The list of wrestlers dying from heart problems in their 30s and 40s in the last decade is as long as your arm. If it was any other walk of life serious questions would be asked, yet because it’s the smoke and mirrors world of professional wrestling, for some reason its seems deemed acceptable, and even by some, as a hazard of the job; surely this can’t be right! Can it?
In the last 10-15 years the wrestling world has mourned many of its biggest stars. Performers who lit up the ring and the arenas night after night, making themselves stars along the way, and the organisations like WWE, WCW & ECW who employed them, bucket loads of cash. For all the talk that wrestling is fake and pre-planned, it’s still dangerous, wrestlers can still get badly hurt and injured, the wear and tear it takes on the performers bodies over the course of a career can be of little doubt. Problem is, these wrestlers aren’t passing away in their latter days after their bodies have given up after a lifetime of battles in the ring, they’re dying in their 30's and 40’s because they’re hearts have given up on them.
Legendary wrestlers like British Bulldog, Eddie Guerrero, Big Boss Man and Mr Perfect; who all may well have had their best days in the ring, but all taken way before their time, and all still having so much more to give, both in the ring and out.
For all the talk that wrestling is fake and pre-planned, it’s still dangerous, wrestlers can still get badly hurt and injured, the wear and tear it takes on the performers bodies over the course of a career can be of little doubt.
There is of course one other death that I have yet to touch upon. Undoubtedly the darkest day for the WWE, and indeed the world of professional wrestling, came on the 25th June 2007, the day WWE wrestler Chris Benoit was found dead. Chris Benoit had killed his own wife and child before hanging himself at their family home in Georgia. It was later confirmed that high levels of various drugs, including steroids, had been bound in Benoit’s system. Perhaps more fascinating however, was, in the years since the tragedy, the revelations made by Benoit's father. After failing to understand his sons actions, Mike Benoit recently claimed that given the murders took place over 3 day period, the explanation of "roid rage", whereby an instant frenzied reaction occurs, did not make sense as a viable explanation. He then gave permission for scientists to examine his son’s brain; they found that after suffering repeated blows to head over the course of a lifetime, Benoit had suffered severe brain damage and that his brain resembled that of an 85 year old Alzheimer’s sufferer. Whether this brain damage is enough to cause someone to kill is unlikely, but, given what else what was found in his system, it could certainly have been a contributing factor.
Benoit aside, the natural reaction to these huge, muscle-bound wrestlers dying in this way is a simple and obvious one; steroids. The modern day wrestler of the last 20/30 years or so is not your old-fashioned, flabby chested, World of Sport, “Big Daddy” type; many are vain popping, body builder sorts, with muscles on top of muscles who would give the Incredible Hulk a run for his money. Just to look at some of these men is enough to know that looking that way does not really come naturally. In order to get the right look and image required for a polished, high quality, famous brand like the WWE, many turn to steroids. Of course, if they are then fortunate to make it to the holy land of somewhere like the WWE, a world renown, global organisation where the pressure to perform is huge, the abuse will only continue or even worsen in order maintain that “look” and stay at the top of the tree.
Benoit had suffered severe brain damage and that his brain resembled that of an 85 year old Alzheimer’s sufferer.
Then comes the financial aspect, most wrestlers are paid by performance, if you’re hurt or injured and can’t perform, you don’t get paid. This then in turn leads to other drugs playing their parts too; wrestlers perform night after night, city after city, living on the road with the build-up of all their aches, pains, injuries and fatigues in tow. Drugs are then taken to kill the pain, drugs to bring them up, drugs to bring them down, prescription, non-prescription, recreational drugs, alcohol; potentially all this and the steroids, they’re ticking time bombs and they’ve started to go off.
In the past it would seem from the outside looking in, that the WWE (or WWF in its former guise) never really discouraged steroid abuse; Vince McMahon, the grand ringmaster has always loved a big man, huge monsters of men, real living comic book heroes and villains, who set the audience apart. There are even allegations that in the past they even encouraged steroid abuse. However, once wrestler after wrestler starting passing away in similar circumstances; in particular, one of WWE’s then top dogs Eddie Guerrero, the organisation had no choice but to act. They introduced the WWE Wellness Policy, a 3 strikes and you’re out random drug testing policy; testing for recreational drugs, abuse of prescription drugs and anabolic steroids, as well as testing for pre-existing or developing cardiac issues.
Since the introduction of this program, there have been many big name suspensions and firings from the WWE; but, the number of deaths in recent years does seem to have decreased, whether that is coincidental or not however, only time will tell. A major concern is that there are still many very large athletes in the WWE, men build like brick shithouses and whose sizes are highly suspicious; it does seem like a huge contradiction for this policy to be in place whilst having wrestlers on the books whose bodies resemble those who have passed away.
The WWE has introduced the WWE Wellness Policy, a 3 strikes and you’re out random drug testing policy; testing for recreational drugs, abuse of prescription drugs and anabolic steroids, as well as testing for pre-existing or developing cardiac issues.
A ray of hope for the wrestling industry in recent times however is the rise of the smaller wrestler to the top of the industry. Competitors like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have forced their way to the top of the previously “big man” dominated main events, taking all the major titles along the way thanks to their classic in-ring abilities, and the equality important ability to “talk “on the microphone. Whether Vince and the WWE take these successes as an indicator that wrestlers don’t have to be 7 foot tall and the size of a small planet to be a big time player however will remain to be seen. I for one, and for the sake of potentially many others, hope they take the hint.
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