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The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook

Pro Wrestling

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook

Wrestling may be scripted, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules associated with it. Everyone knows the basics of the “rulebook” that the referees try to get the competitors in the ring to adhere to: No staying out of the ring for more than ten seconds, no closed fists, no weaponry unless the referee is distracted by a buxom beauty or laying unconscious in a puddle of his own blood…you know, basic stuff.

You also might have noticed that there seem to be baffling unspoken maxims in the world of professional wrestling; things that always seem to happen no matter what, that even the wrestlers involved in them seem completely powerless to change. Try to think logically about these situations the next time they pop up (and as The Rock would say, AiPT guaran-damn-tees they will pop up):

Editor’s note: turns out WWE eventually did release their own rule book, which you can pick up on Amazon today!

Cage Match Shackles

Page 456, article VII. When competing in a cage match, no competitor shall be physically able to climb the cage at any speed faster than 1/8th their normal speed.

A lot of professional wrestlers are some of the best athletes in the world (a lot, not all of them. Sorry, Khali.) They can scale ladders better than any construction worker, lift 500 pound manbeasts with aplomb and take steel chairs to their faces several hundred times with absolutely zero repercussions.

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook
“But what about–” “ZERO. REPERCUSSIONS.”

For some reason, though, when the stipulation “Cage Match” is added, everything comes screeching to a halt. Scaling a chain link fence becomes a Herculean feat. Reaching the freshly opened cage door in an attempt to escape reveals that the wrestlers are apparently attached to invisible bungee cords like that game they used to have at Discovery Zone.

Cena’s almost got it—NO! Nice try, John. That’ll be 15 tickets.

It’s as if Vince McMahon is in the back, twirling his cartoonish, dastardly mustache while flipping an oversized flipswitch that increases Earth’s gravity by 500%. This obviously just comes down to a need for suspense. You see this kind of unnecessary struggle all the time added for dramatic effect: perfectly able-bodied athletes unable to fully extend their arm to grab a belt at eye’s height in a ladder match, wrestlers not even attempting to grab the ropes to break a submission until “most of the damage has been done”…it happens everywhere, but never more evident than in a cage match.

Temporary Battle Royal Weight Gain

Page 23, article IX. When competing in a battle royal or Royal Rumble match, wrestlers will become heavy as stone to prevent being tossed over the top rope.

There should be an amendment to this rule that reads, “*Only applicable to upper-midcarders and above”. Your Trent Barrettas and your Michael McGuillicuttys do not experience this phenomenon; they can be eliminated on a whim by anybody higher up on the totem pole than they are. But in the cases of wrestlers they want to present with even the remotest possibility of winning, 500 metaphorical pounds are added to their frames; they turn into behemoths who cannot be moved by mere mortal man, as if Medusa herself stared directly into their souls and turned them to stone.

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook
Not you! Get outta here.

Maneuvers such as simply picking up and throwing an opponent over the top rope, something that could be performed with a perfunctory flick of the wrist in the previous match, now often require up to three additional wrestlers as help: One to help lift the legs of the opponent, one to make sure an errant limb doesn’t get tangled in the ring ropes, and another to spot you and give you pointers on your form. This rule also decrees that most action must gravitate toward the turnbuckles; no grappling moves may be performed without a five minute buffer of simple body punches and crouching; and no man may utilize the gaping loophole in battle royal rules by slipping under the bottom rope and disappearing until the end of the Rumble unless done for comedic purposes or as part of a valiant comeback.

Completely Unbeneficial Distractions

Page 507, article II. In a heel vs. babyface tag team match, there must be at least one part of the match where the babyface who is not the legal man must suddenly distract the referee for reasons not fully understood or warranted, leaving his partner vulnerable to the inevitable heel double team far from the referee’s prying eyes.

This can also apply to managers. You’ve seen it countless times: The babyfaces are gaining a commanding lead, when suddenly, the face on the ring apron sees something he doesn’t like; something the layperson watching at home didn’t notice, nor the commentators. Maybe he is giving the referee hair care tips; maybe he took issue with his counting style. We don’t know. But there is always a point in a tag team match where the babyfaces must make a shortsighted, unfocused complaint concerning the validity of the match, allowing the heels to nefariously gain the advantage by double teaming the legal man consequence free.

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook
If the heels are facing The Funky Cobra, however, it won’t matter. A sub-provision to this rule is that comedy acts ALWAYS trump skilled, experienced wrestlers.

What’s In a Name? Finishing Moves By Any Other Wrestler

Page 15, article IV. Once a wrestler denotes a maneuver as his “finishing move,” the ability becomes devastating and impossible to recover from (unless one or two of the following conditions are met: 1. match is taking place at WrestleMania, 2. opponent is John Cena) if and only if the move is performed by said wrestler, or his opponent in a mocking manner.

A superkick by Dolph Ziggler is a normal part of his repertoire. A superkick by Shawn Michaels is Sweet Chin Music, and ain’t nobody gettin’ up from Sweet Chin Music. The Stone Cold Stunner is one of the most feared maneuvers of all time when preceded by a kick to the gut by Stone Cold Steve Austin, but may be used as an average sitdown 3/4 facelock cutter by anyone else in an attempt to wriggle out of a sleeper hold. The elbow drop is one of the most basic moves in the sport, but when performed by Shawn Michaels or Randy Savage off the top rope, or by The Rock after patronizing theatrics it becomes a piercing stab directly to the heart that is likely to end matches, if not careers.

There are a few other provisions to the “Finishing Moves” chapter in the rulebook that I should mention. You cannot, with few exceptions, perform your finishing move in the first quarter of a match, even when it would be massively beneficial and quite simple to do so. You may, however, denote up to four additional abilities as “Signature Moves” with much more lenient rules attached to them, and they may be used to accelerate your quest toward working up to your finisher. In certain cases, you may be allowed multiple finishing moves, depending on your importance and tenure with the company, but this is rare (See Page 993, article I: The Undertaker Exceptions.)

Sequential Order Time Loop

Page 15, article V. It is acceptable to denote a sequence of maneuvers as a signature ability, even if the sequence requires a consistent failure to hit certain moves on the part of the opponent.

Also called The John Cena Sequence. It is perfectly acceptable to expect your opponent to make the same mistake in the same situation every single time to initiate a sequence of moves; e.g. haphazardly throwing an easily duckable punch, allowing John Cena to duck it and perform a belly to back suplex after a series of shoulder blocks, setting up for the Five Knuckle Shuffle. There is a provision in this article that also states that when battling Randy Orton, you are compelled to leap off the top rope horizontally in an apparent attempt to perform a strange human battering ram headbutt that has never actually been done, to set up a dramatic “out of nowhere” RKO. Effect is doubled in situations where chairs, title belts, and ring steps are littered about the ring.

Iron Man Fatigue

Page 691, article VI. When competing in an Iron Man match, two out of three falls match, an elimination tag match, or a similar endurance-based altercation, normal maneuvers take a noticeably increased toll on the wrestler, allowing pinfalls and submissions in situations and timeframes where they would otherwise not be possible.

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook
In the case of an elimination tag, in no situation are tag team partners to be compelled to break up any pins as they normally would. Doing so would take up too much time.

This is also one of the rare situations where a pinfall or submission can be achieved without the use of a finishing move. Athletes that can normally go toe-to-toe for 30+ minutes in a regular match are visibly winded and in some cases, seriously hurt after mere minutes once a match is conducted under these rulesets. It is not out of the question to pin an opponent using a bridge German suplex or even a surprise rollup under these conditions. It’s as if it were a friendly game of SmackDown vs. RAW where someone turned the fatigue meter all the way up. This ties in with the Finishing Move provisions because the accelerated fatigue allows use of finishing moves in much earlier situations than any other match.

It’s one of the stranger wrestling paradoxes, as in a normal situation a competitor would most likely become more aware of pinfall attempts and pace themselves according to the length of the match (called the WrestleMania XII Exception.) Another provision that must be observed in the Iron Man match is that you must, absolutely must, save something dramatic for the final 60 seconds of the match. In no circumstance are you expected to blow out your opponent, or simply avoid him until time expires. There must be at least the teasing of a possible game tying or game winning pinfall within the final moments of the match. Exceptions are acceptable only in situations of surprise comebacks (The Undertaker at Judgement Day 2000), but again, these comebacks absolutely must occur within the last minute of the contest.

Reversing the Pressure Paradox

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook

Page 3, article XVI. It is acceptable to reverse moves in illogical, physically impractical ways as long as absolutely everybody believes in its legitimacy, including your opponent, the referee, and the commentators.

One of many rules created by and named after Ric Flair. Have you ever given anybody a Figure Four Leglock, either as a child or as a drunken, idiotic mess (my apartment can be a strange place Monday nights)? Have you ever have the move reversed by being flipped onto your stomach, thereby “reversing the pressure”? Did it hurt any more than actually applying the move does? No, of course not. I guess you could drive the aggressor’s knees into the ground, putting a mere modicum of strain on their patellas for a few moments, but other than that, it doesn’t really hold any water, and in a ring with a padded canvas, it definitely wouldn’t accomplish anything. Yet time and time again we see the Figure Four being reversed.

Signature Bumps

Page 3, article XVII. Some wrestlers may choose to consistently be susceptible to the same follies and abilities (hereby known as “Signature Bumps”).

Most wrestlers have signature moves. It takes a special wrestler to have signature bumps. My friends and I always talk about how if a Ziggler match was somehow converted into just silhouettes of the wrestlers, you could still tell it was Ziggler based entirely on the way he takes certain moves. He’s an extreme example though; he sells a headlock like he just took an F-5. A better example is, again, Ric Flair. It is a part of the essence of Ric Flair to become overzealous during a match and scale the top rope, only to be back body dropped off. Every. Single. Time. Shawn Michaels is the only man who gets whipped into the turnbuckle with such velocity that he actually does a front flip onto it. There is some sort of chemical imbalance in these competitors’ brains that cause them to forget the inevitable consequences of these maneuvers 100% of the time, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop anytime soon.

The Weapon Availability Contingent

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook

Page 456, article XXIV. A wrestler may denote one to three objects as his “signature weapons,” which must be kept in the ringside area at all times during his matches. It is the responsibility of the ring crew to make sure this weapon is readily available.

Many wrestlers have signature weapons, and it is important to make sure they have easy access to this weapon at all times. The weapon’s ability to harm and maim is substantially increased when being wielded by its master, similar to the Finishing Move Maxim. Much like the Finishing Move Maxim, this also applies if an opponent is using the weapon against its master in a mocking fashion. See Kevin Nash hospitalizing Triple H with his own sledgehammer last November.

This rule is extended in the case of a specialty weapons match. If a tables match is taking place, for instance, not only will tables adorn every inch of the entrance ramp and ringside area, but underneath the ring must be heavily stocked as well. Just make sure not to disturb the denizens who live underneath the ring, such as Hornswaggle, as well as competitors who may be temporarily dwelling underneath it with the intent to surprise an adversary, such as Kane.

The Unwritten Pro Wrestling Rulebook
Entering a monogamous relationship with your weapon of choice optional.

These are but nine of the countless wrestling maxims we’ve witnessed and grown to accept our entire lives, with no explanation beyond “that’s how it is in wrestling” necessary. I most certainly missed many of them, so if you have any of your favorites, be sure to list them in the comments.

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