Eric Ryan smashes light tubes over Alex Ocean. (Rich Wade)

A view of the event from a car rooftop. (Rich Wade)

The coronavirus pandemic has had an irreparable effect on lives worldwide: from the unfortunate loss of loved ones to the way we interact (or don’t) with others to the way we approach live entertainment here in the United States. Take, for example, “Deathmatch Drive-In,” a no holds barred event spearheaded by pro wrestling company ICW. It’s an event that takes place outdoors instead of within the confines of an arena. These days, fans, for the most part, relish the grisly show from their cars.

Photographer Rich Wade, who is no stranger to shooting pro wrestling, recently had the opportunity to capture this spectacle at a New Jersey farm in Millville. When In Sight asked about his experience documenting “Deathmatch Drive-In,” Wade said:

“I've been photographing the wrestling scene on the East Coast for the past couple of years and ICW has consistently had some of the most fun and memorable events I have been to. They had a socially distanced outdoor show in June on the boardwalk of Atlantic City.

This was one of the first companies I had seen restarting wrestling during the pandemic. I watched online to get a sense of the set up and when I saw that it was being done safely, I made the decision to travel down for the next show.

Outdoor wrestling isn't new, and I had shot several events over the years. So regardless of covid, a sun (and blood) soaked wrestling ring had always been on the cards for summer 2020.

The most striking difference between a death match and traditional wrestling is its frequent use of weapons and blood. The matches are wild from start to finish (with the first move often being a fluorescent light tube to the head).

‘Deathmatch’ fans are hungry for some of the most hardcore and death-defying action humanly possible. The wrestlers themselves use violence and brutality as a physical form of storytelling. The ring acts as their canvas and the blood is their paint. Seeing it live is quite similar to what I imagine witnessing a car accident in real time would be like.”

Asked how the pandemic has changed the way he worked on this project, Wade told In Sight that he was tested for the coronavirus before and after every shoot. He also noted that before the pandemic, he was mostly a portrait photographer, which has become more difficult to do. But photographing wrestling, where he was expected to be as invisible as possible while keeping his distance from the action, wasn’t too hard to adapt to.

Even though the action inside the ring could be harrowing to watch, Wade told In Sight that the atmosphere outside the ring was pretty much the opposite. He said, “Fans set up camp by their cars with many sitting on the roof to get a birds-eye view of the ring. Most brought coolers and barbecued. The wrestlers and fans that I spoke with were friendly and welcoming.” Wade also noted that mask usage at the event was high.

You can see more of Wade’s work on his website, here.


Dirty Daddy makes his way to the ring. (Rich Wade)

Alex Ocean double stomps his opponent. (Rich Wade)

Pagano slams Eric Ryan through light tubes. (Rich Wade)

Tim Donst chokes Eddy Only with barbed wire. (Rich Wade)

Riley Madison stubs a cigarette on Mance Warner’s head. (Rich Wade)

Matt Tremont prepares to powerbomb Akira. (Rich Wade)

Light tubes are kicked into Pagano’s face. (Rich Wade)

John Wayne Murdoch piledrives Atticus Cogar through a table. (Rich Wade)

Atticus attacks Murdoch. (Rich Wade)

The Sandman arrives. (Rich Wade)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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