If you journey back about six months, the WWE was still trying to pick up the scraps after several career-threatening injuries took the company by storm and forced it to change plans ahead of WrestleMania. John Cena, Seth Rollins, Cesaro and Nikki Bella were only a handful of names on the shelf, whom many believed would have had a big role to play in the event otherwise.
Even Sting’s status as an active performer was still in question following a nasty bump in his match at Night of Champions, which would end up being his final hoorah before announcing retirement.
Now that the WWE brand extension is well underway, the concept comes with a number of risks. Perhaps the biggest, however, is the fact that any more injuries sustained inside the ring are going to be a lot harder to cover for on the much more condensed Raw and SmackDown rosters.
As opposed to the previous era, where anyone who got hurt could be replaced regardless of their position on the card, each roster is now quite limited in terms of their respective divisions.
Only a handful of tag teams, female wrestlers and those in the mid-card and main event picture are available to each brand right now, and although this motion allows almost everyone to get their face on TV, the margin for improvisation will be a lot slimmer in the event that somebody gets hurt.
In just one month following the WWE draft, we’ve already seen a number of moments in which the wellbeing of a WWE Superstar was put in jeopardy – some that turned out not to be so serious and some that proved disastrous for the company’s plans going forward.
Starting with the not-so unfortunate; within two days of each other at the beginning of the brand split, Big E and Sasha Banks both had rough landings after performing suicide dives at WWE Battleground and Monday Night Raw respectively, which saw their bodies folded up like accordions.
Though the move may look harmless when performed by somebody like Daniel Bryan or Dean Ambrose, the chances of going wrong are extremely high when a foot gets caught on the rope or the wrestler rotates too much in the air. If Sasha and Big E had been unluckier, the WWE could have found itself down two very important stars, with very little wiggle room heading into SummerSlam.
Then, on the first two episodes of SmackDown Live under the brand extension thus far, we saw moments of uncertainty regarding the well-being of two top stars.
We’d spoken at length about Randy Orton’s scare during his first match back, and how if Orton was to re-injure himself it would have been detrimental to the main event at the second-biggest event on the WWE calendar: SummerSlam, between Orton and Brock Lesnar.
But the following week, a legitimate injury was suffered in the main event between Bray Wyatt and Dolph Ziggler, in which “The Eater of Worlds” sprained his ankle as his opponent went for a roll-up. Luckily, this injury didn’t take Wyatt out of action, but the line between a sprain and a fracture, or worse, is thin. WWE is lucky it didn’t lose one of the top heels on Tuesday nights.
But amongst all those scares and near-injuries, it was just a matter of time before something happened that would force WWE to drastically change the gameplan, and that’s exactly what happened at SummerSlam. Finn Bálor would wrestle the match of his life, but despite a winning effort, a torn labrum suffered during the match would be what forced him to relinquish the WWE Universal Championship just 24 hours after becoming the first to hold it.
It’s bad enough that the company had to forego any plans that they had for Shelton Benjamin’s return before he revealed his inability to come back due to a torn rotator cuff. But for a man guaranteed to take the company by storm and become the new “face of the WWE” like Finn Bálor to get injured is a huge blow to the company, and the product is inevitably going to feel the brunt of that.
Instead of seeing someone new step up and challenge Bálor, it’s likely that the WWE will now improvise in the only way it knows how, putting the title back in the midst of a Reigns-Rollins feud that nobody wants to see.
This isn’t to say that WWE should refrain from having its performers go the extra mile, but it is still eye-opening. Fans have been abuzz on social media this week, discussing The Miz’s promo on Talking Smack about how wrestling in a safe manner for 11 years has allowed him to have a consistent, injury-free career, as opposed to a wrestling machine like Daniel Bryan, who was forced to retire in February due to the reckless, daredevil style he’d competed in for 16 years.
But although Bryan’s ring style can be considered far more exhilarating to watch, The Miz isn’t wrong. Longevity is the key to success in WWE, and it’s proven true that the less you get hurt, the more reliable you are. Just look at Dolph Ziggler: Where would he be if he never got concussed in 2013, forcing him to lose the World Heavyweight Championship in his next defense?
Again, the WWE can’t book its show based on the presumption that somebody’s going to get hurt. Injury in professional wrestling may be inevitable, but it’s in no way predictable. But the fans will need to cut the company some slack if they streamline the use of big moves like the suicide dive and Rollins’ buckle bomb, because all they’d be doing is preserving the health of the roster.
Another thing that WWE would want to consider is just how it would expect to rectify the situation should one of its prime athletes get hurt again. The show must go on, and it would be just plain careless of the WWE not to have a Plan B, C, D and all the way to Z just in case it needs it.
You’re never going to predict an injury in an industry like pro wrestling, and you’re not going to do yourself a favor by playing it 100 percent safe just to prevent them, but what you can do is plan ahead.
Proper planning would allow the WWE to turn Finn Bálor’s devastating injury into a blessing in disguise for somebody else on the roster like Cesaro or Sami Zayn. Don’t revert back to old habits, because who would rather settle for a rehash of an old feud when you could see something new?
If these things aren’t taken into account, the chances of yet another injury taking place could be a whole lot more frightening than they already are. The company handled itself just fine at WrestleMania, but having two separate rosters is a whole different ball game, and it will have no choice but to cover all the bases and be prepared for the worst from this point forward.