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.   

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