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"Fore!" wouldn't quite have signaled the depth of the impending danger. Midway through the WWE SmackDown event in Raleigh, on May 7, Big E Langston emerged for a heavyweight fight against the malevolent Jack Swagger. Although Langston weighs 290 pounds and has biceps as thick as logs, he was accompanied into the ring—where a separate mischievous wrestler had laid a ladder—by world heavyweight champion Dolph Ziggler, a co-conspirator and sometimes tag-team partner. Ziggler strutted out to lukewarm cheers and bent down, presumably to pick up the prop and use it as a weapon. Seeing this affront, Swagger grimaced, bolted from his corner and charged at the intruder.
As Ziggler knelt next to the ladder's lower rungs and the crowd's roar swelled, Swagger cocked his left leg to—ahem—"kick" his nemesis. It was supposed to be another flash point in a rivalry that would culminate in a bout later this summer. But when Swagger delivered his kick, his boot didn't cleave the air as planned. Nor did it merely clip Ziggler's noggin. It connected squarely, almost divorcing the wrestler's head from his body. Ziggler tumbled under the rope and out of the ring.
Assuming that this was all kayfabe—wrestling-speak for the suspension of disbelief—and that Ziggler was "selling" the kick, the fans barely blinked; business as usual. But from her seat behind the stage, Jane Geddes knew better. She gasped, aware that this wasn't part of the choreography. "I thought, Oh noooo," says Geddes. "That kick landed."
That Geddes, 53, was even in PNC Arena that night ranks as something of a surprise. An LPGA star in the 1980s and '90s, she spent most of her adult life in swanky country cluburbia, breaking par on the finest golf courses in the U.S. Now armed with a law degree with two kids and a wife-to-be at home in Connecticut, she doesn't exactly hit the sweet spot of the WWE core demographic. But the fact is, she may have been more invested in that match than anyone else in the arena.
Geddes is the WWE's senior vice president for talent relations and development, a role she describes as the wrestlers' "internal agent." She's responsible for everything from the 61-year-old promotion's talent roster to travel arrangements to professional development to branding the athletes and (euphemism alert) "purging the developmental roster," i.e., hiring and firing those buff bodies.
Her first concern the night of the stray boot in Raleigh was Ziggler's health, and she made sure that the ringside physician was on the case. When Ziggler was diagnosed with a concussion, Geddes saw to it that he was accompanied on his flight home to Phoenix.
A secondary concern of Geddes's: the impact of Ziggler's concussion on his WWE story line. Nursing a head injury, would he still be game for his much-anticipated Triple Threat Ladder Match (Ziggler, Swagger and Alberto Del Rio competing to retrieve a belt suspended above the ring), part of a pay-per-view event that was scheduled to be held in St. Louis on May 19? And if not, how would the momentum in the Ziggler-Swagger rivalry be sustained? (Since you asked: The ladder match was canceled. Instead, Swagger and Del Rio competed in an I Quit match, wherein the loser actually had to say "I quit" into a ringside microphone. That turned out to be Swagger. As a result, he will no longer face Ziggler for the heavyweight belt.)
Geddes explains all of this in her office at WWE headquarters in Stamford, Conn., her voice rising with excitement. As this otherwise dignified woman betrays not the faintest hint of irony while talking of "smackdowns" and "turnbuckles" and "Hornswoggle, the World's Sexiest Midget," this much becomes clear: Her career switch may be the WWE's most unlikely plot twist of all.
The notion that 10,000 hours of dedicated practice are required for one to become an elite performer in any given field? It didn't really apply to Jane Geddes. Growing up on Long Island as a self-described tomboy, Geddes played an array of sports and threw the tightest spiral on the block. When she was 15, in 1975, her family moved to South Carolina. Mostly to stave off boredom, she tried golf. Within three years she was good enough to walk on to the golf team at Florida State. Within six years she'd earned her LPGA tour card. Less than a decade after picking up a club for the first time, she won the 1986 U.S. Open, her first pro victory.
"I had a great coach [Derek Hardy], so that fast-tracked things," she says. "I always had good hand-eye coordination. But when I think about it, yeah, it's pretty crazy."