~ Steve Allen, The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestlingnote The sentence "The punk rockers will battle the mountain men" was said over a clip of the Tag Team the Headbangers (Mosh and Thrasher), whose gimmick centered around Heavy Metal, not Punk Rock.
"To those who believe in the beauty of professional wrestling, nothing needs to be said. For those who don't appreciate wrestling, nothing could be said to change their minds."
~ Vince McMahon
Professional Wrestling, as the term is understood today, is a form of scripted "sports entertainment" in which athletes face off in loosely choreographed matches with pre-determined outcomes, in a manner resembling a type of freestyle combat loosely based on Greco-Roman wrestling. Modern professional wrestling derived from "Lancashire catch-as-catch-can", a grappling style developed by carnival promoters in late 19th century Britain, which soon gained popularity in America as a legitimate form of athletic competition. By the early years of the 20th centurynote It's impossible to know exactly when wrestling started being worked because of the highly secretive nature of kayfabe in the early years; Frank Gotch, who was world champion from 1908 to 1913, is generally considered to have won and defended his title legitimately, while other sources suggest fights had been rigged as early as 1870, and worked matches devolving into legitimate fights were a common occurrence as late as the 1970s, the sport had evolved into a "work" where the winners of bouts were determined ahead of time by the organizers. From this arrangement, a system gradually evolved of numerous territorial wrestling leagues across the US, cooperating under the auspices of the National Wrestling Alliance (which the WWE, WCW, ECW, and pretty much any other wrestling league worth mentioning all were affiliated with at one point), which sponsored the world championship and other titles, picked the champions, and arranged for the top talent from the territories to go on tour and gain national exposure. In 1963 the Capitol Wrestling Corporation, once the NWA's New England territory, split from the group, rechristened itself the Worldwide Wrestling Federation (later the WWF/WWE), and over the following decades expanded on a national scale to create the wrestling industry as it exists today.
Pro wrestling is usually full of concepts from different types of shows. Each match is roughly choreographed (though not usually in much detail since wrestlers don't have much rehearsal time, let alone for whole matches, given that they wrestle twenty-eight days per month on average—most of a match's details will be improvised, with only the beginning, the end, and few key "spots" in between specifically planned; the mark of a good wrestler is being able to make match flow naturally despite the lack of more than a rough outline of the plan). World Wrestling Entertainment's programs remind one of nothing so much as a Soap Opera for guys, complete with all the emotion, melodrama, and occasional comic relief that the phrase implies. Other organizations, such as Ring of Honor, strive for a more gritty, realistic presentation, but still incorporate many soap opera elements.
The history of pro wrestling is a bit convoluted; until the late '80s/early '90s, promoters claimed that wrestling was a legitimate sport, and attempted to hide the fact that it was scripted at all costs. The truth is the performances are as standardized and stylized as Japanese Kabuki theatre, or Commedia dell'Arte — each match is a miniature set piece, using stock characters, "plots" and "twists". This has become more obvious in recent years with the increased sense of theatre provided by the major promoters and programs. As more and more wrestling fans grew wise to the fact that wrestling was scripted and choreographed, promoters had no choice but to reveal the secret that everybody already knew by that point anyway. Vince McMahon went so far as to televise a speech on an episode of Monday Night Raw, in which he promised to "stop insulting (fans') intelligence" and referred to Raw as an "action-adventure" series.
All wrestling organizations will have a "booker", or person who decides which wrestlers are going over on any given "card" or event. The larger wrestling organizations will have full booking teams, made of bookers (who help wrestlers lay out the matches) and scriptwriters (who tell the bookers the companies' long-term goals with the storylines). These are often called the "creative teams", or simply just "creative" (as in "Creative has no ideas for your character at the moment"). Booking wrestling matches and storylines is a difficult skill; most of the boom times for wrestling can largely be accounted for through good booking of matches. Poor booking can be disastrous: WCW was literally destroyed through terrible creative decisions, first under the stewardship of Vince Russo and a few others, then through the WWE's terrible "Invasion" vanity trip.
However, as many Sitcom plots (and Botchamania) have implied, Professional Wrestling is very real in the sense that mistimed inexperience can leave someone seriously injured. Professional wrestlers are like stuntmen; they're acting out a scene, but physically, and with the chance of injury, not to mention they get no second takes. And whatever you may have heard, they do hit each other, although their moves are generally designed to seem much more devastating than they are, and they avoid harm whenever they feasibly can without it looking too obvious. A professional wrestler literally puts his life in his opponent's hands several times in a single match; the slightest misstep could result in a broken bone, a broken neck, paralysis, possibly even death. Don't Try This at Home.
If you see a word you don't understand, it may be helpful to refer to these links:
For a guide to how to effectively book a match see here
If you see an unfamiliar name, it's very likely that it is a famous wrestler's real name or earlier persona. It's easier to just use the search function at the other wiki rather than try to use a list. As a general rule, the wrestler's most famous persona will be used instead of their real name, although different fans will have a different opinion as to which persona was the most famous, and then to add to the confusion, the WWE/F has the annoying habit of trademarking a wrestler's name so that the wrestler can't use it after they leave the promotion.
Sadly, this is starting to become true as of late, as professional wrestlers nowadays seem to have very short lifespans. Wrestling has had a number of high-profile deaths that seem to come out of nowhere, most notably Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. Certainly fans are now conditioned to expect any wrestler to die at any time.
Jim Cornette's opinion on the reasons for this can be listened to here and here.
To their credit, the WWE has worked hard in making their company more safe, from eliminating chair shots to the head (which wrestlers like Shelton Benjamin have stated can cause headaches for up to a week) to a stricter drug policy.
According to WWE themselves, Triple H and The Undertaker (two of their biggest names) were both fined after Triple H hit 'Taker in the head with a chair during their match at WrestleMania XXVII. To put this in perspective, at the time of that event, Triple H was an executive vice president in the company as well as the son-in-law of the owner while Undertaker was their most veteran performer with among the largest amounts of influence. So they took the health of their performers so seriously, they were willing to fine people that would be otherwise untouchable and who they would otherwise be adverse to insulting.
After the recent passing of Randy Savage a report was put out that showed over 25% of performers from WrestleMania VII in 1991 were dead. At 58, Randy Savage had lived over 10 years longer than the other deceased.
Xplosion to Impact, Thunder to Nitro. People often cite Smackdown as a B-Show compared to RAW, but it's more like a second A-Show in terms of this trope.
The modern ECW was almost a middle ground of this trope. It had its own storylines and World title and was considered an actual brand that is given PPV time, but its main purpose was to get talent ready for the A shows by giving them television experience and having them work with seasoned veterans such as William Regal, Tommy Dreamer, Finlay, etc.
Velocity and Heat were B Shows to Smack Down! and RAW respectively.
WWE Main Event and WWE Superstars are both considered the B show to both Smackdown! and Raw. WWE NXT could be thrown in there too, even though these days it's a show for their developmental talent.
This trope was used once when Chyna was wrestling Road Dogg and he wore a cup.
Part of indy wrestler The Human Tornado's gimmick was that he absolutely no-sold all groin shots - in fact it was more likely that his opponent would hurt him/herself trying one.
Azusa Kudo, of FMW, was able to shrug off any and all groin shots due to his gimmick being a post-op transsexual.
Beauty Is Bad: Female wrestlers who are pretty usually have to work extra hard to prove themselves as wrestlers and even then they will get hated purely because they are pretty. God help them if they have ever done even a bit of modelling. Women wrestlers who aren't conventionally beautiful usually get a free pass and are considered wrestlers regardless of whatever experience they have. This can sometimes cross over into the men's divisions with the guys getting called "gay" and "pretty boys".
Used to varying degrees with woman wrestlers. WWE and TNA's women never bleed on purpose, by contrast Japanese women brutalise each other just as much as the men. Averted occasionally, particularly in 2002-03 in WWE where there were a lot of women's hardcore matches and the likes of Victoria and Trish Stratus bled quite a lot. Roxxi in TNA is another aversion.
Also somewhat averted in a 2010 TNA match between Daffney and Tara, which was a First Blood Match. Only somewhat because at the conclusion of that match there was only a tiny trickle of blood.
Big "WHAT?!": Originated in WWE (WHAT?!) by Stone Cold Steve Austin (WHAT?!), this has become a fan chant (WHAT?!) at WWE events. (WHAT?!)
Most face/heel rivalries in Professional Wrestling play out like this, with most of the drama centered around the heel cheating and tricking his way to victory against a more powerful and/or skilled babyface. Whereas a heel who's legitimately skilled gets cheered a lot of the time, the heel still gets booed because the fans know he doesn't "deserve" to keep winning and are waiting until he finally gets demolished.
Prominent examples (as heels, of course):
Jerry Lawler was pretty much the Ric Flair of Memphis.
Triple H is a perfect example of both. As a heel, he can't win a match clean to save his life, yet as a face, all he needs are his fists and maybe a sledgehammer in order to take out the rest of the roster.
A variant specific to tag team matches, and forming the standard psychology for most of them: The heel team is more skilled at actual tag team wrestling, isolating one face and utilizing numerous tag team maneuvers. This builds tension for the Hot Tag, whereupon the fresh babyface finally tags in and demolishes the heels singlehandedly.
Happens to women wrestlers often when promoted from a indie promotion to a major one and or because of a poorly-executed gimmick change.
Chyna started in the WWF looking very manly, and could hold her own with male wrestlers such as Kane, X-Pac & Chris Jericho, over the years however she had more and more surgery to make herself look more feminine and moved towards fighting women. She's now out of the wrestling business and makes a living as a porn actress.
The womens division itself in the WWF has gone through this, female wrestlers used to compete in anything from steel cage matches and street fights to Evening Gown matches, nowadays, they just get the occasional 2 minute match every other week as if that is all they can handle (and at times, it probably was).
Cool Old Guy: Any wrestler who's in their late 40s or older, but can still kick ass and take a beating. Embodied by the one and only Funker himself, Terry Funk.
The technical term for this in pro wrestling circles is a "squash match". Not nearly as common nowdays as it was in the 80's, when most televised matches consisted of a star wrestler pitted against a hopeless "jobber" who would be destroyed in a matter of minutes without offering any offence at all. Still occasionally happens in modern times, especially if a wrestler is being given a "Goldberg push."
Perhaps the two biggest examples are WrestleMania 1 where King Kong Bundy beat SD Jones in 27 seconds and SummerSlam 1988 where Ultimate Warrior defeated The Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Championship in under 2 minutes to end a 15 month championship reign.
Brodus Clay on his recent return ran a string of 80s style Curb Stomps as the Funkasaurus.
Cutscene Power to the Max: When a wrestler performs a finisher during a match, it isn't always enough to end it despite the beating their opponent may have already taken beforehand, yet if a wrestler performs a finisher outside of a match the victim often stays down for a very long time.
Demoted to Extra: The pro-wrestling term for this trope is referred to as being buried.
Notable examples include Tatanka, the Undertaker (moreso early in his career, but even now it's considered a formidable task), Hulk Hogan in the 80's, Rob Van Dam as ECW World Television Champion, Brunno Sammartino's legendary world title reign, and most famously of them all, Bill Goldberg.
So far averted with The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Started at Wrestlemania VII and still going strong. It's basically a new gimmick; in the leadup to every WrestleMania, somebody steps up and claims they're going to end the streak.
A few of the superstars that he has defeated at WrestleMania: Ric Flair (WM X8), Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka (WM VII - Taker's WM debut), Triple H (WM X-Seven, XXVII and XXVIII), Shawn Michaels (WM XXV and XXVI), Kane (WM XIV and XX), and CM Punk (WM 29).
Most recently displayed (in the same week, no less) with Sheamus and Drew McIntyre.
Do Not Call Me Paul: Triple H and The Big Show have both said this to fans that have called them by their birth names. If you meet a wrestler, it is usually a good idea to address them by their ring name.
Double Standard: Many but one of the more recent ones involves the infamous "Piggie James" angle. People were outraged at Michelle and Layla making fun of Mickie's weight and anyone who called Mickie overweight on the IWC was immediately vilified. Yet many people started cruelly calling Michelle "Skeletor" on the internet and calling her underfed and a stick insect. Anorexia is just as big a problem as obesity and Michelle has struggled with anorexia in the past.
Draco in Leather Pants: The pro wrestling term for this trope is called Popular Heel. CM Punk, The Road Warriors, Chris Jericho, and on and on and on...
Early-Installment Weirdness: Most wrestlers go through several looks or gimmicks before hitting superstardom. A select few are so dramatically different it's hard to believe they're the same person. See Scott Hall's Hulk-like physique and mustache in AWA, or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's long blond hair in World Class Championship Wrestling.
Evil Is Dumb: Edge has nearly been bent in half by the World's Greatest Tag Team, bloodied in steel cages and forced to wrestle giants with a broken hand and not use his cast. He was still able to win through sheer determination and will to win. As a Heel, he can hardly win a match without relying on shortcuts, outside interference, manipulation of the general manager or outright cheating
Also, in WCW for a short time, Lance Storm held the Saskatchewan Hardcore International Title.
Terri Runnels also ran the Terri Invitational Tournament in 1999.
TNA. That is all.
Terri, Jacqueline, and Ryan Shamrock: the Pretty Mean Sisters.
The Gambler: Kinda. Wrestling had a The Gambler, but he wasn't very lucky.
An old gimmick of Kevin Nash in was that of "Vinnie Vegas", a fast talking conman and gambler. His finisher (now used as one of The Undertaker' Five Moves of Doom) was "Snake Eyes" (dropping your opponent face-first onto a turnbuckle).
Game-Breaking Injury: Submission artists employ this tactic all the time. They will use a variety of locks and holds that target a specific part of the human body until it will become too painful to use. Not actually referring to Triple H's quad tears.
Generally played straight, although occasionally subverted. Batista, who turned face when he heard his stablemates plotting against him and who displayed above average keenness as a face, is the biggest of those.
The most egregious example? Sting, who is commonly referred to as "The dumbest man in wrestling". Although, he's averted it mightily over his years in TNA.
Just Friends: This trope often plays out between a valet/manager, the wrestler who is romantically entangled with said valet, and a 3rd person who is often the wrestler being managed by the valet or someone who keeps rescuing the valet from attacks by opponents of the boy/girlfriend.
Triple H, Kurt Angle and Stephanie McMahon name dropped the trope several times when Triple H became jealous of the attention Kurt and Stephanie were paying each other when Kurt kept saving Stephanie from The Rock. Of course, it resulted in a triple threat match with The Rock for the WWF Championship, at SummerSlam in 2000.
Somewhat surprisingly, you don't have to have tremendous physical strength to execute a number of non-luchador moves. Part of this is the fact that a large number of moves require (or are more safely performed with) the cooperation of the person getting slammed or what have you.
Take Shawn Michaels, for instance. He looked pretty scrawny compared to most other main-eventers, but he could still execute a scoop slam.
No Such Thing As HR: A contract dispute with the boss? A love triangle with another wrestler and his girl? Suspicions of trying to stage a hostile takeover of the company? There's only way to settle something like that... in the ring!
Pec Flex: Trust us. This trope is pretty popular in professional wrestling.
Popularity Power: Wrestling runs on the fans taking an interest in you rather than liking you. It's an old expression among wrestlers that "it doesn't matter if the fans love you or hate you, as long as they care".
Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: For all we know, WWE may have INVENTED this trope. Just ask The Rock ("If ya suh-mellllll....what the ROCK....is....COOKING!") or Booker T ("Can you dig it....SUCKA?!) or especially the guy who stamped his whole goddamn meal ticket with this trope ("MMMMMisterrrrrr....Kennedy....KEN-NE-DY!")
Via intentional disqualification (or count out) by the (usually) Heel champion who knows the (usually) Face challenger has them beat. Often leads to a "Title changes hands via DQ (or count out)" stipulation being added to prevent this.
Wrestlers' real-life issues often provide fodder for their self-based characters' wrestling storylines.
One of the most famous examples is the Matt Hardy/Edge feud: Edge stole Matt's girlfriend (Lita) while he was out with an injury (and subsequently released by WWE); when Matt returned, his first feud was with Edge, and much ado was made of the Edge/Lita/Matt triangle.
His brother Jeff's drug issues were also used as the basis of Jeff's feud with the Straight EdgeCM Punk.
There is absolutely no situation that cannot be resolved with a wrestling match on PAY PER VIEW! ORDER NOW!
Kayfabe, in the old days, was major Serious Business, with at least one instance of a wrestler losing a court case because he would not break kayfabe, even under oath.
Then there's the Fan Dumb. Everything from what qualifies as a "world title" to how seriously wrestling should take itself. The fact that wrestling draws upon the framework of a sport while actually being entertainment creates a lot of this thinking, since fans often try to see some kind of order or hierarchy that doesn't exist.
She's Got Legs: Often used with the female manager/valet — which see Miss Elizabeth in the 2-on-3 match at SummerSlam for when used minimally for maximum effect. Taken to the extreme during the Attitude Era (and similar on WCW) with Stacy Keibler (42 inches of "'nuff said").
Slut Shaming: Zig-zagged. "Slut" and variations on it are popular chant against heel divas, like in the cases of Eve Torres, Stephanie McMahon, and Lita. But at other times, the heels will be prudes (like Right to Censor or Molly Holly) and the faces will be willing to strip for the audience and provide other Fanservice.
Tag Team: Every tag team match ever, starting with Tiger Daula and Fazul Mohammed vs. Whiskers Savage and Milo Steinborn in Houston, TX on October 2, 1936 and continuing all the way to today.
Literalized by WCW starting in 1993 with the infamous "Disney tapings," when they did huge TV tapings for their syndicated weekend show WCW Worldwide, at a studio at Disney World in Orlando. These tapings served to give away title changes and other storyline developments months in advance, exposing the business and essentially etching everything in stone. This also meant that WCW drew ZERO dollars at the gate.
TNA took this even further, doing both their weekly TV show AND their "PPVs" at Universal Studios, also drawing ZERO dollars at the gate.
And if there are, the assumption is that they're shrieking fangirls who don't know a Sharpshooter from a suplex.
Completely and utterly averted and destroyed with All Japan Women's Pro-Wrestling. During the '70s and '80s, tag teams like the Beauty Pair and Crush Gals enjoyed massive mainstream popularity among girls to the point where arenas were packed mainly with screaming girls.
Also the majority of Hardy Boyz fans were screaming young girls, demonstrated by the massive pops they got whenever they removed their shirts during matches. The likes of Lita and Trish Stratus also proved to draw in hundreds of female fans.
Notoriously averted. World Wrestling Entertainment has (at least in recent years) gained a reputation for welcoming athletes of all ethnic backgrounds, except that it's one of the most goyish entertainment franchises in history. In the past 20 years or so, Goldberg (in WCW and WWE) and Raven (Scott Levy) (in ECW and TNA to a degree) are the only prominent Jews to really have reached main event status. Scotty Goldman (a.k.a. Colt Cabana) famously quit the company after enduring anti-Semitic harassment from his trainer, and Paul Heyman has been outspoken in his condemnation of latent anti-Semitism in the wrestling business.
Although in this case there is a sensible reason for this, as wrestling events normally occur on Friday, Saturday & Sundays nights, Jews who follow Shabbat simply tend not to become professional wrestlers as they can only work 1/3 of the shows other wrestlers do.
However, when Paul Heyman was doing color for Raw in 2001, he made references to being Jewish nearly every week. Perhaps the best was when J.R. asked him if he'd ever had BBQ sauce on a bagel. Or when Paul insisted on calling Albert (Matt "Tensai" Bloom, who himself is Jewish)'s finishing move the Meshuginator every week. He once called Molly Holly a shiksa (a derogatory Yiddish word for a non-Jewish woman, which Molly is.) Jerry Lawler once remarked in the mid 1990s that he thought judo was what bagels were made from. Um...
Then you have them referring to Heyman as a "Creative Rabbi" in the Universe 3.0 trailer for WWE '13.
Has become a standby for Money in the Bank winners. The big fan-favorite face has just retained his championship title in a grueling effort against all odds - and, often enough, against multiple opponents. Thinking the battle is finally over, he lifts the belt triumphantly above his head to the delirious cheers of the crowd. But....not so fast, bucko! An ominous entrance theme blares over the P.A. and the face's mortal enemy - the promotion's most dastardly heel - struts into the arena carrying his Money in the Bank championship opportunity contract, which he has acquired either fairly or not. The big main-event match starts all over again as the heel cashes in his contract and - following a brave but futile effort by the exhausted face - gets a pinfall to become the new World Champion.
Only a couple of people have announced before hand when they would cash in the briefcase and stick to it; the first person being Rob Van Dam, who had a legitimate full-length title match with John Cena at ECW One Night Stand. The second; none other than John Cena, who cashed in his briefcase for a full-length title match with CM Punk on the 1000th episode of WWE Raw. He also became the first to cash in the briefcase and not win the title. Daniel Bryan said after he won Money in the Bank that he would wait and cash it at WrestleMania. Then he became the punching bag for Mark Henry during his feud with The Big Show, and at TLC after Henry's and Show's match cashed his contract in, claiming that the experience had made him realize he may not even make it to WrestleMania, and therefore passing by opportunities presenting themselves right then was foolish.
Inverted when CM Punk did this to Edge using the Money in the Bank contract. This time it was the face using the contract at the opportune moment. Punk later lampshades this, stating that had he done it to anyone but Edge, he would have been perceived as the bad guy. Edge had won a title using the exact same tactic twice, so this was seen as karma coming back to bite him.
And then hilariously averted in 2011, also by CM Punk, when Alberto Del Rio came down to cash in his contract, CM Punk kicked him in the back of the head before the referee had the chance to ring the bell.
Momoiro Clover Z, an obscure Japanese Idol group whose gimmicks revolve around professional wrestling and Toku, they're even appearing on an actual match as Keiji Mutoh's allies. In return, several NJPW casts also appear as guests in their live concerts.