Professional wrestling
Wrestling - Sikeston, MO 1938 - 1.jpg
A professional wrestling match in 1938: two wrestlers grapple in a wrestling ring while a referee (in white on the right) looks on
Ancestor arts
Descendant artsShoot wrestling
Sports entertainment
Originating culture United States
 Canada
 Mexico
 United Kingdom
 Italy
 France
 Japan
 Puerto Rico
 South Africa
 Australia
 New Zealand
Originating era19th century

Professional wrestling (often shortened to pro wrestling or simply wrestling) is a form of entertainment[1][2] which combines athletics with theatrical performance.[3] It takes the form of events, held by touring companies, which mimic a title-match combat sport. The unique form of sport portrayed is fundamentally based on 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 to varying degrees.[4][5]

The matches have predetermined outcomes[6] to heighten entertainment value[7] 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.[8] These facts were once kept highly secret, but are now a widely accepted open secret. By and large, the true nature of the performance is not discussed by the performing company in official media - in order to sustain and promote the willing suspension of disbelief for the audience by maintaining an aura of verisimilitude. Fan communications by individual wrestlers and promotions through outside media (i.e. interviews) will often directly acknowledge the dramatic and "fixed" nature of the spectacle.

History

Originating as a popular form of entertainment in 19th-century Europe[9] 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

A wrestler (Christopher Daniels) leaps off the top rope

Show wrestling has become especially prominent in Central/North America, Japan and Europe (especially the United Kingdom).[10] 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.[citation needed] Annual shows such as WrestleMania, Bound for Glory 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.

Home video sales dominate the Billboard charts Recreational Sports DVD sales, with wrestling holding anywhere from 3 to 9 of the top 10 spots every week.[11]

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 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.

Genre conventions

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. The actions of the character should be considered fictional events, wholly separate from the life of the performer. This is similar to other entertainers who perform with a persona that shares their own name (such as Kurt Angle and his fictional persona).

Some wrestlers would incorporate elements of their real-life personalities into their characters, even if they and their in-ring persona have different names.

Kayfabe

Historians are unsure at what point wrestling changed from competitive catch wrestling into worked entertainment. Those who participated felt that maintenance of a constant and complete illusion for all who were not involved was necessary to keep audience interest. For decades, wrestlers lived their public lives as though they were their characters.

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. This is known as a shoot. Sometimes shoot-like elements are included in wrestling stories to blur the line between performance and reality. These are known as "worked shoots". However, the vast majority of events in professional wrestling are preplanned and improvised within accepted boundaries.

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. This public reveal has garnered mixed reactions from the wrestling community, as some feel that exposure ruins the experience to the spectators as does exposure in illusionism. Despite the public admission of the theatrical nature of professional wrestling, many U.S. states still regulate professional wrestling as they do other professional competitive sports. For example, New York State still regulates "professional wrestling" through the New York State Athletic Commission (SAC). [12]

Aspects of performing art

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. 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.[3] 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.[13]

Rules

There is no governing authority for professional wrestling rules, although there is a general standard which has developed. Each promotion has their own variation, but all are similar enough to avoid confusion most of the time. Any rule described here is simply a standard, and may or may not correspond exactly with any given promotion's ruleset.

Due to the staged nature of wrestling, these are not actual "rules"[14] 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).

General structure

Matches are held between two or more sides ("corners"). Each corner may consist of one wrestler, or a team of two or more. Most team matches are governed by tag team rules (see below). Other matches are free-for-alls, with multiple combatants but no teams. In all variants, there can be only one winning team or wrestler.

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. Typically, pinfalls and submissions must occur within the ring area, however there are times where it may be stipulated otherwise.

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. Historically, matches were wrestled to 3 falls ("best 2 out of 3") or 5 falls ("best 3 out of 5"). The standard for modern matches is one fall. However, even though it is now standard, many announcers will explicitly state this (e.g. "The following contest is set for one fall with a 20-minute time limit.") These matches are given a time limit; if not enough falls are scored by the end of the time limit, the match is declared a draw. Modern matches are generally given a 10- to 30-minute time limit for standard matches; title matches can go for up to one hour. British wrestling matches held under Admiral-Lord Mountevans rules are 2 out of 3 falls.

An alternative is a match set for a prescribed length of time, with a running tally of falls. The entrant with the most falls at the end of the time limit is declared the winner. This is usually for 20, 30 or 60 minutes, and is commonly called an Iron Man match. This type of match can be modified so that fewer types of falls are allowed.

In matches with multiple competitors, an elimination system may be used. Any wrestler who has a fall scored against them is forced out of the match, and the match continues until only one remains. However, it is much more common when more than two wrestlers are involved to simply go one fall, with the one scoring the fall, regardless of who they scored it against, being the winner. In championship matches, this means that, unlike one-on-one matches (where the champion can simply disqualify himself or get himself counted out to retain the title via the Champion's Advantage), the champion does not have to be pinned or involved in the decision to lose the championship. However, heel champions often find advantages, not in Champion's Advantage, but in the use of weapons and outside interference, as these poly-sided matches tend to involve no holds barred rules.

Many modern specialty matches have been devised, with unique winning conditions. The most common of these is the ladder match. In the basic ladder match, the wrestlers or teams of wrestlers must climb a ladder to obtain a prize that is hoisted above the ring. The key to winning this match is that the wrestler or team of wrestlers must try to incapacitate each other long enough for one wrestler to climb the ladder and secure that prize for their team. As a result, the ladder can be used as a weapon. The prizes include but are not limited to any given championship belt (the traditional prize), a document granting the winner the right to a future title shot, or any document that matters to the wrestlers involved in the match (such as one granting the winner a cash prize). Another common specialty match is known as the battle royal. In a battle royal, all the wrestlers enter the ring to the point that there are 20-30 wrestlers in the ring at one time. When the match begins, the simple objective is to throw the opponent over the top rope and out of the ring with both feet on the floor to eliminate that opponent. The last wrestler standing is declared the winner. A variant on this type of match is the WWE's Royal Rumble where two wrestlers enter the ring to start the match and other wrestlers follow in 90 second intervals (previously 2 minutes) until 30-40 wrestlers have entered the ring. All other rules stay the same. For more match types, see Professional wrestling match types.

Every match must be assigned a rule keeper known as a referee, who is the final arbitrator. In multi-man lucha libre matches, two referees are used, one inside the ring and one outside.

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. This allows for greater opportunities for run-ins or use of illegal weapons and tactics, or can be used as an excuse to avoid counting a pinfall or calling a submission in the face's favor. The referee often instantly up the moment the heel wrestler seems to have an advantage, usually the moment the heel goes for the pinfall or applies a submission finisher.
  • 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.

Tag rules

A tag team match in progress: Jeff Hardy kicks Umaga, while their respective partners, Triple H and Randy Orton, encourage them and reach for the tags

In some team matches, only one entrant from each team may be designated as the "legal" or "active" wrestler at any given moment. Two wrestlers must make physical contact (typically palm-to-palm) to transfer this legal status. This is known as a "tag", with the participants "tagging out" and "tagging in". Typically the wrestler who is tagging out has a 5-second count to leave the ring, whereas the one tagging in can enter the ring at any time, resulting in heels legally double-teaming a face.

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. In most promotions, the wrestler to be tagged in must be touching the turnbuckle on his corner, or a cloth strap attached to the turnbuckle.

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. In these matches, the tag need not be a mutual effort, and this results in active wrestlers being tagged out against their will, or non-legal wrestlers forced to enter the battle.

Sometimes, poly-sided matches that pit every man for himself will incorporate tagging rules. Outside of kayfabe, this is done to give wrestlers a break from the action (as these matches tend to go on for long periods of time), and to make the action in the ring easier to choreograph. One of the most mainstream examples of this is the Four-Corner match, the most common type of match in the WWE before it was replaced with its equivalent Fatal Four-Way; four wrestlers, each for himself, fight in a match, but only two wrestlers can be in the match at any given time. The other two are positioned in the corner, and tags can be made between any two wrestlers.

In a Texas Tornado Tag Team match, all the competitors are legal in the match, and tagging in and out is not necessary. All matches fought under hardcore rules (such as no disqualification, no holds barred, ladder match, etc.) are all contested under de facto Texas Tornado rules, since the lack of ability of a referee to issue a disqualification renders any tagging requirements moot.

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). This is called the "Outlaw Rule" because the first team to attempt to use that (in an attempt to unfairly retain their tag team titles) was the New Age Outlaws.

Decisions