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Wrestlers dying at alarming rate

Friday, June 12, 2015
Dirt Under the Nails
Hulk Hogan...beaten by The Ultimate Warrior in Wrestlemania VI in 1990

I am not a fan of WWF wrestling by any means. First of all, I do not understand how one can be entertained by watching hideous looking, animal-like behaving humans, pretend to fight each other.  

While I do not understand how enjoyment can be obtained from viewing such fake barbarianism, I do respect the fact that others may be inclined to disagree. I suppose one can argue that just as I enjoy watching fake crime mysteries, others enjoy fake fighting. However, it seems rather stupid to me, given the risks of the “sport.” The most recent events in the world of wrestling support my point. 

In browsing the news online, I came across a headline that read, “Ultimate Warrior: One-Third of Wrestlemania VI Competitors Now Dead.” First of all, I had no clue who or what “Ultimate Warrior” was, or that there were different editions of Wrestlemania. The headline was interesting, so I read on and was not surprised by what the article reported. 

Wrestlemania is a pay-per-view professional wrestling event (I can’t believe people pay for this) that is produced between March and April every year. It is the most successful production of the promotional company, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). There have been 31 editions of the event since its inception. The Ultimate Warrior was a professional wrestler participating in Wrestlemania VI in 1990 when he beat the only wrestler I know about, Hulk Hogan, to win the championship. 

However, at the young age of 54, the Ultimate Warrior is now dead from a heart attack. As the headline to the article said, one third of Wrestlemania VI’ s competitors have died. 

Most of these competitors would be in their fifties today. Of the 51 participants in Wrestlemania VII, 14 have died prematurely. A review of the history of deaths of Wrestlemania participants yielded a total of 41 deaths before the age of 60. 

There are three causes of death that stand out: heart conditions, drugs and suicide. The exception is Andre the Giant, who, although he died from heart failure in 1993, had acromegaly. This causes abnormal growth and gigantism, but heart abnormalities are also part of the condition. 

However, other wrestlers like Davey Boy Smith (age 39 at death), Rocco Rock (49), Road Warrior Hawk (46), Hercules (48), Big Bossman (41), Randy Savage (58), and Eddie Guerrero (38) all died of heart attacks. Then there are Rick Rude (40), Mr Perfect (44), Miss Elizabeth (42), Johnny Grunge (39), Bam Bam Bigelow (45), Sensational Sherri (49), Crush (43), Test (33), Umaga (36) and Garrison Cade (29) who all died of drug related overdoses or toxicity. Texas Tornado (33), and Crash Holly (32) both committed suicide, as did Chris Benoit (40), who also murdered his wife and son. 

Wrestlers are dying at an alarming rate, but it is not because wrestling is inherently dangerous where one can die from one’s injuries caused by wrestling itself, as in the case of Chris Owen who died in front a pay-per-view crowd after falling 50 feet. This is a rarity. Rather, it is the lifestyle of wrestlers that is of concern, and this has been well documented.

A wrestler is 12 times more likely to die of heart disease than persons of similar age.  Studies have shown that over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, as well as prescription medications like oxycodone, increase the risk for cardiac conditions. There was no shortage of painkiller abuse in Wrestlemania participants and the death rate highlights this. 

It’s not only the abuse of pain killers that increases the risks of death. The use of steriods to “bulk-up” was very common in the eighties and nineties, and is possibly so even today. What stands out as well, is the amount of substance abuse that occurred. Cocaine and alcohol were common causes in overdose deaths. 

The suicide rate is also alarming, and I wonder if the culture of wrestling was responsible for driving some of its practitioners to put themselves out of their misery. So think about your definition of sport before reading further. If sport is supposed to promote health, wellness and performance of the human body, can wrestling be considered a sport? 

For me, wrestling is just bad acting by very large and muscular actors, on a stage that’s a ring. 

Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS, ATRIC is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Certified Aquatic Therapy  Rehabilitation Instructor at Total Rehabilitation Centre in San Juan.


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