Partying Hard vs. Hard in the Paint: Gauging the Damage to Wrestlers’ Bodies

“Gone too soon.”

It’s a phrase that is unfortunately uttered and read all too often when it comes to professional wrestlers, and while I know what that first sentence indicates, it’s not death that claims all these athletes. Above all else, they’re a victim to lifestyle. That’s a pretty broad scope, right? How they live could range from how they eat, to how they train, to how they wrestle, or how they spend their night lives.

I think we’ve all heard the distinction between how the stars of today spend their nights vs. how the stars of yesterday did. That difference ranges anywhere from guys currently playing video games and turning in early vs. guys who partied until the sun greeted them in the morning to something as simple as how both groups train and keep fit.

Regardless, I think the question I want to ask is: are they on different paths to same end?

To be clear, it’s no secret that we’ve lost a great deal of superstars and athletes to substance abuse or complications later in life due to substance abuse. What is probably even more upsetting is the amount of wrestlers that haven’t passed away, but have had their lives so wrecked by that path in life, that whatever potential they had left to either keep performing or lend their minds to business in some way, are just totally incapable, if not, untrustworthy.

For instance, people often mention Scott Hall and Jake Roberts as two men who have incomparable minds for the business. People also, until very recently, placed those two men at the very top of their “next to go” lists due to the gravity of their personal demons. Kurt Angle’s career arguably suffered due to his struggles with pain killers while he should have had a much more celebrated career. Tammy Sytch went from diva and sex symbol to a girl who will show you her tits on Skype for a few bucks and pawn off her Hall of Fame ring for a few more.

These are lives that could have contributed so much more and they’re not even the dead ones.

On the flip side, you have a guy like Ric Flair who would admittedly work out, wrestle (likely for 30 minutes to an hour mind you, party until dawn, sleep a couple of hours and repeat. The man was even in a plane crash that, in all fairness, should have ended his wrestling career, but nope. Natch’ lost his retirement match to Shawn Michaels when he was 59 years old and still wrestled a few more matched after that in TNA. Other guys like Michael Hayes (and really all the Freebirds), Shawn Michaels, and even Chris Jericho, have had a reputation for living up the night life during their wrestling careers and still being involved now in one way or another.

So what separates these men from the people not so lucky (living or dead)? How is there longevity in these careers that will rival the guys who currently “play it safe” and live a little more humbly? Actually, what if even if the constant partying and/or substance abuse isn’t the only reason these athletes get their career victimized? What if some of the fault lies in what happens in the ring? The opposite end of the spectrum has its issues too.

Daniel Bryan goes hard. In fact, if there is ever a time that Bryan is giving any less than 110% in that ring, it’s probably time for him to hang up the boots. I won’t pretend to confirm that his party habits are dull and controlled, but I can say that he is a man who certainly watches what goes into his body. Hell, the man embraced veganism for several years until he developed a soy allergy.

I’ll put it this way, following him on Instagram is like following a forty-something stay-at-home mom: she really likes to show you pictures of her garden and she seems really really nice. Unfortunately, D-Bry is also a guy who has several conflicts with concussions, an arm he almost lost complete use of, and neck injuries. And that’s just the WWE stuff. He, along with a lot of fresh talent hot off the indies and Japan, bring a very intense style and work rate. It’s exciting to watch, it’s athletic, and it could possibly lead you to a situation like Bryan’s.

The best example I can think of when I ponder where the road Bryan is taking could lead to is the Dynamite Kid. Much like Bryan, Kid possessed an innovative, exciting, and intense offense that not only wow’d, but inspired many future generations of pro wrestlers, most notably Chris Benoit and I don’t think we need to dive to deeply into how that turned out. Dynamite himself suffered many injuries due to his style, injuries that included concussions and losing the use of his left leg.

Oh, and if that weren’t enough, he’s really bitter.

For the sake of variety, and because I really, really enjoyed his work, I’m going to drop Mitsuharu Misawa into this list. Misawa was responsible for sparking my love for the puro style in Japan (coincidentally, a very strong style where someone can get very hurt very easily) and consequently introducing me to many of my favorite wrestlers. It’d be easy to say that he died doing what he loved, and I’m sure he did, but the fact is Misawa may have been another victim of a style of wrestling that really walks the edge.

Don’t get me wrong: I love head drops. I really do, but I’d be hard pressed not to admit the very real danger. Losing such an iconic figure was both devastating and a bit of a wake up call. If this could happen to him, it could happen to anyone who steps through the ropes. Especially guys employing much more cutting edge styles.

What is the answer then? Is it moderation? Are the old-timers right when they tell these guys that they don’t have to, and more importantly, CAN’T be performing some of these high impact moves on a regular basis? It’s an interesting topic to dwell on and one that has no easy answer. You could party too hard and be conservative in the ring, and either end up dead or close to it.

You could live a pretty healthy life, train hard, but go too hard in the ring and be riddled with injuries that could put a real damper on the rest of your life. There’s a balance to everything and I hope some of these fine athletes see it soon. I’ve spent decades growing up a wrestling fan, admiring these athletes/wrestlers/superstars for what they do and have spent far too many years getting bummed out by them leaving this world way too soon.

Let’s keep the Misawas and Perro Aguayo Jr.’s of this business. Here’s to a longer-lasting wrestling world.