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The inherent risks of sitting in the front row: Words for all involved

Our roving reporter meditates on fan safety at smaller pro wrestling shows.

The rails at Jan. 2019 Evolve were held together as such.
Henry T. Casey

On Sunday, Jan. 19, a wrestler threw another wrestler into fans sitting ringside at Progress Chapter 101. This story is not about their story, as that is not mine to tell — I just saw chatter about it on social media, and don’t know enough to say anything. Instead, I just want to go over the basics of all involved here, to suggest some ground rules for all participants.

Sitting in the “splash zone”

Pro wrestling isn’t Gallagher, but by sitting in the front row — unless this is your first time — you inherently understand the high chance that bodies will collide with your seating area. Even when I had the extreme good fortune to sit near the entrance ramp at a WWE PPV (Extreme Rules 2019), Braun Strowman threw Bobby Lashley into the ringside barricade next to us so hard that we felt the whole area around us move.

The amount the action can affect you skyrockets, however, as the show you attend becomes more intimate or “indie.” I can’t really call the WWE-affiliated Evolve an independent promotion, but sitting ringside at most of their shows at New York’s La Boom I spent more than a year making a running punchline out of the joke that is their ringside barrier.

The first, and most memorable incident was at *Evolve 79* when an ACH, a “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams and a metal railing all fell into my lap. One of the promoters, I believe, came over to me and the guys sitting next to me to ask if everything was OK. The railing hit my knee and it stung a little, but that little bit of pain didn’t last.

More-sturdy ringside barriers arrived at Evolve’s return in November.
Henry T. Casey

Fortunately, at the last Evolve show I attended, the company changed from a few railings that link together to one larger railing. Before that, though, they had a trio of railings that weren’t exactly structurally sound when talent fell against them. I would often yell “HOLD THE DOOR!” (Game of Thrones reference) as I proactively put pressure to keep the barricade ready to withstand incoming flying wrestlers. I hope those days are gone, because I don’t want to imagine something bad happening to a fan.

Incidents like that may be why many promotions don’t have ringside railings or barricades. Beyond, Progress, wXw and others just simply do not erect a barrier, and the former even allows fans to stand up next to the railing.

Fair warnings

But what about the moments that lead up to such a moment? Wrestlers often shout at the fans who they will be throwing someone else towards - to clear the seats - but it’s not always easy to do, given the context.

But it should always be the intent of those wrestlers who will be sending themselves or others into the audience. Shocking moments may be exciting, but they’re not worth endangering fans.

Further - to put this in terms that even the most craven promoters can understand - you don’t want to alienate the fans who have been willing to spend the most money on your shows. Some may be willing to accept random moments of chaos, but their loved ones may not if injury happens.

Sh*t happens, it’s how you deal with it

To end, let’s all agree that while wrestling match finishes are predetermined, much of the chaos that happens between the bells is not. Performer health is extremely important too, I’m not trying to discount that at all.

So, if any performer or promoter reads this, all I can say is that if and when something bad happens, talk to the fans in question. Check to see that they’re OK.

Everyone’s probably trying to avoid a lawsuit, but fan safety in this part of the wrestling world (the talk about creepy wrestlers is going to happen another time) is an important thing. Show the people that you care.

Keeping these things in mind have kept my friends and I safe & happy across many a show in many a venue. Do with them as you will.

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