Blood has been a controversial figure in wrestling since the era of the Gold Dust Trio. Back when fans were more fully behind the veil of kayfabe, bloodying the wrong good guy could legitimately incite a riot. It could also lead to issues with state certification, venues becoming less than hospitable, and later on TV censor nightmares. But as time went on, it was adopted more and more as a storytelling accessory to dial up the drama. In recent decades, it just as quickly disappeared entirely for most of WWE’s “PG Era” starting in 2008. Impact followed for a time with its own no blood rule starting in 2014. But wrestlers and fans are now re-discovering what Mr. Hardy generously defined for us all as “Gigging” in order to “get Color.” Let’s capitalize on this chance to cut deeper into just how it can be used as an art form to emphasize a story or change the character of a match. Here are (in no particular order)…
5 matches that were enhanced by their use of blood.
5) Britt Baker vs. Hikaru Shida (AEW Dynamite; 04/08/2020)
Dr. Britt Baker came to AEW with a lot of fanfare and promise before being pushed to the back burner in favor of other feuds within the women’s division. She channeled her frustration at being overlooked into her character and turned against the division, the management of AEW, and the fans. By the time she fought against soon-to-be Women’s Champ Hikaru Shida, Britt was a full on diva, demanding that everyone around her pay attention, serve her hand and foot, and she let everyone know she was in effect, their role model.
In this iconic match with Shida, Baker caught a knee in the nose and began to gush red. Seeing her own blood seemed to make her more bloodthirsty herself in real time, as her aggression spiked and she smiled in the face of danger to herself, the crimson pouring down and drawing attention to everything she did afterward. That reckless and dangerous side of Baker that emerged on this night drove her to her best promo and in-ring work in AEW over the following weeks (until she was unfortunately derailed by a knee injury, but she bravely rolls on).
4) Bret Hart vs Steve Austin (WWE Wrestlemania 13; 03/13/1997)
Another instance where a change in character is happening, but this is less about the long-term development of someone finding themselves – it’s 100% about the moment. Look up at that above photo again; if you’re enough of a fan to read this, you’ve probably seen it more times than you have some of your distant relatives. But why was “Color” such a big factor here? Well, chances are you’ve seen someone put in the Sharpshooter (by a Hart or otherwise) just as many times. People sell for it, but this was the climactic end of a dramatic submission match at Wrestlemania, and WWE’s attempt to make its biggest star in decades.
The blood framing and brightening Austin’s face made it clear just how much anguish the rest of his expression was giving off, while making THIS application of the hold seem that much more painful. That Austin then did not tap out only felt more impressive. More subtly, but just as importantly, he also had a sensible reason for why he would pass out here but still be an indomitable badass under normal circumstances. Brilliant planning and excellent execution allowed us to feel sympathy for Austin (turning him face) while also still knowing deep down he was the toughest SOB around when he wasn’t down a few quarts of crimson.
3) Terry Funk vs. Raven (ECW Barely Legal; 04/13/1997)
The interesting difference about the role blood played in the main event of ECW’s first ever Pay Per View event, a difference that is now often forgotten, is that it’s insane that it only happened during this match. Terry funk won a hotly contested Three Way Dance against The Sandman and Stevie Richards just to be Raven’s challenger. Terry barely missed taking a ladder to the face on a see-saw spot by Sandman, while he did get hit by kendo sticks, trash cans, and barbed wire. Yet he managed to stay clean on his way to victory.
The title match then started immediately after. Within seconds Raven hit a drop toehold on Funk onto a chair, after which the veteran came up split wide open. Both the back-to-back matches and the gusher on his forehead were key to making an absolute legend a giant underdog. But the color started coming fast and furious as Funk kept moving and kept taking hits. ECW used their more realistically violent bent to then make stoppages (doctors checked on Funk’s cuts and his overall state) feel like real jeopardy – the old dog must be in dire straits! That only made his title victory and celebration all the sweeter.
2) Pat Patterson vs. Sgt Slaughter (“Alley Fight,” Madison Square Garden; 05/04/1981)
A lost memory from that era when the audience was less in on the business and the stories. They instead genuinely wanted the face to trash the heel so they could go home happy. You can tell from the intros that they were rooting for Pat in this no-DQ “Alley Fight”, where both wore street clothes and used whatever they could get their hands on (belts and brass knuckles included).
It was an immovable object that did the bloody deed, with Slaughter cutting down his forehead after hitting the ringpost head first. This was much less common than we see in matches now, and given the air of reality this match had, Sarge had to cut deep. So he did, and drenched both competitors (and his own white shirt) in blood. He refused to go down, with the crowd gasping as he seemed to be getting stronger even, but ultimately his manager threw in the towel to keep both his and Patterson’s bodies and images intact. The blood shocked the crowd enough to the point where anything more intense to actually end things may have driven them over the line. Nonetheless, this pointed the way forward for gigging for years to come.
1) Cody Rhodes vs. Dustin Rhodes (AEW Double or Nothing; 05/25/2019)
A battle between familial blood gave that which was shed in this match additional meaning for Cody & Dustin as well as the crowd. This match got legitimate buildup as Dustin’s “One Last Ride” after leaving WWE, which gave all of us who’d followed him for years a personal stake in it. It FELT personal too, with each brother rubbing nods to each other’s past, and their father’s, in the other’s face at times. Cody skipped the figurative gestures and straight up put Dustin’s face into an exposed turnbuckle.
As the match continued, it was hard to keep track of which half of Dustin’s face had begun the night painted red as he had a fresh coat to match. It was also hard to watch. Wanting to see Dustin off the right way, watching him get brutalized was all the more shocking to the fans in the arena and those at home. The next shock was the old hand’s refusal to quit or stay down (even after interference from Brandi and a low blow), which his crimson mask made all the more compelling. At his age, how much could he handle – hell, how much longer could he even be conscious losing blood at this rate? It turned out quite a bit, enough to make the match a masterpiece and gain respect from everyone watching, as well as the man across the ring.
Once Cody finally triumphed, watching them overcome their history, with the grudge match they’d just had, and the pints of blood that now covered both their bodies, and embrace and team up for the upcoming Fight For The Fallen received a deserved standing ovation. The symbolism of lost brothers literally uniting through their blood would stain not just canvas, but the hearts and minds of wrestling fans for years to come.