Professional wrestling is a form of performance entertainment where the participants engage in simulated sporting matches. In its purported rules and competitions, it apes the convention of sport. Originating as such, in the days of travelling carnival shows, Professional Wrestling's humbler beginnings include strongman feats, hook wrestling, and other acrobatic performances. For the better part of a century, professional wrestling promoters and performers claimed that the competition was completely real and vehemently defended secrets of the trade (a situation known as kayfabe). Any pretence to be a sporting competition was dropped in the late 1990s, when Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation began describing its events as "sports entertainment," along with a formal change of moniker to World Wrestling Entertainment.
The simulated nature of professional wrestling is only one of the many differences it has with traditional wrestling.
Other differences can be found by looking at the supposed rules of pro wrestling. Punching is permitted as long as the wrestler's fist is open. You may only kick with the flat part of the foot, and the only "low blow" (punching or kicking) one can deliver is an actual blow to the crotch. A match can be won by pin fall, submission, count out, disqualification, or failure to answer a ten count. In order to win by pin fall, a wrestler must pin both his opponent's shoulders against the mat while the referee slaps the mat three times. To win by submission, the wrestler must make his opponent give up, usually, but not necessarily, by putting him in a submission hold (i.e. leg-lock, arm-lock, etc.). Passing out in a submission hold constitutes a submission. To determine if a wrestler has passed out, the referee will usually pick up and drop his hand. If it drops three consecutive times without the wrestler having the strength to stop it from falling, the wrestler is considered to have passed out. Today, a wrestler can indicate a submission by "tapping out", that is, tapping a free hand against the mat. The tapout is not a traditional part of professional wrestling; it was introduced during the mid-1990s in response to the increased popularity of mixed martial arts competitions, where the tapout has always been accepted. A count-out happens when a wrestler is out of the ring long enough for the referee to count to 10 (in Japan, the rule is a 20 count). Conditions for disqualification will be explained later. If both of the wrestlers are lying on the mat and not moving, the referee may issue a ten count. One wrestler reaching to his knees at least will break the count. If neither wrestler reaches to their knees or feet, it is considered a draw - also known as an "in ring cont-out" If either wrestler is in contact with the ropes, all contact between the wrestlers must be broken. This strategy is used very often in order to escape from a submission hold, and also, more seldom, a wrestler can place his foot on the ropes to avoid losing by pin fall.
Here is a list of offences punishable by disqualification:
- Refusing to break a hold when your opponent is in the ropes for more than a five count.
- Choking or Biting your opponent for more than a five count.
- Staying on the top turnbuckle for more than a five count.
- Repeatedly punching with a closed fist for more than a five count.
- Any outside interference.
- Striking your opponent with a foreign object. (Smashing your opponent against a foreign object will usually not end the match in a DQ)
- A direct low-blow to the groin.
- Laying hands on the referee.
In practice, the "rules" of the fight are often violated without disqualification due to the referee being "distracted" and not seeing the offence. Almost always, a referee must see the violation with his own eyes to rule the match end in a disqualification and the referee's ruling is almost always final. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the referees themselves to get "knocked out" by the all-in melees. Obviously, while the referee remains "unconscious", all bets are off. This plot twist is often used to drastically change the momentum in a match.
The rules for a one-on-one pro wrestling match have not always been the same. For instance, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) had a rule that your opponent couldn't be thrown over the top rope. The now defunct WCW or World Championship Wrestling, an offshoot of the NWA, formerly had a rule stating you could not jump off the top rope onto a prone opponent. Both instances would have caused a disqualification. The World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) once disqualified wrestlers for pulling their opponent's ringwear or tights while covering for a pin. The move is still illegal in most promotions, but only breaks the hold or pin.
The referee has ultimate control in any match, and has so much authority that a decision reversal can only be made by the referee involved in the match; even the promotion owner has no influence over this decision. Of course, even this "rule" is subject to modification, depending on current storylines or rules within the promotion.
Reality and fantasy
Please note that simulated, in this context, does not necessarily mean fake. While the outcomes are predetermined, the maneuvers are executed cooperatively and their effects upon the opponents exaggerated, most moves are real and cause genuine pain (and if performed incorrectly, capable of causing serious injury). Matches whose results are predetermined are called "worked".
The vast majority of bleeding incidents in wrestling are real, and are typically induced by using hidden razor blades to cut oneself on the forehead; the act of cutting is known in the business and among fans as blading, and bleeding is known as juicing. If a wrestler bleeds without being cut, such as due to an accidental broken nose, he is said to be juicing hardway. If a wrestler hits another wrestler harder than he should on purpose, that is called a "potato" or "potato shot".
Besides the somewhat real violence however, there have constantly been times where the division between reality and fantasy has been blurred, especially when it comes to who should win the matches. See the Clique as an example of this. On occasion, although increasingly rarely in recent decades, a wrestler will shoot, or ignore the script and attempt to win legitimately. This is also known as "going into business for yourself".
Pro wrestling and Sports entertainment
See Commedia dell'arte for an artistic predecessor to this style of entertainment.
The commedia dell'arte influence can be seen in a number of non match related elements of professional wrestling. Some examples of these include storylines, gimmicks, interviews, and angles. These "non wrestling" elements - used to build excitement and help build interest in professional wrestling matches themselves - have been referred to as "sports entertainment".
When professional wrestling moved to increasingly fixed matches around the early 1900s, there was still a strong push for most of the century to promote professional wrestling as being a legitimate sport; this movement is where the concept of kayfabe originated from.
However, as the century progessed, promoters spent less time focusing on believable sports action, and more time presenting it as a "sports entertainment" spectacle. For a brief time, comedian Andy Kaufman began wrestling women during his act and was the self-proclaimed "Inter-gender Wrestling Champion of the World". Another major step in this direction was taken when Vince McMahon took control of the WWF, now known as WWE. Besides taking his federation beyond the territory boundries of the NWA, and his national WrestleMania pay-per-view shows, McMahon also came up with the "Rock and Wrestling" concept. In fact, a key distinction between McMahon and competitors like Jim Crockett Promotions (the fore-runner to WCW) or the American Wrestling Association was the carnival atmosphere created by the promoter's gimmicks and angles.
Indeed, if the term "sports entertainment" was not invented by McMahon, the WWF / WWE has certainly popularized its use. A popular myth within professional wrestling fandom suggests McMahon adopted the term because staged entertainment insurance premiums are lower than for those for live sporting events. Another suggested reason is to give his business a sense of "legitimacy" in the business community as a form of entertainment, rather than as a "fake" sport. Similarly, McMahon "educated" his fan base, through the 1980s, that they weren't witnessing an improvised sporting contest, and instead that they should tune in for the sports-entertainment aspect. A cunning move, given that his competitors were still often presenting themselves as being legitimate sports (WCW commentator Tony Schiavone continued to use the phrase "Greatest moment in the history of our sport" well into the 1990s).
The WWF's "Rock and Wrestling" era has been derided by critics, and professional wrestling "purists", as presenting "cartoonish" characters, interviews, and slapstick skits. Others, however, point out that - aside from cable television and video - McMahon's focus on entertainment was key to pro wrestling's 1980s revival in popularity. This debate is still ongoing within pro wrestling fandom, especially within the smark community. Since then, Extreme Championship Wrestling, WCW's nWo gimmick, and the WWF / WWE's "Attitude" era further progressed the development of the non-wrestling aspects of professional wrestling.
Currently, the only major wrestling organisations left in North America are World Wrestling Entertainment, and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and its member federation NWA:TNA. However, outside North America, there are others federations in Japan and Mexico, where masked wrestlers are particularly popular.
- World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF)
- National Wrestling Alliance
- Total Nonstop Action(Formerly NWA-TNA)
- Ring Of Honor
- Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA)
- Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL)
- Universal Wrestling Association (UWA)
- Frontier Wrestling Alliance (FWA)
- Irish Whip Wrestling (IWW)
- K-Star Wrestling (KSW)
- NWA UK Hammerlock
- International Championship Wresting (ICW)
- American Wrestling Association
- Continental Wrestling Association (Memphis)
- Extreme Championship Wrestling (Pennsylvania)
- Jim Crockett Promotions (Georgia, North and South Carolina)
- Pro Wrestling USA
- United States Wrestling Association (Memphis / Texas)
- Universal Wrestling Federation (Oklahoma / Louisiana / Mississippi / Arkansas)
- World Championship Wrestling
- World Class Championship Wrestling (Texas)
- Professional wrestling attacks
- Professional wrestling match types
- Professional wrestling throws
- Professional wrestling holds
- Professional wrestling high-flying techniques
- Professional wrestling slang
Professional wrestling worldwide
- Professional wrestling in Japan
- Professional wrestling in Mexico
- Professional wrestling in United Kingdom