Hardcore Wrestling, I’m Not Quite Dead, Yet

Bill Behrens


Recently James E Cornette posted a very good piece on the history of Hardcore Wrestling, and his opinion of what it has become, an opinion I share.  Jim’s piece can be read here http://jimcornette.com/Commentary.html .


As Jim Cornette notes what we call Hardcore Wrestling has been around in one form or another for decades in Professional Wrestling.  I first started watching wrestling in Miami, Florida in the late 60s.  I recall feuds between heels like Boris Malenko and a babyface like Eddie Graham which after a long build up would be paid off in a gimmick match.   Malenko’s match was the Russian Chain Match where both men were linked together by a chain, and the match guaranteed blood and violence, but generally also signaled the end of a feud, the payoff.   Such matches were not used regularly, so that when they were used, it was something special.


Certain wrestlers who today would be branded as Hardcore like The Original Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher were the exception not the rule, and their use of a foreign object, often a pencil or fork, was their offense during the heat, but so too both used normal finishing moves to end most matches.  Abdullah used the running elbow drop, and the Sheik used the Camel Clutch.   The fact that only a limited number of wrestlers were like these guys and “wrestled” like they did made them special.


Today Hardcore Wrestling is considered by some to be a genre of Professional Wrestling, and entire cards are often created featuring nothing but hardcore matches, blood leading to blood into more blood, redundancy repeated repeatedly.   The worst of these are billed as DEATH MATCHES, which I pray will always be false advertising, but I’m beginning to think otherwise.


Recently Combat Zone Wrestling and John Zandig promoted KING OF THE DEATH MATCHES 8 in the backyard of one of the wrestler’s family home in Townsend, DE, in front of maybe 250 fans primed for a little of the good old “ultra-violence”.  Top to bottom the card was filled to the rim with hardcore matches.  The show started with a “no rope, barbed wire, fire match”, followed by a “barbed wire & tube bundles match”, creatively flowing into a “pane of glass wrapped in barbed wire match”, uniquely spun into a “tables, chairs & silverware match”, followed by a “Jack In The Box Match”, whatever that is.   Only here did the booker/promoter betray his booking genius as two fans bring weapons matches were booked back to back.   By now the ring was overflowing with a rich, semi-congealed, gooey blend of wrestler plasma, and the fans were primed and ready for something truly violent.  After all Zandig promoted death, and fans expect promoters to deliver, and bless his heart he nearly did.  The Main Event was a scientific mat classic pitting Germany’s Thumbtack Jack against America’s own Nick Gage.   Both men had already worked once, Jack in the Jack in a Box Match and Gage in a Fans Bring Weapons match, so clearly they needed to find a way not to duplicate spots they had already done to risk their lives, and were challenged to find new and more spectacular ways to bleed.  After all, the fans deserved something special in the Main Event.  And special it was as the promoted match was a “200 light tube and panes of glass death match”.  Finally the fans were promised not just blood, not just glass but two kinds of glass, and the ultimate stipulation, death.   Both men did their best to deliver, but it was Nick Gage who truly went the extra mile when he went through a pane of glass and surprisingly received a deep gash under one arm.   Spurting blood, Gage wanted to continue to “work” the match, but for reasons unknown, given the “death match” stipulation, Gage was taken to the back.   Soon he was airlifted to a hospital where emergency surgery closed his wound, saving his life.  


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