Saturday, April 30, 2011

Blading and the risk of infectious disease

     Blading is a time honored tradition in American professional wrestling.  The act involves the intentional cutting, usually with the modified edge of a razor blade, of one's own forehead or that of an opponent.  The visual of a bleeding wrestler is thought to add value to and advance the storyline being told to the audience.  Former wrestler Eddie Mansfield described the act of blading during an interview for the ABC news magazine show 20/20 that aired on December 28, 1984.

Curtis Iaukea
      The health consequences of blading have not been studied.  A number of concerns however have been raised.  Not only is the act potentially disfiguring, but there is a risk of acquiring a skin or soft tissue infection at the site of the cut.  There are a number of microorganisms that could produce such infections, including Staphylococcus aureus.  There is also a risk that tetanus could develop in the wound.

     In addition, with blading there exists the potential to transmit an infectious disease.  For this to occur, blood from the infected wrestler must enter into the recipient wrestler, typically through an open cut or wound.  There are numerous diseases/infections that can be transmitted through a blood transfusion (see Table 1).  In theory, such disease/infections could also be transmitted with blading.

Table 1
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus.
  • Hepatitis A, B, C, E, G.
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus types I and II.
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Epstein-Barr virus.
  • Human parvovirus B19.
  • Human Herpesvirus 6 and 8.
  • Syphilis.
  • Malaria.
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.
  • Chagas' Disease.

     While it is not known with certainty if any such infections have been transmitted from one professional wrestler to another through the act of blading, in 2011 independent wrestler Devon Nicholson (Hannibal) went public with his accusation that we acquired Hepatitis C from wrestler Larry Shreve (Abdullah the Butcher).   His story was told in the documentary "Don't Bleed on Me".


     Other wrestlers reported to have a history of hepatitis include Eldridge Wayne Coleman (Superstar Billy Graham), James Fanning (Jimmy Valiant), Sean Waltman (Syxx/X-Pac), and Bob Orton, Jr. (1) 

      In 2011 it was learned that independent wrestler Andre Davis (Sweet Sexy Sensation Andre Heart) was positive for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.  Although he apparently had knowledge of this as early as 2009, he was not forthcoming with the information.  Davis did bleed in his some of his matches.  (1)

      The peak era for blading in American professional wrestling was the 1970's.  WWE's position on bleeding during matches has changed on a number of occasions over the years.  At the present time, WWE has a "no blood" policy in keeping with the PG content of their subject matter.  Blading is still frequently performed by wrestlers working for independent promotions.


(1)  Meltzer, D.  Wrestling Observer newsletter publications.

The photographs and videos are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sudden cardiac death in the ring

     Sudden cardiac death occurs when heart function abruptly ceases.  The exact cause can vary depending on a person's age and other risk factors for heart disease.  Although sudden cardiac death occurring during athletic activity is considered rare, the exact incidence is not known.

     Underlying structural heart disease is common in athletes who die before age 35.  One database that  reported the cause of death among young competitive athletes with heart disease evident during autopsy found hypertrophic cardiomyopathy to be the most commonly identified problem. (1)  In contrast, the most common cause of death in athletes over age 35 is due to coronary artery disease. (2)
Mike Dibiase

     Throughout the history of American professional wrestling there have been a number of professional wrestlers who experienced sudden cardiac death during or shortly after a match.  On July 2, 1969 Mike Dibiase, stepfather of Ted Dibiase, died during a match in Lubbock, Texas.  He was 45 years old.  The autopsy reportedly confirmed the cause to be coronary artery disease.

Ray Gunkel
     On August 1, 1972 Ray Gunkel died in the locker room following a match with Douglas Baker (Ox Baker) in Savannah, Georgia.  There has always been a lot of speculation about the incident.  While the autopsy apparently confirmed the presence of coronary artery disease, the cause of death appeared more related to chest trauma from the match.  Gunkel's death ignited a promotional war referred to as the "Battle for Atlanta" that changed the course of wrestling in Georgia.  Gunkel was 48 years old.

Larry Booker
     In 1993, while wrestling for Otto Wanz's Catch Wrestling Association in Bremen, Germany, 41 year old American professional wrestler Larry Cameron suffered cardiac death during a match.  Other notable in-ring cardiac deaths include Gary Albright , who died on January 7, 2000 at the age of 34 during a match in Hazelton, Pennsylvania and  Larry Booker (Moondog Spot) who died on November, 29, 2003 during a match in Memphis, Tennessee.  Booker was 51 at the time of death.

     Although WWE has not had a  wrestler suffer sudden cardiac death in the ring, cardiovascular testing is part of the Talent Wellness program that was instituted on February 27, 2006.  Dr. Bryan Donohue, Chief of Cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center oversees the program.  Wrestlers undergo stress testing prior to being offered a contract, biennally, and as circumstances dictate. (3)


  1. Circulation 2007; 115(12):  1643.  
  2. Am  J Cardio 1980; 45(6): 1292.   

Photographs are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wrestling with Death

William Muldoon
     Wrestling may well be the oldest sport in the world.  Every major civilization throughout history has a wrestling art as part of its sporting tradition.  In early America, grappling disciplines such as collar-and-elbow, Greco-Roman, and catch were all popular.  It is unclear when the very first professional wrestling match occurred.  The roots of American professional wrestling, defined as an activity in which participants struggle hand-in-hand primarily for the purpose of providing entertainment to spectators rather than conducting a bona fide athletic contest (1) can be traced to the post Civil War period.  The Greco-Roman champion William Muldoon was suspected of participating in rehearsed exhibitions as early as the1880's. (2) 

     Having never been fully embraced by either the sporting or entertainment communities, professional wrestling occupies a unique place in American culture. For over two decades there has been a silent epidemic of professional wrestlers dying.  It has been reported that professional wrestlers have a death rate seven times higher than the general population.  They are 12 times more likely to die of heart disease than other Americans ages 25 to 44. (3)  Despite the tremendous popularity of professional wrestling, this subject has been largely ignored by the general media and the medical establishment.

     The objectives of this site are to examine deaths and related topics in the American professional wrestling industry.


  1. Kerr, P. (February 10, 1989).  Now it can be told: those pro wrestlers are just having fun.  New York Times.
  2. Beekman, S.  Ringside:  A history of professional wrestling in America.  Westport, CT:  Praeger Publishers, 2006.
  3. Swartz, J.  (March 12, 2004).  High death rate lingers behind fun facade of pro wrestling.  USA Today.

Photographs are for illustrative purposes only.  Wrestling with Death does not claim ownership.