody with a beer bottle? Believable.
What about Madison Rayne and Tara running over Mickie James with a motorbike? Not so much.
Alternatively, sharp objects. While we know that being dropped on thumb tacks would be seriously harmful, we accept that the wrestler is super-human. Abyss hitting the tacks? Believable.
What about Abyss almost murdering Rob Van Damn with Janice the board of nails? No.
So what's the difference?
I think it's how explicit the chance of death is. Running somebody over with a motor vehicle could kill. Disemboweling somebody is life-threatening. Burns are some of the most dangerous injuries you can suffer.
For me, all of these elements skirt too close to or cross the line between standard wrestling violence and attempted murder.
The world of wrestling may be slightly different to our reality, but the police still exist and trying to kill somebody by setting them on fire is still a crime. Without ramifications for those actions, my suspension of disbelief can't be sustained.
So can it be done?
Yes. But only if consequences are addressed.
Have an authority figure announce that the assaulted was arrested and bailed. Have the assaulted refuse to press charges so they can fight again. Have the assaulter boast about their magnificent lawyer. Just have something before we start asking difficult questions.
But what about you? How violent do you think is too violent in professional wrestling? Let me know in the comments, and I'll see you on Monday.