Professional wrestling is the performance, management, and marketing of a form of entertainment based on elements of catch wrestling, mixed martial arts, and theater. Modern professional wrestling usually features striking and grappling techniques, which are modelled after diverse sets of global wrestling and pugilistic styles.
Modern professional wrestling is commonly associated within a company (often referred to as a fed or promotion), where the participants create an entertaining show simulating a dueling match. The level of realism can vary from sports entertainment (the American World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) promotion) to stiff style (the Japanese strong style as exemplified by Antonio Inoki) to spotfests. In Mexico the dominant style is the stylized, theatrical Lucha libre.
The question of whether professional wrestling is a sport comparable to its freestyle, Greco-Roman, and collegiate counterparts can seem irrelevant, maybe even impossible, to compare as the key difference between both concepts is that professional wrestling's main focus is maintaining its audience and profiting as a business rather than as a form of athletic competition. The most obvious difference between the two styles of wrestling is that professional wrestlers are paid a set wage.
As opposed to more mainstream combative sporting events like boxing, a professional wrestler's athletic prowess and skills are utilized more to prevent injury than to inflict it. In many cases, the victim of an attack in a professional wrestling environment is required to do more athletically than the one performing the attack. If the wrestler absorbing the attack is less skilled or less athletic, he may injure his partner or even himself.
The simulated nature of professional wrestling is only one of the many differences it has with traditional wrestling. Other differences can vary from company to company.
The assigned referee is often the one who controls the outcome of the match barring certain matches with special rules or for storyline reasons. A common storyline angle of this is a promotion owner or other high official modifying the stipulations of a match to invalidate a referee's decision, such as declaring it a no-disqualification match after a wrestler wins by disqualification. A "motto" in the pro-wrestling world used to describe the interpretation of the rules (actually more like loose guidelines) is: "You can't call what you don't see", implying that anything is justified as long as the referee doesn't see. This is often used as a plot twist to drastically change the momentum in a match. One of the better-known occurrences has a referee being "accidentally" knocked senseless or thrown outside of the ring (often referred to as a "ref bump"). While he's stunned, one wrestler, usually a face, will suddenly have the match won, only to then have it robbed from them via outside interference, the use of a foreign object, or some other unfair means. The referee, unaware of what happened, will recover just in time to notice a pin that reflects the new situation, and make an arduous three-count. A variation on this finish, the "Dusty finish" (after Dusty Rhodes, who frequently used such finishes as a booker), has the substitute referee making the three-count in favor of the face, only to have it overturned by the original referee. In addition to pinfall, a match can be won by submission, count-out, disqualification, or failure to answer a ten count.
Punching is permitted as long as the wrestler's fist is open. This is probably the most ignored rule in WWE, as referees almost never disqualify a wrestler for throwing closed-fist punches. Instead, the referee simply admonishes the wrestler to stop, which is rarely successful. In addition, wrestlers may only kick with the flat part of the foot, and "low blow" only refers to actually striking the crotch. If either wrestler is in contact with the ropes or if any part of the wrestler is underneath the ropes, all contact between the wrestlers must be broken before the count of five. This strategy is often used in order to escape from a submission hold, and also, more seldom, a wrestler can place his foot on (or under) the ropes to avoid losing by pinfall. Participants may try to abuse these rules, and it will often result in verbal or physical sparring with the ref.
In order to win by pinfall, a wrestler must pin both his opponent's shoulders against the mat while the referee slaps the mat three times. This is the most common form of defeat. If a wrestler's shoulders are down (both shoulders touching the mat) and any portion of the opponent's person is laying over the fallen man, it is completely legal for the three count to be made. Illegal pinning methods include using the ropes for leverage and hooking the opponent's tights, therefore they are popular cheating methods for heels. Such pins as these are rarely, if ever, seen by the referee and are subsequently often used by heels and on occasion by cheating faces to win matches.
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 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 three consecutive times without the wrestler having the strength to stop it from falling, the wrestler is considered to have passed out. At one point this was largely ignored, however the rule is now much more commonly observed. Often the third time, the WWE wrestler in the hold will fight their way out.
Also, a wrestler can indicate a submission by "tapping out," that is, tapping a free hand against the mat or against an opponent. The tapout was once common-place in professional wrestling, especially in the days prior to it becoming a predominantly pre-arranged contest. However, following the decline of the submission-oriented catch-as-catch-can style from mainstream professional wrestling, the tap out largely faded, regaining prominence as a means of victory mostly in the face of the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship in the early 90's. Much like traditional finisher maneuvers, a wrestler with a finisher submission is shown as better at applying the move, making it more difficult to get out of, despite some obvious similarity.
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 10 or, occasionally 20. The count is broken and re-started when a wrestler inside the ring leaves the ring.
If both wrestlers are outside the ring, the count will refer to both. If one of the wrestlers re-enters the ring, while the other remains outside, the count will continue for the one left outside. A common tactic, to buy more time outside the ring, is for a wrestler to re-enter the ring to restart the count, and then continue to fight outside the ring. If both wrestlers remain outside at the count of ten, both will be counted out. This is known as a double countout, or to a lesser extent, an "impossible draw".
If both of the wrestlers are lying on the mat and not moving, the referee may issue a ten count. One wrestler reaching his knees will break the count. If neither wrestler reaches their knees or feet, it is considered a draw, also known as a double knockout, or incorrectly, an "in ring count-out."
The countout rule indicates that a wrestler cannot win a match while any part of his opponent's body is not in the ring. This allows escape from pinfalls and submission holds, by grabbing hold of one of the ring ropes, thus forcing the referee to break the hold or stop the count. This is also why the referee will start a count once a wrestler has reached the top rope; he is out of the ring area.
The referee, in certain promotions, does not instrigate a count despite wrestler's being out of the ring. This is usually after a large bump, where both wrestlers are taken down. This is, in kayfabe, to allow the contest to continue as neither wrestler would benefit from the count due to both wrestlers being incapacitated temporarily. In reality, it is used to build supense in the audience and to allow the wrestlers to recover somewhat.
Common slang for walking out of the ring and leaving your opponent standing there, only to get purposely counted out yourself, is known as pulling a "Broadway".
Disqualification 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, choking or biting an opponent and repeatedly punching with a closed fist. These violations are usually subject to a referee-administered five count and will result in disqualification if not released before.
- Any outside interference involving a person not involved in the match striking or holding a wrestler. If a heel attempts to interfere but is ejected from the ring by a wrestler or referee before this occurs, there is usually no disqualification.
- Striking an opponent with a foreign object (unless the rules of the match/company specifically allow this).
- A direct low-blow to the groin. (unless the rules of the match/company specifically allow this)
- Laying hands on the referee or to an extreme case, often in special referee matches, laying any body parts on the referee; Or if you hit the referee without him seeing there will be no disqualification.
- Attacking an opponent's eye, such as raking it, poking it, punching it out or other several attacks to the eye.
- Toss a wrestler over the top rope (unless the rules of the match/company specifically allow this).
- Pulling an opponent's wrestling trunks for a pinfall during a match.
- Pulling an opponent's mask off during a match. (This move is illegal in Mexico)
In practice, the rules of the fight are often violated without disqualification due to the referee being distracted and not seeing the offense, or the referee seeing the offense but allowing the match to continue. In the WWE, a referee must see the violation with his own eyes to rule that 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 during a match. While the referee remains "unconscious," rules are often violated at will. In some cases, a referee might disqualify a person under the presumption that it was that wrestler who knocked him out; most ref-KOs are arranged to allow a wrestler, usually a heel, to gain an advantage. For example, a wrestler may get whipped into a referee at a slower speed, knocking the ref down for a minute or so; during that interim period, the wrestler may pin his opponent for a three-count and would have won the match but for the referee being down. Also, the referee rarely disqualitfies the wrestler who knocked him down when the ref recovers.
If both participants (or teams) 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 certain storylines, a restart or extended wrestling period is made possible by an authority figure.
A new common trend in wrestling is the development of the no-disqualification (or Hardcore) match. This match has become more and more prominent within the last decade. When the WWE (then the WWF) unveiled its new 'Attitude' era in the late 1990s, the no-disqualifacation match was used as a centerpiece for this new design of wrestling.
The match itself has become so innovative that just the simple title of "no-disqualification" is rarely used anymore. Completely new matches had developed fromt the Hardcore/no-DQ match, including:
- The Ladder Match (participants must post a ladder in the middle of the ring and climb it to grasp a hanging object - usually a title belt).
- Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (All 3 may be used as a weapon against an opponent.
- Street Fight (Anything goes and the match can end anywhere; not just in the ring)
The list goes on and on with types of No-DQ matches. As the wrestling industry changes through time, so will the matches. No-DQ matches are just the beginning to what may be innovated in the future.
The vast majority of professional wrestlers are men, and especially in the North American WWE, where they are usually large in size, often to extremes, such as the Big Show. Although the Big Show is just one example, there are others like The Great Khali and Viscera. Competitions or divisions are sometimes set up for men of similar wrestling styles. Styles include that of technical, brawling, high flying, and lucha. However, matches involving different divisions are created, and are never referred to as unusual or against any rules, despite large differences in height or strength.
Women’s wrestling has been a long time staple of the wrestling world, the women’s division has had a recognized world champion since before 1956 where the first NWA World Women's Championship was crowned (later turned into the WWF Women’s title). Traditionally the women’s matches were lower on the card, not considered main event material at least not in the United States except in rare cases. Up through the 80s women’s wrestling in the US was presented as a serious sport on level with men’s wrestling, it’s not until the late 90s and beyond that the way World Wrestling Entertainment presents their women’s division started to focus on the “Diva” aspects instead of the athletic aspects of their women’s division. That is not to say that there aren’t talented female wrestlers working for the WWE but the presentation in general leans more towards “Divas” and being T & A with managers and valets with very little training being used and pushed.
Outside of WWE there are several places where women’s wrestling is still presented and promoted as a serious sport, in the US SHIMMER Women Athletes is an all female pro-wrestling federation that shows the sport on par with male wrestling. In Japan women’s wrestling has a long established history with an all female federation founded as early as 1955 (the predecessor to All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling) and has always been presented as a serious, highly athletic sport on the same level as anything presented by their male counterparts. In some federations like Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling where the focus was on more ”Hardcore” matches the barbwire and explosion matches were not limited to just the male competition but also extended to female performers like Shark Tsuchiya, ”Combat” Toyota and Megumi Kudo the latter two had actually headlined one of FMW’s biggest cards in an extremely grapical ” Exploding No Rope Barbed Wire Deathmatch”. In the late 90s the two big Japanese women’s federations closed down but females still compete in various federations.
Midget wrestling has been a unique aspect of professional wrestling, and can be traced to professional wrestling's carnival and vaudeville origins. In recent years, however, the popularity and prevalence of midgets in wrestling has greatly decreased mostly due to major wrestling companies depriving midget divisions of any form of wrestling storyline or feud, although the WWE broadcast of SmackDown did feature a "Junior's division", in which midgets wrestled against each other, from 2005-2006. The "Junior's division" is no longer a part of Smackdown or the WWE. But it's still a popular form of entertainment in Mexican wrestling, mostly as a sideshow, so to speak. Some wrestlers may have their specific "mini me's", like Mascarada Sagrada and his midget counterpart Mascarita Sagrada, Alebrije has Quije, etc. Or there are cases in which midgets can become valets for a wrestler, and even get physical into a match from time to time, like Alushe, who often accompanies one of the greatest Mexican wrestlers, Tinieblas, or Kemonito, who is portrayed as CMLL's (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre) mascot, and is also a valet for a popular wrestler on the rise called Mistico. The WWE wrestler Dave Finlay is often aided in his matches by a midget known mainly as a Leprechaun, but listed as the "Hornswoggle", who (in kayfabe) lives under the ring and often brings a spare Shillelagh to Finlay when the referee is somehow distracted. Finlay also occasionally throws the midget at his opponent(s). On an episode of Smackdown!, on February 16, 2007, Finlay's Leprachaun was attacked by the Boogeyman's own midget, thus creating a mixed tag match at No Way Out. Hornswoggle and Finlay won the match at No Way Out, due to some controversial reasons.
The organizations that schedule and produce professional wrestling performances are known as wrestling promotions. Currently, the only major wrestling organizations left in North America are the United States promotions of WWE and TNA Wrestling (TNA) and the Mexican lucha libre promotions Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) and Asistencia Asesoría y Administración (AAA). Of these, WWE is by far largest and most influential throughout the world. While these organizations are the most prominent and popular, there are many other smaller, regional promotions known as "indies", many of which are official territories of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). Other major independent promotions include Ring of Honor (ROH), Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA), Independent Wrestling Association Mid-South (IWA MS), and Maryland Championship Wrestling (MCW).
Wrestlers from Canada are generally of comparable quality as those of the United States. Canada's promotions include Stampede Wrestling, Border City Wrestling, Pure Wrestling Association, International Wrestling Syndicate, UWA, and Blood, Sweat and Ears.
Outside North America, there are other federations throughout Europe and also in Japan, Australia, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the rest of the Caribbean.
The traditional Japanese style differs from the American style in that it is portrayed more as a combat sport than as pure entertainment. The term strong style was coined by New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) promoter Antonio Inoki. Inoki incorporated more martial arts and real fighting techniques to his arsenal, and performed the moves and strikes with more muscle stiffness than in traditional American style, in an effort to make his pro wrestling look more like a real fight. A style known as King's Road was created by Giant Baba which is similar but slightly different. This style is the dominant style used by All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW) descendants.
- Foreign objects (e.g. folding chair)
- Professional wrestling aerial techniques (e.g. Shooting star press, Moonsault)
- Professional wrestling attacks (e.g. Leg drop, Superkick)
- Professional wrestling double-team maneuvers (e.g. Doomsday Device)
- Professional wrestling finishers
- Professional wrestling holds (e.g. Boston crab, Mandible claw, Pinfall, Sharpshooter)
- Professional wrestling match types
- Professional wrestling tag team match types
- Professional wrestling tournament
- Professional wrestling schools
- Professional wrestling slang
- Professional wrestling throws (e.g. Backbreaker, Brainbuster, Chokeslam, Cutter, DDT, Facebuster, Neckbreaker, Piledriver, Powerbomb, Powerslam, Stunner, Suplex)
Professional wrestling worldwide
Lists of wrestlers