at hell in a cell Last weekend, Cody Rhodes removed his signature ring jacket to reveal a purple chest the likes of which hasn’t been seen in WWE in ages. The company – which has strict rules about blood in the ring – was handed an image for the history books, something more intriguing to the eye than even humanity’s mutilated body after its 1998 hell in a cell Fighting the Undertaker.
Then, with the right side of his body several shades darker than even the most masochistic recipient of Gunther’s chops, Cody moved on to complete a 25-minute match. And far from avoiding the injury, the superstar drew further attention with his opponent Seth Rollins pushing and shoving, even driving the tip of a kendo stick into the injured area.
For viewers at home, it was tantamount to the stuff of legend, with a sequence as simple as Rollins pressed a stick into Cody’s wound, imbued with as much seriousness as it did when Tully Blanchard and Magnum TA announced their “I.” Quit” match when finished Starcade with Magnum hitting Tully in the forehead with a piece of broken chair.
Incidentally, I’m familiar with Cody’s pain because three months earlier I tore my left pec in my own mishap in the weight room. But unlike Cody, who needs surgery, I hadn’t torn the tendon and recently got the all-clear to go back to the bench press. As painful as Cody’s performance looked, how difficult was it really to take the stage two days after a full chest tear and perform at a brisk, hard tempo for half an hour?
For starters, there was what I knew about the injury. The pectoralis major is a large pectoral muscle that attaches to the outside of the biceps tendon. The main function of the muscle is to move the shoulder forward and across the chest and push the arms in front of the body. Most pectoralis muscle tears involve the tendon attachment to the bone and require outpatient surgery – Cody will go under the knife this Thursday, according to an official WWE statement – although some happier individuals, myself included, dodge surgery by just partial tears of the pectoral muscle suffer muscle itself.
The pain from the tear is most intense in the moments after its occurrence. In my case, the tear occurred when I transitioned from the eccentric or downward phase of the bench press to the concentric or upward phase. Centimeters into the concentric phase, my left pec bulged like a water balloon being squeezed in the middle, and then the weight moved back down, after which I threw off the barbell on both sides. At this point the pain was at its worst, a throbbing pain running down my entire left side as I hastily applied several ice packs to the injury.
When I got to my orthopedist about 48 hours later, the pain had subsided significantly, the throbbing pain being replaced by an excruciating, dull ache, as if that side of my body had gone to sleep. For that first week, I couldn’t do push-ups, lift off the floor with that hand, push someone backwards, or hold a heavy weight horizontally in front of me — but a few days later I was deadlifting and squatting again, after an MRI confirmed that the crack was only partial.
What does this pain rating mean in Cody’s case given his more severe tear? When I asked orthopedic surgeon David Abbasi about Cody’s decision to compete hell in a cellAbbasi replied that as long as the surgery was scheduled within a week or two of the injury, working with a fully torn pectoral muscle did not pose much of a risk because the muscle was already fully damaged.
“What would affect anything that consists of pushing your opponent away or pushing up like a bench press move,” Abbasi said. Mark Bell, a powerlifter who has torn his pecs multiple times and made his fortune marketing a product designed to help people bench press while recovering from tears like this, echoed this sentiment: “The bench press makes you sick and push-ups, but life goes on until you’re actually in a sling recovering from surgery. Until then, those special moves could be bypassed, and anything else, like holding someone overhead, squeezing the muscle itself, or falling onto your shoulder only posed a risk of discomfort — but Cody’s no stranger to discomfort, long-established , jumping out of cages and falling through flaming tables.
I remember being surprised at how much I was actually able to do in the days after the injury, including getting up unharmed from a fall into a deep, rock-lined drainage ditch. Cody took those limitations and abilities and built them into his in-ring presentation. Since anything done immediately after the injury is more or less excruciatingly painful, his grimaces and moans were certainly as real as any he had seen that night.
Fans fondly reminiscing about John Cena’s prolonged prime may recall when the one-time “Doctor of Thuganomics” tore his chest during a game against Mr. Kennedy on an October 2007 episode Raw. Early in the game, Cena suffered the tear when he threw Kennedy out of a sequence where the two were running the ropes. The muscle bulged, Cena shared his pain with both the referee and Kennedy, then backed away and clutched his chest — the textbook reaction of anyone who’s experienced a pectoral tear.
From there, Cena and Kennedy worked a safe three minutes that ended with Cena locking his opponent in the STFU submission. Randy Orton then stormed into the ring, hitting Cena out of nowhere with an RKO and knocking his victim out of the ring. On the outside, Orton smashed Cena with the ring steps and then hit another RKO on the announce table.
Though Cena didn’t work in the ring nearly as long as Cody with his injury, he performed in arguably more difficult circumstances — albeit without the bruise on his chest that would later form — and the WWE was able to make good use of Orton’s attack, whereby a later announcement indicated that Cena would be out for at least a year after the surgery.
The superhuman Cena, who is probably as committed to training as any athlete in the sport’s history, made it back after four months — a surprising fan surprise that suggests an extremely motivated do-gooder like Cody could be capable of it could develop to his advantage Good. Given that rehabilitating a pectoral muscle after surgery carries a far lower risk of unwanted setbacks than, say, Big E’s neck injury, Cody could return to the ring ahead of the schedule announced by WWE.
At the beginning crown jewel In 2018, Triple H — who was 48 at the time, a decade older than Cody now, and 18 years older than Cena in 2007 — tore his right pec in a tag team match involving him and longtime ally Shawn Michaels versus Kane and Undertaker. Triple H, who had tons of mileage on his body and had already managed to finish a 2001 Raw Tag team match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit after tearing his quadriceps, tearing his chest when tangling his arm in the top rope while trying to fall out of the ring after Kane knocked him in threw the corner.
Unlike Cena, Triple H immediately fell to the ground clutching his pecs, but he too re-entered the fight and forced his way through the end of the 28-minute match that ended with him hitting his pedigree finisher on Kane, to score the pinfall victory. Although this match would eventually win Wrestling Observer NewsletterWinner of Worst Match of the Year, HHH took credit for ending the match on his terms: “I eliminate the things I can’t do and go back and do the rest. I never think, ‘Oh, maybe I should just tell the referee I can’t do it,” and stop. That just never crosses my mind.”
Triple H was already a made man in the business long before he sustained a chest tear that, even to the fullest extent of his bruises, barely covering half the area that Cody’s occupied. (My own tear was maybe half the size of Triple H’s.) Neither could he or Cena wear their war wounds in the ring like Cody could. In fact, someone looking for an analogue in the world of sports might have to look outside of wrestling and as far as the 1970 NBA Finals, when the New York Knicks put Willis Reed at center stage — after he tore his quadriceps and was forced out Sitting out Game 6 the hard-fought series — suited Game 7 and scored the Knicks’ first four points on his first two shot attempts, helping the franchise secure its first championship in the process.
Abbasi says the level of difficulty was higher in Willis Reed’s situation. “It was a quadriceps injury, so it affected a load-bearing area,” he said, noting that it also happened in the context of a fast-paced, competitive basketball game.
However, anyone looking for a sporting moment that’s as visceral in its aesthetic as Cody’s performance might be disappointed. Plenty of wrestlers have bled for their glory, and some, like the doubly tough Paul Orndorff, might even wrestle through months of nerve damage to end a red-hot feud with Hulk Hogan. Until Cody – who’s been on a Babyface run for ages – no one thought of wearing his internal bruises in the ring like this and turning an accidental weight room injury into a colorful slice of grappling immortality.
Oliver Lee Bateman is a journalist and sports historian based in Pittsburgh. You can follow him on Twitter @MoustacheClubUS and read more about his work at www.oliverbateman.com.