Wrestling 102: The Rules
Much has changed in WWE. Gone is the celebration of wrestling as a sport, replaced with a futile and misguided quest for merchandise sales. Gone are the days of true characters and a respect for Kayfabe, in its wake lies one dimensional flavors of the week. Gone, sadly is a respect and appreciation for tradition... namely the rules.
Modern professional wrestling truly is an American tradition, ranking alongside apple pie and baseball. With roots dating back to the early thirties and the birth of television, pro wrestling hardly qualifies as a modern creation. However, with more than seventy years of history comes seventy years of traditions and code that honorable men and women should adhere to.
Unlike baseball and tennis, you cannot walk into a Borders and purchase the latest 2016 edition of the “WWE Rule Book.” While a Fairly Oddparents style guide book would serve many a fan well in their quest to understand pro wrestling, WWE seems keen to throw any semblance of continuity in the rules out the window.
Therefor, as a public service, I have taken it upon myself to dedicate this week's Wrestling: 102 lesson to perhaps the most important part of any wrestling match, the rules. Below are five examples of the rules being adhered to, or ignored, not only to further a story line, but to honor the tradition of the sport we love.
Number One Contendership
Back in the before time, in the long long ago, there was an actual process to becoming eligible for a shot at a WWE title belt. This is not the case in the current WWE. Title shots seem to be given out at random, with little or no regard to whether or not the competitor had actually competed, or in any way earned the title shot.
A prime example is the current booking pattern involving current WWE World Heavyweight Champion and the new Number One Contender, Sting. While I think that the Sting/Rollins match is a great idea and must happen, Sting has done nothing to earn a shot at the title, nor did Rollins initially outright give him the match.
So what would Sting have to accomplish to have earned the right to compete for the most prized possession in all of Sports Entertainment? There are multiple ways to earn a shot at the belt, the primary of which is becoming Number One Contender. This can be achieved by defeating the current Number One Contender in the appropriate match, or by having the title bestowed upon you.
Contendership can also established by defeating the appropriate champion in a non title match. Regardless of your status in the company, a victory over a champion puts you next in line for a shot at their belt. This popular form of determining contendership is illustrated in modern times by the hard fought women's match between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks seen above.
As a Champion must defend their title every thirty days, unless you're Brock Lesnar, a Champion can fulfill this requirement by simply issuing a challenge to another competitor. To offset the requirement to compete, a Champion is protected by Champion's Privilege. When Champion's Privilege is in effect, a Champion can only lose their title when defeated by pinfall or submission.
An important rule, and damn near tradition in professional wrestling, is the lack of video replay. While for story line purposes, a General Manager or Referee can, and has on occasion, reversed a decision after the bell has rung, but for the most part, if the ref didn't see it... it didn't happen.
The lack of video replay is incredibly important in professional wrestling, as it gives both heel and babyface wrestlers an opportunity to use the ref's line of sight, or lack thereof, to their advantage. This rule can apply to counting a pinfall or a tapout, most recently seen in the main event of this year's SummerSlam, during which Undertaker tapped out to Brock Lesnar's Kimura Lock. However, the referee, busy counting Brock Lesnar's shoulders on the mat, was unable to signal for the bell.
The need for visual confirmation of a rules violation is typically in the form of interference from another competitor or a manager. During a standard, one on one contest, the only two individuals allowed to become physical in a match are the two wrestlers on a card. Technically, the offender must physically interfere in the match in some way before a disqualification can be rendered, however some tighter refs have been known to call a no contest when interference is imminent.
As illustrated in the video above, the lack of a referee, or when a ref's back is turned, can often be the deciding point of a match. After defeating The Rock, Chris Jericho would go on to immediately face Stone Cold Steve Austin for the Undisputed Championship. The lack of a referee would lead to not only one of the biggest upsets of the night, but one of the most historic title wins in WWE history.
Using a Foreign Object
In a standard contest, the only thing you are allowed to strike with are your hands and feet, and even then there are guidelines. Throwing a closed fist punch is strictly prohibited, and kicking with the tip of your feet is also frowned upon. Hitting certain parts of the body is also a no no. Typically, the eyes and genitals of your opponent are off limits to full on attack.
With parts of an opponents body off limits, some wrestlers take it upon themselves to introduce outside assistance in the form of a foreign object. While the rules for being caught with a foreign object fall under the above section of, if a ref didn't see it, it didn't happen, the rules for what constitutes a foreign object can be a bit murky.
Using the ropes in a choke hold maneuver is allowed, so long as the wrestler adheres to the referee's five count to break the hold. Using the ropes is also allowed to set up for so called high risk maneuvers, again so long as the competitor adheres to a five count to descend. This violation is rarely called though, as high risk attacks can take longer than a five count to set up safely.
Using the entrance stairs as a weapon is also acceptable, only in the case of throwing your opponent into the stationary object. The second that the stairs are moved, in anyway, by a wrestler's hands, it becomes a foreign object. This rule applies to tables, chairs, the ring bell or any other object that would be found outside the ring for normal sporting purposes.
So chairs, stairs, sledgehammers, bats and trashcans? All banned. However, in WWE's history, there seems to be one important exception... Mick Foley and Mankind's sock. While technically a foreign object, Mankind has rarely, if ever, been rung out for using Mr Socko during his mandible claw finisher.
While the idea of getting a crotch sweat soaked sock shoved down your throat is certainly arousingly disgusting, it has been quite effective. Mankind has scored many victories with the assistance of Mr. Socko. Other wrestlers, typically heels, have used foreign objects in their matches. The Brood's Blood Bath and Tajiri's Poison Mist all involved usage of foreign objects. However, neither were as blatant and permitted as Mankind, and Socko.
Over the top rope battle royals are notorious for bullshit adherence to wrestling rules, and have been since their inception. From the Royal Rumble to multiman matches on Raw or Smackdown, a Battle Royal Match is certain to go down with some sort of groan inducing moment.
Most Battle Royals can only be won by sending your opponent over the top rope and causing both of their feet to hit the ground. Pinfalls and submissions do not count, and count outs do not apply. The key portion of those rules are “over the top rope,” and “both feet” hitting the floor. For example, a wrestler can roll UNDER the bottom rope and hide next to the ring only to reenter and send the final man over the top rope for the victory. This is a common tactic of The Miz.
Hiding outside the ring is hardly a new tactic. While most wrestlers will not purposefully send themselves outside, many will take the opportunity to compose themselves if sent through the middle or bottom rope. Although rare, a wrestler can, in fact eliminate themselves from the match by going over the top rope. The Great Khali accomplished this feat after exiting the ring via the top rope under his own power. Either oblivious or unaware of the rules themselves, the referee did not eliminate Khali from the match.
Both feet hitting the floor is also a point of contention. In the rule made famous by Shawn Micheals, if one foot hits the floor after being sent over the top, the wrestler is still in the match. This has been seen many times since The Heartbreak Kid's 1995 Royal Rumble bout. If any part of a wrestlers body hits the floor, but not both feet, the wrestler is still in the match. For example, if a competitor was able to land on his back, with both feet squarely in the air, he is not eliminated until any part of both of his feet hit the ground.
Entering the Battle Royal does not become official until the wrestler enters the ring and both feet have touched the canvas. This issue rarely is contested, however that moment finally came during the 2014 Royal Rumble. In a match that would go on to be marred by controversy, Curtis Axel would be set to enter the ring, only to be attacked from the back by Erick Rowan. With Curtis Axel listed as an entrant, but unable to enter the ring, his participation in the match is still being hotly debated... primarily by Axel himself.
Falls Count Anywhere
What happens when there are no rules? What occurs when the referee's only purpose is to ensure that the victor is properly declared, or that the two wrestlers don't kill themselves or each other? You are left with the forgotten art of Hardcore Wrestling.
Modern WWE tends to shy away from true hardcore wrestling, replacing it with the much tamer Street Fight variant. Both tend to be identical, however, street fights are usually a bit more tame. Prior hardcore matches were gritty, brutal and often bloody expressions of true sport, and weren't for the feint of heart. However, to the untrained fan, a match in which you could strike your opponent with a stop sign and pin them horizontally on a brick wall would have little to do with rules. The untrained fan would be mistaken.
Hardcore wrestling follows the standard flow of a wrestling match. You can achieve victory through pinfall, or match stoppage. Reaching the ropes will not break a submission hold, and no holds are barred. The phrase "no holds barred" literally translates to the layman as, there are no rules. Foreign objects, barred maneuvers, and outside interference are all legal. As an example, your manager could enter the ring, hit your opponent with a steel chair, and set you up for a pin. The referee could see it all, and it would all be legal.
Falls Count Anywhere matches are similar in style to other hardcore matches, with the important difference being that your opponent can be pinned literally anywhere that both of their shoulders can be pressed flat. This could be a table, the ceiling, or a wall as once illustrated by The Big Show.
Hardcore wrestling rules apply to any match that isn't a standard sanctioned match, or any match that inherently involved a foreign object such as a ladder match, or one that allows multiple people in the ring at once, such as a Fatal Four Way. Exceptions to this rule include the 1vs2, greater Handicap Match, or a Tornado Tag Match, a match in which both members of a tag team can compete in the ring at the same time.
While it may not appear the case most times, pro wrestling contains as many rules as any traditional sport. While tradition and respect for the rules appears to have been thrown to the wayside at times in booking, the knowledgeable fan will always have a long term respect for the rules of the sport that we love.