A professional wrestling match in Sikeston, Missouri in May 1938, where two wrestlers grapple in a wrestling ring while a referee, dressed in white, looks on
|Originating era||19th century|
Taking the form of live events held by touring promotions, it is a unique style of combat based on a combination of adopted styles, which include classical wrestling, catch wrestling and various forms of martial arts, as well as an innovative style based on grappling (holds/throws), striking, and aerialism. Various forms of weaponry are sometimes used.
The content – including match outcomes – is choreographed and the combative actions and reactions are executed in special manners designed to both protect from, yet simulate, pain. Before the 1980s, these facts were kept highly secret, after which they were openly declared. By and large, the true nature of the content is ignored by the performing promotion in official media in order to sustain and promote the willing suspension of disbelief for the audience by maintaining an aura of verisimilitude. Fan communications by individual wrestlers and promotions through outside media (i.e., interviews) will often directly acknowledge the fictional nature of the spectacle, making the predetermined nature of the sport something of an open secret. The presentation of scripted events as legitimate is known as "kayfabe".
Although the combative content is staged and communicated between the wrestlers, there are legitimate physical hazards resulting in serious injury and death in limited cases, due to the realism and contact involved in the performance.
Originating as a popular form of entertainment in 19th-century Europe and later as a sideshow exhibition in North American traveling carnivals and vaudeville halls, professional wrestling grew into a standalone genre of entertainment with many diverse variations in cultures around the globe, and is now considered a multimillion-dollar entertainment industry. While it has greatly declined in Europe, in North America it has experienced several different periods of prominent cultural popularity during its century and a half of existence. The advent of television gave professional wrestling a new outlet, and wrestling (along with boxing) was instrumental in making pay-per-view a viable method of content delivery.
Scope and influence
Unlike in Europe, show wrestling has become especially prominent in Japan, in Mexico and in North America. In Brazil, there was a very popular wrestling television program from the 1960s to the early 1980s called Telecatch. High-profile figures in the sport have become celebrities or cultural icons in their native or adopted home countries.
Although professional wrestling started out as petty acts in sideshows, traveling circuses and carnivals, today it is a billion-dollar industry. Revenue is drawn from live event ticket sales, network television broadcasts, pay-per-view broadcasts, personal appearances by performers, branded merchandise and home video. Particularly since the 1950s, pro wrestling events have frequently been responsible for sellout crowds at large arenas, including Madison Square Garden, as well as football stadiums, by promotions including the WWE, the NWA territory system, WCW, and AWA. Pro wrestling was also instrumental in making pay-per-view a viable method of content delivery. Annual shows such as WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, and formerly Bash at the Beach, Halloween Havoc and Starrcade are among the highest-selling pay-per-view programming each year. In modern day, internet programming has been utilized by a number of companies to air web shows, internet pay-per-views (iPPVs) or on-demand content, helping to generate internet-related revenue earnings from the evolving World Wide Web.
Home video sales dominate the Billboard charts Recreational Sports DVD sales, with wrestling holding anywhere from 3 to 9 of the top 10 spots every week.
Due to its persistent cultural presence and to its novelty within the performing arts, wrestling constitutes a recurring topic in both academia and the media. Several documentaries have been produced looking at professional wrestling, most notably, Beyond the Mat directed by Barry W. Blaustein, and Wrestling with Shadows featuring wrestler Bret Hart and directed by Paul Jay. There have also been many fictional depictions of wrestling; the 2008 film The Wrestler received several Oscar nominations and began a career revival for star Mickey Rourke.
Currently, the largest professional wrestling company worldwide is the United States-based WWE, which bought out many smaller regional companies in the late 20th century, as well as its primary US competitors WCW and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in early 2001. Other prominent professional wrestling companies worldwide include the US-based Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), Lucha Underground (LU) and Ring of Honor (ROH), Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) and Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA) in Mexico, and the Japanese New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW), and Pro Wrestling Noah (NOAH) leagues.
When talking about professional wrestling, there are two levels: the "in-show" happenings that are presented through the shows, and happenings which are outside the scope of performance (in other words, are real life), but have implications on the performance, such as performer contracts, legitimate injuries, etc. Because actual events are often co-opted by writers for incorporation into storylines for the performers, the lines are often blurred and become confused.
Special care must be taken when talking about people who perform under their own name. The actions of the character should be considered fictional events, wholly separate from the life of the performer. This is similar to other entertainers who perform with a persona that shares their own name (such as Stephen Colbert and his fictional persona).
Some wrestlers will incorporate elements of their real-life personalities into their characters, even if they and their in-ring persona have different names.
Those who participated felt that it was necessary that spectators should be kept in a constant and complete illusion of a real competition to keep audience interest. For decades, up until the mid-1980s, wrestlers lived their public lives as though they were their characters. Wrestlers, bookers and promoters all rigorously enforced the illusion and very few were allowed into the closed society of professional wrestling to maintain suspension of disbelief. Aspiring wrestlers were typically stretched by legitimate wrestlers to both show how tough the sport really was, and to separate those who were serious into joining the profession from those who were not.
The practice of keeping the illusion, and the various methods used to do so, came to be known as "kayfabe" within wrestling circles, or "working the marks". An entire lexicon of slang jargon and euphemism developed to allow performers to communicate without outsiders' knowledge of what was being said.
Occasionally a performer will deviate from the intended sequence of events. This is known as a shoot. Sometimes shoot-like elements are included in wrestling stories to blur the line between performance and reality. These are known as "worked shoots". However, the vast majority of events in professional wrestling are preplanned and improvised within accepted boundaries.
Gradually, the predetermined nature of professional wrestling became an open secret, as prominent figures in the wrestling business (primarily WWE owner Vince McMahon) began to publicly admit that wrestling was entertainment, not competition. This public reveal has garnered mixed reactions from the wrestling community, as some feel that exposure ruins the experience to the spectators as does exposure in illusionism. Despite the public admission of the theatrical nature of professional wrestling, many U.S. states still regulate professional wrestling as they do other professional competitive sports. For example, New York State still regulates "professional wrestling" through the New York State Athletic Commission (SAC).
Aspects of performing art
Professional wrestling shows can be considered a form of theater in the round, with the ring, ringside area, and entryway comprising a thrust stage. However, despite the suspension of disbelief, there is a much more limited concept of a fourth wall than in most theatric performances. The audience is recognized and acknowledged by the performers as spectators to the sporting event being portrayed, and are encouraged to interact as such. This leads to a high level of audience participation; in fact, their reactions can dictate how the performance unfolds. Often, individual matches will be part of a longer storyline conflict between "babyfaces" (often shortened to just "faces") and "heels". "Faces" (the "good guys") are those whose actions are intended to encourage the audience to cheer, while "heels" (the "bad guys") act to draw the spectators' ire.
There is no governing authority for professional wrestling rules, although there is a general standard which has developed. Each promotion has their own variation, but all are similar enough to avoid confusion most of the time. Any rule described here is simply a standard, and may or may not correspond exactly with any given promotion's ruleset.
It should be noted that, due to the staged nature of wrestling, these are not actual "rules" in the sense that they would be considered in similar articles about actual sports like freestyle wrestling. Instead, the "rules" in this article are implemented and supposedly enforced for the sake of suspension of disbelief (known as kayfabe in the jargon of the business).
Matches are held between two or more sides ("corners"). Each corner may consist of one wrestler, or a team of two or more. Most team matches are governed by tag team rules (see below). Other matches are free-for-alls, with multiple combatants but no teams. In all variants, there can be only one winning team or wrestler.
The standard method of scoring is the "fall", which is accomplished by:
- Pinning the opponent's shoulders to the mat, typically for three seconds (though other times have been used).
- Forcing the opponent to submit.
- Disqualification of the opponent.
- The opponent remaining outside the ring for too long (countout).
- Knocking out or otherwise incapacitating the opponent.
These are each explained in greater detail below. Typically, pinfalls and submissions must occur within the ring area, however there are times where it may be stipulated otherwise.
Most wrestling matches last for a set number of falls, with the first side to achieve the majority number of pinfalls, submissions, or countouts being the winner. Historically, matches were wrestled to 3 falls ("best 2 out of 3") or 5 falls ("best 3 out of 5"). The standard for modern matches is one fall. However, even though it is now standard, many announcers will explicitly state this (e.g. "The following contest is set for one fall with a 20-minute time limit"). These matches are given a time limit; if not enough falls are scored by the end of the time limit, the match is declared a draw. Modern matches are generally given a 10- to 30-minute time limit for standard matches; title matches can go for up to one hour. British wrestling matches held under Admiral-Lord Mountevans rules are 2 out of 3 falls.
An alternative is a match set for a prescribed length of time, with a running tally of falls. The entrant with the most falls at the end of the time limit is declared the winner. This is usually for 20, 30 or 60 minutes, and is commonly called an Iron Man match. This type of match can be modified so that fewer types of falls are allowed.
In matches with multiple competitors, an elimination system may be used. Any wrestler who has a fall scored against them is forced out of the match, and the match continues until only one remains. However, it is much more common when more than two wrestlers are involved to simply go one fall, with the one scoring the fall, regardless of who they scored it against, being the winner. In championship matches, this means that, unlike one-on-one matches (where the champion can simply disqualify themselves or get themselves counted out to retain the title via the "champion's advantage"), the champion does not have to be pinned or involved in the decision to lose the championship. However, heel champions often find advantages, not in champion's advantage, but in the use of weapons and outside interference, as these poly-sided matches tend to involve no holds barred rules.
Many modern specialty matches have been devised, with unique winning conditions. The most common of these is the ladder match. In the basic ladder match, the wrestlers or teams of wrestlers must climb a ladder to obtain a prize that is hoisted above the ring. The key to winning this match is that the wrestler or team of wrestlers must try to incapacitate each other long enough for one wrestler to climb the ladder and secure that prize for their team. As a result, the ladder can be used as a weapon. The prizes include – but are not limited to any given championship belt (the traditional prize), a document granting the winner the right to a future title shot, or any document that matters to the wrestlers involved in the match (such as one granting the winner a cash prize). Another common specialty match is known as the battle royal. In a battle royal, all the wrestlers enter the ring to the point that there are 20-30 wrestlers in the ring at one time. When the match begins, the simple objective is to throw the opponent over the top rope and out of the ring with both feet on the floor in order to eliminate that opponent. The last wrestler standing is declared the winner. A variant on this type of match is the WWE's Royal Rumble where two wrestlers enter the ring to start the match and other wrestlers follow in 90 second intervals (previously 2 minutes) until 30-40 wrestlers have entered the ring. All other rules stay the same. For more match types, see Professional wrestling match types.
Due to the legitimate role that referees play in wrestling of serving as liaison between the bookers backstage and the wrestlers in the ring (the role of being a final arbitrator is merely kayfabe), the referee is present, even in matches that do not at first glance appear to require a referee (such as a ladder match, as it is no holds barred, and the criteria for victory could theoretically be assessed from afar). Although their actions are also frequently scripted for dramatic effect, referees are subject to certain general rules and requirements in order to maintain the theatrical appearance of unbiased authority. The most basic rule is that an action must be seen by a referee to be declared for a fall or disqualification. This allows for heel characters to gain a scripted advantage by distracting or disabling the referee in order to perform some ostensibly illegal maneuver on their opponent. Most referees are unnamed and essentially anonymous, though the WWE has let their officials reveal their names.
Special guest referees may be used from time to time; by virtue of their celebrity status, they are often scripted to dispense with the appearance of neutrality and use their influence to unfairly influence the outcome of the match for added dramatic impact. Face special referees will often fight back against hostile heel wrestlers, particularly if the special referee is either a wrestler themselves or a famous martial artist (such as Tito Ortiz in the main event at TNA's Hard Justice in 2005). They also have the power to eject from ringside any of the heel wrestler's entourage/stable, who may otherwise interfere with the match.
For heel special referees, common ways of assisting the heel wrestler to obtain victory include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Counting fast whenever the face wrestler is being pinned, while counting slow, or even refusing to count at all (often by stopping a count at two or faking a wrist pain right before the three count), when the heel wrestler is being pinned.
- Allowing heel wrestlers to use blatantly illegal tactics that most normal referees would instantly disqualify for, while not extending these relaxed rules to face wrestlers.
- Feigning unconsciousness or distraction far longer than they would normally otherwise be out, allowing for greater opportunities for run-ins or illegal moves, while instantly waking up or regaining focus the moment the heel wrestler seems to have an advantage.
- Actually assisting in attacking the face wrestler.
The special referee may enter the match appearing to be a heel, but often they ultimately perform a "face-turn" during the climax of the match, and also vice versa. This is most often the case if the referee is a wrestler, as it can set up a further storyline feud between the special referee and the wrestler that he or she "betrayed".
Matches are held within a wrestling ring, an elevated square canvas mat with posts on each corner. A cloth apron hangs over the edges of the ring. Three horizontal ropes or cables surround the ring, suspended with turnbuckles which are connected to the posts. For safety, the ropes are padded at the turnbuckles and cushioned mats surround the floor outside the ring. Guardrails or a similar barrier enclose this area from the audience. Wrestlers are generally expected to stay within the confines of the ring, though matches sometimes end up outside the ring, and even in the audience, to add excitement.
In some team matches, only one entrant from each team may be designated as the "legal" or "active" wrestler at any given moment. Two wrestlers must make physical contact (typically palm-to-palm) in order to transfer this legal status. This is known as a "tag", with the participants "tagging out" and "tagging in". Typically the wrestler who is tagging out has a 5-second count to leave the ring, whereas the one tagging in can enter the ring at any time, resulting in heels legally double-teaming a face.
The non-legal wrestlers must remain outside the ring or other legal area at all times (and avoid purposeful contact with the opposing wrestlers) or face reprimand from the referee. In most promotions, the wrestler to be tagged in must be touching the turnbuckle on their corner, or a cloth strap attached to the turnbuckle. However, illegal men are generally allowed to enter the ring without a tag in order to break up pin attempts and submission holds.
Some multi-wrestler matches allow for a set number of legal wrestlers, and a legal wrestler may tag out to any other wrestler, regardless of team. In these matches, the tag need not be a mutual effort, and this results in active wrestlers being tagged out against their will, or non-legal wrestlers forced to enter the battle.
Sometimes, poly-sided matches that pit every one for themselves will incorporate tagging rules. Outside of kayfabe, this is done to give wrestlers a break from the action (as these matches tend to go on for long periods of time), and to make the action in the ring easier to choreograph. One of the most mainstream examples of this is the four-corner match, the most common type of match in the WWE before it was replaced with its equivalent fatal four-way; four wrestlers, each for themselves, fight in a match, but only two wrestlers can be in the match at any given time. The other two are positioned in the corner, and tags can be made between any two wrestlers.
In a Texas tornado tag team match, all the competitors are legal in the match, and tagging in and out is not necessary. All matches fought under hardcore rules (such as no disqualification, no holds barred, ladder match, etc.) are all contested under de facto Texas tornado tag team rules, since the lack of ability of a referee to issue a disqualification renders any tagging requirements moot.
Regardless of rules of tagging, a wrestler cannot pin their own tag team partner, even if it is technically possible from the rules of the match (e.g. Texas tornado tag team rules, or a three-way tag team match). This is called the "Outlaw Rule" because the first team to attempt to use that (in an attempt to unfairly retain their tag team titles) was The New Age Outlaws.
In order to score by pinfall, a wrestler must pin both their opponent's shoulders against the mat while the referee slaps the mat three times (referred to as a "three count"). This is the most common form of defeat. The pinned wrestler must also be on their back; if they are lying on their belly, it usually does not count.
A count may be started at any time that a wrestler's shoulders are down (both shoulders touching the mat), back-first and any part of the opponent's body is lying over the wrestler. This often results in pins that can easily be kicked out of, if the defensive wrestler is even slightly conscious. For example, an attacking wrestler who is half-conscious may simply drape an arm over an opponent, or a cocky wrestler may place their foot gently on the opponent's body, prompting a three-count from the referee.
However, although almost any scenario where one wrestler is covering another prone, back-first wrestler can be considered a pin attempt, there is one important exception to that rule: Pin attempts broken up by other wrestlers. In matches involving multiple wrestlers (such as triple threat matches or tag team matches), wrestlers who see a pin attempt that, if successful, would result in them losing the match are expected to run in and break the pin attempt by performing some sort of offensive maneuver on the wrestler attempting the pin. The most common attacks for breaking pins are a stomp to the back and an elbow to the back of the head, as they are simple to pull off in the spur of the moment. However, these moves, simple as they are, still leave the pinning wrestler on top of the pinned wrestler. Despite the pinning wrestler still technically being on top of the pinned wrestler, the referee will still consider the pin attempt to be broken.
Illegal pinning methods include using the ropes for leverage and hooking the opponent's clothing, which are therefore popular cheating methods for heels, unless certain stipulations make such an advantage legal. Such pins as these are rarely seen by the referee (as they have to see if their shoulders are down) and are subsequently often used by heels and on occasion by cheating faces to win matches. Even if it is noticed, it is rare for such an attempt to result in a disqualification (see below), and instead it simply results in nullification of the pin attempt, so the heel wrestler rarely has anything to lose for trying it, anyway.
Occasionally, there are instances where a pinfall is made where both wrestlers' shoulders were on the mat for the three-count. This situation will most likely lead to a draw, and in some cases a continuation of the match or a future match to determine the winner.
To score by submission, the wrestler must make their opponent give up or pass out, usually, but not necessarily, by putting them in a submission hold (e.g. figure-four leglock, armlock, sleeper hold).
A wrestler may voluntarily submit by verbally informing the referee (usually used in moves such as the Mexican Surfboard, where all four limbs are incapacitated, making tapping impossible). Also, since Ken Shamrock (a legitimate UFC competitor in its early days) popularized it in 1997, a wrestler can indicate a voluntary submission by "tapping out", that is, tapping a free hand against the mat or against an opponent. Occasionally, a wrestler will reach for a rope (see rope breaks below), only to put their hand back on the mat so they can crawl towards the rope some more; this is not a submission, and the referee decides what their intent is.
Passing out in a submission hold also technically constitutes a loss by submission. To determine if a wrestler has passed out in WWE, the referee usually picks up and drops their hand. If it drops to the mat or floor three consecutive times without the wrestler having the strength to hold it up, the wrestler is considered to have passed out.
Submission was initially a large factor in professional wrestling, but following the decline of the submission-oriented catch-as-catch-can style from mainstream professional wrestling, the submission largely faded until the rise of the legitimate sport of mixed martial arts. Despite this, some wrestlers, such as Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, Ken Shamrock, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, and Tazz, became famous for winning matches via submission. A wrestler with a signature submission technique is portrayed as better at applying the hold, making it more painful or more difficult to get out of than others who use it, or can be falsely credited as inventing the hold (such as when Tazz popularized the kata ha jime judo choke in pro wrestling as the "Tazzmission").
Since all contact between the wrestlers must cease if any part of the body is touching, or underneath, the ropes, many wrestlers will attempt to break submission holds by deliberately grabbing the bottom ropes. This is called a "rope break", and it is one of the most common ways to break a submission hold. Most holds leave an arm or leg free, so that the person can tap out if they want. Instead, they use these free limbs to either grab one of the ring ropes (the bottom one is the most common, as it is nearest the wrestlers, though other ropes sometimes are used for standing holds such as Chris Masters' Master Lock) or drape their foot across, or underneath one. Once this has been accomplished, and the accomplishment is witnessed by the referee, the referee will demand that the offending wrestler break the hold, and start counting to five if the wrestler does not. If the referee reaches the count of five, and the wrestler still does not break the hold, they are disqualified. While this does not happen in no disqualification matches, a wrestler may still do this in order to pull himself (or herself) out of the ring.
If a manager decides that their client wrestler should tap out, but cannot convince the wrestler themselves to do so, they may "throw in the towel" (by literally taking a gym towel and hurling it into the ring where the referee can see it); this is the same as a submission, as the manager is, in kayfabe, considered the wrestler's agent, and therefore, authorized to make formal decisions (such as forfeiting a match) on the client's behalf.
A wrestler can win by knockout (sometimes referred to as a referee stoppage) if they do not resort to submission holds, but stills pummels their opponent to the point that they are unconscious or are unable to intelligently defend themselves. To check for a knockout in this manner, a referee will wave their hand in front of the wrestler's face; if the wrestler does not react in any way, the referee will award the victory to the other wrestler. If all the active wrestlers in a match are down inside the ring at the same time, the referee will begin a count (usually ten seconds, twenty in Japan). If nobody rises to their feet by the end of the count, the match is ruled a draw. Any participant who stands up in time will end the count for everyone else. In a Last Man Standing match, this form of a knockout is the only way that the match can end, so the referee will count when one or more wrestlers are down, and one wrestler standing up before the 10-count doesn't stop the count for another wrestler who is still down.
A referee may stop the match when they or official ring physician decides that a wrestler cannot safely continue the match. This may be decided if the wrestler cannot continue the match due to an injury. At the Great American Bash in 2008, Chris Jericho was declared the winner of a match against Shawn Michaels when Michaels could not defend himself due to excessive blood loss and impaired vision. At NXT TakeOver: Rival in 2015, the referee stopped the match when Sami Zayn could not defend himself due to an injury sustained against Kevin Owens for the NXT Championship. At SummerSlam 2016, Brock Lesnar pummeled Randy Orton to the point of profuse blood loss and a technical knockout was declared.
A countout (alternatively "count-out" or "count out") happens when a wrestler is out of the ring long enough for the referee to count to ten (twenty in some promotions) and thus disqualified. The count is broken and restarted when a wrestler in the ring exits the ring. Playing into this, some wrestlers will "milk" the count by sliding in the ring, and immediately sliding back out. As they were technically inside the ring for a split second before exiting again, it is sufficient to restart the count. This is often referred to by commentators as "breaking the count." Heels often use this tactic in order to buy themselves more time to catch their breath, or to attempt to frustrate their babyface opponents.
In some promotions (and most major modern ones), championships cannot change hands via a countout, unless the on-screen authority declares it for at least one match, although in others, championships may change hands via countout. Heels are known to take advantage of this and will intentionally get counted out when facing difficult opponents, especially when defending championships.
Disqualification (sometimes abbreviated as "DQ") occurs when a wrestler violates the match's rules, thus losing automatically. Although a countout can technically be considered a disqualification (as it is, for all intents and purposes, an automatic loss suffered as a result of violating a match rule), the two concepts are often distinct in wrestling. A no disqualification match can still end by countout (although this is rare); typically, a match must be declared a "no holds barred" match, a "street fight" or some other term, in order for both disqualifications and countouts to be waived.
Disqualification from a match is called for a number of reasons:
- Performing any illegal holds or maneuvers, such as refusing to break a hold when an opponent is in the ropes, hair-pulling, choking or biting an opponent, or repeatedly punching with a closed fist. These violations are usually subject to a referee-administered five count and will result in disqualification if the wrestler does not cease the offending behavior in time.
- Attacking an opponent's eye, such as raking it, poking it, gouging it, punching it or other severe attacks to the eye.
- Any outside interference involving a person not involved in the match striking or holding a wrestler. Sometimes (depending on the promotion and uniqueness of the situation), if a heel attempts to interfere, but is ejected from the ring by a wrestler or referee before this occurs, there may not be a disqualification. In this disqualification method, the wrestler being attacked by the foreign member is awarded the win. Sometimes, however, this can work in heels' favor. In February 2009, Shawn Michaels, who was under the kayfabe employment of John "Bradshaw" Layfield (JBL), interfered in a match and hit a superkick on JBL in front of the referee in order to get his employer the win via "outside interference".
- Striking an opponent with a foreign object (an object not permitted by the rules of the match; see Hardcore wrestling) (sometimes the win decision can be reversed if the referee spots the weapon before pin attempt or after the match because they tried to strike when referee is either distracted or knocked out).
- Using any kind of "banned" move (see below for details).
- A direct low blow to the groin (unless the rules of the match specifically allow this).
- Intentionally laying hands on the referee.
- Pulling an opponent's mask off during a match (this is illegal in Mexico, and sometimes in Japan).
- Throwing an opponent over the top rope during a match (this move is still illegal in the National Wrestling Alliance)
- Entering a Royal Rumble before one's scheduled entrance time.
- In a mixed gender tag team match, any participant striking someone of the opposite gender.
In practice, not all rule violations will result in a disqualification as the referee may use their own judgement and is not obligated to stop the match. Usually, the only offenses that the referee will see and immediately disqualify the match on (as opposed to having multiple offenses) are low blows, weapon usage, interference, or assaulting the referee. In WWE, a referee must see the violation with their own eyes to rule that the match end in a disqualification (simply watching the video tape is not usually enough) and the referee's ruling is almost always final, although Dusty finishes (named after, and made famous by, Dusty Rhodes) will often result in the referee's decision being overturned. It is not uncommon for the referees themselves to get knocked out during a match, which is commonly referred to by the term "ref bump". While the referee remains "unconscious", wrestlers are free to violate rules until the referee is revived or replaced. In some cases, a referee might disqualify a person under the presumption that it was that wrestler who knocked them out; most referee knockouts are arranged to allow a wrestler, usually a heel, to gain an advantage. For example, a wrestler may get whipped into a referee at a slower speed, knocking the ref down for short amount of time; during that interim period, one wrestler may pin their opponent for a three-count and would have won the match but for the referee being down (sometimes, another referee will sprint to the ring from backstage to attempt to make the count, but by then, the other wrestler has had enough time to kick-out on their own accord). As with a count-out loss, Championships cannot change hands through disqualifications, unless the on-screen authority declares that the defending champion can lose his/her championship by getting disqualified, which is usually good for at least one championship match
If all participants in a match continue to breach the referee's instructions, the match may end in a double disqualification, where both wrestlers or teams (in a tag team match) have been disqualified. The match is essentially nullified, and called a draw or in some cases a restart or the same match being held at a pay-per-view or next night's show.
A professional wrestling match can end in a draw. A draw occurs if both opponents are simultaneously disqualified (as via countout or if the referee loses complete control of the match and both opponents attack each other with no regard to being in a match, like Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker at Unforgiven in 2002), neither opponent is able to answer a ten-count, or both opponents simultaneously win the match. The latter can occur if, for example, one opponent's shoulders touch the mat while maintaining a submission hold against another opponent. If the opponent in the hold begins to tap out at the same time a referee counts to three for pinning the opponent delivering the hold, both opponents have legally achieved scoring conditions simultaneously. Traditionally, a championship may not change hands in the event of a draw (though it may become vacant), though some promotions such as TNA have endorsed rules where the champion may lose a title by disqualification. A variant of the draw is the time-limit draw, where the match does not have a winner by a specified time period (a one-hour draw, which was once common, is known in wrestling circles as a "Broadway").
Also if two wrestlers have been given DQ by either the referee or the chairman, this is a no contest. If there is a championship belt on the line, the champion keeps the title.
A wrestling match may be declared a no contest if the winning conditions are unable to occur. This can be due to excessive interference, loss of referee's control over the match, one or more participants sustaining debilitating injury not caused by the opponent, or the inability of a scheduled match to even begin. A no contest is a state separate and distinct from a draw — a draw indicates winning conditions were met. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in practice, this usage is technically incorrect.
While each wrestling match is ostensibly a competition of athletics and ring psychology, the goal of each match from a business standpoint is to excite and entertain the audience. Although the competition is staged, dramatic emphasis can be utilized to draw out the most intense reaction from the audience. Heightened interest results in higher attendance rates, increased ticket sales, higher ratings on television broadcasts (which result in greater ad revenue), higher pay-per-view buyrates, and sales of branded merchandise and recorded video footage. All of these contribute to the profit of the promotion company.
In Latin America and English-speaking countries, most wrestlers (and other on-stage performers) portray character roles, sometimes with personalities wildly different from their own. These personalities are a gimmick intended to heighten interest in a wrestler without regard to athletic ability. Some can be unrealistic and cartoon-like (such as Doink the Clown), while others carry more verisimilitude and can be seen as exaggerated versions of the performer's real life personality (such as Chris Jericho, The Rock, John Cena, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and CM Punk). In lucha libre, many characters wear masks, adopting a secret identity akin to a superhero, a near-sacred tradition.
An individual wrestler may sometimes use their real name, or a minor variation of it, for much of their career, such as Angelo Poffo, Ernie Ladd, Verne Gagne, Bret Hart, and Randy Orton. Others can keep one ring name for their entire career (cases in point include Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels, CM Punk and Ricky Steamboat), or may change from time to time to better suit the demands of the audience or company. Sometimes a character is owned and trademarked by the company, forcing the wrestler to find a new one when they leave (although a simple typeset change, such as changing Rhino to Rhyno, can usually get around this), and sometimes a character is owned by the wrestler. Sometimes, a wrestler may change their legal name in order to obtain ownership of their ring name (examples include Andrew Martin and Warrior). Many wrestlers (such as The Rock and The Undertaker) are strongly identified with their character, even responding to the name in public or between friends. It's actually considered proper decorum for fellow wrestlers to refer to each other by their stage names/characters rather than their birth/legal names, unless otherwise introduced. A professional wrestling character's popularity can grow to the point that it makes appearances in other media (see Hulk Hogan and El Santo) or even give the performer enough visibility to enter politics (Antonio Inoki and Jesse Ventura, among others).
Typically, matches are staged between a protagonist (historically an audience favorite, known as a babyface, or "the good guy") and an antagonist (historically a villain with arrogance, a tendency to break rules, or other unlikable qualities, called a heel). In recent years, however, antiheroes have also become prominent in professional wrestling. There is also a less common role of a "tweener", who is neither fully face nor fully heel yet able to play either role effectively (case in point, Samoa Joe during his first run in TNA from June 2005 to November 2006).
At times a character may "turn", altering their face/heel alignment. This may be an abrupt, surprising event, or it may slowly build up over time. It almost always is accomplished with a markable change in behavior on the part of the character. Some turns become defining points in a wrestler's career, as was the case when Hulk Hogan turned heel after being a top face for over a decade. Others may have no noticeable effect on the character's status. If a character repeatedly switches between being a face and heel, this lessens the effect of such turns, and may result in apathy from the audience. Vince McMahon is a good example of having more heel and face turns than anyone in WWE history.
As with personae in general, a character's face or heel alignment may change with time, or remain constant over its lifetime (the most famous example of the latter is Ricky Steamboat, a WWE Hall of Famer who remained a babyface throughout his entire career). Sometimes a character's heel turn will become so popular that eventually the audience response will alter the character's heel-face cycle to the point where the heel persona will, in practice, become a face persona, and what was previously the face persona, will turn into the heel persona, such as when Dwayne Johnson first began using "The Rock" persona as a heel character, as opposed to his original "Rocky Maivia" babyface persona. Another legendary example is Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was originally booked as a heel, with such mannerisms as drinking on the job, using profanity, breaking company property, and even breaking into people's private homes. However, much to WWF's surprise, the fans enjoyed Austin's antics so much that he became one of the greatest antiheroes in the history of the business. He, along with the stable of D-Generation X, is generally credited with ushering in the Attitude Era of WWF programming.
In some cases a wrestler may possess admirable physical traits but perceived mediocre public speaking abilities (such as Brock Lesnar), or their gimmick may be that of a "wild savage" needing a handler (such as Kamala). Such performers have historically employed a manager, who speaks on their behalf and adds to the performance. Managers have sometimes become major personalities, including Bobby Heenan, Paul Heyman, Ernie Roth, and Paul Bearer. A manager role may also be filled by a "valet", typically an appealing female who may participate in love triangle storylines, "damsel in distress" situations, and scripted fights with female wrestlers. Some of these have also gone on to become recognized stars, such as Tammy Lynn Sytch, Stacy Keibler, and Miss Elizabeth.
While true exhibition matches are not uncommon, most matches tell a story analogous to a scene in a play or film, or an episode of a serial drama: The face will sometimes win (triumph) or sometimes lose (tragedy). Longer story arcs can result from multiple matches over the course of time. Since most promotions have a championship title, competition for the championship is a common impetus for stories. Also, anything from a character's own hair to their job with the promotion can be wagered in a match. The same type of good vs. evil storylines were also once popular in roller derby.
Some matches are designed to further a story of only one participant. It could be intended to portray him or her as a strong unstoppable force, a lucky underdog, a sore loser, or any other characterization. Sometimes non-wrestling vignettes are shown in order to enhance a character's image without the need for matches.
Other stories result from a natural rivalry between two or more characters. Outside of performance, these are referred to as feuds. A feud can exist between any number of participants and can last for a few days up to multiple decades. The feud between Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat lasted from the late 1970s into the early 1990s and allegedly spanned over two thousand matches (although most of those matches were mere dark matches). The career-spanning history between characters Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka is another example of a long-running feud, as is the case of Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon, one of the most lucrative feuds in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during 1998 and 1999.
In theory, the longer a feud is built up, the more audience interest (aka heat) will exist. The main event of a wrestling show is generally the one with the most heat behind it. Commonly, a heel will hold the upper hand over a face until a final showdown, heightening dramatic tension as the face's fans desire to see them win.
Throughout the history of professional wrestling, many other elements and forms of media have been utilized in professional wrestling storytelling: pre- and post-match interviews, "backstage" skits, positions of authority and worked behind-the-scenes feuds, division rankings (typically the #1-contendership spot), contracts, lotteries, news stories on websites, and in recent years social media.
Also, anything that can be used as an element of drama can exist in professional wrestling stories: romantic relationships (including love triangles and marriage), racism, classism, nepotism, favoritism, corporate corruption, family bonds, personal histories, grudges, theft, cheating, assault, betrayal, bribery, seduction, stalking, confidence tricks, extortion, blackmail, substance abuse, self-doubt, self-sacrifice; even kidnapping, sexual fetishism, necrophilia, misogyny, rape and death have been portrayed in wrestling. Some promotions have included supernatural elements such as magic, curses, the undead and Satanic imagery (most notably The Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness, a stable that regularly performed evil rituals and human sacrifice in Satanic-like worship of a hidden power figure). Celebrities would also be involved in storylines.
Commentators have become important in communicating the relevance of the characters' actions to the story at hand, filling in past details and pointing out subtle actions that may otherwise go unnoticed.
A main part of the story-telling part of wrestling is a promo, promotional interview. Promos are performed, or "cut", in wrestling jargon, for a variety of reasons, including to heighten interest in a wrestler, or to hype an upcoming match.
Since the crowd is often too loud or the venue too large for promos to be heard naturally, wrestlers will use amplification when speaking in the ring. Unlike most Hollywood acting, large and highly visible handheld microphones are typically used and wrestlers often speak directly to the audience.
Professional wrestling mimics the structure of title match combat sports. Participants compete for a championship, and must defend it after winning it. These titles are represented physically by a belt that can be worn by the champion. In the case of team wrestling, there is a belt for each member of the team.
Almost all professional wrestling promotions have one major title, and some have more. Championships are designated by divisions of weight, height, gender, wrestling style and other qualifications.
Typically, each promotion only recognizes the "legitimacy" of their own titles, although cross-promotion does happen. When one promotion absorbs or purchases another, the titles from the defunct promotion may continue to be defended in the new promotion or be decommissioned.
Behind the scenes, the bookers in a company will place the title on the most accomplished performer, or those the bookers believe will generate fan interest in terms of event attendance and television viewership. Lower ranked titles may also be used on the performers who show potential, thus allowing them greater exposure to the audience. However other circumstances may also determine the use of a championship. A combination of a championship's lineage, the caliber of performers as champion, and the frequency and manner of title changes, dictates the audience's perception of the title's quality, significance and reputation.
A wrestler's championship accomplishments can be central to their career, becoming a measure of their performance ability and drawing power. In general, a wrestler with multiple title reigns or an extended title reign is indicative of a wrestler's ability to maintain audience interest and/or a wrestler's ability to perform in the ring. As such, the most accomplished or decorated wrestlers tend to be revered as legends despite the predetermined nature of title reigns. American wrestler Ric Flair has had multiple world heavyweight championship reigns spanning over three decades. Japanese wrestler Último Dragón once held and defended a record 10 titles simultaneously.
Often a match will take place under additional rules, usually serving as a special attraction or a climactic point in a feud or storyline. Sometimes this will be the culmination of an entire feud, ending it for the immediate future (known as a blowoff match).
Perhaps the most well-known non-standard match is the cage match, in which the ring is surrounded by a fence or similar metal structure, with the express intention of preventing escape or outside interference—and with the added bonus of the cage being a potentially brutal weapon or platform for launching attacks. The WWE has another provision where a standard cage match can end with one wrestler or wrestling team escaping the cage through the door or over the top.
Another example is the WWE's Royal Rumble match, which involves thirty participants in a random and unknown order. The Rumble match is itself a spectacle in that it is a once-yearly event with multiple participants, including individuals who might not interact otherwise. It also serves as a catalyst for the company's ongoing feuds, as well as a springboard for new storylines. It is common for legendary wrestlers to make one-time cameo appearances during the Royal Rumble match.
Other non standard matches include Hell in a Cell, Elimination Chamber, Beat the Clock, ladder, tables, chairs, stairs, falls count anywhere, "I quit", Russian chain, no holds barred, battle royals, no disqualification, last man standing, and many others as well.
While the wrestling matches themselves are the primary focus of professional wrestling, a key dramatic element of the business can be entrances of the wrestlers to the arena and ring. It is typical for a wrestler to get their biggest crowd reaction (or "pop") for their ring entrance, rather than for anything they do in the wrestling match itself, especially if former main event stars are returning to a promotion after a long absence.
All notable wrestlers now enter the ring accompanied by music, and regularly add other elements to their entrance. The music played during the ring entrance will usually mirror the wrestler's personality. Many wrestlers, particularly in America, have music and lyrics specially written for their ring entrance. While invented long before, the practice of including music with the entrance gained rapid popularity during the 1980s, largely as a result of the huge success of Hulk Hogan and the WWF, and their Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection. When a match is won, the victor's theme music is usually also played in celebration.
With the introduction of the TitanTron entrance screen in 1997, WWF/E wrestlers also had entrance videos made that would play along with their entrance music.
Other dramatic elements of a ring entrance can include:
- Pyrotechnics such as Jeff Hardy and Goldberg.
- Additional visual graphics or staging props to complement the entrance video/routine or further emphasize the character. For instance, Kane's entrance graphics employ heavy use of fire-themed visuals, The Undertaker's entrance features dark lighting, fire, fog and dry ice, and lightning-themed effects, John Morrison's entrance would feature use of multicolored psychedelic style patterns, The Miz has in the past incorporated inflatable lettering spelling out the word "Awesome" into his entrance, and Montel Vontavious Porter frequently used an inflatable entrance tunnel during his WWE tenure. Goldust has been known to use on-screen visual effects in his entrance to simulate the presentation of a feature film (i.e. widescreen, production company credits), as to emphasize his Hollywood-themed film aficionado character. Brodus Clay enters with disco ball lighting effects to emphasize his "Funkasaurus" character.
- A distinct sound or opening note/voice in the music (used to elicit a Pavlovian response from the crowd). For example, the glass shattering in Stone Cold Steve Austin's entrance theme, The Undertaker's signature bell toll, or the sound of bells and a cow's moo in JBL's theme. Other
- Darkening of the arena, often accompanied by mood lighting or strobe lighting, such as in The Undertaker's, Triple H's, Bray Wyatt/the Wyatt Family(Bray Wyatt also carries a lantern while members of the audience are using their mobile phones to add some light to the arena) or Sting's entrances. Certain colors of lighting have been associated with specific wrestlers; for instance, blue and purple lighting for The Undertaker, green lighting for Triple H, D-Generation X, and Shane McMahon, red and orange lighting for Kane, multicolored lighting for John Morrison, gold lighting for Goldust, pink lighting for Val Venis, and so forth.
- Costumes that evoke "otherworldly" or "fictional" themes. With examples such as Big Van Vader's bio-mechanical themed headdress which spewed steam, Pyro's fire shooting outfit, Shockmaster's bejeweled space helmet, and Ricky Steamboat's dragon costume, to name a few.
- Entering in a manner in keeping with their character traits, such as a fast, highly energetic entrance, or a slow, stoic entrance. For example, The Ultimate Warrior would run at high speed down the entrance ramp and into the ring while Randy Orton would slowly and darkly walk to the ring. The Undertaker has adopted one of the most notable entrances, taking around 4 to 5 minutes, darkening the whole arena, and performing a slow, intimidating walk. Like sound effects, some entrance mannerisms often become signature to individual wrestlers. For example, Stone Cold Steve Austin's entrance often involves him standing on the second turnbuckle, raising his hands in the air for few seconds, and then doing the same thing for the other three turnbuckles, a mannerism which has become just as much a signature part of Austin's entrance as the glass-shattering sound effect.
- Driving a vehicle into the arena. For example, Eddie Guerrero would arrive into the arena in a lowrider, The Undertaker (in his "American Bad Ass" biker gimmick), Chuck Palumbo, Tara, and the Disciples of Apocalypse on motorcycles, The Mexicools on riding lawn mowers, JBL in his limousine (although the limousine is being driven by various drivers instead of JBL himself which is a rare example of a wrestler entering the arena in a vehicle that is driven by someone else), Alberto Del Rio arriving into the arena in various luxury cars, Stone Cold Steve Austin driving an all-terrain vehicle, and perhaps most recently Camacho and Hunico entering on a bicycle.
- Acting out a trademark behavior, such as posing to display their muscularity, mounting the ring ropes, or sitting in the corner.
- Talking to the crowd using a distinctive patter. For instance, chanting or rapping along with the music (i.e. Road Dogg, R-Truth). Another example is Vickie Guerrero entering to no music, but announcing her arrival with the words "Excuse me!".
- Many heels with narcissistic gimmicks (Lex Luger, Shawn Michaels, Cody Rhodes, Paul Orndorff, etc.) would admire themselves with a mirror on their way to the ring.
- Coming through the audience, such as The Sandman's beer drinking and can smashing entrance, or Diamond Dallas Page's exit through the crowd, The Shield and/or most recently, Roman Reigns walking through the arena.
- Accompaniment by a ringside crew or personal security, or otherwise walking out of his locker room onscreen as soon as the entrance music started playing, an example of which would be Goldberg(in some instances, a member of Goldberg's escort can be seen knocking on the door of his Locker Room).
- Entering the arena by a lift in the stage, such as Kurt Angle, Gangrel and Rey Mysterio.
- If a wrestler is a current champion, they will attempt to visually draw attention to their championship belt by either holding it high over their head or (if the belt is worn around the waist) moving their hands across it or pointing to it.
- A foreign language voice that serves as the intro of the music such as Rusev and Vladimir Kozlov.
- The wrestler himself performing the lyrics of his own entrance music such as Shawn Michaels and John Cena.
- The wrestler's recorded voice accompanying the music, such as The Rock saying "If you smell what the rock is Cooking!", Booker T saying "Don't hate the game, hate the player" and "Can you dig it, sucka" on the respective WCW and WWE versions of his music, Ric Flair saying his signature "WOOOO!", Finlay saying "My name is Finlay and I love to fight" during his heel run in the WWE, Ryback saying "Feed Me More", Val Venis saying "Hello, Ladies", Scott Steiner saying "Holla If you hear me", The Boogeyman saying "I'm the Boogeyman, and I'm coming to get you", Viscera saying "The World's Largest Love Machine, Viscera"(during his Love Machine Gimmick) or Vader saying "Oh it's time, it's time, it's Vader time".
- Wrestlers distributing merchandises to the audience such as Bret Hart giving his sunglasses to a kid in the audience or John Cena removing his shirt and throwing it to the audience.
Another method of entry involves descending from the ceiling with a Zip-line or rappel line and stunt harness. This has been done by Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII, by Sting many times in WCW and TNA, and has gained major controversy over its role in the death of wrestler Owen Hart at Over the Edge.
Special ring entrances are also developed for big occasions, most notably the WrestleMania event. For example, WrestleMania III and VI both saw all wrestlers enter the arena on motorized miniature wrestling rings. Live bands are sometimes hired to perform live entrance music at special events. John Cena and Triple H are particularly notable in recent years for their highly theatrical entrances at WrestleMania.
Wrestlers can be represented by nearly anyone, regardless of size, age, or gender. While most are typically muscular, athletic males or females, they may also be very small (Lord Littlebrook), very large (Happy Humphrey), former powerlifters (Ken Patera), former sumo wrestlers (John Tenta and Yokozuna), elderly (Mae Young), or even missing limbs (Zach Gowen).
The women's division of professional wrestling has maintained a recognized world champion since 1937, when Mildred Burke won the original World Women's title. She then formed the World Women's Wrestling Association in the early 1950s and recognized herself as the first champion, although the championship would be vacated upon her retirement in 1956. The NWA, however, ceased to acknowledge Burke as their Women's World champion in 1954, and instead acknowledged June Byers as champion after a controversial finish to a high-profile match between Burke and Byers that year. Upon Byers' retirement in 1964, The Fabulous Moolah, who won a junior heavyweight version of the NWA World Women's Championship (the predecessor to the WWE's Women's Championship) in a tournament back in 1958, was recognized by most NWA promoters as champion by default.
In Japan, professional wrestling done by female wrestlers is called joshi puroresu (女子プロレス) or joshi puro for short. Female wrestling is usually handled by promotions that specialize in joshi puroresu rather than divisions of otherwise male-dominated promotions, as is the case in the United States. However, joshi puroresu promotions usually have agreements with male puroresu promotions such that they recognize each other's titles as legitimate, and may share cards. All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling was the dominant joshi organization from the 1970s to the 1990s.
For most of its history, men and women would rarely compete against each other in professional wrestling, as it was deemed to be unfair and unchivalrous. Andy Kaufman used this to gain notoriety when he created an Intergender Championship and declared it open to any female challenger. This led to a long (worked) feud with Jerry Lawler.
In the 1980s, mixed tag team matches began to take place, with a male and female on each team and a rule stating that each wrestler could only attack the opponent of the same gender. If a tag was made, the other team had to automatically switch their legal wrestler as well. Despite these restrictions, many mixed tag matches do feature some physical interaction between participants of different genders. For example, a heel may take a cheap shot at the female wrestler of the opposing team to draw a negative crowd reaction. In lucha libre, cheap-shots and male-female attacks are not uncommon.
Intergender singles bouts were first fought on a national level in the 1990s. This began with Luna Vachon, who faced men in ECW and WWF. Later, Chyna became the first female to hold a belt that was not exclusive to women when she won the Intercontinental Championship. While it is a rare feat in WWE, in TNA, ODB participates in singles intergender matches. Also, ODB's kayfabe husband and tag team partner Eric Young held the Knockouts Tag Team Championship for a record 478 days before it was stripped by Brooke Hogan because Young was a male.
Midget wrestling can be traced to professional wrestling's carnival and vaudeville origins. In recent years, the popularity and prevalence of midgets in wrestling has greatly decreased due to wrestling companies depriving midget divisions of storyline and/or feud. However, WWE has made a few attempts to enter this market with their "minis" in the 1990s and the "junior's league" as recent as 2006. It is still a popular form of entertainment in Mexican wrestling, mostly as a "sideshow".
Some wrestlers may have their own specific "mini me", like Mascarita Sagrada, Alebrije has Quije, etc. There are also cases in which midgets can become valets for a wrestler, and even get physically involved in matches, like Alushe, who often accompanies Tinieblas, or KeMonito, who is portrayed as Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre's mascot and is also a valet for Mistico. Dave Finlay was often aided in his matches by a midget known mainly as Hornswoggle while in WWE, who hid under the ring and gave a shillelagh to Finlay to use on his opponent. Finlay also occasionally threw him at his opponent(s). Hornswoggle has also been given a run with the Cruiserweight Championship and feuded with D-Generation X in 2009.
Though they have not had the level of exposure as other wrestlers, bears have long been a part of professional wrestling. Usually declawed and muzzled, they often wrestled shoot matches against audience members, offered a cash reward if they could pin the bear. They also wrestled professionals in worked, often battle royal or handicap, matches (usually booked so the bear won). Though they have wrestled around the world and continue to do so, wrestling bears enjoyed their greatest popularity in the Southern United States, during the 1960s and 1970s. The practice of bear wrestling has met strong opposition from animal rights activists in recent decades, contributing to its lack of mainstream acceptance. As of 2006, it is banned in 20 U.S. states. Perhaps the most famous wrestling bears are Ginger, Victor, Hercules and Terrible Ted.
Styles and characteristics in different countries
The U.S., Japan and Mexico are three countries where there is a huge market and high popularity for professional wrestling. However, the styles of professional wrestling are different, given their independent development for a long period.
Professional wrestling in the U.S. tends to have a heavy focus on story building and the establishment of characters (and their personalities). There is a story for each match, and even a longer story for successive matches. The stories usually contain characters like faces and heels, and less often antiheroes and tweeners. It is a "triumph" if the face wins, while it is a "tragedy" if the heel wins. The characters usually have strong and sharp personalities, with examples like Doink the Clown, whose personality is melodramatic, slapstick and fantastical. The opposition between faces and heels is very intense in the story, and the heels may even attack the faces during TV interviews. The relationship between different characters can also be very complex.
Although professional wrestling in Mexico (lucha libre) also has stories and characters, they are less emphasized. Wrestlers in Mexico are traditionally more agile and perform more aerial maneuvers than professional wrestlers in the U.S. who, more often, rely on power moves and strikes to subdue their opponents. The difference in styles is due to the independent evolution of the sport in Mexico beginning in the 1930s and the fact that wrestlers in the cruiserweight division (peso semicompleto) are often the most popular wrestlers in Mexican lucha libre. Wrestlers often execute high flying moves characteristic of lucha libre by utilizing the wrestling ring's ropes to catapult themselves towards their opponents, using intricate combinations in rapid-fire succession, and applying complex submission holds. Lucha libre is also known for its tag team wrestling matches, in which the teams are often made up of three members, instead of two as is common in the U.S.
The style of Japanese professional wrestling (puroresu) is again different. With its origins in traditional American style of wrestling and still being under the same genre, it has become an entity in itself. Despite the similarity to its American counterpart in that the outcome of the matches remains predetermined, the phenomena are different in the form of the psychology and presentation of the sport; it is treated as a full contact combat sport as it mixes hard hitting martial arts strikes with shoot style submission holds, while in the U.S. it is rather more regarded as an entertainment show. Wrestlers incorporate kicks and strikes from martial arts disciplines, and a strong emphasis is placed on submission wrestling, and unlike the use of involved storylines in the U.S., they are not as intricate in Japan, more emphasis is placed on the concept of Fighting Spirit, meaning the Wrestlers display of physical and mental stamina are valued a lot more than theatrics. Many of Japan's wrestlers including top stars such as Shinya Hashimoto, Riki Choshu and Keiji Mutoh came from a legitimate martial arts background and many Japanese wrestlers in the 1990s began to pursue careers in mixed martial arts organizations such as Pancrase and Shooto which at the time retained the original look of puroresu, but were actual competitions.
Professional wrestling has developed its own cultures, both internal and external.
Those involved in producing professional wrestling have developed a kind of global fraternity, with familial bonds, shared language and passed-down traditions. New performers are expected to "pay their dues" for a few years by working in lower-profile promotions and working as ring crew before working their way upward. The permanent rosters of most promotions develop a backstage pecking order, with veterans mediating conflicts and mentoring younger wrestlers. For many decades (and still to a lesser extent today), performers were expected to keep the illusions of wrestling's legitimacy alive even while not performing, essentially acting in character any time they were in public. Some veterans speak of a "sickness" among wrestling performers, an inexplicable pull to remain active in the wrestling world despite the devastating effects the job can have on one's life and health.
Fans of professional wrestling have their own subculture, comparable to those of science fiction, video games, or comic books (in some cases, the "fandoms" overlap; in recent years, some professional wrestlers, particularly those who nurture an anti-establishment rebel persona, such as CM Punk, have made guest appearances at comic book conventions). Those who are interested in the backstage occurrences, future storylines, and reasonings behind company decisions read newsletters written by journalists with inside ties to the wrestling industry. These "rags" or "dirt sheets" have expanded into the Internet, where their information can be dispensed on an up-to-the-minute basis. Some have expanded into radio shows.
Some fans enjoy a pastime of collecting tapes of wrestling shows from specific companies, of certain wrestlers, or of specific genres. The Internet has given fans exposure to worldwide variations of wrestling they would be unable to see otherwise. Since the 1990s, many companies have been founded which deal primarily in wrestling footage. When the WWF purchased both WCW and ECW in 2001, they also obtained the entire past video libraries of both productions and have released many past matches online and on home video.
Like some other sports, fantasy leagues have developed around professional wrestling. Some take this concept further by creating E-feds (electronic federations), where a user can create their own fictional wrestling character, and role-playing storylines with other users, leading to scheduled "shows" where match results are determined by the organizers, usually based on a combination of the characters' statistics and the players' roleplaying aptitude, sometimes with audience voting.
Professional wrestling in mainstream culture
From the first established world championship, the top professional wrestlers have garnered fame within mainstream society. Each successive generation has produced a number of wrestlers who extend their careers into the realms of music, acting, writing, business, politics or public speaking, and are known to those who are unfamiliar with wrestling in general. Conversely, celebrities from other sports or general pop culture also become involved with wrestling for brief periods of time. A prime example of this is The Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection of the 1980s, which combined wrestling with MTV.
Some terminology originating in professional wrestling has found its way into the common vernacular. Phrases such as "body slam", "sleeper hold" and "tag team" are used by those who do not follow professional wrestling. The term "smackdown", popularized by The Rock and WWF's SmackDown! in the 1990s, has been included in Merriam-Webster dictionaries since 2007.
Many television shows and films have been produced which portray in-character professional wrestlers as protagonists, such as Ready to Rumble, ¡Mucha Lucha!, Nacho Libre, and the Santo film series. In the wildly popular Rocky series of films about the fictional boxer Rocky Balboa, Rocky III saw its hero fighting a "boxer vs. wrestler" exhibition match against the enormous and villainous wrestler "Thunderlips", portrayed by real-life soon-to-be wrestling icon Hulk Hogan. At least two stage plays set in the world of pro wrestling have been produced: The Baron is a comedy that retells the life of an actual performer known as Baron von Raschke. From Parts Unknown... is an award-nominated Canadian drama about the rise and fall of a fictional wrestler. The 2009 South Park episode "W.T.F." played on the soap operatic elements of professional wrestling. One of the lead characters on the Disney Channel series Kim Possible was a huge fan of pro wrestling and actually featured it on an episode (with two former WWE wrestlers voicing the two fictitious wrestlers featured in the episode). The 2008 film The Wrestler, about a washed-up professional wrestler, garnered several Oscar nominations.
The 1950 film noir Night and the City, directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney, told the story of a promoter in London trying to make it big, and featured a match involving real professional wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko.
Study and analysis of professional wrestling
With its growing popularity, professional wrestling has attracted attention as a subject of serious academic study and journalistic criticism. Many courses, theses, essays, and dissertations have analyzed wrestling's conventions, content, and its role in modern society. It is often included as part of studies on theatre, sociology, performance, and media. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a course of study on the cultural significance of professional wrestling, and anthropologist Heather Levi has written an ethnography about the culture of lucha libre in Mexico.
However, this was not always the case; in the early 20th century, once it became apparent that the "sport" was worked, pro wrestling was looked down on as a cheap entertainment for the uneducated working class — an attitude that still exists to varying degrees today. The French theorist Roland Barthes was among the first to propose that wrestling was worthy of deeper analysis, in his essay "The World of Wrestling" from his book Mythologies, first published in 1957. Barthes argued that it should be looked at not as a scamming of the ignorant, but as spectacle; a mode of theatric performance for a willing, if bloodthirsty, audience. Wrestling is described as performed art which demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings. The logical conclusion is given least importance over the theatrical performers of the wrestlers and the referee. According to Barthes, the function of a wrestler is not to win: it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of them and to give the audience a theatrical spectacle. This work is considered a foundation of all later study.
While pro wrestling is often described simplistically as a "soap opera for males", it has also been cited as filling the role of past forms of literature and theatre; a synthesis of classical heroics, commedia dell'arte, revenge tragedies, morality plays, and burlesque. The characters and storylines portrayed by a successful promotion are seen to reflect the current mood, attitudes, and concerns of that promotion's society (and can, in turn, influence those same things). Wrestling's high levels of violence and masculinity make it a vicarious outlet for aggression during peacetime.
Documentary filmmakers have studied the lives of wrestlers and the effects the profession has on them and their families. In 2016 Nine Legends was released combining real life interviews with wrestlers and a drama narrative to explore multiple aspects of the industry and its performers. The 1999 theatrical documentary Beyond the Mat focused on Terry Funk, a wrestler nearing retirement; Mick Foley, a wrestler within his prime; Jake Roberts, a former star fallen from grace; and a school of wrestling student trying to break into the business. The 2005 release Lipstick and Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling chronicled the development of women's wrestling throughout the 20th century. Pro wrestling has been featured several times on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. MTV's documentary series True Life featured two episodes titled "I'm a Professional Wrestler" and "I Want to Be a Professional Wrestler". Other documentaries have been produced by The Learning Channel (The Secret World of Professional Wrestling) and A&E (Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows). Bloodstained Memoirs explored the careers of several pro wrestlers, including Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam and Roddy Piper.
Injury and fatality
Although professional wrestling is worked, there is a high chance of injury, and even death. Strikes are often stiff, especially in Japan and in independent wrestling promotions such as Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW) and Ring of Honor (ROH). The ring is often made out of 2 by 8 timber planks. Many of the injuries that occur in pro wrestling are shoulders, knee, back, neck, and rib injuries. In a Toronto Star profile of him, Cody Deaner mentioned that "he was once told that taking a fall in the ring is like getting whiplash in a minor car accident." Chronic traumatic encephalopathy and traumatic brain injuries have also been linked to pro wrestling, including in the double-murder and suicide case involving Chris Benoit. Professional wrestler Davey Richards said in 2015, "We train to take damage, we know we are going to take damage and we accept that".
Less than 25 years after the 1990 WrestleMania VI, one third of its 36 competitors had died, including André the Giant and main event winner The Ultimate Warrior; all of these deaths had occurred before the age of 64.
- Foreign objects (e.g. folding chair)
- Glossary of professional wrestling terms
- Professional wrestling aerial techniques (e.g. shooting star press, moonsault)
- Professional wrestling attacks (e.g. leg drop, superkick)
- Professional wrestling double-team maneuvers (e.g. Doomsday Device)
- Professional wrestling holds (e.g. Boston crab, mandible claw, pinfall, Sharpshooter, camel clutch)
- Professional wrestling match types
- Professional wrestling throws (e.g. backbreaker, brainbuster, chokeslam, cutter, DDT, facebuster, neckbreaker, piledriver, powerbomb, powerslam, stunner, suplex)
- Professional wrestling tag team match types
- Professional wrestling tournament
Professional wrestling worldwide
- Professional wrestling in Australia
- Professional wrestling in Canada
- Professional wrestling in Japan
- Professional wrestling in Mexico
- Professional wrestling in New Zealand
- Professional wrestling in the United Kingdom
- Professional wrestling in the United States
- List of independent wrestling promotions in Canada
- List of independent wrestling promotions in the United States
- List of professional wrestling organisations in Australia
- List of professional wrestling promotions
- List of professional wrestling promotions in Europe
- List of professional wrestling promotions in Japan
- List of professional wrestling promotions in Mexico
- List of professional wrestling promotions in New Zealand
- List of women's wrestling promotions
- List of women's wrestling promotions in the United States
- Professional wrestling promotions in the United Kingdom
Lists of wrestlers
Types of professional wrestling
- All-in professional wrestling
- Catch wrestling
- Fantasy wrestling
- Hardcore wrestling
- Lucha libre
- Shoot wrestling
- Sports entertainment
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"Dragon Gate is a unique promotion as they still follow many of wrestling's biggest traditions, one being that veterans get theirs first because rookies need to "pay their dues" like they did".
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There is a sense in which wrestling resembles nothing if not a kind of postmodern commedia dell'arte
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"We train to take damage, we know we are going to take damage and we accept that". he says, adopting the air of a very muscular guru. "We know we are going to be slammed and we're going to be hit and we're going to be fallen on. We know we're going to dive onto concrete floors. We are tempting fate every time and it is a very tough sport. It is only for tough people who are brave enough and who can accept that pain".
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- Catch: The Hold Not Taken (DVD). 2005.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Professional wrestling.|
- OnlineWorldofWrestling.com - The Online World of Wrestling
- Pro-Wrestling Title Histories