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‘Blading’ Wrestlers Bleed Green

All that covers Steve Corino's road map is the crimson mask he is wearing. (Photo by Daniel Johnson/CNS)

Two men wrap steel chains around their hands and start punching two other men. The latter two manage to hold their ground, but barely.

Blood is everywhere. The crowd screams for more.

This isn’t a gang fight, it’s a tag team “double-chain” wrestling match brought to you by Ring of Honor, an independent wrestling company. El Generico and Colt Cabana are taking on Kevin Steen and Steve Corino in a crowded ballroom-size venue in Manhattan, where the sounds of punches carry to the cheap seats.

Mainstream American sports have been part of an ongoing debate to improve the safety of athletes from concussions and other dangers, and even World Wrestling Entertainment, the world’s largest professional wrestling company, has cleaned up its act for the mainstream. But in some minor league wrestling venues like the recent Ring of Honor production, the blood flows freely. Loyal crowds can’t get enough of it.

“One, it grosses them out. Two, it excites the hell out of them,” says Ryan “GQ Money” Katz, a professional wrestler who also helps run a wrestlers’ training school. “So you’re going to have your cringe people who think it’s freaking crazy and they’re going to want to cover their eyes while peeking through their fingers, and then you got the people who are just bloodlust thirsty and just want more, more, more and if they had the opportunity they’d grab a handful of it off your face and rub it onto theirs.”

When a wrestler bleeds in the ring, it’s usually from what’s known as “hard way,” when he has been hit hard enough to draw blood, or by “blading,” whereby wrestlers use hidden razor blades to cut themselves superficially.

“It’s usually just a little deeper than a paper cut,” says Bryan Alvarez, publisher of the newsletter Figure Four Weekly and an occasional wrestler. “The guys usually take aspirin before bleeding so it thins their blood and then you’re sweating, so you’ve got a little blood mixed in with the sweat so it looks a lot worse than it is.”

Blading is also known as gigging, juicing and drawing color, says Sean Oliver, the owner of Kayfabe Commentaries, a video production company that shoots behind-the-scenes interviews with wrestlers. As Alvarez says, whatever someone calls it, “red equals green” for wrestling promoters: They use blood to make money.

Only 21 states and Washington, D.C., license wrestling under state athletic commissions, while the rest regulate it more loosely as entertainment. While the states with commissions tend to prohibit blood in the ring, independent wrestling companies have plenty of places where they can gush with impunity. It’s also mostly a male phenomenon; blood in a women’s match is much rarer.

A bloody Kevin Steen grabs El Generico during Ring of Honor's Glory By Honor IX event. (Photo by Daniel Johnson/CNS)

Alvarez says that ever since WWE moved away from blading in 2008, at least one company has attempted to steal fans accustomed to the red spectacle: Total Nonstop Action or “TNA,” which has most of its shows in Florida.

“That’s the entire reason they do blood, is because WWE doesn’t,” Alvarez says.

Oliver says some of the second-tier wrestling companies like Pennsylvania-based Combat Zone Wrestling were committed to blood long before WWE gave it up.

“Blood is kind of their calling card, that is what they do,” Oliver says. “Their definition, if you were to look them up in the dictionary of wrestling, is brutal matches with blood every match.”

Performers who blade enough sometimes develop “road maps,” collections of scars on wrestlers’ foreheads. Wrestlers try to keep the bleeding under control and can sometimes blade without scarring, but sometimes it slips out of hand.

One famous example of blading gone wrong occurred in 1996, with the now-defunct Extreme Championship Wrestling. During a match, Eric “Mass Transit” Kulas, then 17, asked to be cut by his opponent Jerome “New Jack” Young. Young cut Kulas too deeply and Kulas required in-ring medical attention. Kulas unsuccessfully sued Young and ECW.

And not all wrestlers are fans of the genre.

Nick Dinsmore, who previously wrestled as “Eugene” in WWE, has a more conservative take. Since debuting in 1997, Dinsmore says he has bled only once, and that was after a scripted kick to the face that caught him the wrong way.

“The wrestling rings around the independent level are so dirty I don’t even want to cut myself shaving and get in the ring, much less be busted wide open in the ring with all the dirt and filth and bacteria that are in these things,” Dinsmore says.

Dinsmore likes the way blood is handled in Kentucky, where he works for Ohio Valley Wrestling.

“There’s a state athletic commission for professional wrestling in Kentucky and if there is any blood in the match it needs to be stopped,” Dinsmore says.

Brad Homan, a physician who works with TNA, says the company looks out for the health and safety of the wrestlers, despite the amount of blood they spill.

“The biggest danger obviously would be from blood-borne pathogens,” Homan says. But “everyone gets HIV tested, hepatitis — they get the full panel.”

Homan, like many in the wrestling world, says concussions are a greater concern.

Brawlin’ Bo Cooper, a wrestler who runs the Fit Pit Pro Wrestling School in Chatsworth, Calif., with Katz, says one problem he has with blading is artistic. He has his share of blading scars, but says he’d like his wrestlers to learn to wrestle, not just bleed. Unfortunately for him, some wrestlers value razor blades over technical skills.

“They just want to go out there and be ‘hardcore,’” Cooper says, “They think being hardcore is just hitting guys with light tubes and barbwire baseball bats. Then I tell them to give me a sidewalk slam and follow it up with a head scissors, they’re lost.”

E-mail: dcj2112@columbia.edu

March 11, 2011