In the aftermath of the tragic passing of Silver King, another in a long line of deaths in the ring, we have some very important questions to ask.
“There are wrestlers that have died in the ring. And if you ask them while they’re alive if they would give their life in the ring, they would say absolutely they would — and I agree with them, although that’s not what wrestling is about. It’s about entertaining the people, providing some variety in their lives, some emotion and always quality.”
– César Cuauhtémoc González Barrón, aka “Silver King”
The death of Silver King – What went wrong?
Silver King (known to many as the villain Ramses in the 2009 film Nacho Libre), while wrestling at an event at The Roundhouse in London on May 11, 2019, bounced off the ropes and delivered a jumping clothesline to Juventud Guerrera. After a near pinfall, Juventud kicked out. Silver King was now laying on his stomach with one arm dangling over Juventud but unable to get up fully even though wrestling logic dictates that Juventud was the one who supposedly should have been hurt after the maneuver.
Moments after, Juventud talked to Silver King as the referee urged both competitors to get up. That’s when things took a turn for the worse. At this point, Silver King was having a hard time breathing. Juventud, noting something was not right, got up and started inciting the crowd in a bid to give Silver King a chance to catch his breath and maybe get the crowd going. Did he tell Juventud that he just needed a little time and that he’d be okay? Or that he wasn’t feeling well and that they needed to “take it home?” Only they and perhaps the referee know what words were exchanged in that brief moment.
Before Silver King became unresponsive, his opponent tried lifting him to no avail. Why was he making it so difficult for Juventud to pick him up? Why was he acting as if he had just received a devastating finishing move? Silver King simply wasn’t cooperating. Instead of continuing to try to raise his comrade which was becoming an impossibility, Guerrera decided to deliver a strong-style kick to his shoulder/chest area that echoed throughout the venue with a loud “whack!”, pleasing many in the crowd.
Afterward, Silver King just laid face down unresponsive on the mat. With Juventud unable to turn him over despite several attempts, he seemed confused. You could almost imagine him saying the words, “What’s going on?” while looking toward referee Black Terry for some guidance. Inexplicably, the referee continued to urge Silver King to get up and seemed to see no reason to stop the match.
Finally, Juventud Guerrera was just barely able to turn Silver King over for the pin. The referee counted, but with about a five-second hesitation before reaching three.
“It seemed to be part of the show at first,” a member of the live audience shared with Camden New Journal, “but then he didn’t get up – and then the medical team was on the stage. Everybody was cleared out and lots of police and ambulances were there.”
Fans chanted “Silver, Silver”, not aware that this was not a wrestler selling his injuries a little too well, and who perhaps playing to the crowd and trying to get his triumphant opponent “over” as they say. It was tragically the story of another Mexican luchador who had performed for the last time, doing what he loved.
It was later reported that the performer, César Cuauhtémoc González Barrón, better known as Silver King, could not be revived after suffering a cardiac arrest in the ring. He had passed away, leaving the crowd at “The Roundhouse” in Camden, London stunned. The event was called “The Greatest Show of Lucha Libre” and was a part of “Lucha Libre World Fest”.
It took over five minutes for medics to arrive at the ring to perform CPR and use a defibrillator.
“Youth is fleeting. Injuries become more serious and someday I’ll have to leave wrestling, but I feel satisfied that I earned everything by my own merits and not because I knew someone on the inside. I forged my own history.”
– The final ever interview given by Silver King, April 2019.
Silver King, 51, was a 34-year veteran of the squared circle, or “Pancracio” as they say in Mexico. He was the younger brother of Dr. Wagner Jr. and son of legendary wrestler Dr. Wagner. His ex-wife, Xochitl Hamada, also wrestled. The Wagner family is considered a dynasty that spans three generations now that Dr. Wagner Jr’s son has been competing for 10 years. In 1986, his father Dr. Wagner was forced to retire from the ring when he suffered severe spinal injuries after an automobile accident. In 2004, he also fell victim to cardiac arrest and died, but at the age of 68, years after he was no longer competing.
In the world of Mexican Lucha Libre, even with all the outlandish costumes, outrageous characters and obviously choreographed maneuvers done in and out of the ring, kayfabe is still a big part of the illusion portrayed by these gladiators of the sport.
It is not unusual to see wrestling magazines being sold next to similar ones covering the sports of MMA and Boxing. Highlights and results of Lucha Libre cards are broadcast on sporting news shows the equivalent of ESPN’s SportsCenter in the USA. The wrestlers seem to always use the word “real” when interviewed to continuously try and dispel any doubt that what is portrayed inside the ring is nothing short of legit competition. And if they need to put an unfortunate reporter in a very tight submission hold or give them a good slap on the chest to prove that what they do isn’t “fake”, well so be it. Their opponents are “rivals” and many do not break character even off camera. The real names of the competitors are rarely known until they lose their mask, retire, or pass away. The line between reality and kayfabe is blurred in Mexican Lucha Libre, more so than in the current wrestling product presented in the USA.
Incredibly, in this day and age, there are a good number of Lucha Libre fans that still believe what they’re seeing is a competitive sport and they take it very seriously. There are cheering sections for the faces or “técnicos” and for the heels or “rudos”. It’s almost like going into a time machine where kayfabe was the law and the “Apter Mags” were gospel. In Mexico, there’s a vibe where kayfabe still has a strong pulse.
But where is the balance of protecting the business and breaking character if it means that a person’s life might be saved?
It took over five minutes for medical personnel to arrive to Silver King’s side to offer help. It begs the question: Why were they not in the venue? In legitimate combat sports like Boxing and MMA, where the athletics commissions are involved, would medical attention have taken so long?
This latest tragedy is in some ways similar to another in-ring death by Mexican wrestler “Hijo Del Perro Aguayo” while facing Rey Misterio Jr. in 2015. Even when a wrestler is obviously hurt, they have chosen to somehow finish the match and not stop it immediately in order to check on the wrestler. Unfortunately, the referees in both instances were either oblivious to what was going on or believed that the unresponsiveness of the wrestler was part of the show, take your pick. And once more, medical attention was painfully slow to arrive.
@SCortinas tweeted, “…a regretful circumstance where once again, rearing its ugly head, zero help and negligence on behalf of the organizers of a wrestling show. The death of Hijo Del Perro Aguayo didn’t teach us anything and now another great wrestler is taken from us.”
In the aftermath of the recent tragic ring death of Silver King, we have some very important questions to ask.
How is it possible that in 2019, kayfabe (which has been pretty much dead for at least twenty years in most wrestling circles) takes precedence over the well-being of a wrestler?
“The show must go on” if you will…
If in a circus, a trapeze artist falls and is obviously hurt, do they just leave him/her laying there while the “show goes on?”
The whole London wrestling event was eventually canceled, but why did the match have to continue? When a boxer is not responding, the other competitor is not allowed to continue striking him, this also goes for MMA. Silver King was struck with a pretty solid kick in the shoulder/chest area before he collapsed and there he remained immoveable until his passing. Could this blow have possibly accelerated his death?
So what about the third person in the ring, the referee? What role does he play in all of this?
In Boxing and MMA, he has real authority and can stop a bout if he determines that a competitor is unable to continue. Shouldn’t the referee in pro wrestling, an activity that is heavy on blows and where dangerous high risk maneuvers seem to have the possibility of going very wrong at any moment, be able to stop a match at any point even at the expense of breaking character or having a match end in a way that was not planned for?
The referee of the match is a veteran wrestler who goes by the name “Black Terry”. He debuted in 1973 and is still active. Shouldn’t 46 years of experience in the ring help one determine when a wrestler is unable to continue and in need of immediate medical assistance, or was he trying to protect the business and didn’t want to break character as we see when he hesitated for the three count?
Black Terry, on this occasion, was playing the role commonly known in Mexico as a “heel ref”. Silver King was a heel, so Black Terry does certain little things to help the “rudo” or heel have an advantage, in this case, counting slow so that maybe Silver King would kick out. He continues to urge Silver King to get up and yet, he’s unresponsive. Was he even breathing at this point? When a wrestler goes limp for several minutes, is it not reason enough to stop the match? Was there negligence on behalf of referee Black Terry by allowing the match to continue?
There is an article in Spanish alluding to this already. Although it talks about the referee being the authority of everything that takes place in the ring, as if wrestling was a shoot and not a work. It also states that even though Black Terry has experience as a wrestler, he in fact had little refereeing experience, and it’s not the first time that in these events in London we see a former wrestler with little referee experience, be in charge of authority inside the ring. And thus the article states that because of this lack of refereeing experience, he (Black Terry) was unable to identify when a wrestler was at risk to compete.
Should wrestling indeed have more qualified referees with perhaps some medical training? But where does his “real” authority begin and when is he just there to count to three and raise the winner’s arm?
After several minutes passed, wrestlers and organizers of the event started entering the ring, including ex-luchador Hijo Del Santo (son of legendary El Santo) who looked visibly upset and confronted referee Black Terry.
In an online interview with fans in 2015, when asked about deaths inside the ring, he said, “These are accidents and they’re nobody’s fault. Fortunately, they are sporadic accidents that happen because there are risks in the ring, and don’t happen every week.” He compares it to bullfighters that get impaled by the bull. He continues to say, “Many times [deaths] are because of a distraction, but nobody is at fault.” He is also vocal about the big Mexican organizations of AAA and CMLL “not treating wrestlers well nor giving them the respect they deserve.” He didn’t want to depend on these big promotions to make a living so that is why he created his own called “Todo X El Todo”. (Roughly translated as: “Give It Your All”)
“Wrestlers should demand preventative measures that are necessary in case of an accident,” Hijo del Santo once said in his online interview with the fans. “That is why I can tell you that in my company ‘Todo X el Todo’, we always have paramedics, security and even insurance that can be bought and will cover the injuries suffered by any of my co-workers. No one makes me provide this. We do it because my co-workers are human beings and are the backbone for this sport.”
After news got out of the tragic passing of Silver King, Hijo Del Santo tweeted, “I feel deep regret over the death of my great rival and partner of many battles. He left us the way he wanted: fighting!”
Could the Silver King incident have been handled better?
A couple of days after the incident and a barrage of vicious comments on his Twitter account strongly criticizing and questioning the way the whole situation had been handled, Hijo Del Santo was quick to assure people that on this occasion, he was NOT the promoter of the event, as many seem to have assumed. Instead, he says that he was just the liaison between the wrestlers and promoter Ruben Cordero of “Lucha Libre World”.
In a post Hijo Del Santo shared on Instagram, he wrote, “We never left him (Silver King) alone. The paramedics were there almost immediately. England is a first world country. The fans cooperated fully and left the venue without any protest. The promoter (Ruben Cordero) brought the best medics. Silver King’s co-workers were with him the whole time. Not once did we leave him alone. My experience was a tremendous feeling of impotence I can’t explain.”
So to Ruben Cordero of “Lucha Libre World”, why did the match continue? Why was there no medical personnel at ringside or even at the venue? What is a promoter’s responsibility in all of this? Is it time that in ALL wrestling events, instead of having medics on standby, we have them at ringside where an injury can be treated quicker and maybe saving a wrestler’s life? What do the wrestler’s contracts say? Is there a contract?
If a wrestler is injured because of a faulty ring for example, should the promoters share some responsibility? Or is it as callous as: “He knew the risks when he entered the ring”? “He knew the risks of professional wrestling”? Did Silver King have a heart condition? Did he know about it? Did the promoter? Years ago, the Athletic commissions would not have allowed Silver King to compete if it was known he had a heart condition. Now in most states and countries, wrestlers are not obligated to pass medical check-ups because wrestling is considered “an exhibition” not a sport.
Roberto Carrera Maldonado, a fan in attendance, told the BBC, “It felt like it was staged. Obviously, it was quite normal in the fight. All of us were really shocked- it wasn’t clear what was happening. I had the impression they didn’t know what to do.”
Should wrestling events once again be governed by an organization similar to what the Athletic Commissions did before? Has wrestling once again proved that it can’t guarantee the safety of its employees and therefore needs someone outside to regulate it?
There still are a handful of states where these commissions have some involvement in wrestling events. Although many rules are not enforced anymore. What about a union? Do these organizations shake off any and all liability in these instances because their employees are “independent contractors”?
What about fellow wrestlers or co-workers?
Mascara Año 2000 had strong words for the promoters, “Now we’ll see what always happens. We’re going to see ambulances at all the wrestling venues now for maybe a month, 15 days, a couple of shows, then it’ll all be forgotten.”
He later retracted what he said just a little by saying, “It’s nobody’s fault with what happened with Silver. We all have our destiny. Nobody is responsible for this. I’m not a very analytical person and I don’t blame anyone, but once again the wrestler is left alone, without medical assistance… it’s very tragic. And please, let’s not be hypocrites with talks about (athletic) commissions, and how now we’re going to start demanding (better working conditions for wrestlers)… no just stop to think. The only friend a wrestler has in the ring is himself. Not promoters, or these big wrestling companies. The only one left that is humane, is the wrestler. That’s the way it’s always been. And I don’t want to try to hide the obvious. (In Spanish the saying is “Try and cover the sun with one finger”)… the same thing happened with Pedro (Aguayo Jr. back in 2015), 15 days, up to a month we saw ambulances at the venues, but not anymore.
He concluded with, “Silver wherever you are you know I loved you, you were my friend and now you are known worldwide. Now you’re a legend, you worked so hard to become one, now you are one (a legend).”
“Do what you love in life and you’ll never feel like you’re working. I’ve been in wrestling 30 years, been world champion 17 times, but I think they’ve only felt like 5 years because this is my pasión…”
“I know it’s a consolation for me and my family that he (Silver King) and my father (Dr. Wagner) are now together. Together like great warriors and legends.”
– Dr. Wagner Jr., older brother of Silver King
Back in the days when wrestlers and promoters had to work with the athletic commissions. While they were a pain to deal with and took a cut of the house, wrestlers were always guaranteed medical checkups and doctors at each event. This latest death in wrestling, while perhaps it could not have been prevented, with a medic or someone who knew CPR or the correct medical procedures to follow on hand, maybe, just maybe they could have given Silver King a fighting chance. Maybe he would still be alive today.
Investigation into the death of Silver King finished: “Multiple failings on all fronts.”
Editor’s Update (October 18, 2019): After an investigation into the death of Silver King by The St. Pancras Coroner’s Court’s Senior Coroner Mary Hassell, it has been determined that there were “multiple failures”, as reported in The Camden New Journal in England (H/T: PWInsider).
The St. Pancras Coroner’s Court’s Senior Coroner Mary Hassell stated that an ambulance not being called for five minutes after Barrón (Silver King) suffered cardiac arrest as well as “ineffective” CPR being performed on him before EMTs arrived meant the Lucha star “lost the opportunity to have the best treatment possible and lost the opportunity of survival that otherwise would have been afforded to him.”
Hassell stated, “When I’m talking about failure in first aid, I’m talking about a whole raft, the whole context of the first aid that was offered. In every way, there was a failure properly to plan that everybody knew what they were doing, that procedures were in place so that first and foremost a person who would became unwell would be identified in the ring immediately.”
The inquest’s Dr. Alan Bates also determined that Barron had likely suffered a previous heart attack in the months or even years before his passing, but noted that there would have been a greater likelihood of Barron surviving if he had been given mouth to mouth resuscitation immediately.
Another factor that delayed EMTs getting to Barrón by several minutes was that after the ambulance arrived at the front of the building, a security guard brought EMTs around and had them enter from the back of the venue, which delayed them in getting to and providing aid for Barrón.
Paramedic Cara Mitchell stated that she would have liked to have gotten to Barrón quicker and that when they arrived at the ring, the person providing CPR was doing it in a “fast” and “ineffective” manner.
There was also confusion in the moment as the first responder who was on hand at the event, Katharine Locke, was not made aware of what the issue was when she was asked to come to the ring and initially believed it was for an issue in the crowd.
She did not bring a defibrillator with her initially and did not provide CPR as someone who had claimed they were a doctor was already in the ring doing it. Locke did not see Barrón’s collapse and was initially worried there was a spinal injury.
An ambulance was called and King was brought to the hospital. At the time, reports were that a defibrillator was used but the Coroner’s investigation specifically mentions that a defibrillator may have assisted in trying to save Barrón and the inquest reveals it was not initially brought into the ring.
Promoter Ruben Cordero admitted there were no pre-show medicals and that Barrón had not volunteered any information regarding any health issues. Cordero also stated that in hindsight, the procedures they had in place were not adequate and that there was a question of whether he or the venue were in charge of the medical aspect of the show – and that he wishes he had pushed to be in charge and oversee that aspect.