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:
— nigel mcguinness (@McGuinnessNigel) July 30, 2013
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.