In going through some old wrestling photos, I found a number of them that featured "blading", the practice of purposely cutting oneself to produce "juice", or blood. Normally, this is done on the forehead and the announcers would refer to it as being "busted open". There are lots of blood vessels in the forehead, the sweat makes the blood pour down the face dramatically, and the forehead heals fairly quickly.
Blading became common in professional wrestling sometime around the middle of this century or soon after. In fact, it was sometimes the featured event, such as in a "First Blood Match", where the loser is decided by whoever starts bleeding first. Many great stars were famous for always blading: Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, and Abdullah the Butcher, to name a few.
Two things have since made it fall very much out of favor. First and foremost, the advent of professional wrestling becoming "family entertainment". This happened in the mid-1980's with the WWF's "Rock n' Wrestling Connection". Second, the onslaught of AIDS made the practice of purposely spilling blood in a physical contest even more dangerous than before. While the WWF took blading out of the mainstream in the mid-1980's, although King Kong Bundy did blade at Wrestlemania II, the WCW/NWA still continued to blade on pay-per-views until the early 1990s.
The WWF still has wrestlers blade on televised events on extremely rare occasions. Most recently, Bret Hart bladed Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIII, an act which a lot of people didn't expect and were appalled by, especially since Vince McMahon has been very publically critical of blading. WCW has not had anyone blade on a televised event for a few years although "Diamond" Dallas Page may have bladed at Road Wild '97. If not, he was busted open "hardway" (accidentally) at the end of the match. In fact, it is rumored that Dustin Rhodes, Blacktop Bully, and promoter Mike Graham were all fired from WCW when Graham instructed Rhodes and Bully to blade during their match inside an 18-wheeler on a pay-per-view about three years ago. ECW wrestlers, of course, blade regularly as do many wrestlers in local promotions. I have gotten reports that WCW wrestlers still do occasional blading at non-televised house shows, although I have not seen it myself in person since the Capital Combat pay-per-view in 1990. Occasionally, you do see Steve Regal or Ric Flair giving an interview and they have a bandage on their forehead. That would be a sign that they've been blading recently. In fact, Regal has busted open hardway (accidentally) twice on Nitro, ironically both times in matches against Chris Benoit, forcing the camera to pan way back so the audience at home won't see the blood. The ease with which he is bleeding implies that he has been blading. The last time I saw a WWF wrestler blade at a house show was in 1986.
Blading is probably the most common misconception held by people who don't understand the sport of professional wrestling. I would estimate that at least 9/10 of people who don't follow professional wrestling think the blood is fake. And, if you ever try to explain that the blood is real, trust me, they won't believe you or, if they do, they'll look at you like the whole thing was your idea in the first place.
Years ago, the blood was brought forth by a well placed knuckle at or above the eyebrow. Over time, it would be easier to bring blood forth on a wrestler as scar tissue replaced the skin (take a look at Dusty Rhodes' forehead to see what I'm talking about). In fact, someone wrote me to tell me that a wrestler from the 1950s told him that they would soften their foreheads up with a fork before the match, it the same way you would tenderize meat. As time went on, wrestlers got a little smarter and would carry a little piece of razor blade in their wrist wrap, tights, or even their mouth to use at the appropriate time. After they made the cut, the blade would be tossed, often under the ring if they were already outside. The practice often led people to believe the blood was, in fact, fake, because the wrestler would be face down outside the ring and wiping a hand across their forehead. Logically, one would assume it was a "blood capsule" the wrestler was using. No such luck.
As for other specifics, since I originally posted this, someone took the time to e-mail me the following:
Here is a tidbit you might want to add to the blading article. Last week I was having a beer with guys from a local federation. We talked at length on the subject of blading.
To a man, they all agree. You need to have a beer or two before the show if you plan on blading. The alcohol from the beer(s) thins the blood. This allows it to flow like a river.
I got to thinking about it and it must be true. I had some tattoo's done many years ago. Every time I went in to have them worked, on the guy asked me if I had been drinking. He said he could not do the work if I had been drinking. When I asked why, he told me because of excess bleeding caused by alcohol in the system.
It should be noted that since originally posting this piece, a number of people have written to say that aspirin is often used to thin the blood for blading.
Why would a wrestler blade? Money. "Red means green". You get a bonus if you blade, pure and simple. The cloak of secrecy was thrown off of blading in the mid-1980s in the now-famous 20/20 exposť on professional wrestling. This is the one where "Dr. D." David Schultz rang John Stossel's bells (at Vince McMahon's urging) and got sued. At the time, wrestling was still technically a sport and believed by many to not be fixed. One of the men featured in the 20/20 report was Eddie Mansfield, an ex-NFL quarterback who had been a wrestler. He talked about blading and demonstrated it, calmly taking a razor blade across his forehead and drawing blood during the interview while the cameras recorded it. He also taught the 150-pound John Stossel how to wrestle like a pro, and later Stossel was hip-tossing and body slamming the huge man in a wrestling ring.
I've collected a number of photos that feature many of the stars of the past and the stars of today "juiced". Why on earth would I do such a thing? I think it's important from a historical perspective. Especially now with the quasi-shoot interviews with Flair calling Syxx a punk with no sense of history and Syxx calling Flair a dinosaur who should retire, it's important to understand the roots of the sport. Many pro wrestling fans don't realize how pro wrestling used to be worse than boxing in terms of the low lifes that inhabited it. Anyone with a regular diet of WCW and WWF thinks that pro wrestling is great entertainment, the entertainers are well paid, and it's all on the up-and-up. Well, ten or more years ago, wrestlers would be wrestling two or three times a day, driving all night to get to their next gig, and quite often getting stiffed by the promoter. Outside the arena, the heels would have to deal with genuinely angry fans. Fred Blassie was stabbed by angry fans numerous times during his career. Roddy Piper was stabbed by an enraged fan many years ago and Piper now travels with a bodyguard. There was no such thing as being "under contract", and if you got hurt, you didn't get paid. And to top it all off, you were consistently cutting your head open in a filthy, unsanitary wrestling ring in a filthy, unsanitary arena. In fact, many local promotions of today, which many of us don't see, still operate like that.
To be honest, I'm a little worried about losing a few readers because of this feature. However, to truly understand Dusty's "sense of tradition" and the dues that were paid by many of the stars of today, I thought this should be shown.
Anyway, this is a collection of photos put together to demonstrate how guys like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, and the late Bruiser Brody paid their dues day after day, sometimes more than once a day. Think about these photos next time Kevin Nash, with his unscarred forehead, says "Tradition bites!"