I’m on the phone with former WWE Security Director Jimmy Noonan for less than a minute, and he’s already rattling off moments when security failed to protect professional wrestlers from the unruly or overzealous.
There was the time Chris Jericho (and his rental car) was attacked in a parking lot in Victoria, British Columbia…
Or, the time CM Punk found himself alone in a sea of fans in Sacramento, California. He ended up punching one in the face.
Jimmy knows when you’re putting on hundreds of live events every year, mistakes will happen. But what’s happened in WWE over the past month is well beyond the norm.
“It’s getting embarrassing. I’m getting offended by it. I think it reflects badly on all of us.”
On August 8, a fan threw a replica Money In The Bank briefcase into the ring during an event in Victoria, B.C. Yes, this is the same arena (Save On Foods Memorial Centre) where Jericho had his run-in years earlier. The briefcase hit Roman Reigns in the head.
Source: Jeff Morrison/Independent Sports News
On August 25, at a SmackDown taping in Providence, Rhode Island, a man jumped a barricade and went after Dean Ambrose. A security guard took the man down just as he was making contact with Ambrose. Several fans said the man had a knife and was trying to stab Ambrose. That hasn’t been corroborated.
That brings us to the live broadcast of Raw this past Monday night. While Seth Rollins was making his entrance for the main event, a fan casually walked out of the crowd, stepped up onto the ramp and walked alongside Rollins for a few seconds. The camera cut away. When it cut back to Rollins, the fan was gone.
That’s three incidents in less than a month. If you think that sounds like way too many, Jimmy Noonan says you’re right.
“You don’t get caught 3 times in one month. If you do, you‘re fucking up. Somebody is messing up. (I’m) not shitting on WWE security, but somebody is making a mistake.”
I can feel Jimmy’s frustration and intensity over the phone. He says he hasn’t watched Raw or SmackDown in a while, but he still follows the business, and he’s passionate about security. Jimmy knows the pressure and responsibility that come with the job of protecting WWE’s most valuable assets. He’d heard about these recent incidents and others before them, and he’s not happy about any of them.
“I think somebody should be fired. I think if you’re security and you mess up, you should be fired.”
Jimmy pauses for a moment.
“Will they? Probably not.”
WWE has changed since Jimmy’s time with the company. He was first hired in 1999 to work security at WWE’s restaurant in Times Square. He eventually ascended to the position of WWE Security Director. His responsibilities were vast. He handled the wrestlers, other talents, even the executives.
The planning for every live event would begin months before WWE trucks pulled into an arena. Every arena has its own requirements, and its own security personnel. Several hours before a live event, Jimmy would gather his team for that night and lay out his game plan. He saw himself as a motivator. He knew his team was only as good as its weakest link. Jimmy made his expectations clear. He wasn’t there to be popular. He was there to do a job.
It was grueling. Jimmy spent as much time on the road as the wrestlers themselves. He admits it took a toll on him mentally and physically. Some building managers complained about him. By 2007, he says forces backstage were working against him. He decided to leave WWE. Things were different. For Jimmy, protecting the wrestlers was the top priority, and nothing was more important. However, not everyone saw things the same way.
“Too many guys want to be nice, and we’re being watched all the time by Vince (McMahon) and (WWE Executive Vice President for Television Production) Kevin Dunn. You’re not there to be nice or appropriate. You’re there to get your point across. No one will fuck with WWE tonight.”
That’s not to say WWE management isn’t concerned with security. Jimmy recalls a conversation with one WWE executive who expressed concern that a fan with genuine fighting skills, or perhaps armed with a knife or some other weapon, could rush the ring and do harm to legendary bad-ass “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in front of a live television audience.
The fear of such an incident remains in the back of Jimmy’s mind today, years after he departed WWE.
“Am I worried? Absolutely.”
So, what can be done? Jimmy says there needs to be a different philosophy, especially at ringside. He says it comes down to the individuals, from those in charge of security, to those who are hired by the arena.
“You gotta be sharp. You gotta be aggressive. You gotta be focused.”
For Jimmy Noonan, protecting wrestlers at live events can be summed up in one simple, perhaps ruthless, rule.
“No one is going to interfere with the show.”