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Professional wrestling, or pro wrestling, is a form of sporting theatre which contains strong elements of mock combat and catch wrestling. Matches are prearranged by the promotion's booking staff and contain choreographed content and scripted outcomes[1]. Its origins date to 19th-century carnival sideshows and music halls, as part of displays of athleticism and strength. Modern professional wrestling usually features striking and grappling techniques, which are modeled after diverse sets of wrestling and pugilistic styles from around the world.

Professional wrestling is especially prevalent in Japan and North American countries. In Brazil, it was very popular from the 1960s to the early 1980s, where it was 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 ticket sales, television broadcasts, branded merchandise and home video. Recently, internet programming has also been utilized, adding to the aforementioned methods. Broadcasting, known on the internet as streaming, of live and past events is foremost in internet-related revenue earnings. Pro wrestling was instrumental in making pay-per-view a viable method of content delivery. Annual shows such as WrestleMania, SummerSlam and the Royal Rumble are among the highest-selling pay-per-view programming each year.[2] 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.[3] Billboard's 2008 year-end sales show World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) holding 14 of the top 20 for the entire year.[4]

Currently, the dominant professional wrestling company worldwide is the United States-based World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). World Wrestling Entertainment absorbed many smaller regional companies in the late twentieth century, as well as its primary competitors in early 2001, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) & Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Other popular national companies are Total Nonstop Action (TNA) and Ring of Honor (ROH). In Mexico, the top promotions are Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre and Asistencia Asesoría y Administración. In Japan, it is New Japan Pro Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and Pro Wrestling NOAH.

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; in 2008, Mickey Rourke's Oscar-nominated performance in The Wrestler was widely acclaimed. Rourke's role depicted an aging past-his-prime wrestler struggling with drugs, health, money and personal relationships, but above all his relationship with pro wrestling. Due to the fact that writers, who write the "stories" for wrestling matches up to weeks before the match actually happens, there has been criticism directed at professional wrestling that it is "fake".[5][6][7]

Contents

Rules

The nature of professional wrestling is only one of the many differences it has with traditional wrestling. 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.

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General structure

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)
  • Knocking out or otherwise incapacitating the opponent
  • Forcing the opponent to submit
  • A forfeit via a disqualified opponent
  • Or the opponent remaining outside the ring for too long (countout)

These are each explained in greater detail below. Typically, falls must occur within the ring area.

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.

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 only one type of match finish is 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 himself 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.

Many modern specialty matches have been devised, with unique winning conditions. See Professional wrestling match types.

Every match must be assigned a rule keeper known as a referee, who is the final arbitrator. (In multi-man lucha libre matches, two referees are used, one inside the ring and one outside.) 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 than 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, but 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.

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 (though in kayfabe, the mats do not offer much protection. Jerry "the King" Lawler once mentioned at the Royal Rumble in 2005 "Those mats are more to protect the floor than they are the wrestlers that are out there."). 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.

Tag rules

A tag team match in progress - Jeff Hardy kicks Umaga, while their respective partners, Triple H and Randy Orton, encourage them and reach for the tags.

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.

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 his corner, or a cloth strap attached to the turnbuckle.

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.

In a Texas Tornado Tag Team match, all the competitors are legal in the match, and tagging in and out is not necessary.

Techniques

Wrestlers may grab, hold, twist, or strike any part of an opponent's body, except the throat, groin, or eye. An opponent's hair or clothing may not be grabbed.

Wrestlers may strike an opponent using any part of their own limbs, head or body, with the following exceptions: a wrestler may not punch his or her opponent with a closed fist nor kick his or her opponent with the toe of their boot. Biting is not allowed, nor is spitting in the eyes. When wrestlers do this, however, they usually get away with it with just an admonishment from the referee.

Wrestlers may lift an opponent and throw them, drop them, or otherwise force them to the mat. Such techniques which land an opponent on the head or neck, such as the piledriver, may be disallowed by some promotions.

A wrestler may jump onto an opponent, whether standing or lying down, in any manner, including with a clenched fist (à la Jerry Lawler's diving fist) or the toe of a boot (à la Randy Orton's punt attack).

Any legal wrestler is open to attack from any direction at any time, including when they are downed, as long as they are within the ring area enclosed by the ring ropes. If any part of either wrestler is in contact with the ropes or has otherwise broken the plane of ropes all grappling contact between the wrestlers must be broken within a five count or else the attacking wrestler may be subject to disqualification. This rule is often used strategically in order to escape from a submission hold, and a wrestler can break the plane of the ropes by placing his foot or other body part on (or under) the ropes to avoid losing by pinfall. This is commonly referred to as a rope break.

Decisions

Pinfall

In order to score by pinfall, a wrestler must pin both his 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. If a wrestler's shoulders are down (both shoulders touching the mat) and any part of the opponent's body is lying over the opponent, it is completely legal for the three count to be made. 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 and are subsequently often used by heels and on occasion by cheating faces to win matches.

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.

Submission

To score by submission, the wrestler must make his opponent give up, usually, but not necessarily, by putting him in a submission hold (i.e., figure four leg-lock, arm-lock, sleeper-hold etc.).

Passing out in a submission hold constitutes a loss by knockout. To determine if a wrestler has passed out in WWE, the referee usually picks up and drops his hand. If it drops three consecutive times without the wrestler having the strength to stop it from falling, the wrestler is considered to have passed out. At one point this was largely ignored. However, the rule is now much more commonly observed for safety reasons. If the wrestler has passed out, the opponent then scores by submission.

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, a wrestler can indicate a voluntary submission by "tapping out"[8], 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 his hand back on the mat so he can crawl towards the rope some more; this is NOT a submission, and the referee decides what his intent is. 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. Despite this, some wrestlers, such as Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, C.M. Punk, Chris Jericho, Ken Shamrock, The Undertaker, Dean Malenko, and Chris Benoit, 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.

A rope break 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 he wants. Instead, he uses these free limbs to either grab one of the ring ropes (the bottom one is the most common, as it is nearest the wrestlers) or drape his foot across, or underneath one. Once this has been accomplished, 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, he is disqualified.

If a manager decides that his client wrestler should tap out, but cannot convince the wrestler himself to do so, he may throw in the towel (literally taking a gym towel and hurling it into the referee's line of sight); this is the same as a submission, as the manager is, in kayfabe, considered the wrestlers agent, and therefore, authorized to make formal decisions (such as forfeiting a match) on the client's behalf. One of the most infamous examples of this happened in 1983 when the Iron Sheik had Bob Backlund in a camel clutch, and Backlund's manager, Arnold Skaaland, threw in the towel to save Backlund's career.

Countout

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 (or twenty), and thus disqualified. The count is broken and re-started when a wrestler in the ring exits the ring. With both wrestlers outside the ring, double countouts are possible and, although relatively rare, are an easy way to have a match end in a draw.

Since the count is restarted whenever a wrestler inside the ring exits the ring, a common ploy (especially among heels) is to slide underneath the bottom rope of one side of the ring, and instantly slide back out. As he was technically inside the ring for a split second before exiting again, it is sufficient to restart 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.

If all the active wrestlers in a match are down inside the ring at the same time, the referee will begin a count (usually 10 seconds). 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 some promotions, Championships cannot change hands via a count-out, unless the on-screen authority declares it for at least one match, although in others, championships may change hands via countout.

Disqualification

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 not released before.
  • 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. If a heel attempts to interfere but is ejected from the ring by a wrestler or referee before this occurs, there is usually no 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, interfered in a match and super kicked JBL in front of the referee in order to get his employer the win via "outside interference."
  • Striking an opponent with a foreign object (unless the rules of the match specifically allow this; see hardcore wrestling).
  • A direct low blow to the groin (unless the rules of the match specifically allow this).
  • Intentionally laying hands on the referee or to an extreme case, often in special referee matches, touching the referee with any body parts.
  • Pulling an opponent's wrestling trunks for a pinfall during a match (although this usually only results in nullification of the pinfall).
  • Pulling an opponent's mask off during a match (this is illegal in Mexico, and sometimes in Japan).
  • Throwing your opponent over the top rope[citation needed] (this is in the National Wrestling Alliance[citation needed] and was in World Championship Wrestling[citation needed], but few promotions use this rule now).
  • In a Royal Rumble, it is illegal to enter the ring before your due entrance.

In practice, the rules of the fight are often violated without disqualification due to the referee being distracted and not seeing the offense, or the referee seeing the offense but allowing the match to continue. 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 his 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. 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", rules are often violated at will. In some cases, a referee might disqualify a person under the presumption that it was that wrestler who knocked him 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 his 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 his own accord).

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.

In most wrestling promotions, a championship cannot change hands as a result of a disqualification, unless the on-screen authority figure declares that the championship via disqualification which is good for only at least one match, often referred to as the "champion's advantage." Playing into this, some heel wrestlers will attempt to "get themselves disqualified" to "protect" their championships, although in some promotions,the champion may lose his championship if he gets disqualified.

A relatively recent trend in wrestling has been the development of the no-disqualification (or Hardcore) match. This type of match became increasingly prominent during the 1990s, and was a particular feature of the Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) promotion. When WWE (then WWF) unveiled its new "Attitude" era in 1997, the no-disqualification match was used as a centerpiece for this new design of wrestling, and a Hardcore Title was offered between 1998 and 2002. Completely new matches developed from the Hardcore/no-DQ match, including:

  • Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (a ladder match where all three items may be used as a weapon against an opponent).
  • Hardcore match (a no-disqualification match where falls count anywhere, even out of the venue).

Draw

A professional wrestling match can end in a draw. A draw occurs if both opponents are simultaneously disqualified (as via countout), 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 some promotions such as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling 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").

No contest

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.

Dramatic elements

While each wrestling match is ostensibly a competition of athletics and strategy, 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.

Character

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 Kane or Doink the Clown), while others carry more verisimilitude (such as The Rock, 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 keep one ring name for his entire career (cases in point include CM Punk, Randy Orton 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 he leaves (although a simple typeset change, such as changing Rhyno to Rhino, can usually get around this), and sometimes a character is owned by the wrestler. Sometimes, a wrestler may change his legal name in order to obtain ownership of his 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, Antiheros 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 Wrestling 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 personas 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).

Story

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 his job with the promotion can be wagered in a match.

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 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.

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 him win.

Since the advent of television, many other elements have been utilized to tell story within a professional wrestling setting: pre- and post-match interviews, "backstage" skits, positions of authority, division rankings (typically the #1-contendership spot), contracts, lotteries, and even news stories on promotion websites.

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, pedophilia[citation needed], sexual fetishism[citation needed], misogyny, rape and death have been portrayed in wrestling. Some promotions have included supernatural elements such as magic, curses, the undead and satanic imagery. 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.

Championships

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.

Non-standard matches

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.

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. But it also serves as a catalyst for the company's ongoing feuds, as well as a springboard for new storylines—most importantly determining the main event at the following WrestleMania.

Ring entrance

Triple H performing his iconic ring entrance pose, mounting the second rope and displaying his muscularity with the arena darkened and strobing colored lights

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.

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 especially 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. With the introduction of the Titantron entrance screen in 1997, WWF/WWE wrestlers also had entrance videos made that would play along with the their entrance music.

Other dramatic elements of a ring entrance can include:

  • a distinct sound or opening note in the music (used to elicit a Pavlovian response from the crowd). For example, the glass shattering in Steve Austin's entrance theme
  • pyrotechnics or smoke
  • darkening of the arena, often accompanied by mood lighting or strobe lighting, such as in The Undertaker's dramatic entrance
  • 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.
  • driving a motor vehicle into the arena. For example, Eddie Guerrero would arrive into the arena in a lowrider.
  • 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
  • coming through the audience, such as The Sandman's beer drinking and can smashing entrance, or Diamond Dallas Page's exit through the crowd.
  • accompaniment by a ringside crew or personal security, such as by Goldberg

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, and gained major controversy over its role in the death of wrestler Owen Hart.

Some of the bigger stars in the industry, such as Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Undertaker, and The Sandman, can perform ring entrances lasting up to three minutes or more. It is not uncommon for ring entrances to sometimes last longer than the match itself, especially in matches involving a mismatch.

Special ring entrances are also developed for big occasions, most notably the WrestleMania event. For example, Both Wrestlemania's III and VI saw all wrestlers enter the arena on motorized miniature wrestling rings. Live bands are sometimes hired to perform live entrance music at special events.

Wrestlers

Independent wrestlers

Unlike most actual sports, the essence of professional wrestling's roots can still be seen all over the United States. Independent circuits can be found in almost any community in the United States, with some cities having numerous leagues using many of the same wrestlers as other nearby leagues. Many promotions have events at National Guard Armories, Recreation Centers, secondary schools, flea markets, churches, bars, and shopping center parking lots. Production values are almost always low, promotion is done by word of mouth, flyers, cable access television, and the internet. Wrestlers on the independent wrestling scene take a role more closely defined as independent contractors, working for multiple wrestling promotions and are generally paid per appearance. The majority of mainstream wrestlers begin on the independent circuit.

Men's wrestling

The vast majority of professional wrestlers are men, especially in the North American WWE, where they are usually large in size, often to extremes. Notable examples include André the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Paul "Big Show" Wight, The Undertaker, Yokozuna, Giant Gonzales, The Great Khali and Kane. Usually, competitions or divisions are set up for men of similar wrestling styles, such as technical, brawling, high flying, lucha, submission or hardcore. However, matches involving different weight divisions are often created and are never referred to as unusual or against any rules, despite large differences in height, weight or strength. On very rare occasions, men and women will wrestle each other.

Women's wrestling

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 Women's Championship) in a tournament back in 1958, was recognized by most NWA promoters as champion by default.

Traditionally, women’s matches were lower on the card and rarely considered main event material in the United States. Through the 1980s and into the mid 1990s, women’s wrestling in the US was presented as a serious sport on the same level as men’s wrestling, although it had considerably less popularity with short-lived revivals in both the major promotions of the time, World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. It was not until the late 1990s that WWF began to present their women’s division with a focus on the women as "Divas" and eye-candy rather than athletes; many of these women acted as managers and valets, and had little training in wrestling ability. There was a brief period in the early-2000s, where the women's division on WWF's flagship show Raw was once again promoted as a serious sport with Trish Stratus and Lita as its top stars, and both women even headlined an edition of Raw in a main event match for the Women's Championship in late 2004; as is Total Nonstop Action Wrestling's ongoing women's division upon the inception of its Women's Championship in October 2007. Matches and segments involving the Knockouts, a term used by TNA to refer to its female talent, have contributed to drawing some of the better ratings of Impact shows.[9]

In Japan, women’s wrestling or joshi puroresu has a long established history, with an all female promotion founded as early as 1955 (the predecessor to All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling or AJW), and has always been presented as a serious, highly athletic sport on the same level as their male counterparts. The WWWA World Heavyweight Championship, which was directly descended from Burke's original World Women's title, was revived by AJW in 1970 and recognized as its top singles championship ever since. From the late 1970s until the dawn of the new millennium, women's wrestling experienced a wave of mainstream popularity in Japan unheard of anywhere else in the world. Many female wrestlers in Japan released recording albums and found some crossover success as pop stars, and the phenomenal success of the Crush Gals tag team in particular was often compared to Hulk Hogan's Hulkamania during the same time period in the USA. While female wrestling in Japan is traditionally handled by promotions that specialize in joshi puroresu, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, a male-dominated promotion known for its "hardcore wrestling", also had a small women's division featuring female performers such as Combat Toyoda and Megumi Kudo. Toyoda and Kudo would go on and headline one of FMW’s largest cards in an "Exploding No Rope Barbed Wire Deathmatch." By 2005, both all-female major federations (AJW and Gaea Japan) had closed, but female wrestlers still compete in various other smaller, independent promotions.

There are several other promotions where women’s wrestling is still presented and promoted which focuses on emphasis on athleticism and wrestling ability. In the US, Shimmer Women Athletes is an all-female pro-wrestling promotion affiliated with notable independent promotion Ring of Honor, and considered on par with male wrestling. In Mexico, though rarely as prominent as their American, Canadian or Japanese counterparts, female wrestlers or luchadoras have always been popular and highly respected, and many went on to compete overseas. In Europe, ChickFight and Queens of Chaos are the leading companies for women's professional wrestling in the United Kingdom and France respectively, again considered on par if not superior to male wrestling.

Intergender wrestling

For most of its history, women and men 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 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 that stated only the males and females could attack each other. If a tag was made, the other team had to automatically switch their legal wrestler too. Despite these restrictions, many mixed tag matches do feature some physical interaction between participants of different genders. For example, a heel may take a cheapshot at the female wrestler of the opposing team to draw a negative crowd reaction.

Intergender singles bouts were first fought on a national level in the 1990s. This began with Luna Vachon, who faced men (and usually defeated them) in both ECW and WWF. Later, Chyna became the first female to hold a belt that was not exclusive to women when she won the WWF Intercontinental Championship.

Midget wrestling

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's has made a few attempts to enter this market with their "mini's" 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. World Wrestling Entertainment's Dave Finlay was often aided in his matches by a midget known mainly as Hornswoggle, 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.

Culture

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.[10][11] The permanent rosters of most promotions develop a backstage pecking order, with veterans mediating conflicts and mentoring younger wrestlers.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

Fans of professional wrestling have their own subculture, comparable to those of science fiction, video games or comic books. 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.[13][15] 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.[16] Since the 1990s, many companies have been founded which deal primarily in wrestling footage.

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 roleplaying 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.

Every year, there are growing numbers of regional, national and international wrestling fan conventions, where fans can meet and converse with wrestlers and each other. These often coincide with a wrestling show featuring an all-star card filled with legends.

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.

Professional wrestling is often portrayed within other works using parody, and its general elements have become familiar tropes and memes in American culture.

Some terminology originating in professional wrestling has found its way into the common vernacular. Concepts such as "cage match", "body slam", "sleeper hold" and "tag team" are used even by those who do not watch professional wrestling. The term "smackdown", which originated in the late 90s in the World Wrestling Federation, is now listed in Webster's Dictionary as of 2007.

Many television shows and films have been produced which portray in-character professional wrestlers as protagonists, such as ¡Mucha Lucha!, Nacho Libre, and the Santo film series. 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. In 2009 a South Park episode played on the soap operatic elements of professional wrestling. The critically-acclaimed 2008 film The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke as a washed-up professional wrestler, garnered several Oscar nominations.

Select active wrestling promotions

Major Organizations

Independent Organizations

Puroresu

Lucha Libre

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.[17][18] The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a course of study on the cultural significance of professional wrestling.[19]

But 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[13]—an attitude that still exists to varying degrees today.[15] 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.[13][20] 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. This work is considered a foundation of all later study.[21]

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,[22] commedia dell'arte,[23] revenge tragedies,[24] morality plays,[24] and burlesque.[25] The characters and storylines portrayed by a successful promotion are seen to reflect the current mood, attitudes, and concerns of that promotion's society[15][16] (and can, in turn, influence those same things).[26] Wrestling's high levels of violence and masculinity make it a vicarious outlet for aggression during peacetime.[27]

Documentary filmmakers have studied the lives of wrestlers and the effects the profession has on themselves and their families. 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 students 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 twentieth 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 Network (Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows). Most recently, Bloodstained Memoirs explored the careers of several pro wrestlers, including Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam and Roddy Piper.

See also

Terminology

Professional wrestling worldwide

Lists of wrestlers

Types of professional wrestling

Fantasy professional wrestling

Radio programs

In fiction

Footnotes

  1. ^ How Pro Wrestling Works
  2. ^ PPV Buy-rates-- [1]
  3. ^ Billboard Recreational Sports Weekly Top 10 -- Billboard Sports Weekly DVD Sales
  4. ^ Billboard Recreational Sports 2008 Year End Sales -- Billboard Year-End Sales
  5. ^ http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036789/#35364893
  6. ^ http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1914815_1914808_1914717,00.html
  7. ^ http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/pro-wrestling.htm
  8. ^ Rules of professional wrestling
  9. ^ PWTorch - WWE News and Pro Wrestling Coverage Since 1987
  10. ^ Grabianowski, Ed. "Wrestling School". How Professional Wrestling Works. HowStuffWorks.com. http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/pro-wrestling5.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  11. ^ Ryan, Derek (2007-08-11). "Discovery: Accidental Perfection". The Wrestling Oratory. http://oratory.rajah.com/index.php?archive=3281. ""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."" 
  12. ^ Gadd, Mitchell (2006-07-13). "Unions". Reading Between the Ropes. WrestleZone.com. http://www.wrestlezone.com/column.php?articleid=154797119. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  13. ^ a b c d Kreit, Alex (1998). "Professional Wrestling and Its Fans: A Sociological Study of the Sport of Pro-Wrestling". Solie's Vintage Wrestling. Jump City Productions. http://www.solie.org/articles/pwandfans.html. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  14. ^ Kamchen, Richard (2008-02-05). "Retro review: Piper's tale scrappy as he is". SLAM! Wrestling. SLAM! Sports. http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/2008/02/05/4862052.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  15. ^ a b c Lipscomb, William (May 2005). "The Operational Aesthetic in the Performance of Professional Wrestling" (pdf). Department of Communications Studies, Louisiana State University. http://etd.lsu.edu/docs/available/etd-01252005-152153/unrestricted/Lipscomb__III_dis.pdf. 
  16. ^ a b Bollom, Brandon W. (2004-05-07). "Professional Wrestling Migration: Puroresu in America" (pdf). http://www.burninghammer.com/academic/puroresu.pdf. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  17. ^ Ernesto Cruz, Caceres (2005). "Monday Night Identity Wars: The Evolution of Performance Conventions in Professional Wrestling". 2005 Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference Program. http://www.popularculture.org/2005%20PAGES/2005%20Program.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  18. ^ Ledford, Brian. "Grappling with Masculinity: Representation and Reception of Televised Professional Wrestling Imagery". 2005 Spring Colloquium: Thinking About Masculinity: SIUE College of Arts and Sciences. http://www.siue.edu/CAS/COLLOQUIA/MasculProgramFINAL.pdf. 
  19. ^ Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Comparative Media Studies course on Professional Wrestling -- Official Course weblog
  20. ^ Barthes, Roland (1957). "The World Of Wrestling". Mythologies. http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~ikalmar/illustex/Barthes-wrestling.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  21. ^ Lagorio, Christine (2005-01-04). "Wrestling With The Margins". Education Supplement 2005. The Village Voice. http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0502,lagorio,59937,12.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  22. ^ Plank, Dr. William. "The Athlete as Buffoon: Cultural and Philosophical Considerations on Professional Wrestling". Montana State University-Billings. http://www.msubillings.edu/CASFaculty/Plank/THE%20ATHELETE%20AS%20BUFFOON.htm. 
  23. ^ Adams, Jonathan (2006-11-09). "Foreign Objects Included". The Scope magazine. http://thescope.ca/?p=576. Retrieved 2008-03-19. "There is a sense in which wrestling resembles nothing if not a kind of postmodern commedia dell’arte" 
  24. ^ a b Mazer, Sharon (1998). Professional Wrestling: Sport and Spectacle. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 
  25. ^ Garvin, Diana (2005). "Et tu, Steve Austin?". The Harvard Crimson. Harvard University. http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=508906. Retrieved 2008-03-19. 
  26. ^ "Merchants of Cool". Frontline. 2001-02-27.
  27. ^ Farley, Frank. "CZW: Blood, Philadelphia and Fun". Rat Blood Soup magazine. http://ratbloodsoup.com/czw.html. 

References

  • Catch: The Hold Not Taken. [DVD]. 2005. 

External links


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