‘Sports do not build character. They reveal it.’ (John Wooden).
The sports injury is a game changer. It can destroy a legend, take down a champion, but it can also make them too. It is the determination of a sportsperson that makes them a champion and this isn’t just the hours they put in in the gym but also their mental state of mind. How many times do we see the champ return and they’ve lost their nerve, that edge that put them on top? What about when one who has underachieved returns and all of a sudden they are near-unstoppable due to the renewed motivation to be the best? Look at Tiger Woods, take away the self-induced turmoil of his private life, he’s never been the same golfer he was before the 2008 double knee operation. The crazy thing is that he is currently World Number One but, if anything, this shows us what a true master he was before the surgery that we can now consider him performing at a lower level.
Sometimes it’s not just the physical injury but the mental impact. Recently, cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins, the first ever UK Tour de France winner last year and 2012 Olympic Gold time trialist, withdrew from the Giro d’Italia due to a chest infection. He also fell on the seventh stage when going downhill and after that, for the next four stages his times were progressively worse. Now this would definitely be due to his illness but also, watching it live, it was almost as if he’d lost his nerve. He didn’t want to fall again. Be injured. Ruin his season. The same could be said of England striker Michael Owen who never recovered his pace again after a double hamstring in 1999-2000 and, after that, played like a man who didn’t want to be injured again (even though he regularly was until his retirement this week). Look at his amazing goal from World Cup ’98 against Argentina. Pace, guile and emotional strength. Take away that strength, put doubt in there, and everything changes.
Some return stronger. In 2010, Usain Bolt suffered an Achilles tendon injury, the same complaint John Cena currently has. For some, particularly a sprinter, the most psychological of the running events, the nagging doubt of this would plague the mind. Did this affect him? Did this destroy his career? No. He did the ‘double triple’ at London 2012 and, in his words, ‘re-defined everything’. Psychologically, he can’t be touched. With this in mind, one looks at Rafael Nadal’s recent winning return after a loing lay-off, Kobe Bryant’s Achilles injury and Messi’s troubled hamstring and thinks…if this the defining moment for them. Is this the moment that makes them a legend? How they overcome this personal, physical and mental, adversity. Is it this which will define them?
This all obviously got me thinking about Dolph Ziggler. His recent concussion at the ‘foot’ of Jack Swagger has meant the current World Heavyweight Champion has to sit out Extreme Rules. This is the man whom all the others want to work with because, like Shawn Michaels before him, he sells a hit like no other and works bloody hard in the ring. When he returns though which champ will he be? The one who performs with no fear or the one with the nagging doubt in his mind, the flinch when a finishing move is about to happen? Of course, I hope it’s the latter. I enjoy watching him and he’s worked hard to get his place near the top. It’s those other returns that got me thinking though, by a variety of wrestlers, that got me to this point. The impact an injury can have on a career.
‘If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.’ (Niccolo Machiavelli).
Triple H’s return was a big moment. He got a quad tear during a RAW in 2001 during a tag match. For some sports stars the injury is too much to come back from. Basically, the injury involves the quadriceps muscle which allows you to straighten you leg. A complete tear is a disabling injury which often involves the soft tissue to split. Basically, Triple H tore the muscle from the bone.
Now, we all have our opinions on Triple H. Even this week at Extreme Rules, after getting beaten, it was still his music playing out the PPV and not Brock’s. However, he is was a great champion and had some classic feuds and moments. We all know how he came back from the injury, returning in 2002 at Madison Square Garden to a huge standing ovation and went on to win the Royal Rumble before taking Jericho’s title at Wrestlemania X8. The injury pushed Hunter on further. He didn’t give up either physically or emotionally. For God’s sake, he didn’t even give up during the initial tag match and went on to take a Walls of Jericho after the tear. It doesn’t matter about your opinion of the man, his desire to compete and entertain is second to none. To be honest, he is as much a beast as any other wrestler.
Triple H used the injury to, ironically, create momentum. Any huge return is usually to a massive cheer. Look at Big Show at No Way out in 2008 and Jericho in 2012. Face ‘pops’ which rapidly became heel turns. Triple H used his ‘pop’ as a way straight back into the big leagues. How many wrestlers return from injury and find that they’ve dropped right back down the card? I love Wade Barrett but his momentum has stalled since injury. Yes, I know the usual arguments can be leveled at HHH (Stephanie, Vince, etc.) but he didn’t let up on his return and arguably became the pivot of Raw for many years through Evolution and the subsequent break-up. Essentially, the injury made Triple H the future Hall of Famer because, although before he was big, on his return, psychologically, he was ‘the man’.
‘The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.’ (Moliere)
This is one I won’t forget as no-one saw it coming. The return was great but the injury also tells us a lot about Cena the man. During the 2007 Summerslam match with Batista, Cena was injured. He had a herniated disc in his neck which caused him to lose the feeling in his right arm and pain in his shoulder. Let’s put it this way, a power wrestler with moves like the AA (FU?) physically can’t perform with this sort of injury. He took surgery and the diagnosis was that he could, potentially, be out for almost a year after rehabilitation.
For a wrestler such as Cena with his various lifts and holds being the crux of his repertoire, this injury reminds me of the Michael Owen injury. Would the fear be there when he returned? Would he wince and pull out of his first attempt back at an Attitude Adjustment? I think myself, indeed I think most of us, would be worried. We’d have that nagging doubt that the shoulder, the knee, the back would give out and we’d be back to square one but, this time, there’d be no coming back.
Cena was arguably bigger than Triple H when his injury occurred. Granted, the chances of either of them following down the card were slim but how many times can your top star keep getting injured before people stop caring. Unfortunately, one only needs to look at Rey Mysterio Jr. and his unfortunate stream of injuries and surgeries to see that.
Cena, however, can always be relied upon to be a strong bastard. Not only did he come back early, brilliantly, at the 2008 Royal Rumble, he won it. The return from injury is best summed up by the crowd response at, again, MSG. The shout of approval from the crowd when his music hits is brilliant before all those cynical blokes suddenly realise they’ve been caught off-guard screaming like little children and begin booing him again, pretending nothing happened. It’s hilarious but also sums up what these returns mean. My love for The Undertaker is well known now(!) and while his returns are great, by and large, it’s the return of a part-time wrestler and not an injured man coming back (granted, I’m aware of Taker’s injuries but he comes back now, specifically, for Wrestlemania season).
Cena came back stronger as a man and as a wrestler. He’s had five star matches aplenty and, although some would constantly shout you down, all you have to do it list Shawn Michaels, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar and maybe The Rock as men he’s had top matches with and they can’t all be down to the other guy! Again, it was his strength and mental determination in rehab that made him the better wrestler and performer. Indeed, in his own words, “In the last ten months, I've really focused on functional strength training and I'm stronger than I've ever been. My goal is to talk to the neurosurgeon about how quickly I can get back to full-throttle training and getting back into the ring. And that's the ultimate goal -- to be strong as I can and get back into the ring as soon as possible."
‘There is a time in life where you just have to be your own mentor, believe in your dreams, be courageous and let no obstacle take away your vision and that time is called Always.’ (Unknown).
I’ve probably done my articles the wrong way round. Last week, I talked about Edge’s retirement, now I’m talking about the injuries that took him there. In 2003 Edge suffered a neck injury that took him out for a year. It was a complex injury which required a difficult operation. In the video above he says, “they’re going to cut open my throat, move my voice-box, my throat, over. They’re going to take a bone out of my hip, drill out two discs, jam those bones in there and put a bracket on and put four screws in my throat.” I mean, really?! I would be terrified to do anything after that. However, Adam Copeland rehabilitated and came back stronger than ever. He won title after title, had great feud and great feud and entertained us all for another eight years. The way he moved on after the injury, both physically and psychologically, all came to a head during his retirement speech. He stood in that ring and ‘Thank you Edge’ resonated around the arena. The thank you was for all he had achieved and the way he had gone about it.
This injury story is as much about the injury, and the recurrence that caused his retirement, as it is about the psychological impulse. Some wrestlers can’t stop. They’d rather die in the ring because it’s all they know. Psychologically, emotionally, Edge stepped away. He’d come back once, and it took a hell of a person to do that, but it took a bigger person to admit that they have to stop. That they have to find a new direction in life and move on. Injury did that to Adam Copeland but he sure as hell hasn’t let it stop him moving forward. Emotionally, this is the biggest compliment of all, to be strong enough to turn around and say ‘enough’. Unfortunately, there might be a time when the big stars do it. We’ve seen Stone Cold turn away due to injuries, we might have just witnessed The Rock doing it. At some point in the future CM Punk and Daniel Bryan will be stood in the middle of the ring and say, ‘the injuries are too much’ but we can be sure of one thing, they will have tried their hardest to compete and fight to the very last bell for us before they put themselves in front.
Often it’s not the injury that makes the (wo)man but the reaction to it. It’s overcoming that adversity. It’s the desire to return to the top and fight all-comers. It’s the same when we confront illness in our own lives. Do you give up, or do you fight? The men and women in wrestling, in all sports, fight to return. Edge did it, but he also did the brave thing and took a detour in his life to save himself. That, in itself, shows real courage and deserves real respect.
“You can either do one or two things: You can be upset or pout or you can know what to do to get better. I'm already in the mode of getting the surgery as quick as I can." (John Cena).
Ta for reading. I’m off for a beer. As usual, all constructive criticism will be appreciated. Please follow me on twitter @HughFirth or email me on email@example.com.
Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.