The Ring Magazine: Wrestling Edition, Oct. 1965
Paul Arrand Rodgers
From 1960-1964, the great, bronzed gods of wrestling, having tired of the emergency room, deemed the condiment a suitable replacement for blood. Fans, we need not tell you again of professional wrestling’s legitimacy, that the grappling greats of the mat wars come to our arenas from dignified athletic backgrounds, that the men vying for your favor and the privilege of championship gold are, for the most part, chivalrous men, but permit us to tell you that these are incontrovertible facts, that artifice has slipped its way into our honest sport.
The glass bottles of recent memory, being cumbersome and slow to yield color when freshly opened, necessitated the invention of the ketchup packet—that small device you now receive from the smiling girl behind the McDonald’s counter—though you’re unlikely to see a professional wrestler’s name on the patent application. Wrestling trunks—having long been receptacles for biker chains, rolled-up quarters, talcum powder, and brass knuckles—housed their crude tin foil sachets of Hunt’s and Heinz, pinched tightly to prevent seepage.
Promoters hired magicians to teach their men the arts of concealment and sleight-of-hand, though not all were quick-fingered enough for change. Lou Thesz, with his arthritic mitts, smashed a packet in his eye, the vinegar causing the old champion temporary blindness. In Detroit, where The Sheik hurls his famous fireball, ringside fans noted that his singed opponents carried the faint aroma of a flame-broiled Whopper. “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, tired of explaining the red stains on his $25,000 robes to an army of inquisitive dry cleaners, was forced into semi-retirement.
The editors of The Ring: Wrestling Edition can only apologize to you, our loyal readers, for our role in promoting this sham. Though it’s to our everlasting shame, we found the gore in our pictorials spanning these past four years authentic and published them as such, pictures of girl grapplers with ketchup gashes, caveman brawlers laid out in pools of the stuff. We’ve been allowed by the men who allow us ringside to offer you this apology. A panel of promoters—from Roy Shire in San Francisco’s Cow Palace to Fritz Von Erich in the Dallas Sportatorium—has assured us that professional wrestling is once again on the level. With you in the seats, this sport will yet recover from its black eye, much the same way as baseball recovered from the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.
As proof, they point to Bruno Sammartino, the great champion of Vince McMahon’s World-Wide Wrestling Federation. Only Bruno, concerned with his carnival strongman image, had the guts to refuse the improvised vino. Once, he was so overwhelmed by the smell of soured ketchup staining the canvas that he vomited, exacerbating the stench. The sympathy given to Sammartino by the usually bloodthirsty fans of the Northeast was such that he skyrocketed to the WWWF’s championship, which he has now held for two years consecutively.
Just this September, the New York State Athletic Commission banned the use of condiments in the ring, citing sanitation and public health concerns. Now the question is how the wrestlers manage to bleed so frequently. Again, this publication will not dispute the blood-drawing capabilities of Dr. Tor Kamata’s palm thrust when applied to a man’s nose, nor the veracity of a sharp knee dropped across the forehead by “Handsome” Harley Race. A fifteen-foot steel cage constructed of cyclone fencing is bound to be barbed, but the human body is not an overripe melon. Its contents do not spill out without provocation. To see the bleach-blond playboys of the opening bout swimming in pools of each other’s blood is to wonder if the illusionist’s smoke-and-mirror act is now applied to bits of broken razor, if the game of human chess now subjugates itself to acts of self-mutilation.
We, the editors, wouldn’t dream of lecturing the kings of sport, but it’s worth pointing out that blood, like ketchup, is best served in moderation. The skillful application of a hold that produces the well-timed crimson mask is not unlike the execution of a carefully plotted match: an art unto itself.
Paul Arrand Rodgers graduated from Bowling Green State University with an MFA in Creative Writing. His work has appeared in JMWW and Heavy Feather Review, and he is the play-by-play announcer for Absolute Intense Wrestling in Cleveland, Ohio. He runs the pop-culture website Fear of a Ghost Planet (fearofaghostplanet.com)