Almost everyone who watches professional wrestling can remember his favorite wrestler’s final match, or at least the match where his favorite wrestler got hurt so badly that it was foolhardy to come back from it. Bret Hart lovers, like my old friend Adam, remember the ill-fated mule kick from Bill Goldberg that nearly decapitated the Hitman. Edgeheads like my mom remember him landing funny, when Kurt Angle threw him, and Lita lovers remember how she bent almost double at the neck after a suicide dive gone wrong against Trish Stratus. We all remember, those of us old enough at least, the disastrous fall that could have killed Mick Mick Foley and the one that did kill Owen Hart. My twelve year old friends and I clustered around the TV watching a fuzzy, scrambled pay-per-view feed (we were too poor to buy it, too dumb to pirate) trying to figure out what happened: was it real, was it fake? Even through the distortion we could hear the gravity in JR’s usually boisterous twang. This was real, all too real.
My favorite wrestler took her career ending injury—even though she limped along another two years—on April 20th, 2010 during a TNA dark match tryout for Betsy Ruth, wrestling under the slightly cute, slightly horrendous name “Rosie Lottalove.” Daffney, oh Daffey. The Goth Goddess. The Scream Queen. I can’t say enough good things about her. I had loved her ever since she debuted during the declining years of World Championship Wrestling in 2000, as a crazy fan who became David Flair’s manager. I’m not sure I had ever seen a prettier girl. Other women, like the Nitro Girls and WWF’s Sunny, were beautiful, to be sure, but seemed unattainable. Daffney, my thirteen year old self imagined, was someone very much like what my first girlfriend could look like. I turned out to be right and, two years later, my first girlfriend was, indeed, a pale skinned, dark eyed girl with a thick, high pitched Southern accent, dark eyeliner and ferocity that could have matched Daffney’s. It was fifteen year old geek heaven, but I digress.
The match itself wasn’t anything special—dark matches with rookie “monster heels” usually aren’t—but I sat glued to the Youtube video anyway. Daffney’s charismatic ability to work a crowd as a face or lovable, harlequinesque heel is astounding and makes one boggle that she was never rewarded with gold beyond a joke run as WCW Cruiserweight Champion, ACW American Joshi Champion or NWA Wrestle Birmingham Junior Heavyweight Champion. She did well enough with a stiff, slower opponent for a while but then, oh then, the unthinkable happened. It can occur in an instant. One sloppy fall down power bomb, one senton splash, and it was all over.
I’m not knocking Betsy Ruth, here. I personally like Betsy Ruth, having talked to her once or twice over twitter, and think that she is personable, cool and had a bright future in wrestling. A bad move is a bad move, though, and this was bad. I have seen Daffney take some ugly shots, before: have seen her fly off of a turnbuckle, crash through a barbed wire wrapped table and lie there stunned. I have seen beads of blood where thumbtacks dug into her porcelain skin. She’s a tough chick (maybe not Lufisto tough but who else is?) and I could comfort myself, at least, by reminding myself that those movements were part of the act and, on some level, I was being worked. Although the blood was real she had gone through the acts in the course of a match to sell a story.
This, on the other hand, was bad. A fall, without control, and the sickening thud of a skull, neck and upper back against the hard canvas and wood of a wrestling ring. Rosie finished with a senton splash, equally sloppy, crashing against Daffney’s ribs and resulting in a deeply bruised sternum. Paramedics followed and I watched, on the edge of my seat, while they made sure she was not paralyzed. After five, maybe ten, agonizing minutes she could move her toes again. Rosie celebrated, her role demanded it, but was obviously uneasy.
Daffney wasn’t paralyzed but wasn’t ever quite the same in the ring, either. She wrestled, after this, and still looked great, but some of the snap and confidence was gone. We don’t think, sometimes, about the toll that their sports or arts take on our heroes. It is especially hard in the world of worked, professional wrestling, sometimes, where so much is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. When I watched Daffney in those last matches, though, I thought of my own injuries, the surgery scars on my knees and shoulders from football and wrestling in high school, how much I hurt on cold mornings or when I had to reach behind myself to get something. I wonder if she feels the same thing and, somehow, feel a little closer to the first girl on TV who was simultaneously a crush and a heroic figure for me, someone whose prettiness could be desired and whose pluck and courage could be emulated. The quality of empathy through a flickering screen.