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Pro Wrestling 101: The Lingo

What the Hell are we talking about?

We’ve done our best to make this blog accessible to both long-time fans of and newcomers to professional wrestling. Like any profession, wrestling has its own vocabulary, much of which originated in the vaudeville/carnival beginnings of the business 100+ years ago. And of course wrestling has accrued a variety of terminology over that 100+ years from the thousands of men and women who have passed through the business. This post does not pretend to be a comprehensive listing of pro wrestling terms; there are multiple sources online for that sort of thing, some of which we list below for further exploration. Instead, we’ve tried to pull out some of the terms that are most useful for us in writing about All the WrestleManias, and the terms that you’ve probably already seen us use. We hope this will be helpful for reading this blog — if there are terms you’re wondering about, drop us a comment or an email and we’ll do our best to explain them!

Angle – A storyline. For example, the Hogan/Slaughter feud in WrestleMania VII due to Slaughter’s betrayal of his country is an angle. An angle can last for just a match or two, or can run for multiple months or even years, often resulting in a blowoff.

Babyface – See face

Blowoff – The final match to settle an angle. The Jake the Snake vs. Rick Martel match at WrestleMania VII is the blowoff for the feud between the two men going back to the time Martel attacked Jake on Brother Love’s show, “blinding” him with his perfume atomizer.

Booker – The person behind the scenes who decides who will wrestle whom, what the angles will be, and who will win or lose. Often they are also performers, either current or retired, or they may be the owner of the promotion. Vince McMahon of the WWF/WWE also acted as the head booker for most of the company’s early days. Dusty Rhodes was one of the most famous bookers for the WCW; other notable bookers include Jim Cornette (Smokey Mountain Wrestling), Ric Flair (WCW), and Paul Heyman (ECW).

GIF of a large shirtless man "taking a bump" on a reality talent show
Textbook!

Bump – A fall or landing on the mat or floor (or table!) in reaction to a wrestling move. To “take a bump” is to drop to the mat or floor after receiving a blow. One of the first skills aspiring wrestlers learn is how to “take a bump,” which involves dropping flat on their back with arms outstretched to absorb and disperse the kinetic energy of the fall.

Card – The line-up of matches for a given event. The main event is the big draw and most important match on the card (for example, Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III)

Dark Match – A match that occurs for the fans in attendance at an event, but is not part of the televised portion of the show. Dark matches are typically scheduled before the rest of the card, but they can also be performed during or after, while the cameras are off. (Think of “prelims” in boxing or mixed martial arts as analogous to dark matches.) WrestleManias VI and VII have included dark matches.

Face – Short for “babyface,” the good guy or hero of an angle. The opposite of the heel, or villain. Most wrestlers will go through multiple turns during their careers, moving from face to heel depending on the whims of the booker and the needs of the storylines. Hulk Hogan was a babyface for the entirety of his initial WWF run, and shocked many fans when he turned heel (as “Hollywood Hulk Hogan”) in the WCW. Randy “Macho Man” Savage begins his match against The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII as a heel, but ends it as a face after he reunites with Miss Elizabeth.

GIF of the Undertaker delivering his finishing move, the Tombstone Piledriver
Finish him!

Finish – The ending of a match, often signaled by the winner’s “finisher” or “finishing move.” A finish can be “clean” (legitimate win by pinfall or submission) or “dirty” (the result of interference by a manager or other party. Countouts, disqualifications, or stipulations (for example, the Body Slam Challenge of WrestleMania or throwing the last opponent over the top rope in a Battle Royal, such as at WrestleMania IV) are other examples of finishes. Examples of “finishers/finishing moves” include the Undertaker’s “tombstone piledriver,” Macho Man’s flying elbow, and Honky Tonk Man’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Get Color – AKA “get some color,” “busted open,” “juice,” etc. refers to a wrestler bleeding in the ring, almost always as a result of “blading,” using a hidden razor blade fragment to cut open one’s own forehead. Watch the feature film, The Wrestler, to see how it works. (Seriously, watch this movie. It’s beautiful and sad and awesome.)

GIF of Dude Love's debut, with Mick Foley dancing in tie dye shirt and bandana
Let’s pretend this never happened

Gimmick – A wrestler’s fictional character or persona. Many wrestlers cycle through multiple gimmicks in the course of their career. “The Model” is a heel gimmick for Rick Martel at WrestleManias VI and VII, adopted after his tag team with Tito Santana, Strike Force, broke up at WrestleMania V. The Undertaker is the career-long gimmick for wrestler Mark Calaway, modified over the years to include a mortician manager (Paul Bearer), the “Deadman” persona, the “Big Evil” heel persona, etc. Mick Foley had multiple gimmicks (some at the same time!) including Mankind, Cactus Jack, and Dude Love.

Heat – Negative reaction from a crowd to a heel. In WrestleManias I and III, the Iron Sheik and NIkolai Volkoff generate incredible heat from the crowd with their anti-American gimmick. Boos, spitting, trash thrown into the ring, etc. are all signs of a heat.

Heel – The opposite of face or babyface, the bad guy or villain in a match or angle. A heel turn is when a formerly heroic wrestler turns into a villain, such as when Andre the Giant turned on his friend Hulk Hogan, leading to their blowoff match at WrestleMania III. The etymology of the term is probably lost to time; Oxford English Dictionary lists it as a synonym for “sneak thief’ in 1908, and as a “dishonourable, untrustworthy, or otherwise despicable person” in 1914.

GIF of Kevin Owens crawling to the corner to make a "hot tag," but being attacked by his opponent before he can get there
So close…

Hot tag – In a tag team match, the moment when one member of a team tags in the other after receiving a beatdown, often resulting in a big pop from the crowd. In the match between Hart Foundation and Honky Tonk Man/Greg the Hammer at WrestleMania V, Bret is getting beat up until he makes a hot tag to Anvil, who comes in and cleans house.

Publicity shot of Brooklyn Brawler, famous jobber
All-time great jobber, The Brooklyn Brawler (Steve Lombardi)

Jobber –  A nondescript wrestler who provides an easy opponent for a more well-known face or heel. A wrestler typically faces jobbers in televised matches early in their career in order to build up their credibility. The formal name for them is “enhancement talent,” lol. Special Delivery Jones, who lost to King Kong Bundy in nine seconds at the first WrestleMania, was a respected WWF jobber for 16 years. This post on the 20 Greatest Jobbers in Wrestling is a fun walk down memory lane. Occasionally a performer will work their way up from a jobber to a superstar (Mick Foley is a famous example) but it’s relatively rare.

Kayfabe – Maybe one of the oldest and most useful pro wrestling terms, kayfabe refers to the illusion that what we’re seeing in pro wrestling is real. “Keeping kayfabe” means to maintain the illusion by not breaking character, not revealing that what the fans are seeing is a work, etc. For example, in 1987 the Iron Sheik and Hacksaw Jim Duggan were arrested for DUI and drug possession on the NJ Garden State Parkway. Both men were suspended from the WWF for the drug and DUI charges, but they also were being punished for breaking kayfabe by hanging out together when, at the time, they were involved in an angle that portrayed them as mortal enemies. The Rougeas and Hardys are real-life brothers, while Undertaker and Kane are kayfabe brothers.

Mark – A wrestling fan. Traditionally, mark was used to refer to fans who believe that what they’re seeing in the ring is real; in later years it has come to refer to wrestling fans more generally. To mark out is to be enthusiastic about a particular wrestler or angle, so as to suspend one’s disbelief. (The equivalent from comics is “fanboy,” which can be both a noun and a verb, e.g., “to be a fanboy” or “to fanboy hard” for someone or something.) Rich is a mark and regularly marks out for the Undertaker and Bret Hart; I’m a mark and typically mark out for Jake the Snake and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. “Smart mark” refers to fans who know the ins and outs of pro wrestling and take great delight in throwing around terms like “smart mark” (or, even worse, “smark.”) If someone ever tells you they are a “smart mark,” run away from them as fast as you can.

OverGetting over refers to winning the favor of the audience, or an intended segment of the fans. Hulk Hogan is completely over with the fans in early WrestleManias, especially after his win over Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III. A promotion may give a wrestler a push, featuring them in a very positive light in a sequence of matches, possibly including squash matches, in order to get them over with the fans.

GIF of Daniel Bryant leading the crowd in a "Yes" chant
An example of a wrestler getting a pop AND being over. A two-fer!

Pop  – A positive reaction from the audience. A wrestler can get a big pop for their entrance if they are over with the crowd, or they can get a pop as the result of a great spot or a hot tag.

GIF of Macho Man and Sensational Sherri Martel cutting a promo with Lord Alfred Hayes. The subtitle says "You  may not like it, but accept it"
When someone tells you they don’t think Macho Man cut the greatest promos of all time

Promo – An interview segment with a wrestler in which they (typically) address an upcoming opponent and explain their motivation, how they are going to win, etc. in order to promote an upcoming match. This can be backstage, such as the promos recorded with “Mean Gene” Okerlund at most of the early WrestleManias, or in-ring, as on a typical episode of WWE Raw. Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Hulk Hogan, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Ultimate Warrior are noted for their ability to cut (or record) amazing promos, all with very different styles.

Rest Hold – A wrestling move that doesn’t require much exertion from either wrestler, thus allowing the performers to catch their breath. Some “submission” moves are rest holds. You may see a rest hold after a match gets off to a quick start, or when one or both performers are not in great physical shape. It can also be an opportunity for the wrestlers to communicate upcoming moves or spots. In WrestleMania VI you can see Ted DiBiase calling moves to Jake the Snake during a headlock.

A GIF of Dave Bautistsa overselling (overreacting) to a headbutt from Mark Henry
Convincing! Dave Bautista’s got a big career in the NBA

Sell – Acting out convincing reactions to an opponent’s moves. Much of what we see in the ring is the result of the wrestlers selling the other’s moves. For some good examples of how wrestling moves look when they’re sold vs. when they’re not, see this 1984 video of John Stossel working with pro wrestler Eddy Mansfield. (There’s also a good demonstration of blading to get color in this video.) In the early WrestleManias, some of the best sellers are Ted DiBiase, Mr. Perfect, and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. A no-sell is to act like an opponent’s move didn’t hurt you. This can either be kayfabe (for example, when Hulk Hogan “hulks up” for his comeback spot he starts by no-selling a few of his opponent’s shots) or the result of a mistake. An oversell is to overdo it, such that the reaction to your opponent’s move is unrealistic or disproportionate.

One of the few old-school shooters to last into the 80s heyday of the WWF, “King” Harley Race had a reputation as a legitimate tough guy

Shoot – A wrestling move or match in which one or both performers is actively trying to hurt the other, the opposite of a work. In the early days of wrestling, there were many performers who were legitimately skilled grapplers, who could apply submission holds that would genuinely hurt the opponent, even though the booker had called for them to lose. A shooter is someone who is capable of hurting their opponents by virtue of their wrestling skill or toughness. To shoot on another wrestler is to actively try to hurt them in the ring, or to break kayfabe and talk about real-life issues, grudges, behind-the-scenes dirt, etc. The internet is filled with videos of “xx wrestler shoots on [topic],” in which someone speaks candidly about a person or event. (For example:  Jim Ross shoots on being released from the WWE.) 

Spot – A big move or series of moves during a match. A performer going up to the top rope can be a high spot; Hulk Hogan’s “hulking up” is an example of a comeback spot. As we’ve watched each WrestleMania we’ve tried to call out cool or creative spots that are unique or executed especially well. A blown or missed spot is a mistake. In the Mountie vs. Tito Santana match at WrestleMania VII, for example, there’s a blown spot where Tito attempts a cross-body but the Mountie thinks he is supposed to jump over TIto, so the two collide awkwardly in mid-air.

A GIF of King Kong Bundy after his WrestleMania I win over Special Delivery Jones in a squash match
#winning

Squash – A brief match in which one wrestler gets a decisive victory over an opponent. A squash match builds up a wrestler’s reputation as strong, brutal, etc. King Kong Bundy squashed jobber Special Delivery Jones in nine seconds at the inaugural WrestleMania; Earthquake had a series of squash matches in his run up to WrestleMania VI.

Stiff – Using excessive force in the ring, either intentionally or as a result of being sloppy or untrained, or of ring rust, a long layoff between matches (often due to injury). Some wrestlers have a reputation of “working stiff;” Bob “Hardcore” Holly is one famous example. While a stiff wrestler may deliver an especially convincing match, they also have the potential to hurt their opponent, and other wrestlers may be reluctant to work with them as a result.

Work – The opposite of shoot, a work is a match or event that is scripted and predetermined. Almost all of what we see in pro wrestling is a work. Semi-related, “to work” is to wrestle, and a “good worker” is a performer with solid wrestling abilities, who complements his opponent’s moves (sometimes by selling) and delivers his own moves safely and with proficiency.

If you’re into this sort of thing, here’s some more recommended reading:

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