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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Wrestling Psychology
August 17, 2005 by Joseph Huber


What the hell is wrestling psychology? You hear this term after awhile when you read the inside info on wrestling. But what is it really? Plainly put: it is when the wrestlers in a match put on a performance that tells a story. This has evolved over the years, but the basics remain the same.

Even though it is not wrestling and not real, the movie Rocky (or any of the sequels for that matter) are a great example of ring psychology. Where the fight is back and forth and the outcome is in question even if you were sure you knew who would win. Mick Foley was a big fan of the Rocky movies and if you look closely at the "I Quit" match he had with The Rock you could see where they were punching each other back and forth it was basically the same as any Rocky movie.

In wrestling there are some that have been great with psychology during a match. They sell you a story and make you wonder who is going to win the match. Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat's feud was a great example of this. They always had a lot of near-falls in their matches. The action was so back and forth it kept the fans on their toes. I watched their match on The Greatest Wrestling Stars Of The 80's DVD and even now I had to wonder who was going to win the match. I was fooled and kept on the edge of my seat by the match. Maybe it was because I never saw it before (sorry WCW or NWA fans I missed out on a lot) and this kept things exciting for me.

Back to wrestling psychology, think back to what some people think are the greatest matches, and feuds, of all-time. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior and many others. I know I might get some heat for that last one, but look at the crowd response they had. Even though Hogan and Warrior were very limited in moves they sold one hell of a story and made you wonder who was going to win with a lot of near-falls.

Which brings me to 2005. A lot of the wrestlers who are good at working a story in the ring are the same ones from the 1980's and 90's that are still around: Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Undertaker, HHH (yes I am a not crazy about him but must give him his due), Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. There are others, but these are the standouts of the current WWE roster.

What's so big about wrestling psychology? Well without stories being told in the ring wrestling has become stale and very boring. Those legends from the past we all love and admire so much are remembered for the matches they put on, not because of their athletic abilities, if that were so today's wrestlers are far better athletes. What makes those superstars from yesteryear so memorable is how they could keep you guessing who would win and lose (even if you thought going in you knew the answer) they kept you on the edge of your seat with back and forth action.

Today's superstars can learn from the stars of the past in this area. Give us a story. Pick up the pace and keep us guessing. It is hard to teach this subject because the wrestler needs to have somewhat of a natural ability to keep things fresh in the ring and keep the crowd guessing.

A great example of wrestling psychology is a match that is considered to be one of the best of all-time. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage at WrestleMania III. I always tried to dissect this match and figure out what made it so popular. One, I liked both wrestlers, but still why was this considered by many to be the best match ever? When I thought of this column I came up with the answer. It was wrestling psychology.

by Joseph Huber


James Reinheimer wrote:
I guess your right but there were alot more top wrestling companys back then, there for there were alot more top wrestlers. There IMO is only 2 wrestlers at the moment in the wwe with good wrestling psychology. Thats Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle. One on One with no interferance they can have incredible matches. The Heart Throbs in tag team matches have incredible wrestling psychology as well.
milly48 wrote:
I completely agree with you, telling a story in the ring is really important and in my opinion is more important than any amount of moves in a wrestlers arsenal. It can make a would be bad match a good one (eg Hogan vs Warrior). A very good article.
Jay Tusch wrote:
Nice column, Joseph, but let me elaborate a bit more for you. Wrestling psychology isn't just the story the wrestlers tell in the ring. It's also about the entrance, promos, the theme music, the announcers putting different things over, the crowd, and everything else that's in a match. You said that a match is boring when the wrestlers fail to tell a story, but you didn't explain why. The reason why a match without a story is boring is because without a story, a pro wrestling match is just a pro wrestling match--meaning, its two guys throwing fake punches at each other. Whereas RoH markets to the fan who wants legitimately competitive pro wrestling matches and treats contests as a sport, the WWE openly admits that their business is sports entertainment. And in the business of sports entertainment, there's no reason for two guys to be fake fighting unless they've got a story behind their match.

And don't feel bad about including Hogan or Warrior. While their workrate was extremely mediocre in terms of movesets and selling, people forget that working the crowd is just as important as working your opponent. With the help of megapushes at the expense of other talent, they got over because their no-selling (the basic plague of ring psychology) made them seem invincible, and the crowd bought what Hogan and Warrior weren't selling.

Most wrestlers would love to work matches the way Hogan can. He doesn't have to take huge bumps or do silly spots (I always think the set up for the 619 is the dumbest thing I've ever seen), and he's enormously over, using the same moves he used 20 years ago. Hogan and Michaels get similar reactions, and Hogan does half the work. He must have been doing something right all this time.
Ben wrote:
wow, yeah. I am too young to remember WM III, but I have seen the tapes. I love that match and it is a perfect example of wrestling psycology.
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