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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The All-Too-Real World Of Wrestling

On Saturday afternoon, I presented Cheerleader Melissa with a plaque for being named number-one in the 2013 "PWI Female 50." On Sunday afternoon, I stood at her side in a hospital in suburban Chicago, as a doctor sewed 10 in stitches to close a nasty gash in her left eyebrow.

It’s funny how quickly wrestling can take a person from center stage to the emergency room.

I started with PWI in 1997. Through the years, many promotions have afforded me the luxury of having open access to the wrestlers backstage before and after shows. SHIMMER has been particularly accommodating to me, and I have formed several friendships with members of the roster and staff. Making the trek from Buffalo, NY, to Berwyn, IL, for SHIMMER taping weekends (four DVD tapings over a two-day span, or about 16 hours of wrestling during a marathon session) has become a highlight on my wrestling calendar.

On Sunday afternoon, I was seated on a closed off area behind the camera. Seated next to me was Lisa Marie Varon, the former Victoria/Tara, who hosted the official SHIMMER after-party at her restaurant The Squared Circle. SHIMMER Volume 60 was drawing to a close, as two-time SHIMMER champion Cheerleader Melissa defended the title against LuFisto in a terrific match. Melissa and LuFisto were battling in the far corner, with their backs to the stage where we were sitting, when LuFisto caught Melissa with an elbow to the face. It looked like a routine elbowsmash from my vantage point, and Melissa fought back, lifting LuFisto onto her shoulders. “Electric Chair,” Lisa whispered, not so much to me, as much as out of the genuine excitement of being caught up in the action. But before Melissa could fall back and slam LuFisto from her shoulders to the mat, LuFisto executed a reverse rana, flipping Melissa over backward.

I cringed. It looked to me like Melissa had landed hard on crown of her head. Through the mass of hair covering her face, I thought I saw blood begin to trickle down her forehead. Was it blood or was it just sweat-matted hair? I had a bad feeling and I stood up, craning to see if she was hurt, as the referee dove in to check on her. I saw Melissa reach up and gingerly dab at her forehead; her hand came away red with blood.

“She’s busted open,” I said. Lisa leaned in to look as Melissa raised her head. Blood was beginning to stream down her face. I heard Lisa gasp “oh no.”

The weird thing about wrestling: You might think that the more you understand the nuances of the sport, the more jaded you would become about big moves. That’s not true. In actuality, you become more keenly aware of anything that can go wrong on even the most “routine” move. I was afraid she had split open her scalp and that she was too stunned to continue.

I hurried backstage. The crew watching on the small monitor couldn’t see that she was bleeding yet. “Melissa’s bleeding!” I called out to SHIMMER official Allison Danger, who was near the monitor. “Her head. It looks bad.”

By now, Melissa had gotten back to her feet and the blood pouring down her face was visible on camera.

One thing fans never experience is the atmosphere backstage when someone is injured. People crowded to the monitors, people ran to grab ice and clean towels. “What happened?” “Can she finish?” “Is she okay?”
Wrestling can be a mercenary business where people compete for positions and spots on the card. But when someone gets hurt, the locker room is united in concern. It’s a tight-knit fraternity, and if one wrestler in injured, everyone rushes in to help if they can.

Fortunately, Melissa’s injury wasn’t as severe as I feared. She didn’t land on her head with the rana; she had been busted open by the innocuous elbow, which caught her square on the eyebrow. There was no concussion or additional injuries. She was able to finish the match, and came back through the curtain to find a dozen of us clustered around her, ready to offer her water, towels, and bandages.

I’m not a member of the roster by any means, but the SHIMMER family has been so welcoming to me through the years that I feel like I’m part of the crew. Several people volunteered to help. Some were asked to help Melissa clean up and assist her in getting changed. Someone was asked to watch over her merchandise as intermission began. I was asked to take her to the hospital.

I drove Melissa to a nearby hospital and waited with her in the emergency room. “This is the kind of thing the fans never get to see,” Melissa said. Just a few miles away, Cheerleader Melissa was an iconic persona, a champion recently honored for being the best in the world at what she does by an international magazine. But in that hospital room, she was just Melissa Anderson, one of maybe three dozen people waiting to see a doctor on a Sunday evening in suburban Chicago.

Melissa received her stitches, and we hurried back to the Berwyn Eagles Club, just in time for her to make a surprise appearance, interfering in the main event and costing LuFisto her match against Mercedes Martinez. Melissa may wind up with a scar, but other than that, she was okay.
As I brought Melissa back to the venue and she rushed off, intent to get back into the ring, it struck me that I had a unique vantage point of the entire incident – from watching with the crowd to alerting the back, from helping attend to Melissa as others assessed the damage to sitting beside her as a surgeon stitched her back together. It had been a whirlwind of main-event highs, fear, panic, concern, compassion, and an intoxicating relief, and it had been experienced, in varying degrees, by everyone in the SHIMMER crew. As a writer, I felt it was my obligation to share the experience with you – the reader.

This is wrestling. And sometimes, in a stark emergency room on a gloomy fall night, it’s more real than you'd imagine.

Dan Murphy
PWI Senior Writer (medical transporter and photographer)