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Could blood return to the WWE rings in 2011

Dusty Rhodes vs. Ric FlairIt’s a hard debate for long-time WWE fans: Do we wish for the days of bloody steel cage matches and angles that generated heat, or do we accept that blading is a rather strange practice that the pro wrestling is better off without?

The current WWE scene isn’t the first time Vince McMahon has outlawed gigging. There were points in the 1980s and mid-1990s during which blood was also a rarity. If McMahon thinks blood pushes new fans away, he won’t allow it. But if he thinks the “crimson mask” will draw people in, wrestlers will be asked to get some color.

For those who weren’t around, the mid-1990s became a low point for the then-WWF. You had talented wrestlers on top – both Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels got the first WWF Heavyweight Title runs during this period – but attendance at house shows was low and the product seemed stale.

Sounds familiar.

I remember distinctly a match between Hart and the late Davey Boy Smith during a pay-per-view in December 1995 during which Hart bled, which was a surprise because blood wasn’t allowed at that point. The public spin at the time was that the cut was hardway, but Hart clearly explained in his autobiography, Hitman, that he gigged himself in a way to make it appear to be a realistic injury. “I was proud of the fact that … wrestling fans could never say for sure that I bladed intentionally,” Hart wrote. – Bret Hart book review

People talked about that bout, and it wasn’t long before you started to see more gore in matches. Who can forget in 1997 when Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin stole the show at WrestleMania 13, in part because Austin was bleeding buckets at the end of an exciting “I Quit” match? Soon, the ultra-successful Attitude Era soon was in full swing as an attempt to combat WCW, which enjoyed a bigger buzz among fans thanks to Monday Nitro (and for the record, WCW’s top matches also had frequent blood).

So now as we enter 2011, the WWE is again suffering from staleness. Violent matches don’t occur as frequently because their dangerous spots led to long-term injuries and concussions. The WWE is also concerned about being family friendly and keeping sponsors happy, and bloody brawls don’t mix well with that goal.

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But don’t believe for a second that McMahon would not bring the blade back if he thinks it’s the right thing to do for business. Some hints, should they in fact come true, could indicate the return of blood:

John Cena turns heel – Cena has been kept a babyface because he’s the biggest draw on the WWE circuit and sells merchandise. If he becomes a bad guy, it would be a sign that McMahon is willing to head in a new direction that plays off adult men not liking Cena.
• A new gimmick match debuts – The Hell in the Cell was a great blow-off match for feuds, in part because you were guaranteed to see a bloodbath. Now the gimmick is dull, as witnessed during the 2010 Hell in the Cell pay-per-view, in which two cages matches had no blood other than Kane getting a small hardway cut. If a new gimmick match is created, it may need juice to get it noticed.
• UFC continues to cut into the WWE’s audience – UFC steals away a piece of the WWE’s male audience that wants to see bloody fights. If McMahon decides to more actively push back against UFC, blood would be an easy way to reset the wrestling scene.
Triple H takes an even more active backstage role – Triple H is a fan of old school wrestling. A lot of his moves and match layouts are nods to past stars like Harley Race. Triple H grew up watching 1980s WWF and NWA wrestling, so if he gets more power in the back, he may push for a return to bloody angles.

Blading, like many other aspects in the WWE, is cyclical. It fades in and out of favor with McMahon depending on his mood, and his mood changes every few years. A ban on the blade is never permanent, particularly when parts of the core business remain in the dumps.

Scott Wallask has followed wrestling for 30 years and writes about growing up watching the WWF in the 1980s on his blog the Boston Garden Balcony.

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Scott Wallask

Scott Wallask has followed wrestling for 30 years and writes about growing up watching the WWF in the 1980s on his blog the Boston Garden Balcony.

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