The art in delivering pro wrestling strikes is finding the balance between a broken jaw and a laughing audience.
Wrestlers depend on that balance each night. Punches and kicks that make the right amount of contact add excitement to a match, helping the audience to forget that it's theater, not combat.
That's an element of the industry that outsiders struggle to understand.
Trying to cram wrestling into either the "real" or "fake" category doesn't work. The men and women in the ring are indeed hitting each other, just not at full strength. The blows are glancing, not concussive. The violence is restrained but not non-existent.
Working too stiffly can lead to injury or else a bout that is over in a matter of seconds. Fans do expect a certain level of violence, though.
Otherwise, a match becomes an exercise in pantomime.
John Cena does many things well. Throwing realistic punches is not one of them.
Travel back in time to 2012. Kane and Cena were locked in an intense rivalry, the masked sadist trying to compel the hero to embrace his darker side.
Cena continually refused. This led to several brawls including one on Raw in January. Cena charged into the ring, ready to battle the monster.
He ducked Kane's first strike and delivered a flurry of his own. The problem is that they had little force behind them.
It's too clear that Cena was pretending to hit him.
The perfect strike has the fan wondering if the punch was a legit one. There was no wondering here.
Later that year, Kris Lewie clashed with Gunner on TNA Impact. He was part of the Gut Check storyline where up-and-comers could earn a TNA contract should they impress.
Lewie's punches were sluggish, seemingly in slow motion.
They didn't get anywhere near Gunner's face, either. He awkwardly tagged him around the shoulder with the side of his fist.
While Cena's punches didn't look like they were landing, these looked like they were crash-landing.
It's hard to suspend disbelief in either case. No one is going to believe Kane is hurt by a series of phantom jabs. Lewie's strikes looked like he was clearly trying to avoid Gunner's head, which is just as hard to swallow.
Going to the other extreme may be more realistic, but it's too dangerous.
Ken Shamrock, a UFC Hall of Famer, is well-versed in hard strikes. In the late '90s, he took on Vader a number of times for WWE.
Vader had a reputation of being a stiff worker, a trait he brought with him from his days in Japan. Shamrock's MMA background led to his punches being far from love taps.
That explosive combination led to Vader seemingly getting angry with Shamrock's hard hits before just cold-cocking him.
If every wrestler threw every punch like that, promotions would start seeing their stars sitting in dark rooms recovering from concussion symptoms. That's simply not sustainable for how often wrestlers compete.
MMA fighters space out their fights. WWE asks its Superstars to step into the ring several times a week.
The same rules apply to kicks. Bret Hart's career ended in 1999 thanks to a thunderous one to the head courtesy of Goldberg and the concussion that followed.
On his personal website, Hart writes of it, "He kicked me much like a wild bucking horse and literally nearly knocked my head off my shoulders. I still, even now, have a tear in my neck muscle the size of a quarter that will never heal, to prove it."
As WWE.com reported, Dolph Ziggler suffered a concussion last year because of an errant strike. In a wild brawl that featured a ladder and Alberto Del Rio in a suit, Jack Swagger knocked Ziggler's noggin backward with a hard kick.
Wrestling companies don't want stars like Hart and Ziggler to have to step away early.
That's the point of trying to control the violence in the ring. Fans will lose interest if matches are as dangerous as a pillow fight, but that would be true should a roster get thinned by head injuries.
The perfect strike requires solid (but not injurious) contact, a few theater tricks and for the recipient to sell it.
Look to Brad Maddox for an example of how to accomplish that last item. Then the Raw general manager, Maddox berated Big Show last October. He tried to get the big man out of the building but took a fist to the chin instead.
Maddox fell backward, his feet planted to the mat, his body flopping on the way down.
That kind of acting elevates the realism of the blow. It lessens the need for the attacker to dish out as hard a strike.
Giving the illusion of a loud punch or kick helps too. Pounding one's boots onto the canvas to make a loud sound just as a punch lands or slapping one's thigh as a kick hits its mark punctuates a strike that isn't full-on.
Shawn Michaels was the master of this.
His Sweet Chin Music remains one of the most impressive finishers partly because of how powerful it seemed. He certainly tapped his leg as he threw it but did it so quickly that the audience noticed the kick, not the means to make a louder sound upon impact.
The timing of his superkick and the addition of that smack made it hard to separate the acting from the violence.
As for punching, aspiring wrestlers should study Kane's work. His uppercut is one of the best in the industry.
There's almost always a loud sound when it lands, and he does it so lightning quick that it's hard to tell how hard he hits it. Watch him swat Evan Bourne out of the air here:
The uppercut does its job. It neither breaks down the audience's suspension of disbelief nor breaks apart someone's dental work.
Being able to strike that well is one of the many art forms within the art form that a wrestler must master. Perfecting it inspires fans to ooh and aah instead of scoffing at a match's phoniness.
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