One way AEW has differentiated itself from WWE is a willingness — a zeal, even — to use blood in matches. It’s added something to its product that’s been missing from WWE’s since it went PG. It’s also borrowed from the indie experience of wrestlers like Jon Moxley and Joey Janela’s to mix elements of death match wrestling into the product, using weapons and wild spots in their brawls.
Moxley and Kenny Omega’s unsanctioned match at Full Gear turned that style up to 11, using barbwire, a screwdriver, glass, and mousetraps in the blow off to the bitterly personal feud. It was a divisive match, and fans and critics alike thought it went too far. The Maryland State Athletic Commission agreed.
News that the commission had launched an investigation came shortly after the pay-per-view in November. Former WCW announcer Chris Cruise contacted the commission and asked them whether the match’s bloodshed violated their rules. He was told that the use of blood in the match fell within their regulations. According to the respondent, neither Moxley nor Omega “bladed” (i.e., literally cut themselves open with a hidden razor blade) or introduced animal blood into the match, and a doctor was present on set. The commission did tell Cruise they were investigating the match and couldn’t comment further at the time.
After further deliberation, the commission confirmed reports that they were fining AEW $10,000 on May 7 due to the blood in the match between Omega and Moxley. They explained why in a statement:
“The Commission acknowledges that while AEW took precautions to reduce the potential for injury to both Mr. Good and Mr. Smith by using materials, in certain instances, to simulate injury and merely give the appearance of bleeding, blood was introduced into the ring in other instances during this professional wrestling match through the deliberate and repeated actions of the two referenced wrestlers as scripted by AEW.”
The commission’s explanation differentiates the match from something like the Hikaru Shida/Britt Baker match on a recent episode of Dynamite where Baker was busted open and bled unintentionally.
On top of the fine, the ruling also jeopardizes AEW’s ability to run shows in Maryland, and the company may not be able to be regulated in the state with another violation. While it would seem easy to just avoid having intentional blood in matches moving forward, that’s not the only way AEW (or any promotion) could be cited.
The commission also has rules against hair pulling, foreign objects, wrestlers being “slammed” into ring posts, and leaving the “ring enclosure” during matches. Whether the commission enforces those rules is at their discretion. AEW might find it easier to just skip running shows in the state entirely rather than risk another fine and the bad press that could come with it.
Like a lot of AEW’s content, controversy over blood in a match in Maryland has parallels to something that happened in the NWA/WCW. At the 1988 Great American Bash pay-per-view, Lex Luger had Ric Flair trapped in his signature Torture Rack. The ref called for the bell and Luger thought he’d won the match, along with the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. It turned out that the match had been stopped by the ringside doctor due to Flair opening up a small cut on Luger’s forehead. It was a prime example of a “Dusty finish,” where it looked like a babyface had defeated Flair for the title, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.
On his Facebook page, Cruise called the fine “a black eye for AEW and the business,” and it certainly gives more ammunition to critics like Jim Cornette. Whether it actively harms AEW’s business is something that will play out when it can start touring again. If nothing else, it might make the company reconsider going as far as it did at Full Gear.
AEW was recently fined $10,000. It's the first controversy for the young company, and one that could change their product.