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WRESTLING COLUMNS

The Lost Art of Ring Psychology
Febuary 22, 2005 by Eric James Taylor


These days in the wrestling business, it seems most performers lack the ability to tell a story that interests the fans. Good faces in the past have been able to get the crowd to rally to their side with the help of great storylines and believable heels. Great heels have been able to get the crowd hot to see them lose, making that desire even larger with every win. This article examines a few performers that had unbelievable talent with controlling the crowd's reactions.

Arn Anderson: Arn had it all. Size, speed, technical ability, you name it. However, I must state that his most amazing talent was his ability to get a rise out the fans. Whether you loved him or hated him, you felt something every time he came through the curtain. An example of his talent is Superbrawl '91 vs. Bobby Eaton. In the first Superbrawl, Arn defended his WCW Television title against the newly turned singles wrestler Bobby Eaton. This was before their partnership in the Dangerous Alliance, and after the feud between Anderson/Blanchard and the Midnight Express. Bobby was never too hot with the crowd as a face, but after watching Bobby win this match, you'd think he was Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3. Arn was that good at getting the crowd into his matches. Not to mention his infamous heel turns. Every three years or so, WCW/NWA felt the need to turn him face, seemingly only to have an excuse to turn him heel viciously. His role in Ric Flair's attack on Dusty Rhodes in '86, His role in the Horsemen's group turn in '90, and of course the one everybody forgets, his turn on Dustin Rhodes in '93. In each of these turns, I was surprised to see Arn get out of the building alive with how well he played with the crowd.

Nikita Koloff: Nikita is one of my all-time favorites. Hopefully I will write a bio about him someday here on this site. His ability to work a crowd wasn't exactly natural, but he was given a cheap heat character to start out with, and pushed into the right situations at exactly the right times. Given a Russian gimmick in the mid 1980's, he didn't exactly have a problem getting heat. For the first year of his career, he rarely said a single word, yet the crowds screamed for his blood night after night. The moment he became a star was the night he defeated Magnum T.A. for the U.S. title in the final match of their best of 7 series. Being pushed into a match with Magnum, who at the time was such an unbelievable talent, definately helped boost his career. After Magnum's accident, they turned Nikita face and paired him with Dusty Rhodes. Basically, this guy was being paired with and learning from the best stars in the NWA. It definately rubbed off. An example of his being able to work a crowd is his match against Terry Taylor at Starrcade '87. I have covered this match before, but I have to state again that the pop Nikita gets at the end of this match is perhaps the most impressive pop I have ever seen. You don't get crowd reactions like that unless you have the great control of ring psychology.

Jake "The Snake" Roberts: Perhaps the master of ring psychology. While never really getting too big a push at all in any territory he was ever in, this guy's biggest gift was his ability to be an evil heel. As a face, he was okay. As a heel, he truly shined. An example of this has to be at Tuesday in Texas '91, the night he attacked Randy Savage with his snake. Jake could not only get the crowd to boo him...he could not only get them to rise out of their seats and throw stuff at him...he could actually get the fans to scream in fear over what they were seeing be done to their heroes. Now granted, doing heinous actions can get a rise out of anyone, but I dare you to watch any of the horrible things Jake did in the ring and tell me you don't believe he actually enjoyed it. Those an oscar worthy performances, folks.

And my last examination,
The Great Muta/Kokushi Muso/Keiji Mutoh: As The Great Muta, a gimmick started in 1989 in the NWA, he helped build Sting into the enormous superstar he became by getting crowds to rally behind the American hero against the silent Japanese threat that was steamrolling through most of the NWA's top stars. However, it was in Japan that his mastery of ring psychology, second only to Jake Roberts' in my opinion, truly became evident. He could have a crowd hanging on his every move, his every facial expression, his every thought. If this confuses you, by all means, get a hold of a copy of his match from '96 against Jushin Liger in which he does the unthinkable: he actually ripped Liger's mask off. Beside the Koloff/Taylor match, this is probably one of my favorite matches to watch, if only to hear the usually silent Japanese crowd screaming "Liger!". I don't mean all at once, i mean individually, you can hear one person here and there actually frightened for the safety and well being of Liger. It's an amazing match to watch, and it truly representd Muta as a master of ring psychology. Come to think of it, most of his matches have that effect on the crowd. He has had some of the greatest, bloodiest matches in Japan. Whether he wrestled as the Great Muta against such stars as The Great Kabuki, Hiroshi Hase, or Bob Sapp, as Kokushi Muso against stars like George Hines, The Great Koji, or Kaz Hayashi, or as Keiji Mutoh against guys like Chono, Genichiro Tenryu, or Masahiro Chono. To further prove how much of a Mutoh mark I am, you must check out his match against Masahiro Chono, where he starts the match as Keiji Mutoh, gets frustrated halfway through, walks to the back, and re-emerges moments later as the Great Muta. Amazing match.

Well that's it for this time kids. My next article will focus on what I think was the greatest era in sports entertainment history. Until then...

by It's me, It's me, It's E-J-T...


Brad Dykens wrote:
Anderson, yes, Roberts, hell yes, but Koloff" Umm not sure about that one but you're entitled to your opinion. I think Ted DiBiase would have been a more fitting choice. Others who pop into my head are Tully Blanchard, Bob Orton, Greg Valentine, Jack Brisco, Matt Borne (who turned a goofy gimmick like Doink into a believable heel), Roddy Piper, Mike Rotundo, Randy Savage, Terry Funk, Bad News Allen, Harly Race, Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Undertaker and many more. But in my personal opinion, the two best ring psychologists are Jake Roberts and Ted DiBiase.
Rhey wrote:
I have one question for you: WHERE IS TED DIBIASE" He was probably the best to wrestle psychological matches, yet hes strangley absent from your list. Next time, put more thought into your column.-
Thomas wrote:
Hey, I liked your column but I think you left out one of the greatest Ring Psychologist (behind Jake Roberts of course.) Terry Funk!!! I'm sure other people will agree with me. Funk was, in my opinion, the "Heel of the Eighties." I'm sure everyone is firmiliar with his fued's with JYD and Hulk Hogan in the WWF and especially later with Flair in NWA. But my favourite was a tournament held in Puerto Rico in 1987 (I think). Funk defeated Rick Martel and Barry Windham in the first two rounds and it came down to Terry Funk and Carlos Colon in the final's. Funk had whipped the crowd into such a frenzy, so bad that he had to be escorted to the ring by armed military police! Well, much to my disappointment Colon won, but in hindsight that was probably a good thing because if Funk had of won the crowd probably would have caused a major riot and the Funker would have been tar and feathered, or much worse. Does anyone else remember this tournament"
Eric James Taylor wrote:
while ted dibiase was great, he was never in my hit list. this was my column, if i remember correctly. for space pruposes (to avoid writing a ten page column), i had to leave out certain people i didn't think were as hot as these guys. if i were to lengthen it, i think i'd add dusty rhodes, bret hert, ted dibiase (not just to appease other people), jerry lawler, and the road warriors (never forget their heel turn in late 1988). you know what they say about opinions...
Brad Dykens wrote:
The Road Warriors/"!"! RING PSYCHOLOGISTS""" HAHAHAHAH Boom boom smash smash power move pinfall.
Jay Michaels wrote:
Arn ruled....easily the most underappreciated wrestler of his era, in my book....Funny that you mentioned his match with Eaton at Superbrawl '91, since I just watched that tape the other day, and thought to myself: "Damn, neither one of these guys would even get a second look from WWE if they were starting out today, despite the fact that they were two of the greatest workers of their era,strictly because of their lack of steroid abuse"......no, Vince would rather give us stiffs like Tomko and Chris Masters.

Ring psychology is a lost art, to be sure, but I think its just a natural byproduct of the "style over substance" attitude that prevails in the WWE...they're more interested in the guy's appearance, as opposed to whether he can actually work, sell, and tell a story in the ring. Harley Race never had a six-pack, other than the ones he'd drink after his matches, but the man could work his ass off. Nowadays, he couldnt even get booked on RAW, cuz he wouldnt have "the look".
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