Monday, August 3, 2009

Pro Wrestling Primer: Glossary of terms

Before we actually dive in to the subject of pro wrestling, it’s time for us to score MAJOR dork points. We at the Pro Wrestling Primer are actually going to list a glossary of terms that may or may not be used when discussing the True Sport of Kings.

Pro wrestling has its own terminology, just like any other sport or industry. As the general inner workings of the wrestling business became more exposed in the late ‘90s, terms like “angle,” “jobber,” “kayfabe,” and “mark” started to become more widely used among hardcore wrestling fans. At first, usage of these terms by fans was seen as a pretentious attempt to appear more aligned with the inner workings of the business than reality would suggest. Some wrestlers are against the idea of fans using the insider lingo when discussing the business. But times have been changing, whether they like it or not.
[Left: Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer. His newsletter was the first to expose the inner workings of the wrestling business to the fans, and is the template for all of the "dirtsheets" and websites that exist today.]

The infamous "20/20" report on the secrets of pro wrestling, 1984.

When wrestlers write their memoirs, they usually give readers a peek behind the curtain. They confirm or deny years of insider rumors, outline what goes into bringing wrestling matches to life, and they openly use insider terminology. As more books are published and DVDs are released, the more the industry terms come to surface. Although we do not intend to purposely use every piece of lingo listed, most of this glossary consists of basic terms that are public knowledge among die-hard wrestling fans. Due to that, I don’t think this somehow insults the wrestling business by defining and clarifying the terminology. Now let’s hook ‘em up!

Agent: The road agent is usually a retired veteran wrestler working for the promotion in a management position. They help the current wrestlers put together their matches, plan storylines, and relay specific instructions from the bookers.

Angle: The storyline leading up to the match. One wrestler attacks another for whatever reason, and the guy wants revenge.

Attitude Era: Referring to the time between 1997 and 2001 when the WWF shifted from being family-friendly to a more adult-themed product. Most wrestling fans would say that the Attitude Era ended at WrestleMania 17.

Babyface: The protagonist. The good guy wrestler that the fans are supposed to support on his way to victory.

Blade: A piece of a razor blade, usually concealed in a wrestler’s wrist tape or in their mouths. Blading is when a wrestler cuts their forehead, drawing blood to increase the drama of a match.

Blowoff: The final match in a feud.

Booker: The matchmaker, deciding who wins and loses and how.

Bump: When a wrestler takes a fall to the mat or the floor, it’s called taking a bump.

Bury/burial: When a promotion demotes a popular wrestler by having them appear to have jumped the shark in the fans’ eyes. Usually said wrestler begins losing matches regularly, or they are forced to participate in storylines and characterizations that are designed to make them lose credibility.

Dusty Finish: Usually a match ending in which the babyface appears to have won, but the decision is reversed on some sort of technicality. “Dusty” refers to Dusty Rhodes. Although he wasn’t the first to use that finish, he had the worst reputation for relying on them when booking the NWA and WCW.
[Left: Dusty Rhodes, the only wrestler to have a finish named after him.]

Finish: The conclusion of the match, and sometimes the chain of events leading to it.

Garbage wrestling: Violent matches that make use of weapons like chairs, tables, and seemingly everything else under the sun. Originally coined by Giant Baba of All Japan Pro Wrestling when he referred to Atsushi Onita’s FMW promotion as “garbage.”
[Right: FMW founder and Japanese senator Atsushi Onita, perhaps questioning the direction his promotion is taking.]

Gimmick: A wrestler’s in-ring character, what- ever he or she portrays themselves as to stand out from the rest.

Heat: The audience’s negative reaction towards the heel’s (see below) actions, and how much interest they have in seeing him get beaten up. “White heat” or “nuclear heat” is when the audience more or less has to be physically restrained from jumping the guardrails, which doesn’t happen often anymore. “X-Pac heat” (named for the audience's anti-reaction to former WWF wrestler Sean X-Pac Waltman circa 2002) is when the audience doesn’t react at all, which happens a lot. “Cheap heat” is going the easy route to get a negative reaction, like insulting the local sports franchises. “Canned heat” is when cheers or boos are piped into the arena over the PA or added to TV in post-production.

Heel: The antagonist. The bad guy wrestler who generates most of the interest in a big match because the theory is that fans are paying to see him get his ass kicked.
[Left: One of the all-time great heels, The Sheik, takes a boot from Bruno Sammartino, one of the all-time great babyfaces.]

Hooker: A wrestler who is highly skilled in the art of submission wrestling, with a wide knowledge of crippling holds known as “hooks.” In the early 20th century, these were the guys who worked in the carnivals, taking on all comers.
[Right: Cover for the Lou Thesz autobiography Hooker, chronicling the career of a great wrestler who was more than capable of tying your sorry ass up into a human pretzel.]

Hoss: Inspired by Hoss Cartwright from TV’s “Bonanza,” this is a term used primarily by WWE announcer Jim Ross to describe overly large wrestlers with a limited move capacity.

Hotshot: When a promoter rushes to a feud, the feud’s blowoff, or a big match on free TV (instead of pay-per-view) in order to boost business for the short term. It also applies to angles or heel/babyface turns that are done for shock value, instead of advancing a storyline.

Job: To do the job is to lose the match. Job guys (or jobbers) are the perennial losers…those no-name guys on Saturday morning TV who never stood a chance against anyone.
[Right: Bill & Randy Mulkey, the NWA's best jobber tag team in the mid-'80s.]

Kayfabe: Loosely derived from the Pig Latin pronunciation of the word “fake,” this term is used to describe the illusion that pro wrestling is a legitimate sport. Also used by wrestlers as a verbal signal to stop the discussion due to an outsider’s presence.

Lucha libre: Mexican pro wrestling, the translation of “free fighting.” Used to describe the typical Mexican wrestling style that consists of acrobatic high-flying moves. Luchadors are Mexican wrestlers.

National Geographic segment on Lucha Libre, 1991.

Mark: A carnival term used to describe a sucker. In wrestling, marks are the fans who believe that wrestling is 100% legitimate, and the wrestlers who believe their own hype. The term is also applicable to fans that excessively idolize a particular wrestler, promotion, or style of wrestling.

Mechanic: Auto mechanics fix cars. Wrestling mechanics fix wrestlers. Often, mechanics are the guys who feud with the future main event stars and help get them ready for the position. Other times, mechanics are the in-ring teachers helping younger wrestlers gain experience and ability.

Monster heel: Wrestling’s answer to Godzilla or King Kong. The unstoppable bad guy wrestler who mows down everything in his path, leaving a trail of broken bodies en route to the inevitable clash with the top good guy. As a rule of thumb, monster heels should either be gigantic, grotesque, or just plain scary.
[Left: Kamala, one of the great monster heels of the 1980s]

When a wrestler holds the fans’ interest to where they actually care about their in-ring character and whether they win or lose.

A sudden crowd reaction, be it positive or negative,
usually associated with a wrestler’s arrival in the arena.

Short for promotional interview, when the wrestlers get on the microphone and talk about how they’re gonna kick their
opponent’s ass in their next match. Either an interview or a skit that advances a storyline or feud.

One of the best promo men of all time, Rowdy Roddy Piper.

Psychology: The thread that holds a match together, the story, if you will. It can be as simple as a wrestler going after an opponent’s bad leg or trying to execute a move that they know will have a devastating effect on their opponent. An individual wrestler’s ring psychology is what gets the audience involved in their performance, either by good wrestling or the mannerisms they display.

Puroresu: Japanese pro wrestling. The term takes the Japanese pronunciation of “professional wrestling”—“purofesshonaru resuringu”—and shortens it. Although a pro wrestling glossary of terms exposes extreme dorkdom for sure, I’m still not enough of a dork to actually try pronouncing “puroresu” on a regular basis. We’re just gonna keep calling it “Japanese wrestling” like the typical gaijins we are.
[Right: Two great practitioners of puroresu at work. The late Mitsuharu Misawa prepares to take a hard shot from Kenta Kobashi.]

Push: When a wrestler gains popularity (or notoriety) with wins and positive exposure. Maybe they’ve beaten a better-known wrestler, or they’re involved with a high-profile storyline.

Put over: Enhancing an opponent’s credibility with the fans. This can be done by losing a match or winning in a way that elevates the opponent’s status, or by complimenting them in an interview.

Rasslin’: Derived from the phonetic spelling of how the word “wrestling” sounds when spoken with a Southern accent. Refers to that region’s style of wrestling that is synonymous with the old NWA-affiliated promotions like Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid-South Wrestling, sometimes in a derogatory manner by non-Southerners.

Here's some good old-fashioned Texas RASSLIN' for y'all!
Fritz Von Erich vs. Joe Blanchard, 1966.

Rest hold: A submission hold applied lightly at a designated point in the match to conserve energy and prepare for the next series of moves.

Rib: Practical jokes played on or by wrestlers, to either break the monotony on the road or get revenge for whatever reason. A ribber is, of course, a wrestler with a reputation for playing practical jokes.
[Right: The late Owen Hart, said to be one of the most notorious ribbers in the WWF locker room.]

Ring general: A wrestler with all the ability to command a match with drama and believability on a consistent basis.

Ring rat: A derogatory term used for wrestling groupies, also referred to as arena rats.

Selling: Reacting to moves as if they were full-force, and convincing the audience that you’re really taking a beating from your opponent. Simply put, the fans have got to buy what the wrestlers are selling. Overselling is overreacting to another wrestler’s offense, like tumbling head over heels across the ring from a simple punch. No-selling is not giving any reaction to the other wrestler’s offense at all.
[Right: Ricky Morton of the Rock 'n' Roll Express. His ability to sell a beating started many a riot in the arenas when fans would jump the guardrail to try rushing the ring so they could help him fight back!]

Shoot: When the wrestlers drop the script and go at it for real, be it in the ring or on the microphone. Former wrestlers also do “shoot interviews,” where they reveal confidential information on the industry or their fellow wrestlers. A “shooter” is a wrestler who has a legitimate fighting background, be it in Olympic-style wrestling or mixed martial arts. “Shootfighting” is the term for mixed martial arts, used in comparison to pro wrestling’s staged performances.

Smart mark: “A mark with a high IQ,” as the late Brian Pillman put it. Not really, but Pillman supposedly coined the term in the first place. Used to describe fans that enjoy pro wrestling despite knowing fully well that it’s staged. They have a general knowledge of the inner workings of the wrestling business based on stories from insider newsletters like Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer. Generally looked down upon by a lot of wrestlers for believing they know more than they really do about the wrestling industry, as well as their supposed inability to suspend their disbelief.

Brian Pillman coins the term "smart mark" at ECW's Cyberslam '96.

Sports-Entertainment: The infamous term coined by Vince McMahon to differentiate the WWF/E product from traditional pro wrestling, and broaden his audience. The opposite of “rasslin’,” mixing wrestling with overly scripted storylines and borrowing concepts from other forms of popular culture and entertainment.

Spot: A move that is specifically designed to get a particular audience reaction, or determine the pace of the match. A high spot is a move that is particularly exciting or dangerous.

Spotfest: When high spots are the order of the day. At best, they are highly athletic and exciting exhibitions of impressive moves that often resembles pro wrestling’s version of a kung fu movie fight scene. Or a car crash. At worst, the exhibition degenerates into a senseless display of athleticism, employing little use of selling and psychology.

Squash: A one-sided match that usually ends quickly. Remember when you used to watch wrestling on Saturday mornings? And you got pissed because most of the matches pitted a well-known wrestler against some poor sap who never stood a chance? Those were squash matches, simply designed to establish the better-known wrestlers and the moves they had in their arsenal.

1980s squash match pitting King Kong Bundy & Big John Studd vs.
Ivan McDonald & Daryl Bowlin. Three guesses who wins.

Stiff: 1) When a wrestler puts full force into their offense, be it intentional or otherwise. 2) A larger-sized wrestler with limited mobility, often due to overuse of steroids or growth hormones.

Strong Style: A term used to describe a style of Japanese wrestling that emphasizes overly stiff contact and working a more shootfighting-based offense.

Tapout: Giving up to a submission move by tapping on the mat like they do in mixed martial arts. Previously, a submission was verbally acknowledged, but the tapout was more obvious and exciting. The tap- out was introduced to pro wrestling in 1995 by former ECW wrestler Taz, who was a big fan of MMA and por- traying a character similar to UFC fighters.
[Right: Taz. ECW's Human Suplex Machine pioneered the tapout in pro wrestling during the mid-to-late '90s.]

Transitional champion: The holder of a traditionally short title reign that bridges two longer-running reigns by more popular champions.

Turn: When a wrestler switches from babyface to heel, or vice versa.

Tweener: A wrestler whose personality blurs the line between babyface and heel. Also used to describe wrestlers who are cheered by fans, despite employing cheating tactics typically done by heels.

Worker: I crack up at the online debates over who is and isn’t a good worker. From what I’ve deduced, this is what a good worker can do: 1) draw that big money and fan interest, 2) wrestle a decent match that looks good, and 3) not legitimately injure their co-workers in the process. Hardcore wrestling fans the world over say that Hulk Hogan was one of the worst workers of all time, yet he drew more money and fans than anyone else in North America. Somebody is wrong here, and I’m not sure that it’s Hogan. Good workers can also lead a lesser opponent through a match and make them look like they have more in-ring ability than they really do.

Two of the worst workers ever drawing the smallest crowd of all time. Right.

Worked shoot: A storyline that weaves in elements of reality, like using an off-screen incident to build the on-screen rivalry between the combatants.

Workrate: I rarely use this term myself, and have had a hard time finding a good definition for it. Internet fans used to jizz themselves silly using “workrate” to describe how many impressive moves Wrestler A knew how to do. My impression is that the term has more to do with summing up a wrestler’s overall in-ring performance level than it does with the ability to do every wrestling move you can name.

And there we have it. Don’t you feel like you’ve learned something today? Now that you’ve gotten your education in proper pro wrestling lingo, we can begin to make our way to ringside where the action takes place! Back to you, Gorilla Monsoon!

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