Friday, June 14, 2024
EditorialCody Rhodes, Lio Rush & Pro Wrestling Retirement: The Boy Who Cried...

Cody Rhodes, Lio Rush & Pro Wrestling Retirement: The Boy Who Cried Wolf

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It’s a long running joke that Terry Funk has retired more times from professional wrestling than anyone can count. This was a gag back in the 1990s and he even wrestled in 2017.

Retirement in professional wrestling is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes, people don’t even get into wrestling until after being forced to retire from their other athletic career, such as suffering a football injury. Then, when they step into the ring, they start “punching holes in their bump card”, as one phrase goes.

If they’re lucky, a wrestler is able to retire because they’ve made enough money, no longer wish to go through the pain and frustration of annoying traveling and taking bumps, and can simply do something else to fulfill themselves while partaking in the business in other ways. Some leave altogether and take on other jobs in real estate, education and other practices, moving on and finding new passions.

Others aren’t as lucky and continue to wrestle for smaller promotions for cheap pay, travel the convention circuit or simply suffer from not being in the business like they once were. Some suffer such debilitating injuries and are forced to retire, dealing with the consequences for the rest of their lives and feeling as though their dream was ripped away from them too soon.

As fans, we’ve seen glorious retirement ceremonies and dismal heartbreak. For every Shawn Michaels who gets to go out the way he wants, there’s a Corey Graves who was just getting started and had to stop.

Retirement can be a celebration of someone’s career when they’ve decided to hang up their boots and are willing to sit back and accept the adulation, or it can be the most awful set of circumstances where someone’s soul is ripped out of their bodies on live television, like when Edge had to relinquish the World Heavyweight Championship and call it quits.

This is all to say that this is a complicated issue that can sometimes be all smiles and other times, tears of sadness.

Frankly, it’s a long-winded way to set up the premise of this post: that I’m probably not alone in thinking there needs to be more care given to playing around with this concept of retirement.

The Cody Rhodes Situation

Last night’s episode of AEW Dynamite ended with Cody Rhodes giving yet another speech about how AEW disrupted the system and provided an alternative to WWE. We’ve heard it a million times and despite how it’s 100% true and how All Elite Wrestling has proven itself an infinitely more viable product than some of us had even thought possible, and how it’s far better than WWE in some aspects, this speech is old hat and it’s grown tiresome.

But then, the shift focused to something else Cody’s done in the past as he teased that he would be stepping away, possibly retiring for good. After a random match with Malakai Black. Prior to the biggest show of the year.

Of course, Black attacked him afterward, signaling this feud is going to continue, so it was all just an attempt to add more fuel to the fire. A misguided attempt, in my mind, and an unnecessary one at that.

Let’s assume Black vs. Rhodes II happens at All Out, unless he skips out on the event like he did last year. Couldn’t that have just been the match to go with, rather than doing it a month ahead of time and trying to find a way to reheat it like leftovers in the microwave?

Even still, why did it have to be a tease of a retirement and not just a regular attack? Does it really make you want to see the rematch all that much more to have that be worth it, or are you in the camp that I am, wherein I just wanted to see a good match between two extremely talented wrestlers and I didn’t need this?

Lio Rush

Then, you get someone like Lio Rush. In the span of the past year, he’s formally retired something like three times on social media, just to recently come out again saying that he’s getting cleared to step back in the ring.

Leaving the business because you’re bitter is perfectly fine. Nobody should stay in a toxic environment or relationship and I commend anyone who is willing to put themselves out there and take the risk of leaving that without any safety net. I have no problem with a retirement that is backed out on because someone found their passion again by joining another company or taking a different approach to the same job.

Suffering an injury you think might be career-ending is terrible. When that happened, I was sympathetic, too, as we all should be. I was disappointed we wouldn’t see more of Rush in AEW, as I thought he could have some great matches there and I wanted to see him in the ring against a lot of the talent.

By this point, though, I’m not going to be giving any more attention to this situation regarding Rush. If he retires or comes back, it’s not going to be a featured part of any article or podcast. It’s just another story among “Mace and T-Bar defeated Mansoor and Mustafa Ali” as far as I’m concerned.

That is for one specific reason…

Weakening Manipulation & The Boy Who Cried Wolf

The Boy Who Cried Wolf is as classic of a tale as you can get. Over time, it’s become even more important to think back on, yet people seem to forget the lessons it teaches. The way the world is these days, I’m not surprised, as it paints the picture that you should be held accountable for your complaints and not catered to with a sympathetic hand in perpetuity.

For those who need a refresher or haven’t ever heard the story, here’s the short of it: a boy keeps alerting the townspeople that there is a wolf attacking his sheep. Continually, when they try to help, it turns out to be a ruse and he’s been lying. Eventually, a wolf does show up and by then, nobody believes him, so the sheep get eaten (and sometimes, even the boy, in some variations of the story). The point of it is a simple message that the more you lie about something, the less anyone will buy into what you say in the future, even if it happens to be true.

The more of anything that we witness, we either are so traumatized that it becomes instantly triggering and not something we can handle, or we get desensitized to it. Retirements in professional wrestling are dipping into that latter territory for me because of situations like this.

Invoking a fake retirement reeks of the type of manipulation and gaslighting people resort to when they have no other ground to stand on. We’ve all been there, seeing someone continually threaten to quit their job so that management placates their ego and gives them what they want, or you’ve seen a relationship where someone pulls the “We should just break up” card so their significant other becomes apologetic and the power shifts.

Did Rhodes need to do that angle to get heat? No. Does it work? A little, but not worth it compared to the negative that it brings with it, in my opinion. That’s because the next time it happens, it won’t mean as much.

This is similar to how “The Owen Hart Voice” has been used. Once upon a time, commentators told stories in a way where you still played along when someone was “injured” for a storyline. Then, after enough instances where kayfabe was broken and a more serious “This is real, viewers. We’re dropping the act for a moment.” tone was used, people started to play around with doing that on a more regular basis.

Now, Seth Rollins attacks Edge in a routine fashion to set up an obvious match at SummerSlam and suddenly, it’s time to act as though The Rated-R Superstar has to retire again. Gotcha!!! He’s back next week, fired up and ready to go! But oh no, Sasha Banks turned on Bianca Belair! Time to break out the somber “We’ve never witnessed such a tragedy” acting again.

When is it Okay?

Pro wrestling is scripted. We know this and we’re willing to suspend our disbelief, or we just end up cynical and hating everything. I’m fine with pretending as though Undertaker and Kane are brothers with mystical powers and that Brian Cage and Taz no longer get along—so on and so forth.

Everything is about levels. This is something that has gotten lost in the public consciousness as of late, where everyone processes things as a 0 or a 100. If you dislike something, you clearly hate it with the passion of a million exploding suns. Mildly support something and you’re defending everything associated with it until the end of time and willing to put your life on the line, right?

Retirement is one step away from death in professional wrestling. It’s as close to the very edge of the line as you can get before people call you blatantly callous and turn their opinion on you.

It’s important to note that I’m far from the type of person who thinks nothing can be joked about or manipulated. I’m very much of the opinion that some topics don’t lend themselves to jokes, but there are situations where almost anything can be laughed about. Just the same, there are tame jokes that aren’t appropriate in other situations. Writers should manipulate the audience into caring about the storylines, but it has to be done within the bounds of creativity and with an awareness of what is going on outside of the bubble.

Mark Henry’s fake retirement was brilliant. He teased that he was hanging up his boots to sucker in John Cena and get another main event push. I absolutely loved it and it’s one of my favorite moments of his entire career, as well as one of my top moments from Raw in the past decade.

Sparingly, it can be done and it can serve a great purpose for a worthwhile story. But when you’re in a landscape when people like Edge and Christian, Samoa Joe, Sting, Daniel Bryan and others have returned after career-ending injuries, I don’t think it’s something that should be taken lightly.

I have sympathy for someone like Ric Flair having his grand send-off, just to wrestle again for TNA, because I assume he’s so entrenched in the culture that he couldn’t emotionally handle not wrestling and didn’t come to terms with it by that point. That doesn’t mean I liked it. I wish he hadn’t done it. But I’m not his licensed therapist telling him to seek other means to fill that void, am I?

Indecisiveness like what Lio Rush seems to be doing dwindles my sympathetic ear. I get the feeling it’s more about the attention it will receive rather than anything else. Look at how Ryback’s been acting since leaving WWE and how often he’s teased getting back in the ring, just to fizzle out and stay rambling on Twitter.

I absolutely love a comeback story. Christian, Joe, Edge and Bryan coming back to wrestling have been four of the most positive stories to come out of this business in the past few years. When Roman Reigns returned after leaving for leukemia treatment, that was phenomenal.

What I don’t love is a manufactured halfhearted attempt at faking a comeback story when there are plenty of other ways to get around it that would be arguably more effective in the first place.

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