Warning: The following article details accounts of sexual, verbal, emotional, and physical abuse.
The pro wrestling world was hit by a tidal wave of allegations of sexual assault, abuse, and violence towards women yesterday, as dozens of victims told their stories through the #SpeakingOut hashtag and the @ExposeWrestling Twitter account.
Looking back, the story of independent wrestling star David Starr’s history of emotionally and sexually abusive relationships was a watershed moment for the industry, as it empowered many more women to come forward and share their stories. Several promotions have since cut ties with Starr.
The cases largely concern the British wrestling scene, or “BritWres”. Owner of the all-women’s promotion Fierce Females, Mikey Whiplash, was accused by former employees — including current NXT UK star Piper Niven — of making unwanted sexual advances, gaslighting and becoming physically violent. Former ICW employee Stephen Hughes has been accused of abuse by a former wrestling trainee. English wrestling mainstay and current AEW star Jimmy Havoc was accused of verbal and emotional abuse.
It’s not just smaller promotions, either — WWE has a mess on its hands as several prominent British wrestlers currently under WWE contract have been accused of being sexually abusive, including Jack Gallagher, Jordan Devlin, Travis Banks, and Ligero.
WWE sent a statement to press concerning the matter:
We take any allegation of this nature very seriously and are looking into the matter.
While the bulk of the accusations came out of the UK, the United States wrestling scene was not spared. SmackDown’s newest Superstar, Matt Riddle, has been accused of assault (an accusation he vehemently denies), as has NWA Vice President Dave Lagana. Wrestling legend (and perennially problematic person) Jim Cornette has been accused of particularly disturbing actions.
While all industries have their demons, professional wrestling has long had a particularly seedy, ugly underbelly — look no further than the Dark Side of the Ring television series for a small taste of wrestling’s dark past. Pro wrestling, not actually a sport, has long skirted the rules of athletic commissions, and infamously classifies its performers as independent contractors with almost no worker protections, so it’s easy to see how this type of environment breeds a certain type of lawlessness. And while wrestling fans have been told for years how different this generation of wrestlers is, how they’ve traded in the pills for PlayStations and are generally more socially conscious, it’s disheartening to see that the industry still has a long, long way to go.
Even flashes of light in the wrestling world have been marred. The aforementioned David Starr was largely seen as a force for good in the industry before this week, leading the charge for unionization of pro wrestlers to help protect the performers and ensure fair treatment. Since the allegations, however, independent wrestling union We The Independent announced they have severed their relationship with Starr.
Our statement pic.twitter.com/3GF66hstpK
— We The INDEPENDENT (@wetheindie) June 18, 2020
On the other side of the coin, several prominent wrestling names have voiced their support for the women speaking out and expressed their hope that professional wrestling can become a safer, more inclusive place for everybody. SmackDown Tag Team Champion Big E said, “I pray our industry is swiftly rid of all these predators & abusers. To everyone brave enough to tell their story, I’m so sorry you had to endure this.”
I pray our industry is swiftly rid of all these predators & abusers. To everyone brave enough to tell their story, I’m so sorry you had to endure this. #SpeakingOut
— Florida Man (@WWEBigE) June 18, 2020
NXT UK star Isla Dawn has been boosting the signal of women speaking out, and said, “for everyone who has spoken out today, I am so proud of and in awe of your bravery.”
For everyone who has spoken out today, I am so proud of and in awe of your bravery.
For anyone who isn’t ready to tell their story, I send my love and understanding.
If anyone, wrestler or fan, needs someone to talk to please never hesitate to message me ❤️
— Isla Dawn (@IslaDawn) June 18, 2020
Many others, from AEW’s Nyla Rose to NXT UK’s Pete Dunne, have spoken out on the matter as well. The former NXT UK Champion said, “This is a huge eye opener and let’s hope it will force a big change.”
I’m disgusted by what I’m reading.
Well done to those speaking out. I really hope we can make British wrestling a better place and keep everyone safe.
This is a huge eye opener and let’s hope it will force a big change.
— Pete Dunne (@PeteDunneYxB) June 18, 2020
So where does wrestling go from here? Like Pete Dunne said, hopefully lots of introspection and massive changes to locker rooms all across the globe. It needs to be made crystal clear that this type of behavior is not acceptable and anybody engaging in it is not welcome. Yesterday was a dark day for the wrestling world, but as the saying goes, it’s darkest before the dawn. This needs to be seen as a moment of reckoning and change in the industry that we all hold so dear.
Sexual assault and physical abuse is abhorrent no matter what the backdrop is, but it’s particularly appalling in the wrestling world, where your entire job as a wrestler is to protect and ensure the safety of your opponent. Any wrestler worth their salt protects their co-workers between the ropes. It’s well past time that got extended outside the ring.
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