Matt Riddle may be the “King of Bros” in a wrestling ring, but the indy sensation also has experience in some real fights — he has a 8-3-(2) record as a professional MMA fighter, mostly as a member of the UFC. His cross-over success in both sports makes him perfectly qualified to talk about the differences between the scripted nature of pro wrestling and the very real nature of MMA, especially when it comes to head injuries, which is a hotly debated topic in every sport that involves physical contact.
Head injuries in professional wrestling have always existed. As more information emerges about concussions and diseases like CTE, many wrestling promotions (especially the WWE) have changed their rules and banned certain moves and spots that could cause brain damage. Other promotions, however, are a little more relaxed. A heavyweight title match in New Japan last month resulted in Katsuyori Shibata being hospitalized for emergency brain surgery after delivering a hard hardbutt to his opponent (some are calling it a shoot headbutt).
In an interview with Ring Rust Radio, Riddle explained that the “old school” mentality of wrestlers having to take head shots to prove their toughness is stupid. For the sake of everyone’s long term health, wrestling needs to change.
“I will tell you this; you should never shoot headbutt somebody. I don’t like diving headbutts and don’t see the purpose. In real life, I would never jump off a building or porch and try to headbutt you, that’s guaranteed brain damage. It’s just not a realistic move. Even with Shibata, I told them we can do whatever, but no headbutts.
“I am really against brain damage. I know I fought in the UFC, but at the same time I had a good record standing at 10-3 in MMA and 9-3 in UFC regardless of no contest. Most of the times I left the fight with no scratches, but sometimes I would try to slug it out and get Fight of the Night. I only did that maybe two or three times out of my 12 fights. I know guys that every time they fight, they fight like that. Even when it comes to wrestling, I see my friends trying those reckless moves in the ring. I think to myself, ‘I know you’re 22 and 23, and you feel fine now, but shit adds up. … By the time you are 35 and 40, you are going to be over.’
“In my opinion, if you ask anyone I ever wrestled if I hit them hard in the face — wait, I take that back, cause I did hit Drew Galloway hard in the face, but I kicked him in the chest and my foot slipped and got him in the face — I never kick anyone hard in the head. I never knee anyone in the head, I forearm people hard, but I do it in the safe spots so you don’t get brain damage. You may get a bloody chest or bruised shoulder, but you will never be like, ‘Wow I saw a bright light when you hit me.’ I would never do that to someone. My job is to keep people safe and entertain.”
If you miss the crazy violence of ECW or the Attitude era, that’s fine. But you need to remember that wrestlers are still human beings, and there’s a reason that many of them end up dead way sooner than the average person. They make a lot of sacrifices to entertain us, but we shouldn’t expect permanent brain damage to be a part of those sacrifices.
You can listen to the rest of the interview right here: