Deconstructing Piledrivers

What every spectator should know about pro wrestling. (It ain’t pretty.)

I still can remember seeing my first pro wrestling event: the cheers, the popcorn, and…The Undertaker being “buried alive” onstage. I was hooked and, as a result, now know a thing or two about the sport. Yes, it’s fake. (You didn’t know that? Jeez, sorry!) The athleticism, however, is real.

Ever wonder how it’s done? Here’s a primer.

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1. Choreography. Most matches are choreographed, though some wrestlers just “wing it.” Nevertheless, even the most choreographed matches still can cause injury; going through a wooden table hurts. But good wrestlers know how to block punches: notice them putting their hands out to block a punch but acting as though the blow was real.

2. Kayfabe. This is the term used to describe the portrayal of events and storylines used within the show. Pro wrestling nowadays is called “sports theater”; it’s acting. Wrestlers hate each other on stage but are best friends behind the scenes. My recommendation: watch the 2000 wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat. You’ll see what I mean.

3. Go Home! When a match gets to be too long, a backstage supervisor will tell the ref via earpiece to “Go home,” that is, end the match. The ref will then mouth the words to the wrestlers. Next time you watch, look closely, you might see a “Go home” message. I caught one on WWE Raw last Monday night.

4. Sound Effects. There are microphones underneath the ring that amplify the impact to ratchet up the illusion of “violence.” Also, wrestlers tend to stomp the ring with their foot as they punch to produce extra sound effects.

5. Steel Chairs. One of the most used accessories in professional wrestling, the specially designed chairs, are indeed steel. However, these chairs were designed to absorb impact.

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6. Barbed Wire. Barbed wire is hardly used today. Still, when it is, wrestlers use both real barbed wire and “capped” barbed wire (their points are capped with clear plastic to reduce injury).

7. Pipes. Pipes, another accessory, are rarely used nowadays. When they are, however, they are either plastic or aluminum—not lead or steel.

8. Tables. Tables are the second most used accessory in wrestling. They are often cheap, made out of poor-quality materials. Often they are loosened before a match to make them easier to break. Notice that wrestlers usually go through the center of the table to avoid the metal legs.

9. Moves. Wrestling moves are designed not to injure. Take, for example, the choke slam. The receiver usually puts a hand on his opponent’s shoulder and “jumps” up to help the opponent lift him. The receiver then tucks his body in to create the illusion he is really high in the air. Or take a piledriver, where a wrestler lands on his head. Well, the receiver’s head is just above the opponent’s crotch; it never actually hits the floor.

10. Blood. Is it real blood or fake? It’s both. A wrestler may secretly take a tiny razor blade hidden in his hand wrappings and cut himself slightly to draw blood. Or the ref may slip the wrestler a blade to cut himself. Another way to draw blood is by using a blood bag. A wrestler ducks out of camera sight for a moment, and pops open a red-liquid filled pouch that’s been hidden somewhere on his body.

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