In 2012, I saw Matt Hardy almost die. Lying on the concrete floor in front of my feet, he convulsed and slipped in and out of consciousness. He was either in grave medical danger or selling better than anyone ever had before.
Ten minutes passed, and Hardy’s condition worsened. He vomited three times on his then-fiancee Reby Sky. He did become verbal but could do nothing more than lay on the ground.
Head First to the Concrete – The Spine-Chilling Head Injury Matt Hardy Sustained at Extreme Rising: Remember November in 2012
News traveled slowly in the chaos. The other wrestlers busied themselves buying time in a schmoz ending, waiting for Hardy to recover and hit a spot. After enough corner-of-the-eye glances and ticks of the clock, they all sensed the spot would never come. Either from their flock-of-bird-like natural telepathy or the screams of Reby Sky, the wrestlers simultaneously disengaged from the act of wrestling and instead began to pack up and dismantle the ring. Clearly, the main event–Shane Douglas versus Matt Hardy–wouldn’t have a resolution.
The form of Perry Saturn materialized directly in front of me. Pausing after unhooking the ring barrier, Saturn huskily grunted: “show’s over, go home,” the sentence congealing into one word. The audience members around me shrugged along with me and complied. There was no announcement from the ring; this was as official as it got.
Turning out of the parking lot, I steered my car into the ditch to make room for an approaching ambulance. Conducting its own official run-in, it drove on, fighting its way through the horde of disembarking attendees.
Prior to the injury — and like hundreds of times before — Hardy had climbed the ropes. Hardy was facing the crowd; his back was to the ring in order to set up a run-in by Luke Hawx. Hawx snuck into the ring and shoved Hardy right when Hardy had stepped up to the top turnbuckle. Hardy torpedoed down, his head notably lower to the ground than the rest of his body. From the way he was launched, it was clear his head would hit the unforgiving concrete first.
I heard, rather than saw, the impact; it produced a loud, high-pitched slap. The sound pierced the collective unconscious: I, and everyone around me, had a biological, fight-or-flight response to that grisly thwack. Horror, followed by excitement, followed by cursing or Joey Styles impressions:
At a wrestling show, observing the occurrence of something real and bad creates an unanticipated psychological hurdle. Conditioned not to believe anything is real, you go through a litany of doubt, a waffling between believing you are a mark, have always been a mark, and that the carnies got you one more time and the grim knowledge you just witnessed someone severely hurt themselves. Should you out your ignorance and take action?
Speaking of, trying to discover the reason why no one among 38 bystanders intervened during the brutal murder of an innocent woman in broad daylight, Social Psychologists John M. Darley and Bibb Latané famously posited and defined the Bystander Effect theory. The theory posits your likelihood of offering help to an individual decreases in relation to how many other people are present; the more bystanders there are, the less likely you, as an individual, will intervene. The proposed reasons for this are numerous, but one among them is we share an underlying assumption that someone else–an expert–would be more competent than us and better able to assess if taking charge and control is necessary.
The talent did not initially react to Matt Hardy like he was in the midst of a medical emergency. At the time, I supposed the other wrestlers were the experts. Clearly, they were buying time, waiting for Hardy to recover and hit a spot. I assumed they were more able to tell when a performer was actually hurt, but that was false. They were as much in the dark as me.
Remember November was a card run by the promotion Extreme Rising. This show took place on Saturday, November 17th, 2012, at the CCBC Golden Dome in Monaca, Pennsylvania, and was centered around nostalgia for Extreme Championship Wrestling and its wrestlers. ECW held many cards at the CCBC Golden Dome, including November to Remember, back in 1997; a return was logical, a presumed moneymaker.
The Golden Dome is a futuristic-in-a-sci-fi-noir-way geodesic dome randomly dropped into a mostly residential neighborhood. After a good forty-minute drive from Pittsburgh, you meander around forested streets, turn a couple of corners, question your GPS, until, all-at-once, the dome materializes, surreally hovering above the treeline like a landing spaceship.
Lacking signage to indicate the location of the main entrance nor a single poster referencing the professional wrestling matches occurring inside, I remember standing outside the Golden Dome bemused. Welcome to the indies. As I was preparing to scout the dome’s perimeter for a promising place to rappel in, a side door randomly swung open. Out strode Sabu and two enhancement talent I’d see later on in the show. They deftly propped open the door with a garbage can; the garbage can was overflowing with weapons. Sabu bummed a cigarette from the other two, and they huddled in the doorway, wearing their full ring apparel, smoking, and chatting. When I asked, they amiably directed me to the main entrance and told me to enjoy the show.
The full parking lot corroborated the November 26th, 2012 Wrestling Observer Newsletter reporting of there being just under 1,200 paid fans in attendance. Also, according to that same Wrestling Observer Newsletter issue, this is a good number for an indie trying to capitalize on the pop of late 1990s wrestling stardom. Pro wrestling is uniquely hardwired to nostalgia; the two are fundamentally intertwined. I think there are reasons unique to pro wrestling for why this is so: pro wrestling’s legions of carny barkers are so adept at trumpeting the greatness of the past, and legendary wrestlers can never stay retired. Pro wrestling makes it easy to journey back into the past, and we all share a congenital yearning to be transported to safer times.
Inside, the 1,200 paid attendees popped for all the familiar faces and their familiar keloid scars, but the accumulations of age, hard-living, and old injuries made it clear father time always books himself to win. New Jack catapulted himself off a 20-foot high balcony, and, disappointed for reasons unknown to all, but the voices in his head decided to scale the balcony and launch himself off a second time before delivering an impassioned but disjointed promo about turning 50. Raven, a man, stimulated by contrariety, drew nuclear heat by proudly declaring ECW better off dead, but, during his pacing-filled exhortations, one of his knees clearly would bend the wrong way with every step he took. Rhino, Stevie Richards, and Sabu were to an extent still good hands, but the majority of the old ECW wrestlers — Balls Mahoney and Blue Meanie among them — were sadly teetering on grotesqueries, malformed totems to the past. Nostalgia shows always teeter on grim affairs unless the legends can deliver at least a facsimile of themselves in the ring; this night, they were batting about .500 — for every pop, there was a broken body or botched spot that reminded you that ECW was of a distant time and place and that we couldn’t really go back.
The business plan for Extreme Rising was logical: use the legends at the top of the card while developing the new talent on the bottom. The initial investment would be heavy; the first shows would require booking a collection of pricier nostalgia acts to get fans in the door. But, as familiarity for the undercard developed, the November 26th, 2012 Wrestling Observer Newsletter asserted you could eventually harvest good money using the better, younger, less expensive talent more while tapering off the use of the pricey veterans.
Indie promoters are hoodwinking carnie clowns, however, and the whole promotion would be gone within about a year and a half. To publically and fully disclose my ax to grind, I would be out $175 personally when Extreme Rising’s promoter, “Mr. Miami” Steve O’Neill, abruptly canceled all its events including the one I had purchased advance tickets to. Rather than provide refunds, the promotion’s advice was to seek to reverse credit card charges with your credit card company.
Beyond being potentially fraudulent, this advice fell a little flat for those outside the 60-day window to dispute charges, like I was (the show I had tickets for was a reschedule; my actual purchase was for a show that was to take place 90 days previously). C’est la vie. The talent all got screwed too; the April 28th, 2014 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter stated all talent that hadn’t secured a 50% deposit for the bookings from Steve O’Neill was out all of their promised paychecks, and, of course, the dates. It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n roll.
But before all that happened, we had Matt Hardy lying on the concrete. And inside the ring was that earlier reported chaotic schmoz. Staggered in between every local mid-card wrestler running in ready to job was a former ECW star meant to pop the crowd: Perry Saturn, Balls Mahoney, etc. The run-ins built for the ultimate pop: cue Enter Sandman and watch that enraged drunkard The Sandman lumber to the ring, ready to swing his trademark kendo stick.
You could see where the match was booked to go, and you could feel the amassing confusion. The Sandman, sporting an ample beer gut, moseyed around the ring and espied Matt Hardy’s prone body. It threw him off. His run-in was delayed and then truncated and then over until the house system started to play Enter Sandman a second time. I remember chuckling when the Sandman slowly lumbered to the ring again, and, breaking any suspension of disbelief, conducted mostly the same spots. But, it was gallows humor; the second Enter Sandman spot was doomed, a feeble improvisation to buy time during what would later be determined to be a medical emergency.
The ambulance that passed me arrived at the Golden Dome; Matt Hardy was attended to by its EMTs, according to the November 26th, 2012 Wrestling Observer Newsletter. But, working as an independent contractor wrestling on an indy, Hardy would’ve most certainly been out-of-pocket for any incurred medical bills. He refused a trip to the hospital.
The Aftermath of the Matt Hardy Head Injury Sustained at 2012’s Remember November
The Mayo Health Clinic states seizures and repeated vomiting are indicators of a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury.
Traumatic brain injuries cause neurons to die, meaning the circuitry of the brain becomes damaged. Brain tissue cannot really be regenerated, meaning, rather than create new tissue, your brain essentially rewires itself around the damaged tissue (source). In professional wrestling, the last 20 years have been a morbid march toward discovering the full consequences of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the condition caused by too much brain tissue damage for rewiring to work anymore. CTE is the ghost in every chairshot or highspot, wrestlers truly exiting the ring different than how they entered it. Those who suffer from it literally lose their minds: loss of impulse control, loss of memory, unrelenting depression, confusion, movement abnormalities, and dementia; what once was, is no more.
Two days later, Matt Hardy, sporting a large bruise on his forehead, would upload a video to YouTube. After profusely thanking everyone for reaching out to him and apologizing for not finishing his match, he would allege the EMTs and medics told him he had “no long term concussion effects.” Given the vomiting, seizures, ten minutes of being non-verbal, and unconsciousness, this is hard to believe. Hardy would wrestle only eight days later, on November 25th at Wrestlecade 2012.
It’s odd to think about how much this particular show mirrored the current state of Matt Hardy’s career. He was taking bumps back in the indies, bouncing his head off the concrete in some obscure community college’s arena, only a couple years removed from a great run in the WWE. He would rejuvenate his career in the following five years, rising up through the major promotions once again: Ring of Honor, TNA, WWE, and AEW. The irony is he resuscitated his career by repackaging himself as Broken Matt Hardy, a demented, possibly brain-damaged man with a loose grip on reality. Thank God it’s an act.
Wrestling is an odd sport, designed to sell untruths and ruses. Suspension of disbelief is the old phrase and the ultimate goal: the wrestlers and the audience want to believe in something they both know is a lie. But, the most memorable moments are when reality refuses to hide behind the veneer of kayfabe. Sometimes it’s palace intrigue, like the Montreal Screwjob; sometimes it’s a shoot promo or match, like Brain Pillman’s “I respect you, booker man”; and sometimes it’s tragedy, a Bruiser Brody, an Owen Hart. We do not have agency over this. The decision isn’t ours. These are the moments we collectively remember. And though it perilously came close to being entered into the great pro wrestling book of misfortune, this show will largely remain unknown.
Personally, I won’t forget Remember November. Thankfully I am one of the few.
Watch: The moments leading up to and after Matt Hardy’s head injury at Extreme Rising: Remember November in 2012
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