Years of "chair shots," "flying head butts," "facebreakers," and "cobra clutch slams" have left former professional wrestlers with long-term brain injuries to which the sport's dominant circuit has continuously turned a blind eye, two ex-wrestlers allege in a proposed class-action suit filed in Philadelphia.
The plaintiffs in the suit filed late last week - who include a cross-dressing Italian who wrestled under the name Skull von Krush - say Stamford, Conn.-based World Wrestling Entertainment encouraged them to take risks it knew could permanently affect their well-being while offering them no health or disability insurance.
Their suit follows similar legal action from thousands of ex-NFL players who have sued over long-term head trauma sustained after repeated concussion-related injuries.
"Under the guise of providing 'entertainment,' WWE has for decades subjected its wrestlers to extreme physical brutality that it knew, or should have known, caused . . . long-term irreversible bodily damage, including brain damage," said a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Harris L. Pogust.
That indifference, he said, is all the more significant given that professional wrestling matches are scripted, with many of the moves worked out by the WWE beforehand.
"In the NFL, it's part of the game. It happens," Pogust said. "But your coach doesn't tell you beforehand to run into a wall with your head down."
A lawyer for WWE described the suit as "without merit" and compared it to another case filed in Oregon last year. He said the organization plans to fight both in court.
"WWE has never concealed any medical information related to concussions, or otherwise, from our talent," said Jerry McDevitt, who represents the organization. "WWE was well ahead of sports organizations in implementing concussion management procedures and policies as a precautionary measure as the science and research on this issue emerged."
The lawsuit cites popular moves as potentially harmful, such as "chair shots," in which one wrestler beats his opponent over the head with a metal chair, or "facebreakers," where a wrestler slams his knees or other body parts against his foe's face.
The suit includes photos of WWE CEO Vince McMahon bludgeoning an employee on the head with a steel chair.
"When performed by, and on, hulking, poorly trained, steroid-using wrestlers with various levels of dexterousness, [such moves] are a recipe for disaster and widespread, long-term brain damage," Pogust said in court filings.
The plaintiffs include Vito Lograsso of Coatesville, a WWE wrestler from 1991 to 1998 and 2005 to 2007, who performed under the names Big Vito and Skull von Krush.
He minted his reputation in the ring with a story line that involved his splitting with his longtime tag team partner over rumors that Lograsso liked to dress in drag. Later, Lograsso embraced the rumors and began wrestling in a dress.
Lograsso now suffers from migraines, memory loss, depression, and deafness, according to his suit.
His co-plaintiff - Evan Singleton of Lancaster, who wrestled as Adam Mercer from 2012 to 2013 - is disabled due to brain trauma, his lawyer said.
Their suit seeks unspecified monetary damages and medical monitoring.
Court documents list other wrestlers who have suffered repeated concussions, such as Christopher Nowinski and Michael "Mick" Foley, who has said in interviews he suffered too many concussions to count during his time in the WWE.
The plaintiffs also allege that 13 wrestlers committed suicide over 10 years and that at least two WWE performers were found after their deaths to have the brain decay known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). That condition is also a key factor in the ongoing legal dispute between the NFL and its former players.
Last year, a federal judge in Philadelphia granted preliminary approval to a settlement worth at least $765 million in that case.
The NFL estimates that about 6,000 of its former players will develop disabilities such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia in the coming decades.