Professional wrestling (often shortened to pro wrestling or simply wrestling) is a form of performance art and entertainment that combines athletics with theatrical performance. It takes the form of events, held by touring companies, that mimic a title-match combat sport. The unique form of sport portrayed is fundamentally based on – and evolved from – classical and "catch" wrestling, with modern additions of striking attacks, strength-based holds and throws and acrobatic maneuvers. Much of these derive from the influence of various international martial arts. An additional aspect of combat with improvised weaponry is sometimes included.
The matches have predetermined outcomes to heighten entertainment value and all combative maneuvers are executed with the full cooperation of those involved and carefully performed in specific manners intended to lessen the chance of actual injury. These facts were once kept highly secret but are now a widely accepted open secret. To promote and sustain the willing suspension of disbelief by maintaining an aura of verisimilitude, the performing company avoids discussing the true nature of the performance in official media. Fan communications by individual wrestlers and promotions through outside media (i.e., interviews) often directly acknowledge the dramatic and "fixed" nature of the spectacle.
Originating as a popular form of entertainment in 19th-century Europe and later as a sideshow exhibition in North American traveling carnivals and vaudeville halls, professional wrestling grew into a standalone genre of entertainment with many diverse variations in cultures around the globe, and is now a billion dollar entertainment industry. Since the 1980s, local forms have greatly declined in Europe, wrestling from North America has experienced several different periods of prominent cultural popularity during its century and a half of existence and has been exported back to Europe to fill the cultural gap left by the aforementioned decline of local versions. The advent of television gave professional wrestling a new outlet, and wrestling (along with boxing) was instrumental in making pay-per-view a viable method of content delivery.
Scope and influence
Show wrestling has become especially prominent in Central/North America, Japan and Europe (especially the United Kingdom). In Brazil, there was a very popular wrestling television program from the 1960s to the early 1980s 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 small acts in sideshows, traveling circuses and carnivals, today it is a billion-dollar industry. Revenue is drawn from ticket sales, network television broadcasts, pay-per-view broadcasts, branded merchandise and home video. Pro wrestling was instrumental in making pay-per-view a viable method of content delivery. Annual shows such as WrestleMania, Bound for Glory, Wrestle Kingdom and formerly Starrcade are among the highest-selling pay-per-view programming each year. In modern day, internet programming has been utilized by a number of companies to air web shows, internet pay per views (IPPVs) or on-demand content, helping to generate internet-related revenue earnings from the evolving World Wide Web.
Due to its persistent cultural presence and to its novelty within the performing arts, wrestling constitutes a recurring topic in both academia and the media. 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; the 2008 film The Wrestler received several Oscar nominations and began a career revival for star Mickey Rourke.
Currently, the largest professional wrestling company worldwide is the United States-based WWE, which bought out many smaller regional companies in the late 20th century, as well as its primary US competitors World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in early 2001. Other prominent professional wrestling companies worldwide include the US-based All Elite Wrestling, Impact Wrestling, formerly known as Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA), and Ring of Honor (ROH); Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre and Lucha Libre AAA Worldwide in Mexico; and the Japanese New Japan Pro-Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah leagues.
When talking about professional wrestling, there are two levels: the "in-show" happenings that are presented through the shows, and happenings which are outside the scope of performance (in other words, are real life) but have implications on the performance, such as performer contracts, legitimate injuries, etc. Because actual events are often co-opted by writers for incorporation into storylines for the performers, the lines are often blurred and become confused.
Special care must be taken when talking about people who perform under their own name.
Some wrestlers would incorporate elements of their real-life personalities into their characters, even if they and their in-ring persona have different names.
Historians are unsure at what point wrestling changed from competitive catch wrestling into worked entertainment.
The practice of keeping the illusion, and the various methods used to do so, came to be known as "kayfabe" within wrestling circles, or "working the marks". An entire lexicon of slang jargon and euphemism developed to allow performers to communicate without outsiders' knowledge of what was being said.
Occasionally a performer will deviate from the intended sequence of events.
Gradually, the predetermined nature of professional wrestling became an open secret, as prominent figures in the wrestling business (including World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon) began to publicly admit that wrestling was entertainment, not competition.
Professional wrestling shows can be considered a form of theater in the round, with the ring, ringside area, and entryway comprising a stage. However, there is a much more limited concept of a fourth wall than in most theatric performances, similar to pantomime involving audience participation. The audience is recognized and acknowledged by the performers as spectators to the sporting event being portrayed, and are encouraged to interact as such. This leads to a high level of audience participation; in fact, their reactions can dictate how the performance unfolds. Often, individual matches will be part of a longer story line conflict between "babyfaces" (often shortened to just "faces") and "heels". "Faces" (the "good guys") are those whose actions are intended to encourage the audience to cheer, while "heels" (the "bad guys") act to draw the spectators' ire.
There is no governing authority for professional wrestling rules, although there is a general standard which has developed.
Due to the staged nature of wrestling, these are not actual "rules" in the sense that they would be considered in similar articles about actual sports like freestyle wrestling. Instead, the "rules" in this article are implemented and supposedly enforced for the sake of suspension of disbelief (known as kayfabe in the jargon of the business).
Matches are held between two or more sides ("corners").
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)
- Forcing the opponent to submit
- Disqualification of the opponent
- The opponent remaining outside the ring for too long (countout)
- Knocking out or otherwise incapacitating the opponent
These are each explained in greater detail below.
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.
An alternative is a match set for a prescribed length of time, with a running tally of falls.
In matches with multiple competitors, an elimination system may be used.
Many modern specialty matches have been devised, with unique winning conditions.
Due to the legitimate role that referees play in wrestling of serving as liaison between the bookers backstage and the wrestlers in the ring (the role of being a final arbitrator is merely kayfabe), the referee is present, even in matches that do not at first glance appear to require a referee (such as a ladder match, as it is no holds barred, and the criteria for victory could theoretically be assessed from afar). Although their actions are also frequently scripted for dramatic effect, referees are subject to certain general rules and requirements to maintain the theatrical appearance of unbiased authority. The most basic rule is that 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 to perform some ostensibly illegal maneuver on their opponent. Most referees are unnamed and essentially anonymous, though some wrestling promotions have let their officials reveal their names.
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. Face special referees will often fight back against hostile heel wrestlers, particularly if the special referee is either a wrestler himself or a famous martial artist (such as Tito Ortiz at the main event at TNA Hard Justice 2005).
For heel special referees, common ways of assisting the heel wrestler to obtain victory include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Counting fast whenever the face wrestler is being pinned, while counting slow, faking a wrist or eye injury, or even refusing to count at all, when the heel wrestler is being pinned.
- Allowing heel wrestlers to use blatantly illegal tactics that most normal referees would instantly disqualify for, while not extending these relaxed rules to face wrestlers.
- Disqualifying the face wrestler for unfair reasons, such as an accidental attack on the referee or a maneuver that appears to be an illegal attack.
- Feigning unconsciousness far longer than they would normally otherwise be out, or using convenient distractions to look away from the wrestlers for a prolonged period of time.
- Actually assisting in attacking the face wrestler.
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. 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.
In some team matches, only one entrant from each team may be designated as the "legal" or "active" wrestler at any given moment.
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.
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.
Sometimes, poly-sided matches that pit every man for himself will incorporate tagging rules.
In a Texas Tornado Tag Team match, all the competitors are legal in the match, and tagging in and out is not necessary.
Regardless of rules of tagging, a wrestler cannot pin his or her own tag team partner, even if it is technically possible from the rules of the match (e.g. Texas Tornado rules, or a three-way tag team match).
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").
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. Even if it is noticed, it is rare for such an attempt to result in a disqualification (see below) and instead it simply results in nullification of the pin attempt, so the heel wrestler rarely has anything to lose for trying it anyway.
Occasionally, there are instances where a pinfall is made where both wrestlers' shoulders were on the mat for the three-count.
To score by submission, the wrestler must make his opponent give up, usually, but not necessarily, by putting him in a submission hold (e.g. figure four leg-lock, arm-lock, sleeper-hold).
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).
Since all contact between the wrestlers must cease if any part of the body is touching, or underneath, the ropes, many wrestlers will attempt to break submission holds by deliberately grabbing the bottom ropes.
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" (by literally taking a gym towel and hurling it into the ring where the referee can see it). This is the same as a submission, as in kayfabe the manager is considered the wrestlers agent and therefore authorized to make formal decisions (such as forfeiting a match) on the client's behalf.
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 to the mat or floor three consecutive times without the wrestler having the strength to hold it up, 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 can also win by knockout if he does not resort to submission holds, but stills pummels his opponent to the point that he is completely out cold.
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 (twenty in some promotions) and thus disqualified.
If all the active wrestlers in a match are down inside the ring at the same time, the referee would begin a count (usually ten seconds, twenty in Japan).
In some promotions (and most major modern ones), Championships cannot change hands via a countout, unless the on-screen authority declares it for at least one match, although in others, championships may change hands via countout.
Disqualification (sometimes abbreviated as "DQ") occurs when a wrestler violates the match's rules, thus losing automatically.
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.
- 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.
- Striking an opponent with a foreign object (an object not permitted by the rules of the match; see hardcore wrestling) (sometimes the win decision can be reversed if the referee spots the weapon before pin attempt or after the match because they tried to strike when referee is either distracted or knocked out).
- Using any kind of "banned" move (see below for details).
- A direct low blow to the groin (unless the rules of the match specifically allow this).
- Intentionally laying hands on the referee.
- Pulling an opponent's mask off during a match (this is illegal in Mexico, and sometimes in Japan).
- Throwing an opponent over the top rope during a match (this move is still illegal in the National Wrestling Alliance; however, in cases like the Royal Rumble match, this will be allowed in order to eliminate a wrestler from the match).
- In a mixed tag team match, a male wrestler hitting a female wrestler (intergender), or a normal sized wrestler attacking an opposing midget wrestler (tag team matches involving teams with one normal-sized and one midget wrestler).
In practice, not all rule violations will result in a disqualification as the referee may use his own judgement and is not obligated to stop the match.
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. Sometimes, however, if this happens in a match to determine the challenger for a heel champion's title, the champion is forced to face both opponents simultaneously for the title. Usually, the double disqualification is caused by the heel wrestler's associates in a match between two face wrestlers to determine his opponent.
Although extremely rare, a match can end in a forfeit if the opponent either does not show up for the match, or shows up but refuses to compete.
Forfeit victories are extremely rare in wrestling.
Despite being, statistically, an extremely rare occurrence, Charles Wright is one wrestler who is famous for turning forfeit victories into his own gimmick. During the late 1990s, Wright called himself "The Godfather" and portrayed the gimmick of a pimp. He would often bring multiple women, who he referred to as "hoes," to the ring with him, and would offer the sexual services of these women to his opponents in exchange for them forfeiting their matches against him.
A professional wrestling match can end in a draw.
Also if two wrestlers have been given a disqualification by either the referee or the chairman, this is a no contest and if there is a title on the line the champion keeps the championship.
A wrestling match may be declared a no contest if the winning conditions are unable to occur.
While each wrestling match is ostensibly a competition of athletics and strategy, the goal from a business standpoint is to excite and entertain the audience.
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 Doink the Clown), while others carry more verisimilitude (such as Chris Jericho, The Rock, John Cena, 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 use his real name, or a minor variation of it, for much of his career, such as Bret Hart, John Cena and Randy Orton. Others can keep one ring name for their entire career (Shawn Michaels, CM Punk 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 get around this), and sometimes a character is owned by the wrestler. Sometimes, a wrestler may change his legal name to obtain ownership of his ring name (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 character can become so popular that it appears in other media (Hulk Hogan and El Santo) or even gives the performer enough visibility to enter politics (Antonio Inoki and Jesse Ventura).
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, antiheroes 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 over time. It is almost always accomplished with a markable change in behavior. Some turns become defining points in a career, as 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 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 personae 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). Sometimes a character's heel turn will become so popular that eventually the audience response will alter the character's heel-face cycle to the point where the heel persona will, in practice, become a face persona, and what was previously the face persona, will turn into the heel persona, such as when Dwayne Johnson first began using "The Rock" persona as a heel character, as opposed to his original "Rocky Maivia" babyface persona. Another legendary example is Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was originally booked as a heel, with such mannerisms as drinking on the job, using profanity, breaking company property, and even breaking into people's private homes. However, much to WWF's surprise, the fans got such a charge out of Austin's antics that he effectively became one of the greatest antiheroes in the history of the business. He, along with the stable of D-Generation X, is generally credited with ushering in the Attitude Era of WWF programming.
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), and longer story arcs can result from multiple matches. 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 the story of only one participant.
Other stories result from a natural rivalry.
In theory, the longer a feud is built up, the more audience interest (aka heat) lasts. The main event of a wrestling show is generally the most heated. 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.
Throughout the history of professional wrestling, many other elements of media have been utilized in professional wrestling storytelling: pre- and post-match interviews, "backstage" skits, positions of authority and worked behind-the-scenes feuds, division rankings (typically the #1-contendership spot), contracts, lotteries, news stories on websites, and in recent years social media.
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, sexual fetishism, necrophilia, misogyny, rape and death have been portrayed in wrestling. Some promotions have included supernatural elements such as magic, curses, the undead and Satanic imagery (most notably the Undertaker and his Ministry of Darkness, a stable that regularly performed evil rituals and human sacrifice in Satanic-like worship of a hidden power figure). 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.
A main part of the story-telling part of wrestling is a promo, short for promotional interview.
Since the crowd is often too loud or the venue too large for promos to be heard naturally, wrestlers will use amplification when speaking in the ring.
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 title belt that can be worn by the champion. In the case of team wrestling, there is a title 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 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.
Often a match will take place under additional rules, usually serving as a special attraction or a climactic point in a feud or storyline.
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. The WWE has another provision where a standard cage match can end with one wrestler or wrestling team escaping the cage through the door or over the top.
Another example is the WWE's Royal Rumble match, which involves thirty participants in a random and unknown order.
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.
All notable wrestlers now enter the ring accompanied by music, and regularly add other elements to their entrance.
Because wrestling is predetermined, a wrestler's entrance music will play as they enter the arena, even if they are, in kayfabe, not supposed to be there. For example, in 2012 through 2014, The Shield was a trio of wrestlers who were (in kayfabe) not at the time under contract with WWE (hence their gimmick of entering the ring through the crowd), but they still had entrance music which was played whenever they entered the arena, despite the fact that they were kayfabe invaders.
With the introduction of the Titantron entrance screen in 1997, WWF/WWE wrestlers also had entrance videos made that would play along with their entrance music.
Other dramatic elements of a ring entrance can include:
- Additional visual graphics or staging props to complement the entrance video/routine or further emphasize the character.
- 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, The Undertaker's signature bell toll, and the sound of bells and a cow's moo in JBL's theme.
- Darkening of the arena, often accompanied by mood lighting or strobe lighting, such as in The Undertaker's, Triple H's, or Sting's entrances. Certain colors of lighting have been associated with specific wrestlers; for instance, blue lighting for The Undertaker and Alexa Bliss, green lighting for Triple H, D-Generation X, and Shane McMahon, red and orange lighting for Kane, multicolored lighting for John Morrison, gold lighting for Goldust, pink lighting for Val Venis and Trish Stratus, and so forth.
- Costumes that evoke "otherworldly" or "fictional" themes.
- Entering in a manner in keeping with their character traits, such as a fast, highly energetic entrance, or a slow, stoic entrance.
- Driving a vehicle into the arena.
- 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. For instance, chanting or rapping along with the music (i.e. Road Dogg, R-Truth). Another example is Vickie Guerrero entering to no music, but announcing her arrival with the words "Excuse me!"
- Many heels with narcissistic gimmicks (Lex Luger, Shawn Michaels, Cody Rhodes, Paul Orndorff, etc.) would admire themselves with a mirror on their way to the ring.
- Coming through the audience, such as The Sandman's beer drinking and can smashing entrance, or Diamond Dallas Page's exit through the crowd, or most recently, The Shield walking through the arena.
- Accompaniment by a ringside crew or personal security, an example of which would be Goldberg
- Entering the arena by a lift in the stage, such as Kurt Angle, Gangrel and Rey Mysterio
- If a wrestler is a current champion, he will attempt to visually draw attention to his championship belt by either holding it high over his head or (if the belt is worn around the waist) moving his hands across it or pointing to it.
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, by Sting many times in WCW and TNA, gained major controversy over its role in the death of wrestler Owen Hart at Over the Edge.
Special ring entrances are also developed for big occasions, most notably the WrestleMania event. For example, WrestleMania III and VI both saw all wrestlers enter the arena on motorized miniature wrestling rings. Live bands are sometimes hired to perform live entrance music at special events. John Cena and Triple H are particularly notable in recent years for their highly theatrical entrances at WrestleMania.
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.
For most of its history, men and women would rarely compete against each other in professional wrestling, as it was deemed to be unfair and unchivalrous.
In the 1980s, mixed tag team matches began to take place, with a male and female on each team and a rule stating that each wrestler could only attack the opponent of the same gender.
Intergender singles bouts were first fought on a national level in the 1990s. This began with Luna Vachon, who faced men in 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. While it is a rare feat in WWE, in TNA, ODB participates in singles intergender matches. Also, ODB's kayfabe husband and tag team partner Eric Young held the Knockouts tag team titles for a record 478 days before it was stripped by Brooke Hogan because Young was a male.
Midget wrestling can be traced to professional wrestling's carnival and vaudeville origins.
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. Dave Finlay was often aided in his matches by a midget known mainly as Hornswoggle while in WWE, 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 WWE Cruiserweight Championship and feuded with D-X in 2009.
Styles and characteristics in different countries
The U.S., Japan and Mexico are three countries where there is a huge market and high popularity for professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling in the U.S. tends to have a heavy focus on story building and the establishment of characters (and their personalities).
Although professional wrestling in Mexico (Lucha libre) also has stories and characters, they are less emphasized. Wrestlers in Mexico are traditionally more agile and perform more aerial maneuvers than professional wrestlers in the U.S. who, more often, rely on power moves and strikes to subdue their opponents. The difference in styles is due to the independent evolution of the sport in Mexico beginning in the 1930s and the fact that wrestlers in the cruiserweight division (Spanish: peso semicompleto) are often the most popular wrestlers in Mexican lucha libre. Wrestlers often execute high flying moves characteristic of lucha libre by utilizing the wrestling ring's ropes to catapult themselves towards their opponents, using intricate combinations in rapid-fire succession, and applying complex submission holds. Lucha libre is also known for its tag team wrestling matches, in which the teams are often made up of three members, instead of two as is common in the U.S.
The style of Japanese professional wrestling (puroresu) is again different. With its origins in traditional American style of wrestling and still being under the same genre, it has become an entity in itself. Despite the similarity to its American counterpart in that the outcome of the matches remains predetermined, the phenomena are different in the form of the psychology and presentation of the sport. In most of the largest promotions, such as New Japan Pro-Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Noah, it is treated as a full contact combat sport as it mixes hard hitting martial arts strikes with shoot style submission holds, while in the U.S. it is rather more regarded as an entertainment show. Wrestlers incorporate kicks and strikes from martial arts disciplines, and a strong emphasis is placed on submission wrestling, and unlike the use of involved storylines in the U.S., they are not as intricate in Japan, more emphasis is placed on the concept of "fighting spirit", meaning the wrestlers display of physical and mental stamina are valued a lot more than theatrics. Many of Japan's wrestlers including top stars such as Shinya Hashimoto, Riki Chōshū and Keiji Mutoh came from a legitimate martial arts background and many Japanese wrestlers in the 1990s began to pursue careers in mixed martial arts organizations such as Pancrase and Shooto which at the time retained the original look of puroresu but were actual competitions. Other companies, such as Michinoku Pro Wrestling and Dragon Gate, wrestle in a style similar to Mexican companies like AAA and CMLL. This is known as "Lucharesu".
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. The permanent rosters of most promotions develop a backstage pecking order, with veterans mediating conflicts and mentoring younger wrestlers. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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 role-playing 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.
From the first established world championship, the top professional wrestlers have garnered fame within mainstream society.
Some terminology originating in professional wrestling has found its way into the common vernacular.
Many television shows and films have been produced which portray in-character professional wrestlers as protagonists, such as Ready to Rumble, ¡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. The 2009 South Park episode "W.T.F." played on the soap operatic elements of professional wrestling. One of the lead characters on the Disney Channel series Kim Possible was a huge fan of pro wrestling and actually featured it on an episode (with two former WWE wrestlers voicing the two fictitious wrestlers featured in the episode). The 2008 film The Wrestler
The 1950 film noir Night and the City, directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney, told the story of a promoter in London trying to make it big, and featured a match involving real professional wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko.
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. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a course of study on the cultural significance of professional wrestling, and anthropologist Heather Levi has written an ethnography about the culture of lucha libre in Mexico
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—an attitude that still exists to varying degrees today. 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. 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. Wrestling is described as performed art which demands an immediate reading of the juxtaposed meanings. The logical conclusion is given least importance over the theatrical performers of the wrestlers and the referee. According to Barthes the function of a wrestler is not to win: it is to go exactly through the motions which are expected of him and to give the audience a theatrical spectacle. This work is considered a foundation of all later study.
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, commedia dell'arte, revenge tragedies,Professional%20Wrestling%3A%20Spo]] burlesquemood attitudes societyviolence masculinity ke it a vicarious outlet for aggression during peacetime.
Documentary filmmakers have studied the lives of wrestlers and the effects the profession has on them 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 student 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 20th 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 (Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows). Bloodstained Memoirs explored the careers of several pro wrestlers, including Chris Jericho, Rob Van Dam and Roddy Piper.
Although professional wrestling is choreographed, there is a high chance of injury, and even death. Strikes are often stiff, especially in Japan and in independent wrestling promotions such as Combat Zone Wrestling and Ring of Honor. The ring is often made out of 2 inch by 8 inch timber planks. There have been many brutal accidents, hits and injuries. Many of the injuries that occur in pro wrestling are shoulders, knee, back, neck, and rib injuries. Professional wrestler Davey Richards said in 2015, "We train to take damage, we know we are going to take damage and we accept that."
In April 2014, less than 25 years after the 1990 WrestleMania VI, one-third of its 36 competitors had died, including André the Giant and main event winner The Ultimate Warrior, with none of the deceased having reached the age of 64.
- Foreign objects (e.g. folding chair)
- Professional wrestling match types
- Professional wrestling tag team match types
- Professional wrestling tournament
- Glossary of professional wrestling terms
- All-in professional wrestling
- Fantasy wrestling
- Hardcore wrestling
- Lucha libre
- Sports entertainment