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AFTER THE LATEST IN-RING DEATH, PRO WRESTLING NEEDS TO GROW UP AND BE MORE PREPARED IN CASE OF THE UNTHINKABLE

By Mike Johnson on 2019-05-13 11:48:00

Over the weekend, the worst news anyone who cares about professional wrestling ever wants to hear took place.  Lucha star Silver King passed away, in the ring, while wrestling Juventud Guerrera on an independent event in London, England.  The belief is that Silver King, 51 years old, passed away of a heart attack while performing.

It is an incredibly tragic set of circumstances and my heart goes out to everyone related to Silver King, to his fans, to those who were there in London and certainly, those who were in the ring with him.  This is not something that anyone would ever want to happen.  He got on a plane to London to perform and he’s never coming home.  It’s an unfathomable situation borne out of wanting to perform and make others happy while making money for himself and his family.

In a situation like this, there are going to be those who point fingers and place blame.  I’ve seen some really angry social media scorn towards Guerrera and the referee, but this article is not about placing blame.    Blame doesn’t bring anyone back.

Instead, I want to look at the reality of the situation, which is that Silver King was not the first to pass away in the ring and sadly, he won’t be the last.  Whether it be Mike DiBiase or Gary Albright or Mitsuharu Misawa, we’ve seen this sort of tragedy before.  These unthinkable moments are never anything less than horrible and depressing and sad – and it’s time for professional wrestling to do a better job of preparing for the unthinkable.

We will never know if Silver King could have been saved if there was a medical team at the show, but we do know that a doctor at ringside at that fateful Monday Night Raw episode where Jerry Lawler suffered a heart attack after performing in the ring saved Lawler’s life.  Obviously, WWE has the financial means to maintain a staff of medical professionals in case of the worst, but there should never be, on any levels, an event that doesn’t at least have a doctor there on standby in case of the worst.

In today’s professional wrestling, talents are taking crazier bumps on a more consistent basis up and down the card.  In the 1990s, someone like Mick Foley or Rob Van Dam might have been the risk-takers doing some pretty physically grueling things to their bodies, but today, there are talents taking bumps on the outside of the ring on the apron, doing dives off the top rope or over the top to the floor, taking numerous suplexes on their heads and necks and back, taking stiff physical punishment from strikes and kicks all the way from the opening match to the main event.

All of this adds up. 

The law of averages means that today’s professional wrestler, even on the independent level, is far more likely to deal with health issues down the line.  Look at how many WWE signings came from the independent scene in recent years and just as they were ready to cash in on everything they mortgaged on their bodies – they were down and out due to injuries.    This is not an indictment on them or the style of the independents in 2019, but a wake-up call that if promoters are going to allow talents to work that style, they need to have some sort of infrastructure in place in case of the worst case scenario.

In some States, there are Athletic Commissions.  In many cases, wrestlers and promoters will look upon the Commissions as someone who has to get paid, even if they really have nothing to do with maintaining or overseeing the shows in a legitimate sense.  They are a necessary evil, but in States with the Commissions, what little oversight there is usually means there is a medical professional present – or in the case of New York – an ambulance with a group of EMTS.

Again, we don’t know whether Silver King would have been saved if there had been EMTs standing in the corner of the building just in case, but not having someone there to provide immediate medical care in 2019 seems draconian.  While there are so many variables involved – it was an international show, there may have been a language barrier, it was an independent event likely not financed by a massive backer, most independent events are haphazardly managed and run in some way – that doesn’t excuse anyone else from being prepared in a way that the event in London was not.

There is zero reason for a promoter to not have a doctor at an event, on their own, even if it's not required by a Commission.  Does anyone really think that in 2019, there are any major High School or College sports games played without at least one medical professional in attendance in case of an injury?  Why should pro wrestling get a pass?  It shouldn't.  If there isn't a doctor at a show, no one should be willing to get into the ring and perform.  The unthinkable can always happen.  We saw that again this past weekend.

There’s been a lot of rage thrown at the referee online for not knowing what to do when Silver King collapsed.  I can’t speak for what went on in his brain (and I am sure he feels a horrible level of guilt over what happened, who wouldn’t?) but there is a massive lesson to be learned from this.  Referees are often the most over-looked performers in professional wrestling, but they are extremely vital to the performance aspect of the genre.  Jerry Seinfeld once said that the referee is like the third of the Three Stooges.  Without him (or her), the performance just doesn’t work.

It’s time for professional wrestling to realize that and insure that any referees who are used as legitimately trained professionals.  We’ve all been to independent shows where someone relatively inexperienced is in the ring counting the near falls, but the reality is the referees who are really good at their jobs – the Mike Ciodas, the Mike Kehners, the John Cohns of the world – are there to not only enhance the story aspect of what we are watching, but to help with communications between the back and the ring, to make sure that the crowd isn’t losing interest and in the case of everything else failing and something going wrong, to be there to help in any way possible – whether that be an injury, a fan hitting the ring, wrestlers getting lost in the ring, whatever is necessary.

Professional wrestling referees are the most overlooked commodity in the business and I say that with the utmost respect for what they do, but I think it’s time that a new requirement be made for all referees – that in order for them to be allowed to step inside the ring, they have CPR training.  We will never know whether that might have helped Gary Albright in 2000 or Silver King over the weekend, but immediate assistance is what helped Jerry Lawler, and the referee is the closest person in the ring to the wrestlers.  It can’t hurt to have them CPR-trained – and there are many places that will teach certification classes for free.

Having a CPR-certified referee might not change the course of an emergency if someone stops breathing, but not having one who can assist, at least until true medical professionals arrive, guarantees nothing can be done.  Best to be prepared, in case of the worst. 

Professional wrestling on all levels has to step up.  No one expects to be in a car crash, but if we are smart, we all wear our seat belts.  Promoters have to look come up with ways to protect the talents they are using from the unthinkable.  Is anyone on their staff trained to recognize a heart attack or a stroke?  Every restaurant in the United States has a defibrillator – but how many wrestling venues do?  How prepared are a promotion’s staff for a quick response in case of the worst-case scenario?  How prepared is the venue's staff?  I've attended pro wrestling in the basement of a housing project, in bingo halls, in hotel ballrooms, in renovated former supermarkets - let's be honest, with the exception of perhaps the hotel ballroom, how prepared could ANY of those venues have been if someone broke their neck or had a heart attack?    Human nature dictates that no one thinks about these things until it is too late.  It's time to fix this.

I’ve seen wrestlers get concussions.  I’ve seen wrestlers dislocate ribs, pop them back into place and continue wrestling.  I’ve seen wrestlers break their legs.  I’ve seen wrestlers break their necks.   Just a few weeks ago, we saw a WWE NXT referee break his leg and still finish his duties, counting the pinfall to end the match.  Injuries happen. 

Thankfully, I’ve never seen anyone die in the ring in person and I pray I never do, but if something terrible does happen and there’s a medical emergency, I’d really like to hope that the promotion running that show will be prepared, but the reality is, unless it's a WWE event, given some of the venues I’ve been in and some of the insane things I’ve seen take place, my gut feeling, if I am being honest, is that all hell will break loose and no one will know what the hell to do.  

That’s just not acceptable.  It's downright pathetic.

There are things that are going to happen when talents enter a ring to perform on a physical level, no matter how good you and your opponent are.  Things happen.  They zig instead of zagging. They are a second off on your pacing. The light gets in their eyes as you go for a dive.  They don’t time your move correctly, by a second.  They get their boot caught in the mat while sliding across it.  I’ve seen all of those things happen before my eyes and chances are, so have you.  Things go wrong.  No match is ever, ever, ever, ever as perfect in the ring as it is devised by the talents.

No one can ever 100% prepare for a medical emergency.  There are too many variables.  I don’t know what sort of pre-show physical Silver King would be required to take in London.  I don’t know what oversight there is on independent shows there.  I don’t know what training those at the show had in order to deal with the situation.  I also don’t throw blame on anyone or anything that went down.  We don’t have all the answers to what led to Silver King’s death over the weekend, but a sad feeling knowing that we all wish it didn’t happen.

No one wanted it to happen to Oro or Perro Aguayo Jr. or Luther Lindsay  or anyone else who died in the course of performing.  There’s no way to minimize every risk factor, but every promoter owes it to their performers to explore what options they have – or else they shouldn’t be allowed to promote.  The safety of those taking bumps has to be the most important thing in the world – more important than making money and more important than making fans happy.  Without the former, you don’t, as a promoter get to do the latter.

Silver King’s passing has gotten a lot of media attention over the last several days.  He deserves that attention.  He was an amazing performer and a big piece of lucha libre history.  When the mainstream media moves on, however, pro wrestling should not.  They should be worried about making sure that, to their best of their ability, the story is never repeated.

Chances are, one day, someone else will have a medical emergency.  There’s no way to 100% guarantee this, but I truly hope that when it happens, the next promotion will be prepared, so that we are talking about someone’s recovery the way we marveled at Jerry Lawler’s and not the sadness that envelopes us all when someone passes before their time – and every single person who died in the ring performing – they all passed before their time in my opinion.

None of those deaths are acceptable, no matter the circumstances involved and the variables that no one can 100% control.  Pro wrestling needs to be better prepared.  It’s ‘just an indy show’ should never be an excuse for not having the top standard in running an event or preparing for the worst.

Every wrestler who steps into the ring, whether they be a new rookie or a grizzled veteran, deserves to know that in the case of the unthinkable, everything will be done to protect them.  Pro wrestlers are willing to wrestle in crappy buildings, in crappy towns, in crappy rings and they are willing to wrestle in the biggest arenas in the biggest cities around the world.  They are willing to give of themselves – and some have given of their lives – to make others money and to make fans happy, while trying to make money for themselves.  Some promoter will undoubtedly write me and say they can't afford such things.  To them, I say, then you shouldn't be a pro wrestling promoter.

Every professional wrestler deserves better than to leave things to chance in case something happens while they are performing.  Let’s make sure there is never another moment like the one that took place in London over the weekend.

Silver King, rest in peace.

Let’s hope professional wrestling, as a whole, learns from your tragedy.

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com.

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