Blood In Pro Wrestling
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As a child who grew up during the end of the attitude era and enjoyed my early fandom through a transitional period in the world of WWE, some of the earliest matches I can remember, where ones that saw the in-ring combatants doused in a crimson mask.
Perhaps I just became accustomed to the sight of large quantities of blood from pro wrestling. I knew nothing better, so assumed that it was perfectly fine and normal.
When people fight, they often bleed. And as an 8 year old watching Triple H and Stone Cold, I believed in every moment. So of course there would be blood.
As an adult, with the better understanding I now have of the inner workings of the pro wrestling industry, somehow I have become a lot more sensitive to the sight of blood within the ring.
Perhaps it’s because I now know techniques for drawing blood from the forehead, or perhaps it’s the understanding of the dangers involved.
Whatever it is, something about seeing a fighter battling to what seems the death, dripping in claret as they give their last ounce of strength in order to win, has a deeply rooted and extremely visceral effect on us as the audience.
In this video, I want to explain how pro wrestling became obsessed with blood, how it has been used as a device to tell engaging and memorable stories and take a look at what happens in the squared circle, when things go too far.
ORIGINS OF BLOOD IN WRESTLING
During the turn of the 20th Century, the seeds of modern day pro wrestling were being sewn across the United States. As athletes made the transition from real sporting competition to theatrical performance, some elements of a real fight were incorporated into the proceedings.
At this time, the secrets of kayfabe and the idea that pro wrestling is predetermined, was a far off ideas, little understood by any but those who were in the very inner circle of the business at the time.
And every measure was taken in order to fool audiences into believing what they were paying to see. From softer soled boots to help protect from kicks, to conversations happening under muttered breathe between wrestlers, lots of different aspects of pro wrestling were being developed which would help better sell the idea that this was all completely real.
So, if you are accustomed to seeing boxing matches or other types of physical combat, then, like the fans of the 1920s, you will know that after a few stiff blows anywhere on the face, the nose and mouth often begin to break and split, leading of course to blood.
By the end of the decade, Kirby Watkins, better known in-ring as Tex Watkins came out of the navy wrestling team and knew that without blood, people would not buy the legitimacy of pro wrestling.
Watkins made a name for himself, known for his vicious encounters which almost always ended in a blood bath, fans would pay to see him time and time again, always wanting to bare witness to more villainous, more gore.
At this time, Watkins would draw blood from himself and his opponents in a style which is know as ‘hard way’, referring to the fact that the cuts that were opened during his bouts would be brought about through punches, scratches, bites.
Which although prearranged would still leave the competitors battles scarred and worn, but as this type of wrestling became more popular, the demand grew for more and more athletes to show blood during their fights.
Wrestlers began to work on ingenious ways to create blood in their matches, the likes of Danny McShain began to bring capsules, filled with chickens blood to the ring, to expel at the proper moment, this mixed with the occasional real gash during a fight made for a potent and realistic blend which even the most trained of wrestling fans would have struggled to spot at the time.
Lou Thesz: “By the late 1940s, we’d begun to see a handful of boys who regularly used blood in their matches, and they used it for one simple reason: they couldn’t do anything else, It was the cheapest way of attracting attention, but it worked, and it was a way for them to stay employed.”
As a lifelong pro wrestling fan.
There are some fundamental wrestling ideas which you either have to ignore or accept, allowing yourself to suspend disbelief whilst watching your favourite wrestler on screen.
When someone cheats during a match and the referee doesn’t see it, why doesn’t someone from production backstage interject and let the ref know?
When two wrestlers come face to face during a particularly personal feud, and being to trade vicious punches back and fourth, why does neither of them put up any sort of guard?
And if pro wrestlers have a match every single week and in some of those bouts end up jumping off ladders, through tables and covered in blood. Then where are the scars?
The simple truth is that the entire way in which the pro wrestling calendar is scheduled in a sham and no athlete in the world could compete in such gruelling and demanding fights without the need for significant rest and recovery time after the match.
Pro wrestling travels around the world, putting on show after show, consistently going above and beyond to deliver spectacle and entertainment to it’s fans. And part of that is having your tops stars fit and healthy to compete.
Since the 1970s, kayfabe and the mystique of pro wrestling has been slowly lifted. The fog of secrecy has dissipated and now through tell all interviews and autobiographies, we as fan can be in on the truth.
In 1980, a time where a majority of fans still believed in the real competitions going on between the wrestling ropes, saw an increase in interest and a boom in popularity for this mixture of sports and entertainment.
News companies and documentary makers started to ask questions and dig beneath the surface to understand what was really going on behind the scenes.
One such instance occurred in 1984, when Eddie Mansfield took part in a now infamous wrestling segment for a 20/20 news show, in which he explained in real detail exactly how blood was used and the trick behind it.
In a moment which is completely shocking, Mansfield picks up said blade and casually draws it across his brow, leaving him to answer the rest of the interview with blood seeping down his face.
He explains how he and fellow wrestlers would slice their skin so frequently that it didn’t bother him in the slightest. This is the sentiment seemingly held by most pro wrestlers for half a century where cutting your skin with a sharp razor during a match came to become known as ‘blading’
Blading stayed as the most common way in which to draw blood and can be seen in action is numerous matches, especially ones which feature wrestlers who weren’t perhaps the most subtle and some who didn’t even bother to hide it at all.
Seen in the current day as somewhat barbaric, in WWE blading has all but been completely outlawed. The use of any tool to create a blood flow is banned by Vincent McMahon who will issue either a fine and suspension or even a termination of contract if you break his sacred rule.
Since these new guidelines were introduced, performers in WWE have had to look to the past and adapt the ideas of blood capsules in order to bring some gritty realism to an event.
Small burstable capsules, usually filled with food dye and chewed upon to release the red liquid in place of real blood. With the use of WWE’s production values, meaning the blood does almost always look real, with the trade off being that it has to come from the mouth.
One case shows commentator Byron Saxton supplying Roman Reigns with a blood capsule mid beat down, handing it to Reigns before he is attacked by Triple H. Another time, in a match against Brock Lesnar, Roman can be seen placing the blood capsule into his mouth.
Fans notice these kinds of on-screen transactions and it can really break the disbelief, but as a trade off for wrestlers not having to cut their foreheads open, I think it’s a great solution.
But although WWE is the largest wrestling promotion in the world. The squared circle expands far beyond WWE’s reaches, to places where it’s rule do not apply. We still see hardcore wrestling matches attracting crowds and there is a dedicated if not small group of fans who still love to see a good old fashion blood bath.
PSYCHOLOGY OF BLOOD
Since ancient times. Humans have always gathered to enjoy combat, Whether it be fights to the death within a Roman Gladiatorial arena 2 millennia ago, or a Queensbury rules boxing match in the 17th Century. There is something deep within us which is drawn to the spectacle of a fight.
The attraction of violence could be that it gives people "a chance to experience taboo -- events that they can't experience in their own lives -- or see things they don't see in their typical life," said Brad Bushman, professor of communications and psychology at Ohio State University.
In the modern day, boxing and MMA are huge billion dollar industries with millions of fans around the globe regularly tuning in to see two highly trained combatants fight to the bloody conclusion.
"Everyone loves a fight," wrote its president, Dana White, via e-mail. "It's in our DNA. It's something that cuts across all demographic and geographic barriers."
And with Dana White selling the UFC in 2014 for $4 Billion, it’s hard to argue with Dana’s point. There is a huge swathe of people who regularly tune in to see their favourite martial artists or boxer battle it out in a ferocious and vicious manner and that blood lust doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, any time soon.
“Looking historically at what we consider entertaining, there’s just an increasing in intensity in our arousal template, in what excites us. It’s like passing by a car wreck and you can’t take your eyes off of it. You know that it’s uncomfortable for you psychologically but your head is locked into and it’s like a trance, a fog.” Ruby Bouie Johnson
The same can be said about the scripted violence we see from our favourite pro wrestlers. There is something of a gut response when it comes to seeing two big stars drawn together in a bitter rivalry, settle the score in a blood soaked affair.
It’s gruesome and at times can be hard to watch, but nobody can deny that it makes for gripping drama and engaging television, which continues to be alluring to so many to this day.
"There's a rubbernecking syndrome," said Paul Boxer, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University. "When you see a body splayed out, you couldn't help it. You had to see."
So, if in the modern day. Most fans are clued up on the reality of pro wrestling. And many understand that in order to draw blood in a match, you have to fake it. Then doesn’t that take away from the whole point?
In a real fight. Blood is a natural by product of violence. Our skin is only able to sustain so much damage after all.
However, in the world of pre determined fights, competitors in pro wrestling are most of the time, in control of when they bleed.
This means that blood can be used within a match in order to tell a more compelling story. To add a graphic visual to a contest where both wrestlers are willing to suffer in order to succeed. One of the most impactful uses of blood, in order to better tell a story within the ring, came in a match in March of 1997.
FEAR OF BLOOD
The human mind is such a complex and wonderous thing. It’s evolution and adaption through the course of mankind’s history means that some people are left with a greater sense of connection to our distant ancestors through our innate and subconscious set of fears.
Some people are scared more of spiders, even ones which could in no way harm you. It’s just a remnant from a time where humans needed to be more aware of nature, when anti-venom and medicines weren’t readily available.
Some people are scared of blood. For a portion of these people, the fear may present itself during a particularly horrific horror film or television show.
But for some, their hemophobia can be so strong it can cause them to feel an extreme fear of seeing blood, leading to nausea, dizziness and even a dramatic change in blood pressure and heart rate.
Those are selective and marginal cases which lead people to experience sometimes life changing consequences of their fear. But for most, even those with a complete aversion to the sight of blood, there is still a primal sense that if you see someone who is expelling a lot of blood. Then something is deeply wrong.
This feeling surrounding injury, gore and blood means that these elements which are so commonly used in entertainment media are often walled off from younger audiences, creating a sense that violence and blood is for adults and should not feature in programmes aimed at children.
Pro wrestling, whilst always attracting a varied demographic of fans, certainly has a large portion of it’s following come from the younger generation. With this, I can see why some parents would prefer if there were no blood during WWE’s programming.
However, that opens up the question: if children see violence which in real life could kill someone, take place several times a week, with no injuries or blood, would they perhaps misunderstand the real-world consequences of say, hitting someone with a sledgehammer?
In my opinion, it is about balance. About creating a real sense of danger and unpredictability through the violence of a wrestling match, whilst at the same time, not crossing the line into grindhouse style body horror, disfiguration and lasting, long-term damage to all involved.
One match which indeed cross the line between engaging and outright dangerous, happened at the Judgement Day pay-per-view in 2004.
JBL vs Eddie Guerrero
One of the most beloved underdogs of all-time, when the charismatic Eddie Guerrero beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, fans rejoiced to see Guerrero achieve a life-long goal.
Always hard-working and determined to entertain. Eddie promised a title run full of excellent match ups and memorable defences, and boy how he delivered.
As Bradshaw of the APA changed his persona and became John Bradshaw Layfield, a rich, arrogant Texan was born in direct opposition to Guerrero’s attractive personality, JBL was the master of pissing people off and getting them to boo.
When the two men met at Judgement Day in 2004, their feud boiled over into one of the biggest bloodiest messes WWE had seen in living memory.
After a brutal looking chair shot to the head, Eddie bladed a little too deep and caused much more bleeding than he intended, far too early into the match. He sustained an onslaught of offence from JBL before managing to fire back with a chair shot and several hundred punches of his own.
The pair were left swimming in a pool of each others secretions as they continued on with the fight. Creating some of the most harrowing images to ever come across a WWE television broadcast. The blood was supposed to serve to punctuate the ill-feeling between Eddie & JBL, but due to the mistake by Eddie with the blade we are left with one of the bloodiest televised matches in pro wrestling history.
Standing tall after retaining his belt at the end of the match. Eddie looks dizzy and weak and would go on to need a blood transfusion at the recommendation of medical experts on site at the time.
Perhaps Eddie Guerrero was nervous, he was on the biggest stage of them all, raised up as the companies champion, carrying all the pressure that that would entail. Perhaps he was simply inexperienced and didn’t know just how to safely perform the slice.
One man who is possibly the most experienced wrestler alive today when it comes to creating a spectacle of blood. Is Ric Flair.
Ric Flair Vs Hogan Hulkamania
In 2009 Hulk Hogan & Eric Bischoff created a partnership and put on a set of shows across Australia. 4 nights, with the main-event each evening being a singles match between Hulk Hogan & Ric Flair. Two men with a storied past and as Hogan had never wrestled in Australia before, had fans young and old clambering for a ticket to see some good clean family fun.
However, the stipulation being no disqualification for one of the nights, saw both men, who were way beyond their prime, heavily rely on outside interference and blood to win over the fans.
Some young families were said to have been shocked at what they witnessed, not realising how violent the show would become. Especially as by the end of the match, both Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan were completely drenched in crimson.
Hogan won all four of the matches, obviously. And Ric Flair went above and beyond to get his fair share of the attention, who by the end of the No DQ match has rekindled an iconic look from days past gone, Ric Flair, his dazzling streak of blonde hair soaked pink with his and his opponents blood.
New England Championship Wrestling promoter Sheldon Goldberg said; “It’s hard to explain the value and validity of blading in pro wrestling to anyone who isn’t actually in the business. It still has its place when the situation is right. For example, there are times when blood is the only way to drive home the importance of an angle or a feud. We only allow blading when the circumstances specifically call for it. We don’t over use it and it is not done if the workers are uncomfortable with it. For these reasons, it is effective for us when it is done.”
It is evident that, on countless occasions across the vast history of pro wrestling, blood has been used appropriately in order to underline a specific instant. It creates images online, on paper and in our minds which encapsulate the emotions of the match and help us to build better emotional connections with the performers. It is so much easier to empathise with a wrestler when they are covered in blood, it’s within our nature to care.
However, sometimes blood and gore are used in pro wrestling, in the same way in which gore is used within some over the top horrors. Simply shocking an audience through the use of disproportionate violence is popular for some, but for me it is incredibly one-note, a single line of excitement which depletes the longer it goes on.
A steel chair whacked across someone's back can make an impact. Barbed wire is shocking and brutal. But seeing someone being cut open and mutilated for real, in front of a couple of hundred people, for the sake of pure shock value, to me it doesn’t work.
Mass Transit Incident
In the mid to late 90s, shocking entertainment, reality TV and gross out humour was all the rage. As pro wrestling is often a reflection of popular culture in the US, we saw that these forms of segments became mainstays on wrestling programming.
One company who took their name seriously and pushed things to the extreme, were ECW or extreme championship wrestling. Known for their graphic violence and rabid fanbase, ECW grew in popularity to a point where they began to plan their very first PPV which was to be titled Barely Legal.
But before that show could take place, a real life event occurred which fittingly proved to itself be barely legal. Known amongst wrestling fans simply as The Mass Transit Incident.
In Massachusetts, during an untelevised house show, ECW management were left short when a number of wrestlers who were advertised for the show, didn’t turn up on the day.
Being a small show with fans who by the days standards were extremely clued in to the inner workings of the business, the word of the no shows began to spread before the first match took place.
In the crowd, a man who had always dreamt of one day stepping between the ropes realised that this could be the opportunity he was waiting for. He made his was to the dressing area and announced his desire to be added into one of the slots on the card, the whole time boasting of his wrestling training and skills in the ring.
He was very tall, extremely fat and the promoters didn’t have many other options.
Given a bus drivers outfit for some unknown reason and brought to the ring under the moniker of Mass Transit, could this be a wrestling fairytale come true?
No. His opponents on the day were a team known as the Gangstaz, one half of which was the notorious New Jack.
As the match brawled around the fans, the time came for the dramatic finish to the bout. Mass Transit was directed to blade and await a finishing move to be delivered by New Jack.
However, Mass Transit whispered to New Jack that he wasn’t confident enough to do it himself. This would turn out to be a mistake which would live long in wrestling infamy.
New Jack, said to be in a bad mood due to a dispute over pay, butchered his opponents forehead and severed so much skin, that Mass Transit began to bleed out.
A horrific moment on it’s own. But the worst was yet to come. With Mass Transit’s family at ringside, it became known that not only had he never had a day of wrestling training in his life, but he was infact underage.
This lead to a criminal case being brought against New Jack, a claim which he fought and won in court. However, it is said that with this event being made public knowledge sponsors backed out of deals with ECW and that led to delays and complications with their upcoming pay-per-view, something which potentially changed the course of the entire companies history, forever.
Perhaps the Mass Transit incident wasn’t the bloodiest match in the history of pro wrestling, but it certainly was hard to watch.
Something else that can be hard to do, is to compare and contrast these types of blood fuelled fights, especially when they occur in different promotions, in different countries across many different generations.
One informal way in which wrestling fans have, for years, spoken about the level of blood in a particular match, is the Muta Scale. In reference to one of Japan’s greatest icons. The Great Muta.
The Muta scale began to circulate amongst wrestling fans after a match which many consider to be the bloodiest pro wrestling match to ever take place in Japan.
In December 1992, Hiroshi Hase faced off against The Great Muta which saw Muta coming to the ring with his trademark crimson face paint and by the end of the event, long after the paint had rubbed off, was left with a crimson mask of another sort.
As the match ends Muta was drowning in his own blood, barely able to see and leaving a trail of red wherever he moved around the ring.
The match itself is excellent. Full of fast paced grappling and clever reversals and the entire event is elevated by it’s now iconic use of blood which led us to the Muta Scale and possibly the bloodiest match of all time.
In the modern day of pro wrestling, companies and performers are much more reliant on financial stability from TV Networks and advertisers, forcing them to aim to create content which is palatteable to the widest possible audience.
Especially in WWE who are featured on Fox and must stay within the strict confines which are dictated to them by regulators and executive boards, who have little to no understanding of how pro wrestling operates.
There are still a whole host of backyard and indy wrestling promotions around the world who put the emphasis of extreme and aim to fill a niche void left back in the early 2000s with the dispanding of ECW.
We’ve seen the likes of Dean Ambrose who started off as a hardcore deathmatch wrestler, then became a main eventer in WWE before forging his own path in brand new company AEW where he has gone on to be the World title holder.
With him, he brings years of experience of pushing the envelope inside the ring and as such AEW has allowed for more blood and violence than many mainstream viewers have grown accustomed to.
When SCU faced off against the Young Bucks on AEW Dynamite in May of 2021, Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian had it all to lose. A grudge match against longtime friends and now bitter rivals, would see SCU retire if they lost to the AEW Tag champs.
During the match, Christoper Daniels caught his head awkwardly on the steel ring post and split his head wide open. As I watched with my partner, she was shocked to see pools of blood forming around Daniels with no signs of slowing.
The performers took a brief moment to compose themselves, this was clearly an unscripted moment. As they began to work the blood into the match, Daniels flopped around the ring, playing up the fact that blood in his eyes had practically blinded him, leaving him defensless in the middle of the ring.
The Young Bucks set to work and with a couple of vicious knees and an emotionally manipulative super kick Christoper Daniels was left oozing blood onto his opponents shoes, what an incredible image that made.
Dr Britt Baker DMD is probably my favourite female performer in AEW right now. Charismatic and fantastic and captivating via a promo, all the while backing it up with a ruthless in-ring style.
Never has a match displayed these attributes better than when Britt Baker faced off against Thunder Rosa on AEW in March of this year.
2 excellent athletes competing in a bloody battle which by the end, had seen both women torn open. Britt Baker drew the brunt of the damage in a matchup which saw both fighters go through tables, be slammed onto thumb tacks and eventually end up a bloody pile on the floor.
If you haven’t already, this match is a must-see in my opinion.
Dustin Rhodes Vs Cody
When brothers Dustin & Cody Rhodes met face to face in an AEW ring, the match’s story had already written itself.
AEW’s Double Or Nothing 2019 show saw two competitive athletes who respect one another enough to give it their all between the ropes. This led to a match which saw the Rhodes brothers, especially Dustin losing a lot of blood.
This match was part of an event which was aimed at introducing AEW to the world and I don’t think you could have made a bigger visual statement. Dustin Rhodes drenched in red, screaming in pain at the expense of his more handsome, younger brother. It got me hooked that’s for certain.
If you still think that this is all just a coincident and that AEW aren’t attempting to bring more gritty realism to their product, then look no further than the now yearly event AEW Blood & Guts.
Based on WCW war games, this steel cage megalith is designed to give 10 wrestlers a platform in order to go out and destroy one another. The name blood and guts is all you need to know, in order to understand the shows main themes and both years so far, the event has lived up to the title.
Weapons, beat downs and falls from great heights are all possible within this hellish structure, so it is of no surprise to anyone that most who walk between it’s construction, end up gushing blood before they can leave.
For me, I have to be honest. I don’t want to watch a product where pro wrestlers are forced to cut themselves and mutilate their bodies in order to simply entertain me. I am fine with suspending my belief and watching a pro wrestling show in the same context as a film.
It doesn’t have to be real for me to believe and invest in a piece of entertainment. However, to outright ban blood in pro wrestling would only serve to take away something which, if done properly can amplify a match and create moments which live in the memory for a life time.
Perhaps save blood and weapons for matches which call for it. A blood feud has that name for a reason. If two wrestlers have been caught up in hatred for one another and it is past the point of simple sport, then having a match which displays the realistic brutality of combat can certainly be effective.
And hopefully we as fans wont ever be treated to another horrific display, the likes of The Mass Transit incident, ever again.
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