Question: should deliberate bleeding be banned from professional wrestling?

Jimmy Havoc credit David WilsonFriend of TOWIS Jimmy Havoc was on WrestleTalkTV last night discussing why he participates in hardcore matches and why he doesn’t think it should be banned.

This is partially in response to a hepatitis awareness campaign promoted by another Friend of TOWIS, Nigel McGuinness.

As regular readers (and indeed Havoc) know, I’m not a fan of deathmatches, and will actively avoid a show where I know that’ll be on the card (whether there’ll be extensive bleeding or not), so it’s possible that’s a large influence on my thinking on this.

However, I think that McGuinness would be a tough opponent in this debate. As he tweeted:

Of course, McGuinness has learnt the hard way, having to step back from in-ring competition due to these risks. And yes, participants in deathmatches should be aware of the dangers, and they then choose to participate of their own free will – but that’s what people used to say about chair shots to the head.

We’re talking about matches here that are set up to deliberately provoke bleeding – not an accidental cut, or a sly blade to conclude an escalating narrative (although that’s risky too, for some of the same and some different reasons). I read Havoc’s blog with interest, where he talks about what he enjoys about deathmatches – but people enjoy doing a lot of things, and they shouldn’t all necessarily be given a public platform with people charged money to watch.

I find it uncomfortable that wrestling fans want to see people bleed. It’s just one step up from bear-baiting or dog-fighting – genuine, deliberate injury incurred for the baying masses’ entertainment. To me, it seems the antithesis of professional wrestling. There are plenty of other sports where the entire point is to genuinely batter your opponent into a pulp; I enjoy professional wrestling for its smoke, mirrors, artifice, athleticism, spectacle and showmanship.

I have to wonder whether people actually are fully aware of the risks of bleeding in the ring – that one in 12 statistic quoted by McGuinness is shocking, and that relates only to hepatitis, not any other blood-borne condition. I get the feeling that, certainly on the UK scene, participants think they know their opponent and the risks are minimal, so it’s a chance worth taking to put on the kind of match the fans want to see.

But just see how quick WWE medical officials are to mop up accidental cuts on their frequently-tested superstars. Yes, this might be partially because of their responsibilities to their TV network and their PG image to be maintained, but their meticulous health screening also indicates that there is a proper concern there for wrestlers’ wellbeing. We saw it at Money in the Bank where Cody Rhodes bled from the head after the ladder match, and when Punk had his skull split open by Paul Heyman. If they’re so quick to stop bleeding and they know their talent are as closely monitored for health as they can possibly be, why are we happy to see the much-less-regulated indy wrestlers spill their blood in the ring on the basis that they trust each other’s word?

Professional wrestling is already risky enough, no matter what the Daily Telegraph might say, without wrestlers taking additional, deliberate risks that may have permanent, life-changing consequences.

Image of Jimmy Havoc by David Wilson – it features in Spandex, Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops, in which Havoc talks about his philosophy of wrestling; and in which Nigel McGuinness talks about the events which led to his retirement.

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6 Responses to Question: should deliberate bleeding be banned from professional wrestling?

  1. Not my real name says:

    I have debated this with Jimmy as he feels as passionately about his views as I do about mine. Unfortunately, I’d just watched a CZW ‘King of the Deathmatches’ DVD so I was very anti hardcore matches when we had this debate!. But then I saw one in person, when Jimmy fought Jon Ryan at Progress. And although I am not a fan, if they are used sparingly and the wrestlers know what they are doing, I am not against them.

    Do I enjoy seeing Jimmy, who I consider a friend, being battered with light-tubes 6 feet in-front of me? No.

    But would I stop Jimmy doing what he enjoys and making a living? No.

    It’s his choice to do this kind of wrestling and it’s my choice to not actively seek out a promotion that does them on a regular basis.

    🙂

  2. Paul Smith says:

    I personally feel that hardcore/death matches do still have a place if used sparingly. My son and I were at Progress last week for Jimmy’s match with London Riots James Davis, and it was the first match of this type we had seen live, and from the storyline point of view it made perfect sense for this match to take place and to be as brutal as it was.

    I wouldn’t like to see these types of matches on a regular basis though as it would take away the impact of when they actually do happen. I do feel that anybody taking regular part in these types of matches should have regular tests for any potential disease like Hepatitis just to safeguard themselves and their opponents. Also as Jimmy said last night he would refuse to work a match where the canvas is unclean and would hold any risks to him or his opponent.

    I personally think that in the correct context bleeding in wrestling adds so much to the match, one only has to look at the Austin vs Hart match from Wrestlemania to see what sort of dramatic impact it can have. But if it is going to happen it should be sparingly and all concerned should be tested before the event.

  3. Jads says:

    If I were in charge, I don’t think i’d out-right ban it, but I certainly wouldn’t encourage it. I think sometimes people go over the top with weapons and gore at which point you stop getting a technical wrestling match and start getting a Romanesque gladiator brawl, which isn’t what I pay to watch. The only reason I wouldn’t ban it would be because I’m not a fan of telling people what they should like, and some people do like the gore. I think they’re odd for it, but they have a right to be odd I guess :L Only if it doesn’t come at a cost to the wrestlers health of course – the fact that more semi-pro hardcore wrestlers don’t have serious blood diseases and infections is a miracle :L

  4. Carrie says:

    Thanks for your comments so far! I think what worries me is obviously blood-borne diseases can take a while to show up in screening as well – so two wrestlers might think they’re clean and happily do a match with blood, but still end up with a disease/infection. Like I say in the piece, I do appreciate that it’s wrestlers’ choices to do this kind of match, but it can’t ever be 100 per cent safe from hepatitis etc simply because of incubation times. It concerns me a lot, quite apart from the fact that I will always avoid shows with any deliberate use of blood simply because I don’t like seeing it.

  5. Mike says:

    I agree that – given the right context – bloodletting in a wrestling match can provide a stunning (and graphic) visual or focal point, and add serious intensity to a feud. I also agree that it should be done sparingly – to tell a story, as the climax to a bitter rivalry, or to ramp up excitement in a main event match. I also agree that IF bloodletting is to take place, then the greatest possible emphasis should be put on the safety of the wrestler’s in question. For me the act of physical storytelling is much more important than any degree of simulated violence.

    Now, that all said, and at the risk of infuriating our beloved Harlequins-supporting Dr. Carrie, I’d like to share a link:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/8191371.stm

    If a player can convincingly fool a referee in a competitive match of rugby by artificial means, why can’t wrestlers do something similar in a staged environment? I’m sure a wrestler (with the assistance of a referee) is more than capable of using a “blood capsule” or similar piece of kit to convincingly fake a nasty injury if necessary. The modern wrestling fan is well aware that they’re watching a piece of physical theatre, so why the insistence on doing things the hard way when it comes to bleeding? When the fans are happy to suspend disbelief when it comes to everything else, why does this aspect of the simulated sport need to be unerringly real?

    • Carrie says:

      I was actually thinking about the fake blood thing this afternoon. Yes, I wonder whether I think I would be happier watching “bleeding” if I knew the blood wasn’t real…

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