It was about a week, week and a half ago that I wrote a quick article about IWRG getting their wrestling license revoked for running an empty arena show in Arena Naucalpan. I’ll be honest; it feels like that was five years ago, back in a time when there was still hope for the DC Cinematic Universe and CMLL didn’t actively suck. But the fact that I had forgotten I had even written it, not to mention that I can’t remember my last bit of writing before that, shows that my grand plans to spend this whole pandemic writing, either random articles for the good people here at Lucha Central or for myself, haven’t quite worked out. Some of that is because I discovered the art of editing lucha highlight videos (although I haven’t been inspired to do that in a few weeks either). On top of that it’s so easy these days, especially when you’re someone like me who socially distances and only goes out to get groceries or the rare dog sitting gig (where I’m the only person in the house), to just get sucked into the warm comfort of Netflix and Batman: Arkham. At the end of the day though my lack of writing comes down to what I call a lack of motivation. Because truly, how can one be motivated when the world, pro wrestling/lucha libre and beyond, is closely becoming a parody of a John Carpenter post apocalyptic feature?
As I think back on that article I wrote about IWRG’s suspended wrestling license (which they’ve since gotten back for those keeping score) I realize that was probably one of the last few moments of normalcy I felt as a wrestling fan. Since then all we’ve seen is the dirt worst and that may be kind to dirt. The decisions by AEW and WWE to continue running shows since COVID-19 reared its ugly head in the US back in March have long been controversial, but they’ve become especially provocative since it became apparent that WWE’s “ignore the virus and hopefully it’ll go away!” strategy blew up in the least surprising way possible. It started with one positive test last week; as of this writing the number appears to be north of 30 positive tests for COVID-19, all while details of WWE’s mask wearing policy remain murky and reports of severe talent unrest are popping up like Whack-A-Moles. It would easily be the biggest story in any other pro wrestling year…except that this is pro wrestling, which means there’s always room for more than one scandal.
In addition to WWE’s fumbling of COVID, the past week also saw a group of brave women (and some men) come forward to expose the horrifying amount of sexual abuse within the business, a movement called Speaking Out. That’s right; one of the vile things you thought was eradicated after wrestling left the 1980’s is still here and it’s evidently just as bad as before. Wrestlers from Joey Ryan to Velveteen Dream to Mike Quackenbush to Marty Scurll to Jimmy Havoc to Dave Crist to seemingly a quarter of the WWE NXT UK roster were accused of some of the worst behavior you’ll ever find in this walk of life. Will Ospreay, one of the best talents in the world, was shown to have possibly colluded in keeping Pollyanna, a former wrestler and sexual assault survivor, blackballed from the UK scene. I’m still not sure what to say about former AAA Cruiserweight Champion and AEW star Sammy Guevara’s comments about Sasha Banks from a few years ago, other than the fact that they make my blood boil thinking about it. And most infuriating of all for me personally was the revelations that David Starr, someone who I believed to not only be a great wrestler but someone who stood for what wrestling could potentially be, instead turned out to be nothing more than a scumbag of the highest order.
Those are two stories that would be the biggest scandals in wrestling, individually, at any other time. Instead they happened at the same time in the span of the last two weeks and they’re nowhere close to done. More allegations are still being looked into, more allegations are sure to come forward and unless it mysteriously disappears into thin air COVID-19 is here to stay for the foreseeable future. We surely will get more apologies from wrestlers regarding their (alleged) heinous actions, hopefully with more of them being less like Starr and Ryan’s sickening statements and more like Guevara’s (the only person I’ve felt thus far that came off as sincere in apologizing to Banks). And while I’m not a betting man, I’d bank on more controversies surrounding WWE (and anyone else’s) handling of COVID-19, especially given how the promotion is going to continue to run shows despite all rhyme or reason. Given how wrestling is I wouldn’t be shocked if some other scandal, separate from these two, somehow pops up in this time. The reputation of pro wrestling has never been good but the fact that the business is now dominated, seemingly every hour, of news of COVID mishandling and sexual assault allegations certainly feels like an all time low to me. In the long run some of it will be for the better; as depressing as it is to see so many people exposed as deviants and abusers now the stories of these women and men behind Speaking Out, who are braver than I could ever imagine being, coming forward will no doubt help lead the wrestling business into a better place than this one. But other stuff, particularly everything involving COVID-19 and wrestling’s general handling of it, just goes to show you what many have long thought about the business; it’s low brow, it’s carnie and you want to stay away from it the way conservatives stay away from masks.
You may have noticed that I’ve brought up lucha libre only once in this discussion, and considering this is a lucha libre site, may be wondering what any of what I’m saying has to do with lucha. If I can paraphrase Saladin in Kingdom of Heaven after he’s asked “what is Jerusalem?” by Bailian, nothing…and everything. On the surface Mexico has had it much easier these past few weeks; for starters, there’s been no public accusations made of rape, sexual assault or any other form of abuse that I’m currently aware of. And while certain indie promotions (Kaoz, Lucha Memes, ect.) and IWRG have run shows, both AAA and CMLL have largely been inactive, with AAA only running shows briefly in April. Despite this, both abuse and COVID-19 are issues in lucha libre, with the only difference being they’ve gone unsaid. In regards to abuse/harassment/assault, AAA referee Copetes Salazar has been accused of stalking numerous AAA luchadoras during his tenure, while former CMLL boss Sofia Alonso fired Arena Guadalajara booker, Magnum, after it was revealed he attempted to blackmail CMLL luchadora Silueta into giving him sexual favors in order to get booked. The most public example, at least to me, would be former CMLL luchador Bobby Zavala who famously (and inexplicably) stated on CMLL Informa about how he preferred teenage girls, something that would’ve caused a scandal if a WWE performer had said the same thing on the now late WWE Backstage. Zavala, of course, wound up working with CMLL for at least another year.
Both Magnum and Zavala are effectively blackballed these days; Magnum hasn’t worked anywhere that I can tell since getting fired, while Zavala has only worked 16 total matches since being let go in 2017. However, Salazar remains employed by AAA even years after his allegations and it still remains unclear if Zavala was blackballed for what he said/potential actions or because he was involved in the destruction of Último Guerrero’s sport car in the famous backstage incident that also got La Máscara and Máximo fired from CMLL (it’s a well known secret that Guerrero’s power, in CMLL especially, is huge in lucha libre). Now you may think only three incidents is a far cry from what we’ve heard elsewhere but that’s not because they aren’t happening. While I wasn’t given any specifics, when I asked someone last week about assault, abuse, harassment and such in Mexico, I was told it would be easier to keep track of luchadores who didn’t take advantage of luchadoras then it was the ones who did. Luchablog’s Cubsfan pointed out last week that allegations of this nature in Mexico generally don’t come out because there is an even greater fear of being blackballed for accusing high profile luchadores. In his post yesterday he stated that he believed there were many luchadoras who could come forward with stories from their training, but wouldn’t due to a lack of a safe space to tell their story and a feeling they wouldn’t be believed. If you think what we’ve heard from the US and UK is alarming (and it is), imagine a scenario where women who came forward to speak out were too scared to do so; in other words imagine just ten to fifteen years ago.
Then there is COVID-19 in Mexico. Anyone with passing knowledge knows that COVID-19 has hit Mexico hard, especially recently. But unless you’re a subscriber to Dave Meltzer’s newsletter or read the aforementioned Luchablog, you wouldn’t know that the number of deaths in Mexico recently involving luchadores, luchadoras, referees and promoters is significantly, and I mean significantly, higher than anyone else. Don’t believe me? Below is the full list of people involved in lucha libre who, as of this writing, are believed to have died due to COVID-19 related illness.
El Matematico II (luchador, age 50)
Blackman II (luchador, age 68)
Super Bracito (luchador)
Bello Andy (luchador/referee, age 66)
El Pollo (referee)
Punos de Roca (luchador)
Kaiser (luchador, age 33)
Sombra Vengadora (luchador, age 87)
Herodes (luchador, age 69)
Esther Leon de Moreno (promoter)
Kraken (luchador, age 53)
Sangre Guerrera (luchador, doctor)
Pilatos (luchador, age 60)
Temerario I (luchador, age 45)
Carnicero Aguilar (luchador, age 73 or 74)
Kilowanito (luchador, age 79)
Estrella Blanca III (luchador, age 53 or 54)
El Molusco (luchador, age 79)
Pepe Luis Esparza (luchador, age 62)
Antonio Alvarez (promoter)
Cash (luchador, age 53)
Francisco Lizarraga (luchador, age 31)
Anubis (luchadora, age 43)
Julio Rosales (referee)
Soldado de Plata (luchador)
El Lider (luchador, age 56)
Edgar Ortiz (interviewer)
For those who don’t feel like counting, that is a list of 27 people (25 men and 2 women). 27 deaths. Not cases; deaths. Some of them are names you may know, some of them are names you’ve never heard of and either way it doesn’t matter because these are all people, several of whom were 65 or younger, all dead, directly or indirectly because of this pandemic. And again; this is with AAA, CMLL and IWRG running only a handful of shows between them since the outbreak and only a handful of indies continuing to run (and to be clear; these indies shouldn’t be running either). It shouldn’t have taken you to this point to be furious about how wearing masks, social distancing and just honest to Grodd safety have been politicized during these times and if this doesn’t do it, there may be no hope for you. These are 27 people who lost their lives unnecessarily and most of them haven’t worked, or promoted a lucha libre show recently. And I get it; lucha libre is the red headed step child of pro wrestling. The great matches, the great performers, the memorable moments, hell even the scandals; they’re all overlooked, passed over and forgotten about in favor of what happens in the US, Japan, the UK and elsewhere. It’s why everyone remembers Andrade vs. Johnny Gargano and no one remembers La Sombra vs. Atlantis. To the wrestling world, lucha libre only matters when luchadores make it to the US, are throwing bricks at other’s heads or Sexy Star is breaking someone’s arms at Triplemania. It’s why 27 deaths go unnoticed and a group of women remain afraid to speak out to the wrestling masses.
As you can see, this shit bothers me. And it bothers me even more, especially these COVID stats, when you consider what just happened with WWE this week. Say what you will about the other promotions that have run in this pandemic, from the AEW’s, the GCW’s, the certain indie promotions and hell even AAA; there’s a strong argument you can make that none of them should’ve run at all. But if you’re going to run, you have an obligation to at least make an attempt to keep your talent friggin safe. AEW has done that by testing every single one of their talents who has walked through the door for COVID-19, among other restrictions. AAA sanitized their entire arena before the show with guys in hazmat suits, sanitized the ring in between matches with guys in hazmat suits and sat the announcers away from each other and then out of the arena altogether. GCW ran outdoors, had staggered seating, required everyone to wear masks, provided hand sanitizer and constantly, and I mean constantly, reminded fans to respect social distancing and keep their masks on. Did any of them do it perfectly? No. Should any of them have run? Maybe not. But they did and they made an effort to keep their talent, and in GCW’s case the fans, safe. Meanwhile WWE went nearly three months with just doing temperature checks and questionnaires even after a positive test in March, only started testing after a second failed test and now has, reportedly, almost as many, if not more, cases of COVID-19 in their company as there are COVID-19 related deaths in lucha libre. And that doesn’t include all the other reports about urging talent to come to tapings even if they’re uncomfortable, not requiring them to wear masks, not keeping talent informed and endless upon endless amounts of other bullshit. This isn’t just incompetence; this is comic book super villain stuff that Lex Luthor would cringe at.
And you know what the worst part is? None if means anything because not a damn thing is going to change. Even after two weeks of it becoming painfully obvious that WWE cares more about the almighty dollar than their own talent, even after it’s become apparent that there’s a potential outbreak going on within the company, Smackdown last night went up in the ratings. Both RAW and NXT on Monday and Wednesday remained either the same or went up, crushing AEW Dynamite in NXT’s case. As far as anyone can tell, no worker, announcer, interviewer, backstage person or higher up has walked out. Today the talk of WWE’s handling of this disappeared when WWE announced that Banks would take on Io Shirai next week. Perhaps most importantly, no mainstream media outlet outside of maybe Sports Illustrated has picked up on the WWE COVID-19 crisis, or the Speaking Out movement. If you want to know why WWE was able to screw this up so badly, reread what I just wrote. We can criticize them on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media all we want and the wrestlers can talk anonymously to the dirt sheets all they want and it will not matter because the wrestlers will still show up to work, the fans will still watch every week when WWE flashes something like Banks vs. Shirai in their face and the websites and dirt sheets will continue to cover each and every show.
Let me be clear; the WWE has only themselves to blame for their own dumb decisions. There is no doubt about that. But it’s become clear to me that wrestlers, the fans and even us, the reporters, carry some responsibility because we have enabled them; WWE is allowed to get away with shit like this and will continue to treat issues like COVID-19 with little regard until things blow up because they know every Monday they’re getting 1.9 to 2.0 million viewers, every Wednesday they’re getting 600K to 800K viewers and every Friday they’re getting 2.0 or above. All while the wrestlers continue to report to work and the wrestling media continues to watch the shows and crank out reviews. The argument is “well this is what we do” and “I want to support so and so” and while I get the sentiment, how can you support a wrestler when you’re giving your time and your money to a company that I think has conclusively proven with their actions that the talent is little more than cattle? The fact is that WWE will only listen and only change when the things they truly care about, money and control, are taken away and as long as that doesn’t happen, the cycle repeats. It’s why they’ve continued to screw this up to a degree I’ve never seen before. As it becomes more apparent what needs to happen to create actual change in wrestling, the more it becomes apparent to me that it’s never, ever going to happen. As much as we talk about standing up for the business and the workers and all that jazz, as a whole, it’s all just talk. In the end most will keep watching. Most will fall in line and keep going out to wrestle in dangerous conditions. And then when WWE keeps screwing up, we all wonder how this could’ve happened. The truth is it happened because we continue, as a fan base, as a community, to not hold them accountable. Right now that’s terrifying; if 27 people in lucha libre can die from COVID-19 while not actively working, imagine what could happen to WWE’s roster if they keep going unchecked, by themselves, by their own talent and by us.
I realize I have been all over the place. I realize that maybe not all the pieces connect. Hell I realize that maybe, if just for myself, this is all stuff I should’ve said sooner. I just can’t escape the feeling that when I look around wrestling, this business that I have loved ever since I was 9 years old, I mostly don’t recognize it anymore. I find bits and pieces when I watch AEW every Wednesday and when I watched GCW a week ago, and I’ll hopefully see some more tonight when I do a review of a show by Pure Power Wrestling up in Canada for this site (Pure Power, by the way, will be testing all of its talents going forward, something Vince McMahon wouldn’t do for two months despite having more money than Pure Power has likely ever heard of). But even as I enjoy AEW I find myself wondering afterwards whether they should be doing these shows. I lost myself in Nick Gage’s entrance last week, only to then realize a poor woman had been hurt in the commotion; it was an accident, she’s fine and GCW handled it better than any promotion in a similar situation (that I’ve seen), but it just goes to show that even innocent moments and accidents can leave your head spinning these days. I no longer know if I can trust any promotion, even the ones I watch, enjoy and write about, to do the right thing and the wave of accusations of abuse in the past week have definitely left me to wonder just which of the wrestlers I enjoy are good people and which are ones that use their fame and power to do horrible things to women, men or children. I miss lucha libre and am terrified what I’ll learn if things start to come out. It’s enough to make me wonder what I am doing involving myself with wrestling at times.
To be clear, I’m not done with it; wrestling is too big a part of me to just drop it and even if it’s in the smallest way, I believe I can help contribute to it growing as a business. But I’d be lying if I didn’t think I’ve reached my Heaven’s Gate moment with wrestling. That film starts with Jim Averill (Kris Kristofferson) celebrating his college graduation with his best friend and girlfriend, happy as can be, before immediately jumping to him older, kind of broken and longing for the days. I’m not giving up on wrestling; but I am worried if we’re soon to be two old, distant friends playing pool, wondering what happened to those good gone days.
Please change disks to continue…