WWE: Jeff Hardy, Shawn Michaels, and the Fine Art of Selling a Match

Tom ClarkFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2012

photo by wwe.com
photo by wwe.com

To sell, or not to sell?  That is the question.

On Wednesday September 5th, I posted a column on the Monday Night Raw match between John Cena and Alberto Del Rio.  More specifically, a very particular moment in the bout when Cena suddenly popped up with a smile on his face as if he had not spent two minutes getting beat down.

To answer your questions, no, John did not sell the match as I for one thought he should have.  And, yes, this column is a sequel.

By the way, in case you missed the first one, you can find it here.  I’m nothing if not a shameless self-promoter.

As wrestling fans we all know the importance of selling in the business.  It is the single most important element to maintaining the illusion of the matches on the program.  

Without Superstars who are willing to convince the audience that what they are watching is real, then the presentation itself loses all credibility.  And, the workers involved look bad as a result.

But for as many examples of no-selling that we see, there are still some smart and talented workers in the business who understand what it means to promote the fiction that fans are buying into.  One of these is Jeff Hardy.

It never fails, if Jeff works the pay-per-view before an episode of TNA MPACT!, then it’s almost guaranteed that he will still be selling that match as comes down the ramp.

Even if there was no event that Sunday, but a highlight of a Jeff Hardy match from the week before is shown prior to his entrance, then he will sell that also.  For me, this is what dedication and commitment to his craft is all about.

The truth is, he doesn’t have to sell the way he does.  Many of those around him do not.  It was the same when he was in WWE, and I for one can remember the nights after Elimination Chamber matches, when each participant appeared on Raw, showing no signs of physical damage whatsoever.

By contrast, Jeff Hardy usually looks as though he’s walked away from a car accident.  And only just.

Before any nasty hate mail gets thrown my way concerning Jeff’s infamous no-sell against Sting at Victory Road last year, the fact is that he has indeed had issues in and out of the ring.  There’s no denying that, and it’s not my job to make excuses for him.

But at his core, Jeff is an entertainer, a man who was made for the business.  He has always had a keen understanding of character psychology, and when he is at his best, he is very good.  He is also better than a number of guys at displaying all of the necessary subtleties, like selling a match long after it’s over.

Another worker who immediately comes to mind is Rob Van Dam.  And you probably already know why.

The Five Star Frog Splash.  Nearly every time he hits the move, he sells it like he just took it himself.

The most obvious question most fans have when this happens is, if it hurts him so much, then why does he still do it?  Simple.  Because if he feels it that much, imagine what pain his opponent must be in.

RVD, like Jeff Hardy, knows that if you want it to look real, then you have to make it look good.

A 235-pound man, leaping from the top turnbuckle and getting full extension on his body, crashing down onto another man on the mat, may just feel that impact himself.  At some point, physics comes into play, and though Jimmy Snuka did the top rope splash for years without selling the move himself, the truth is, every Superstar is different.  Each man has his own way of handling himself in the ring.

And let’s face it, there’s only one Superfly.

RVD’s selling of his own finisher is a way to put over the fact that it is indeed high risk, dangerous, and very painful.  And, though he has done it so many times in his career, fans are likely still wondering just how much the move must hurt and, as a result, rarely ever question its effectiveness.

But pro wrestling matches, especially in WWE, are often so fast-paced, and sometimes so short, that the workers involved have virtually no time to do perhaps what they want to.  And they have a very narrow window to make a lasting impact with fans.

However, the importance of selling the moves in the match cannot be ignored.  If two guys get only seven-to-10 minutes to work, then they have to make it count.  

Part of that means that when the match is over, then the guy who lost should be selling the effects of it as he is walking back up the ramp.  The illusion of reality must be upheld by everyone involved in the event, or the entire production is a complete waste.

As the title of this column suggests, I believe that selling in pro wrestling is a true art form.  And, one of the greatest artists we have ever seen is the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels.

Shawn is, in the minds of many fans, the best to ever step through the ropes.  He had the complete package, and part of his heavily-praised ability as a performer was the way he sold the matches he worked.

When Shawn was thrown around like a rag doll in the ring, fans felt every moment of it.  Every time he went crashing through the announce table, the crowd held its collective breath, convinced he was broken in half.  And, when he made his comeback in a match, he looked as though he could barely stand, causing the drama of the moment to reach an all-time high for fans.

Though they were very familiar with HBK’s routine in the ring, they were still hoping that he would somehow get the energy to stay on his feet and have enough to take his opponent down with Sweet Chin Music.

The bottom line?  HBK made you believe, even though you knew better, that what you were seeing was real.  That’s the point.

And, for those of you wondering, I currently have no plans for a trilogy on this subject.  I’ll try to come up with something original the next time out.

And, if not, I’ll just sell it and make it look good.  You’ll never know the difference.