The components that make up an elite WWE brawler, like the style these men employ, are simple.
High-flyers thrill and mat wrestlers display a unique sort of physical artistry, but the best punch-throwing scrappers that have stepped into the ring over the years have entertained in their own violent, straightforward way.
Sheamus has established himself as WWE's best brawler at the moment, and Luke Harper has begun to emerge, looking to join "The Celtic Warrior" as a member of the elite.
His recent matches, including a clash with CM Punk, have shown fans he's capable of big things in terms of brawling.
What makes the stomping, uppercutting and headbutting style work? What separates a guy looking like he's acting out a fight from a bulldog-like fighter that has the audience worried about his opponent?
Looking at the best brawlers in the business, past and present, WWE and elsewhere, reveals that it comes down to a touch of crazy, the ability to dish out believable violence and looking the part.
The best brawlers have the audience fearful before the opening bell. Fans find their seats and watch the entrance ramp when a towering figure with a mountain lion's scowl stomps his way in.
The wrestler's job is halfway done at this point.
Harper is not only 6'3'', 262 lbs, but his ruggedness and predatory glare make him appear convincingly dangerous. Sheamus has shied away from this kind of intensity in recent years, but he's still an imposing sight, grinning or otherwise.
Dick the Bruiser's size (6'1'', 250-plus lbs) is not itself impressive, but the twisted, snarling expression he wore caught fans' attention. His raspy voice only added to his intimidating aura.
Listen to him bully the ring announcer in this match before throwing forearms at Emil Dupree.
Another brawler who relied more on intensity than immensity was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Austin is just a touch bigger than Bruiser, but the attitude that radiated off him was more than enough to draw the audience in.
When Austin was billed as a "Hollywood Blond" in WCW or as "The Ringmaster" early in his WWE career, there wasn't the same effect.
It was only when Austin donned a leather jacket, black tights and started mouthing off at every opportunity that he was convincing as a badass. When he walked down to the ring, his gait and his glare promised that there would be a whupping coming for someone.
Though Bruiser and Austin pulled it off with smaller frames, size certainly helps a brawler. Abdullah the Butcher, Terry Gordy, John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Stan Hansen all looked like men worthy of our collective fear.
What they did once they stepped between the ropes capitalized on the expectations their appearance created.
Stiffness, Viciousness, Believability
A punch thrown too softly takes away from the story the wrestlers are trying to tell.
Instead of the audience being concerned about if the hero will overcome the villain, the discussion turns to pro wrestling's inherent falsity. It would be just as if a magician were to inadvertently let the crowd see that the rabbit he pulled out of the hat was actually sitting under the table.
An elite brawler lands such thunderous blows that the violence in the ring becomes mesmerizing rather than the subject of skepticism.
Go back to Sheamus as an example. When he ties his opponent in the ropes and gleefully drums his chest, it's hard not to be concerned for his foe.
Brock Lesnar knows how to deliver convincing strikes as well. When he returned from his stint with UFC, he was even better at blurring the line between scripted violence and a genuine beatdown.
In a brawl in 2012, Lesnar took John Cena to the ground and handed out punches that surely had some Cena fans wincing and looking away from the screen.
There's more to it than just hitting a guy hard, though.
The same way that a brawler's appearance is more than muscles and size, an elite brawler's offense goes beyond just powerful strikes. There has to be a level of viciousness and aggression that grabs hold of the audience.
Pro wrestling fans can grow numb to the violence that happens in the ring, no matter how much it's actually hurting or not.
The master of not allowing fans to experience that passivity was Bruiser Brody. When Brody wrestled, eyes locked in on him. His unpredictable reputation and wildness in the ring resulted in a unique experience.
All aspiring brawlers should be required to study Brody and how he could turn a squash match like the following into something worth buying a ticket for.
Note how powerfully he clubs his foe's back and intensely he delivers every move. He needs only a few minutes to paint himself as a fearsome beast.
Not every brawler can run through an opponent like Brody did in that video, though.
Sometimes foes meet for a supremely violent collision. This is when a touch of masochism is required.
The best brawls have chairs crashing into spinal columns or skin rubbing against the side of a cage. These wrestlers have to sign up for this, to be willing to suffer as much cruel and unusual punishment as they hand out.
Mick Foley made a career emphasizing this element.
His most famous bump was Undertaker throwing him off the top of the Hell in a Cell, but Foley willingly added all types of damaging moments to his matches for the sake of entertainment. In WCW, Vader powerbombed him on the concrete.
Foley agreed to that move, just as so many of the great brawlers have agreed to be cut open or whacked with a belt until their back is reddened, swollen and generally difficult to look at.
Brody and Abdullah spent much of their bouts covered in blood. Lesnar, Layfield and Sheamus have all felt the sting of steel chairs and ring steps.
They certainly aren't the only WWE Superstars who have ever endured those blows, but the best brawlers seem to be in harm's way more than anyone else.
WWE's current PG rating certainly limits how crazy today's Superstars can be, but on his road to joining Sheamus as a top brawler, Harper will certainly need to receive memorable punishment. The Wyatt Family member already has the right look—grizzled and disturbing.
His viciousness in the ring is noteworthy as well.
Should he continue to grow, to channel Brody, Hansen and the great brawlers of the past, he'll have his name thrown into discussions of the free-for-all masters of the business.
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