The Psychology of The Beautiful Thing: Late Edition



In real life, I have a pretty great job that sometimes eats up all of my free time. I am the Director of a small church camp. From October through February I get a lot of free time, but starting in February my job takes over more and more of my life until the summer hits, and I have pretty much no free time at all. I like that about the job, I find that more fun and more challenging than doing the same thing every day… but it means that from now on it’s going to be more and more of a struggle to get my columns in on time, to participate in site features, and to find time to participate in forum discussions.

I will do my best to get a column out every week, though. I love writing about wrestling. There have been many times where I was having a crummy day and getting into an interesting discussion on the boards or getting some solid feedback on a column was more than enough to put me in a good mood again.

So, with that in mind:


This week’s question: Is there more than one aspect to wrestling psychology?

My take: Of course there is! That’s the main reason that it can be confusing to argue about what is and is not good psychology: The word, as applied to pro wrestling, can mean a number of different things. As we saw last week, psychology may be found in any aspect of wrestling that draws the viewer in, involves them emotionally, and helps them suspend their disbelief; and also in the way that a match is structured. As we shall see this week, the boundary between those two aspects is sometimes quite clear, but there are other times when it disappears altogether.

This week’s column will take a closer look at the various aspects of pro wrestling psychology, featuring the opinions of Inside Pulse Staff (IPS), Inside Pulse Forum posters (IPF), and posters from the Smark’s Choice forums.

The Larger Question

Is there more than one aspect to wrestling psychology? Of course. Although I’m a firm believer there is really only one thing in psychology that is essential- logical roles. (JHM, SC/IPF)

What it means to me- Telling a story. Be it a simple 30-second period with two unknowns fighting over a headlock, or a year long storyline about two companies fighting, psychology is telling a story. Hopefully a story that will make money.
Is there more than one aspect to wrestling psychology? Yes. Different aspects for different stories. For the long feuds, there’s characterization, turns, styles, match ups, promos, everything that goes into a feud. For in match stuff, there are what moves you use, how you use them, selling, characterization, outside impacts, the ref, the announcers, the crowd, the arena, and the X Factor. Not the group. (mlsq42, IPF/411 Staff)

The trouble with psychology is it has so many definitions, and I don’t feel any of them are ever right.
To me, Psychology is absolutely everything involved in the match. This goes beyond the in-ring work to anything those two people do as it relates to the angle that they’re trying to build. This includes backstage segments. (CCB, SC)

To me, ring psychology has two sides: a reason for the match to happen, and a tactical strategy within the match itself. (Vinny Truncellito, IPS)

One Very Useful Way of Approaching the Question

I’ve always broken down ‘psychology’ in a wrestling match into two categories…

Ring psychology and crowd psychology.

Ring psychology (or at least, good ring psychology) is …basically the story of the match, the strategy of the wrestlers.
It’s stringing together the moves of the match in a way that makes sense. If that involves working the back to lock on a submission (probably the most obvious psychology) for your finish or playing up size/strength/speed/personality differences or simply focusing on character growth. It’s the story being told of the match.

Crowd psychology is working your audience. This is what Jake Roberts goes on about all the time. It’s taking them on that emotional roller coaster ride, with all the ups and down, until your reach that final exhilarating climax. Timing moves for the best possible audience reaction, working holds, using personality, understanding what your audience wants, etc., etc. Guys like Hulk Hogan and the Rock are terrific at this type of psychology.

The reason I break it down into these two categories is because they don’t always go hand in hand. You can have a match with good crowd psychology, but not good ring psychology, or vice versa. A guy can run a match where he’s working his opponent’s arm perfectly. The strategy he’s employing makes sense. It’s sound ring psychology. But that doesn’t mean the fans are going to be into it. (Insane Clown, SC)

Freud: Very interesting… Tell me about your mother.

Ring Psychology

Speaking as a fan, psychology in a pro-wrestling context is the ability to effectively tell a story within a match. (C.J. Ambrosia,IPS)

Psychology for me is something the some matches have that allows me to continually go back and enjoy it because there’s something interesting going on. I hate pointless violence, it’s boring. (Frank Okeeffe, SC)

Psychology is the art of wrestling, and in our case, often let us forget that we are watching a choreographed, fake fight. A simple example of good psychology is when a wrestler works over an injured appendage of their opponent. If the leg is hurt, work on it to gain the advantage.
A truly great match will tell you a captivating story, that’s good psychology. (Tom Killduff, IPS)

To me ring psychology is the “what and the why” of what happens in the ring. It’s mainly action/reaction of the wrestling moves themselves and how they fit into the story of the match. (Dynamite Kido, SC)

In-ring psychology is perhaps the most obvious. It’s the ability to use a wrestling match to tell a convincing story. Psychology is working on a single body part until the audience is convinced your opponent will submit when you slap on that devastating hold. It’s selling your opponent’s offence so that he or she is believable as a threat to you. It’s making decisions in a match that are so true to your character that even your mistakes are seamless and right. It’s all this and a million more tiny gestures, expressions, and movements that make certain performers so amazing to watch between the ropes.
The best example of this that a lot of people will have seen is, I think, Steve Austin and Bret Hart at WrestleMania XIII. That match had it all. (Mr. Stay-Puft, IPF)

To me, psychology is the art of making the audience believe that what’s going on in the ring is real. Anything from remembering that your leg is supposedly trashed so you don’t just springboard to the top rope to remembering which knee you’ve been working on and putting the figure four on the correct leg. It’s the art of the match, proper selling, looking like you have a plan going into the match instead of just pulling out random moves, things like that. (Dwead Piwate Paulie, IPF)

Crowd Psychology

That’s the real goal behind crowd psychology. Get the audience to believe in you and what your doing, and they will respond accordingly.
You can pop an audience by jumping off a balcony, and the crowd will think that’s crazy and all that. But if you can take the audience into your match so thoroughly that they really do believe you are the greatest guy ever or the meanest guy ever or the best wrestler ever, than you’ve really got them. When you get the audience to believe that when you hit your finisher, you aren’t winning the match because it was what some booker decided but because that move really is too devastating to kick out of, than you’ve hooked them. It’s all about getting them to believe, not about getting them to chant ‘holy shit’. (Insane Clown, SC)

The workrate freaks will hate this, but good psychology will consistently “put asses in the seats.” (C.J. Ambrosia,IPS)

Crowd psychology is simply how the wrestlers interact the crowd into the match. Basically it’s the wrestlers actions in the ring that make the crowd act according to storyline, booing the heels and cheering the faces. Not only that but the crowd maybe worked into the build of the match exciting them at key moments in a match. (Dynamite Kido, SC)

Just because it’s not the best ‘match structure’ doesn’t mean they aren’t working the crowd well. (Insane Clown, SC)

I automatically think of Jung and his theories, when I here the word psychology, even in a wrestling context. Jung often emphasized the use of archetypes, and in a match with good psychology that’s what you have; two well defined, developed, combatants whose battle invokes memories of other classic struggles. Why do we like Hogan vs. Andre? Because it’s a retelling of the classic David Vs. Goliath story, and it gives the viewer, who may generally feel insignificant a sense of importance. Classic stories of familial betrayal (Cane and Abel, Hamlet) come to mind when a tag team or stable splits up.
Psychology is extremely crucial in wrestling because it gives each viewer a reason to identify with whoever is in that ring. It establishes an emotional link, and keeps you wanting to come back again and again. A spotfest where every move in the book is pulled out is like an big budget action film with a bad script. While the spectacle of violence may be intoxicating there is no meaning or purpose, making it seem useless. (Mike Lawrence, IPS)

Where Ring Psych and Crowd Psych Cross Over: One Clear Example

My Take: I would probably call Hulk Hogan the best example of a wrestler with great crowd psychology but -let’s be charitable- average ring psychology.

Here’s the thing: If we think the point of wrestling is to put on “five star classics” then Hogan wasn’t a master of the art of professional wrestling. If we think, instead, that the point is to get the crowd excited and have them come back for more, then maybe Hogan really was the greatest professional wrestler of the early WrestleMania years.

Is “Hulking Up” is ring psych or crowd psych? It’s both. It’s how his matches were generally structured, for better or worse, but also part of how he got the crowd involved. (Gordi)

Hogan had a pretty solid pattern to his matches. Even as a kid you knew how they’d play out, but you were still hooked, because they were blow-off matches, where Hogan was righting some wrong that had been done to him. That simple theme carried the matches.

“Hulking Up” is both, because there was a progression that led to the spot and that series of spots (or beats as we’d call them in scriptwriting) is basic match structure, ring psychology, whatever you want to call it. First his face would turn purple, etc., etc. It’s also the payoff to the whole Hogan set-up. (Ohtani’s Jacket, SC).

Clearly, it was done for the initial pop that it created (and he usually timed it so that it was at the point when ‘all seemed lost for the ‘Hulkster”), but after a while, you have to start accepting the ‘Hulk Up’ as part of Hulk Hogan’s arsenal as a wrestler. At any point in the match, he is able to call up a surge of adrenaline that makes him near impervious to physical damage.

And once it becomes part of his arsenal, than you can use it as part of the story. When does he Hulk Up? If he does it too early, will it cost him? If he waits too long will it cost him? What is his opponent’s strategy to deal with it?

It can become a part of the strategy that both Hogan and his opponent employ. (Insane Clown, SC)

Let me tell you something about my mother, BRUTHA!

Elsewhere on the Site:

Among the Many Great Wrestling Columns this week, I will single out Campbell’s opinonated news report because I enjoyed it and because he did such a nice job of pimping my column.

The Movies and Games sections have also been on fire the past couple of weeks, as they tear into the garbage that their respective industries try to dump on us in the post-holiday season. Kern’s review of Elektra, in particular, had me laughing out loud.

Thanks for reading!