Seth Rollins was just doing his job Monday night. The WWE star was cutting a heel promo in the middle ring of the ring to help set up his Summer Slam match with Finn Balor.
But then suddenly, as if out of nowhere, an unexpected guest crashed the party. It wouldn't be for long.
A 23-year-old “fan,” obviously oblivious to the long-held practice of no uninvited spectators in the ring, broke that cardinal rule. The intruder escaped the ring crew, jumped the rail and slid into the ring, getting up in Rollins' face with his arms up.
A surprised Rollins reacted quickly, shoved him back, and within seconds referees and ringside security dragged the misguided spectator away. A security guard reportedly was bitten during the fray.
It was an awkward moment, to say the least, for Rollins and an announce team that tried its best to improvise and fill in the space while Rollins stayed true to his character and completed his segment. One commentator explained the look on Rollins' face by claiming the wrestler was “in a trance.”
Corpus Christi, Texas, police arrested the fan and charged him with assault and criminal trespass. He's not likely to be attending any WWE events for a long, long time.
Like the active participants, fans attending events have a responsibility to be, well, responsible. And that includes never putting your hands on a pro wrestler. It's uncommon in this enlightened era of sports entertainment, but incidents like Monday night still happen from time to time. A fan managed to take a swipe at Roman Reigns last year with a Money in the Bank briefcase. Another spectator reportedly tried to stab Dean Ambrose.
While incidents like this have become few and far between, years ago they weren't uncommon occurrences.
In 1976 a 79-year-old fanatic with a hawk-bill knife stabbed Ole Anderson in his chest. Though Anderson received a hundred stitches and underwent a four-hour surgery to repair tendons in his arm that were severed during the attack (he was stitched for 13 inches or so; his chest had been laid open), he refused to be admitted to a hospital and drove back home, returning to TV a day later and to the ring the following week. Every night for several weeks, Anderson ripped his chest open and would have to get restitched because he refused to take time off.
Anderson (Al “Rock” Rogowski), one of the sport's toughest heels, was stabbed eight times during his career, in addition to being hit with chairs, helmets, baseball bats and Coke bottles. Unfortunately, during that period, pro wrestlers faced greater danger from out-of-control fans than from opponents.
In 1971 Blackjack Mulligan (Bob Windham) was stabbed during a match with Pedro Morales at the Boston Garden. Mulligan, who would later become one of the legendary figures of Mid-Atlantic wrestling, was sliced by a knife-wielding spectator who hopped the guardrail to get a crack at the 6-8, 325-pounder. Mulligan, who was stabbed in the thigh. was carried from the ring and had to receive 100 stitches at an area hospital.
Boris “The Great” Malenko was one of the greatest heels in the business. Billed from Moscow, Malenko personified the Cold War image of the Soviet menace during the 1960s. In reality, though, Malenko (Larry Simon) was a New Jersey native of Jewish descent who was soft-spoken, well-versed and respected by his peers throughout the industry.
But he was a world-class bad guy in the ring, and the tremendous heat he generated caused many a riot, including one night in Richmond, Va., when he was stabbed by a crazed fan and took 33 stitches in his abdomen. His partner, “Big O” Bob Orton, was knocked out by a chair, had his head busted open and was trampled by rowdy spectators. Orton, the grandfather of current WWE star Randy Orton, left the territory shortly afterward.
One of the most bizarre instances of fan hostility took place during the late '50s in St. Joseph, Mo., where one particular mob uprising came close to costing Rip Hawk (Harvey Evers) his life.
Hawk, a top-tier heel, was working with a young Larry “Rocky” Hamilton (later known as The Missouri Mauler), a hometown product, when fans became enraged over the proceedings.
“I had just gotten out of the Marines,” recalled Hawk. “We had such an hellacious match that they brought it back several times. Then he (Hamilton) made up a song about me called 'Squawk, Squawk, Chicken Hawk,' and he would sing it in the ring with his guitar.
“One night I acted like it really got to me, so I attacked him and beat him. He was laying there, and the people went nuts.”
Scores of fans stormed the ring and began laying their boots to a defenseless Hawk.
“There was so many people kicking at me, they couldn't even hit me,” said Hawk. “They were probably kicking one another. But they drug me outside the arena like an old side of beef and had a rope thrown over the lamppost out there.”
Only the timely effort of a police sergeant saved his life.
“This officer shot his gun off and told everyone to get back. They were going to hang me.”
As nearly everyone who wrestled as a “bad guy” back in the day would attest, overzealous fans posed a nightly threat to their physical well-being.
As a young wrestling reporter during the '60s, I was witness to a number of near-riots at arenas throughout the territory. Closer to home, the former County Hall in downtown Charleston hosted a number of red-hot grudge matches between local favorites and scandalous ruffians. The lines between “good” and “bad” were clearly drawn during that era, and fans often took their rancor to extreme levels, slashing tires of cars belonging to so-called bad guys and even waiting behind arenas in hopes of ambushing their targets.
And sometimes, even innocent fans were placed in harm's way.
I once found myself the unintended target of an enraged woman throwing one of her high heels at nefarious manager Homer O'Dell, who managed to duck in front of me at the wrong time (for me anyway). I've been struck by cups of beer that were errantly flung in the direction of grapplers headed for the dressing room, and I've dodged chairs tossed by spectators who would ultimately be escorted out of the building by Charleston's finest.
But on a Friday evening in 1966, my closest call came while photographing a heated battle between George Becker and Johnny Weaver (the area's favorite tag team) against The Masked Red Demons (the area's most hated). With my camera strategically positioned on the ring apron and with my back to the audience, I felt a thud just a few feet from my head. It turned out to be a handmade knife that had been launched by a fan from the balcony. Its landing left an imprint on the canvas, and fortunately not on my head.
While I assume its intended target was one of the masked villains inside the ring, it was nonetheless an extreme example of an era where real wrestling heat existed, and where danger was never far away.