Tort(from Latin torquere, to twist, tortus, twisted, wrestled aside)- A private or Civil wrong or injury.- Black’s Law Dictionary
As you can tell from the definition above, pro wrestling is full of torts. From the almost constant presence of battery (an offensive touching) to assault (an incomplete battery) to tortious interference with contract (run-ins in title matches and evil managers) to hostile work environment (evil General Managers or Mr. McMahon’s ‘Kiss my Ass’ club). Of course, you very rarely see any kind of legal recourse for these offenses. That is probably because legal recourse does not sell nearly enough tickets. What we get instead is a throwback to older times and a complete disregard for law and order.
For example, let us go back to the fateful day when Ted Dibiase became a hero, Ric Flair remained Ric Flair, and Dick Murdock committed a series of torts that should have cost him a chunk of change and some jail time.
We take you back to one of the greatest promotions ever seen. Bill Watts’ Mid-South promotion. In 1985 no promotion produced better television and their angles provide a cornucopia of material we can use to examine the law.
In an effort to battle the rise of the WWF, Watts started bringing in the NWA World Champion, Ric Flair to defend the NWA World Title in the Mid-South territory. This was the first time the NWA champion was in the territory since 1979. Flair became engaged in battles with Terry Taylor and Butch Reed. During these battles, various storylines were executed to perfection in the area. But the best was yet to come.
Flair was scheduled to defend the NWA title on Mid-South TV. The scheduled challenger, Butch Redd, wouldn’t be able to compete because of a neck injury, caused by Dick Slater at the behest of Ric Flair (Note: We will deal with bounties on another day). Bill Watts announced that NWA president Bob Geigel, approved a new challenger for Flair, the hated Ted DiBiase. Watts pointed out that while some men never receive a World’s Title shot, some men seem to wait forever to get theirs. Pointing out that Dibiase had waited a year, he was ready to go.
The ring announcer introduced the World’s Heavyweight Champion and then, as he introduced Dibiase, Dick Murdoch made his way down to the ring. Murdoch climbed in the ring and DiBiase to step aside. Murdock pointed out that he had gotten Dibiase his start in the business and that Dibiase knew Murdock deserved the title shot. DiBiase responded that he had waited a long time for that shot. Murdoch suddenly punched DiBiase and knocked him out of the ring. Murdoch then slammed DiBiase’s head into the steel ringpost, busting Dibiase’s head open. As others helped Dibiase to the back, Flair announced that it looked like he was going home without breaking a sweat.
Throughout the rest of the hour, announcers Jim Ross and Joel Watts continued to give updates on DiBiase’s condition. It appeared DiBiase had suffered “arterial damage” and it looked like he was done for the evening. Watts told the TV audience that DiBiase was in fact seriously injured and that the doctors had applied a pressure bandage to his laceration, but that despite this, DiBiase was still determined to wrestle. DiBiase said he had waited a year for his shot and didn’t want to wait another year for his shot. In a brilliant moment, Bill Watts warned the audience that even though DiBiase had been bandaged, his cut was so severe that parents may not want their children to watch the match. This of course, guaranteed that parents would have to watch the show.
When the show resumed, after the introduction of Ric Flair, the crowd erupted as a visibly bandaged Ted DiBiase made his way to the ring. Seeing Dibiase coming to the ring like the fife player in “The Spirit of ’76” Flair went on the offensive as Dibiase entered the ring and the match was on. Soon, a Dibiase’s cut opened up and he bled like the proverbial stuck pig. Blood on the mat, blood on Dibiase, blood on Flair. The two battled back and forth, with Dibiase faltering due to the blood loss. But, when all seemed lost he was able to mount a comeback and taking advantage of a Flair mistake and he went for the Figure-Four Leg Lock. But, before Dibiase could apply the hold, Flair kicked him off and he fell over the top rope to the concrete floor. The referee counted ten, giving the victory to Flair by count out.
For a fan, this alone would be Dayenu. But, as Dibiase lay bloody and beaten on the concrete floor, Dick Murdoch showed up at ringside again. He proceeded to beat on Dibiase, then led him around the ring ( to the hot cam of course), and placed Dibiase in a maneuver called ‘The Brainbuster” which is essentially picking a man straight up and dropping him on his head. Jim Ross sold it like Dibiase was Sonny at the tollbooth and Dibiase was not moving at all, was stretchered out and even went to the hospital.
THE TORTS So what did Murdock do wrong? Plenty. Dick Murdock committed several batteries against Ted Dibiase. A civil battery is essentially trespassing on a person. It is an unwanted touching without a proper defense. Here, Dibiase gave no permission for Murdock to clock the delays out of him and he certainly gave no permission to get the brainbuster on a concrete floor. It is important to note that had Murdock does this DURING a match at that time, there would have been no problem. The two defenses most likely to work would be 1) consent and 2) Assumption of the risk. As to the first, because wrestling is a contact sport it could be argued that Dibiase gave consent to all kinds of physical punishment or at least the possibility of it, which covers the second defense. With the brainbuster being a legal move, and known as Murdock’s signature maneuver, Dibiase was taking the risk that he could very well be positioned to receive that dangerous move. But, Dibiase can argue that while wrestling a contact sport with high risks, being intentionally dropped on one’s head on the concrete floor exceeded the known or foreseeable risks. Much like in hockey, where players involved in a violent game where almost everyone is carrying a dangerous weapon and wearing two dangerous weapons, there have been times where the violence exceeds the acceptable and legal norms of hockey violence. (See Marty McSorley, Todd Bertuzzi). Having established that Murdock was out of line, we will take a look later at the damages Dibiase could have received, next time we wrestle with the law.