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
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 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
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.
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.-
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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