5 "Inside" Old School Pro Wrestling Facts & Rituals That You May Not Know
I thought I knew it all.
Ten years ago, when I walked behind the curtain of a pro wrestling promotion for the first time, while I wasn't entirely sure what to expect, I did consider myself pretty knowledgeable about the business.
I could not have been more wrong.
In this day and age of opinions, editorials and breaking news online, it's easy for fans to get caught up in all of the he said she said of the day, and believe that they are actually "in the know."
But, until you have stepped into the ring, until you have worked behind the scenes, your knowledge is extremely limited. It is based upon what you learn online, and how self educated you can become due to the facts you gather on your own.
There's nothing inherently wrong with that–many NFL writers have never played a down of football on any level, and are still considered to be the best at what they do. It's all about understanding the sport that you're writing about and being able to make a compelling argument.
So, in a move that likely would have gotten me kicked out of the business, and caused me to get a big time beat down twenty years ago, I present to you some facts about the business that you may or may not be aware of.
Some of these are still relevant today, and some are considered very old school, so keep that in mind while reading.
An Introduction Is in Order
This is one that I learned pretty quickly.
From the first moment you enter a pro wrestling locker room, you start shaking hands.
And, I mean everyone.
A simple handshake with solid eye contact, is easy, direct, to the point, and is a way to break the ice. You do not want to come off as being too big, or too important, and not shaking hands is a sure sign of ego.
After all, if you can't show respect backstage, then why would anyone believe that you will show respect inside the ring?
Another tradition that is not always as prevalent in every locker room, depending on where you are, is the actual handshake itself. That's right, the way you shake hands, believe it or not, is also a big deal.
It has to be firm, but not too firm. You don't want to break a guy's hand. I have had handshakes from workers so lightly done, that it was almost as if their hand was never there at all.
Why? Because a hard, vise like handshake may be a sign that the guy will be too stiff inside the ring.
Every wrestler wants his or her match to look good, to look real, and if both people in the match agree to work a little stiff, then fine. Some wrestlers work that way, and that's just how it is.
But the introductory handshake may end up saying a lot about the guy who perhaps takes it a bit too far. And, it's good to know that from the jump.
Beware the Boots
Cleanliness is next to godliness. But, leave the boots alone.
This is another old school element that I was shown very early on. Clean wrestling boots, not scuffed, not marked in any way, shining and pristine, are a real warning, and convey a simple message.
"If you work me, you're not getting anything."
Clean boots means the guy doesn't bump. Simple as that.
The ring will take its toll on your footwear, and it will not be long before your boots begin showing some age. And, that, is a good thing.
Keeping your gear in good shape is fine, no one wants to look like a bum in the ring, but when it comes to the boots, a simple wipe down is fine, then you move on.
I have seen workers who will forego the expense and time it takes to get fitted, or find the perfect pair of boots, and simply buy a good used pair. The thought, again, is all about the unspoken signals, the knowledge that when the wrestler that you're going to face that night looks at them, he knows that you've seen some work, and that you're willing to give as good as you get.
Sounds silly right? Perhaps. But not to the guy standing across from you in the ring.
Leave It to the Heel
The flow of the match is everything.
It determines the pace, the timing, the crowd reaction, and how much you can keep them into what you're doing. It determines if you have a very forgettable match, or one for the ages.
Calling a match is a big responsibility, and it usually falls on the guy that you love to hate, to make it happen.
Typically, the heel does call the match. The only exception is if the heel is not the veteran, then it's up to the guy with more time in the ring to decide what's going to happen, and if he's okay with letting go of his responsibility for the match.
Though there will be some deviation at times, for the most part, a successful wrestling match follows a general pattern.
The baby face starts off hot, like the proverbial house of fire, getting the crowd into it, making them pop like crazy. He has all the edge, he has the upper hand.
Then comes the change. A quick reversal, a thumb to the eye, a pull of the hair, and next thing you know, the baby face is flat on his back.
The heel then takes over, getting heat from the crowd, and causing them to build up over the next few minutes, with every instance that it appears the face is on his way back.
Finally, the comeback happens, the baby face regains his momentum, and then eventually, they take the match home.
It's classic, it's time tested, and it works.
"How Did That Look?"
The number of times I've heard this phrase uttered after a match--unreal.
The only thing that matters at the end of the match, is the end result. Period. It doesn't matter how long or how short the match was, or who went over, and how. The only real issue is how the crowd responded, and hence the inevitable question: how did that look?
I had a general idea about the pride that the best workers take while in the ring, giving their all to entertain and be memorable to the fans after they leave the building. But, to see it for myself, really spoke volumes about the heart that many of them have, and how much it means to them that they make an impact.
I have seen guys covered in blood and sweat, totally exhausted, burst through the curtain, with a big smile on their face, anxious to hear what the other workers thought of the match.
It can be a cutthroat business at times, but for the younger workers who just want to go out and kill it every time they're in the ring, the only agenda that they have is getting better and looking as good as possible, while giving the fans something to talk about.
My first real match was against a promoter, and in the storyline that I had worked on myself, the bout was for ownership of the company. At the end of the match, I took an expected chairshot, which split my forehead open, an unexpected result.
I had no interest in juicing, but catching a sharp steel chair at sixty miles an hour is not a guarantee that you will not get some color.
Bleeding like a stuck pig, I sat there after the match, dripping on the floor, and was seeing double every time I looked around. But, to be honest, despite the ringing in my ears, and the throbbing in my head, suddenly only one thing mattered to me, and it was the first thing out of my mouth.
"How did that look?"
Play the Game...or Else
Pro wrestling is an athletic, simulated competition, with dramatic storylines, and predetermined outcomes, in which all involved work to protect each other from serious injury.
We all know that, and understand it. But, what happens when someone screws up?
For many old school veterans, there is an unwritten rule for botched spots in a match. It's pretty simple to understand, and it does not take long to learn.
You get one. The second one? You get paid back.
The scenario is pretty straightforward. You take a hip toss, and you don't jump, so you end up falling down awkwardly.
That's one. It happens. Maybe your head just wasn't into it. Shake it off and keep going.
Then, you take an arm drag, and start going over before the other guy even has you hooked, making it obvious that you're helping him execute the move.
That's two. Now, you're starting to look bad, and you're making your opponent look bad as well. Time for a little pay back.
So, your opponent picks you up, sends you to the corner, and gives you a hard forearm smash to the face.
Like, really hard. Like, "okay, that one hurt, am I bleeding?"
Here's the catch. You know you messed up. So, when you get stiffed, or as we call it down south, "tatered," you just take it like a man and keep your mouth shut. To try and buck the situation, to go into business for yourself because you're ticked off, does no one any good, and destroys the integrity of the product.
The truth is, the crowd is in on the show. Everyone understands the deal, that this is all about entertainment. They get it.
But, you don't advertise it. You don't show it every time you're in the ring, and the only way you don't, is by not screwing it up. The key to keeping the fans hooked, is to keep yourself moving, and stay in the game.
The moment you screw up, is the moment that you painfully remind everyone in attendance that what you're doing is not real competition, it's all a work. And that cannot happen.
Another side of the equation is the fact that missing a move, screwing up a spot, can lead to injury in the ring.
Again, everyone is supposed to be professional, and being professional means that you protect the one you're in the ring with. It's the responsibility of both wrestlers to work together to ensure that no one legitimately gets hurt. No one wants to wind up in a cast, or with stitches, or worse.
Injuries happen, it's the nature of the beast. But, injuries should never happen as the result of a careless worker.