Editor’s Note: Wrestling with Regulations is a series covering the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission’s regulation of professional wrestling and the strange intersection with one of the state’s most vibrant — and secretive — subcultures.
By Gary Joseph Wilson | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – Rickey Shane Page wears a crimson mask of his own blood as he carries a bundle of fluorescent light tubes and approaches the ring during an Absolute Intense Wrestling show in Cleveland, Ohio.
But before Page can enter the ring, his opponent Matt Cross swings from the top rope and dropkicks the glass tubes directly into Page’s face. The tubes erupt into a cloud of broken glass and powder, covering Page in white specks of debris.
Page falls to the ground in agony but manages to give a thumbs up to fans taking photos at ringside as they chant “RSP! RSP! RSP!”
But Page’s glory could have been short-lived had he been wrestling in Pennsylvania, and a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission felt like ruining his day.
Page or the match promoter could have been charged with a class three misdemeanor. Not because Page tried to hit someone with glass tubes — but because he cut himself.
Blading, as it’s called, is a popular parlor trick where a wrestler will discreetly use a hidden razor blade to cut his forehead just below the hairline. Largely a superficial wound, a cut from a blade will produce a large flow of blood.
Despite being relatively safe, blading is one of the few things prohibited by Pennsylvania’s Wrestling Act. The illegality of the act has conflicted with the prevalence of ultraviolent wrestling in the state, and wrestlers have both found ways around statute, or ignored the state’s regulation completely.
Page was willing to speak about his experience blading but only outside the state, saying it “doesn’t bother” him because it “gets a big reaction” from the crowd. Blading is not very painful and more “like getting a paper cut,” he said.
“I’d rather blade than take a back bump,” Page said, reasoning it was safer and less painful for him to cut his forehead than to have an opponent slam him to the mat.
Page said his only fear was catching Hepatitis or other infection, a common sentiment in the industry. Recently, wrestler Devon Nicholson filed a lawsuit against Larry “Abdullah The Butcher” Shreve alleging Shreve recklessly transmitted Hepatitis to him in a match in which both bled.
When asked if blading occurs in Pennsylvania, Rob Strauss, who performs as Robbie E for TNA Wrestling, the second largest wrestling promoter in the nation, told PA Independent “1,000 percent. It happens.”
Strauss said the decision to blade falls to the wrestler, and he’s never seen a promoter pressure a wrestler into blading.
As wrestling promoter Chuck Williams, who performs under the name Rockin’ Rebel, points out, the Wrestling Act only “says you can’t cut yourself deliberately, but it doesn’t say anything about me cutting you.”
When asked about Williams’ interpretation of the Wrestling Act, the executive director of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Commission, Greg Sirb, would say only that people should use “common sense” in following the regulations.
When told of the Necro Butcher, a wrestler who regularly uses a staple gun on the forehead of his opponents, Sirb wouldn’t comment.
Under Pennsylvania law, wrestlers may use “accessories” in their matches. This broad statute has allowed wrestlers to brandish anything from barbed wire to grass trimmers to fire and broken glass to inflict pain on opponents.
With fans known somewhat derisively as vampires or mutants, the ultraviolent style of wrestling was popularized in the now-defunct Philadelphia-based Extreme Championship Wrestling after being imported from Japan in the 1990s. But it was the spiritual successor to ECW, the Philadelphia-born Combat Zone Wrestling, that really earned the ire of Sirb.
In the early 2000s, Williams owned the promoter’s license for CZW, an outfit then producing among the bloodiest wrestling events in the state. Williams said he frequently had to visit Sirb’s office to “listen to his tongue-lashing” and was constantly on the phone with Sirb, explaining what had transpired after every show.
According to Williams, Sirb was “sort of like…disgusted with wrestling” and trying to “get rid of all the crazy stuff.”
Ten years ago, in a performance produced without Williams’ approval, wrestler John Zandig was jumped by a group of enemies who impaled the flesh of his back with a series of meat hooks attached to chains. Zandig then was hoisted in the air and left hanging.
Sirb declined to speak on the record about the incident, but according to Williams, Sirb soon began cracking down on ultraviolent wrestling, especially the advertising of such events.
“I’d get a phone call from Greg, it’d be like ‘what the hell’s this, a light tube weapons match, it ain’t f***ing happening…don’t let me find out that match happened on the show’,” Williams said.
Violations of certain provisions in the state’s Wrestling Act are third degree misdemeanors, generally punishable with a
fine. Sirb said the athletic commission hasn’t attempted to press charges recently against a promoter for violating the blading prohibition.
Williams is not so sure, “When I left (CZW) and Maven Bentley took over, he was getting fined out his a**hole.”
Bentley, who now owns the Pennsylvania promoter’s license for CZW, repeatedly declined to comment on the record. PA Independent is awaiting a response to a Right-to-Know request regarding any charges or fines assessed against Bentley.
Regardless of the commission’s actions, the wrestling industry has self-adjusted to present a performance with less blood.
“I think some of the shit that was being done, like those meat hooks, grossed a lot of people out,” Williams said.
Attendance at the CZW show featuring the meat hook incident was about 700, but fell to around 400 the following show, Williams said. Gradually, CZW developed a more fan-friendly show, which while still R-rated and bloody at times features more athletic talent and less of a reliance of shock value.
The WWE has taken the lead in presenting a less bloody wrestling product and no longer allows its performers to blade.
Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer said even though wrestlers “really don’t get seriously injured” from blading, the act is becoming “something from the past.”
NEXT: A new attempt within Pennsylvania to regulate wrestling could have large effects on the industry.
Contact Gary Joseph Wilson at [email protected] or on Twitter @gjw34.