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Wrestling Psychology
"I think that Shawn's psychology is a little off so far..."
Jerry Lawler, leaning on the fourth wall to chide Shawn Michaels during his famous oversell match against Hulk Hogan

One often hears fans talking about pro wrestlers displaying great psychology. When one says this, they aren't talking about a wrestler being a Warrior Therapist. No, they're talking about wrestling psychology, which defines how much a wrestler stays in character during their matches. A match with great psychology often ends up looking like a real fight; a match with poor psychology is often a spotfest.

The first half of wrestling psychology is to follow a consistent strategy throughout the match. This can be as simple as working a body part, weakening it through constant attack to leave it open for a match-finishing move. It can also be a more complicated "mind game", with a wrestler constantly taunting his opponent in an attempt to goad him into making a mistake. Other popular strategies include immobilizing a high-flying opponent and keeping The Giant on his back (where he can't apply his massive strength). The Ricky Morton is a key component of tag-team psychology, as one team seeks to isolate a member of the other team and pick him apart.

The second half of psychology is known as "selling", or acting like one is getting hurt. Selling can be as simple as reeling back from an opponent's punches, or it can get into the realm of limping because your opponent has been working your leg, or making stupid mistakes because you're losing your temper. Often, a wrestler with truly good psychology will sell things over time; he may even limp to the ring on his way to a match as a result of an "injury" inflicted on him during a prior match/beating. There are some wrestlers who don't like to sell because they feel it makes them look weak, despite the fact that selling is a key component of making the audience suspend their disbelief and get into the match.

Wrestling psychology is generally attributed to individual wrestlers instead of the writers/bookers. This is because, unlike staged fights in other media, wrestling matches are rarely choreographed from beginning to endnote ; usually, only the ending and a few big spots are pre-planned, while everything in between is improvised. (This is not always the case - Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 6, for example, was heavily choreographed; both Warrior and Hogan rehearsed much of the match for weeks leading up to the event, and it paid off as the resulting match is hailed as one of the greatest in both men's careers.)

One can become a superstar wrestler without displaying great psychology (The Great Khali) or with heavily simplified psychology (Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and John Cena), but most of the greats have at least a basic grasp of the concept, and most of the truly memorable matches display a high degree of psychology. Hulk Hogan, for example, looked absolutely miserable when he was "beaten up" and really sold the flogging he took - but that was it. As they say, do one thing, and do it well.

Examples:

  • Wrestler Scott "Raven" Levy (a veteran of WCW, WWE, ECW, and TNA) discussed many of the finer aspects and details of wrestling psychology, applying to both faces and heels, in his "Secrets of the Ring" interview series.
  • The Shield has been applauded for their psychology, both during beatdowns and promos.
  • Jake "The Snake" Roberts is widely considered to be one of the finest practitioners of wrestling psychology, to the point where younger wrestlers are often sent to him for an education in the art. Despite having a pot belly, skinny legs and a quite limited moveset, Jake was always massively over with the fans due to a combination of his classic promos and uncanny knack to always do the right thing in the ring, when it was the right time to do it. Even modern day stars like Randy Orton have been schooled by Jake in the art of psychology.
    • Carrying around a bag with a live snake in it certainly helped as well.
  • Despite the above page quote (which took place during a match in which he was, in rare form, intentionally bad), Shawn Michaels really is known for his excellent ring psychology. His matches are always well-thought-out, with a clear "strategy" throughout them (an example being his Unsanctioned Match with Triple H at Summerslam '02, which utilized a lot of brawling and "hardcore" techniques to compensate for his surgically-repaired back and a genuine fear that it wouldn't hold up to more traditional catch-as-catch-can wrestling). He also takes what could be, in the hands of another wrestler, a spotfest, and builds around the spots. And when it comes to selling, you don't get much better than Shawn, who raises the How Much More Can He Take trope to a true art form.
  • There is a different kind of psychology, involving being able to get under one's opponent's skin and even terrify him before the match has even started. The Undertaker, Kane, The Wyatt Family and the Boogeyman are all naturals at this.
  • Then there is the case of The Sandman. While generally dismissed as a sloppy Garbage Wrestler, he did have his own version. By busting himself open with beer cans on his way to the ring, he nullified any threats his opponents might have made about making him bleed.
  • An Enforced Method Acting version of this appeared in the bout between Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page in WCW's Halloween Havoc '98, where Goldberg launched himself at DDP in the corner... who promptly dodged (planned) and Goldberg's shoulder smashed into the ring-post (unplanned). Because of this real-life injury, the first climax to the match, where DDP would reverse Goldberg's Finishing Move into a Diamond-Cutter, took two tries to complete. The first one, Goldberg's shoulder was too aggravated to effectively lift Page off the mat, making the crowd go nuts due to Goldberg's status as an Invincible Hero up to that point.
Wild SamoanTropeNamers/Professional WrestlingX-Pac Heat

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