5 Reasons Pro Wrestlers are the Best Actors in the World
Stick Hulk Hogan or The Rock into an action movie or comedy, and the audience basically hopes their performance is something above cringe-worthy. After all, these guys aren't actors. They're wrestlers.
But let's give them some credit. Wrestlers are doing live performances year-round, all while under contract to stay in character absolutely all of the time ... even in the middle of life-threatening injuries. So while everybody fawns over Christian Bale for losing 100 pounds for a role, let's see him do some of this shit.
Broken Bones? Keep On Wrestling!
In the wrestling industry, there is a term: "kayfabe." It's pronounced just how it looks and it refers to the practice of keeping in character all the time -- in the ring and in public. No matter fucking what. It's what pro wrestlers live by. Sometimes, they nearly die by it.
This story comes from a wrestling documentary called Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows. In the 1990s, Bret Hart was working a match against an opponent who went by the hopefully fake name of Dino Bravo. At one point, Dino was supposed to bump Bret off of the side of the ring and into the steel railing. It's one of those wrestling moves that looks like it'd leave you in the hospital, but if you know what you're doing, you're fine. And Hart had done this many times before.
The wrestling equivalent of putting toner in the copier.
This time, however, Bravo bumped Hart a little too hard, sending him off balance. When he landed on the railing, he broke his sternum and most of his ribs.
Now in pro football, if this happens, the whole goddamned game comes to a stop. The guy writhes around on the ground and they bring out a stretcher and a dozen trainers. But in pro wrestling? They've got a script to follow. They've got kayfabe.
Hart laid there in pain for quite some time as the referee and Bravo waited for him to get back in the ring (as per the script). They had no idea he wasn't acting. Playing his own part, the ref began counting Bret out (in wrestling, if the referee counts to 10 while you're out of the ring, you lose), and Dino knew this wasn't how the match was supposed to end. He didn't know that Bret had basically lost his ability to draw breath into his lungs.
"You lost your ability to breathe? Stop ad-libbing!"
Bret, in fact, was supposed to win. So Dino did the only thing he could: He jumped his 265 pound ass out of the ring, stomped Hart a few times and threw him back into the ring.
A world where it's better to just let a man stomp on your broken ribs than break character.
After rolling him back into the ring, Bravo continued with the match, laying across Brett's chest for the pin, fully expecting him to kick out, make his comeback and end the script the way it was written. But of course, he couldn't kick out. He fucking couldn't talk, or breathe. So instead of taking the three-count and losing the match, he broke the count by putting his foot on the ropes.
And just like in real fights, if you have your foot on the ropes, the other guy has to back off.
The count stopped, Dino got up and Bret immediately rolled back out of the ring, hoping at least one of the dumbasses would catch on that something was wrong. They didn't. Bravo once again followed him outside the ring and stomped him a couple of more times before it finally struck him, "Holy shit, this isn't supposed to be happening."
At that point, they decided to go with a new on-the-fly ending of Bret Hart being counted out so that the storyline of the two would not have the blemish of the bad guy legitimately defeating a world-champion-caliber good guy without using some sort of underhanded means (you remain champ if you lose by getting counted out). Hart never once broke character or kayfabe.
But he did break his whole fucking upper body.
And that's not an isolated case. One of the world's most popular wrestlers, Triple H, once had a match in which he stepped the wrong way and tore his quad. And when I say "tore his quad," I mean he severed his upper leg muscle completely off of the bone. When he realized how much time there was left in the show (which wasn't much), he decided that there was nothing he could do about it, so he might as well suck it up and finish the match.
"Eh, it's just my leg. I have another one."
Unfortunately, the show was supposed to end with him being put into a move called "The Walls of Jericho," and he knew it. "But it's a wrestling move, and those things are done in a way that don't hurt the other guy, right?" Yep. Now, imagine that your leg muscle has been completely detached from your knee, and try to picture how long you could withstand being put into this position:
The answer is "not a solitary fucking second." Anyone who says otherwise is a lying blowhard.
Guy Trying to Kill You? Keep Wrestling!
When something happens that isn't scripted, it's called a "shoot". A shoot can be anything from a wrestler doing an interview out of character, to someone flipping out in the ring and actually taking a very real shot at their opponent.
In 2004, Daniel Puder was on a reality show called Tough Enough, where he was competing for a $1,000,000 WWE contract. As part of the show, he and the rest of the aspiring wrestlers were to appear on an episode of Smackdown, which is an actual wrestling program. This part was a "work" -- a planned, scripted event (a lot of this wrestling lingo dates back to carny days, and the cons they used to pull by "working" the crowd). The plan was pretty simple: Each person was to work a short spot with a wrestler named Kurt Angle, and then get the hell out of the ring.
"OK, we just need you guys to stand there while Kurt Angle softly presses his balls into your ears."
However, the very first guy that wrestled ended up getting three ribs broken for real because Angle was apparently out to haze the new kids. And of course by "haze" we mean "hospitalize." After they got him out, Kurt walked over to the crowd of contestants and asked who wanted to get into the ring next. Daniel Puder raised his hand.
This is where the script gets thrown out.
Kurt went with it and let him into the ring, and it was very apparent from the start of that match that he was going to teach this kid a lesson. The problem is that Puder was a fully trained mixed martial arts fighter.
The two guys locked up and tried to muscle each other around, and just when you thought they were going to start throwing actual punches, Puder dropped to the ground, grabbed Kurt's arm, and wrenched it into a very real kimura arm bar -- a move that can send a man into surgery.
It doesn't even feel like a productive day to me unless I get put in at least four kimuras before noon.
But here's the best part. Kurt couldn't tap out (submit and end the match) because of a couple reasons, both of them directly tied to kayfabe. First, he was known to be a tapout artist himself, and bragged that he had never tapped out to anyone -- it was part of his storyline, and was in fact the very core of his character. And second, the current script in the ring was that he was supposed to beat all of the contestants one by one. So if Puder won that match, the entire scenario is destroyed.
In a panic, one of the referees dropped to the mat and counted to three very quickly in order to make it appear that Kurt had pinned the kid, rather than that Kurt just happened to be on top of an MMA hold that could ruin one of his limbs.
When the two men got back up, Kurt continued on with the script in the same character, without breaking a stride. Impressive. Almost as impressive as "Wild Thing" Steve Ray who went into the ring completely oblivious to the fact that his opponent was paid off to legitimately break his nose:
A promoter had paid the opponent, due to some beef they had. No matter. The match goes on, broken face bones and all. Nobody broke character.
Head Split Open? Stay in Character!
One of the most memorable matches in the history of the WWE was between Mick Foley and The Rock. It was called an "I Quit Match," where the only way a winner could be declared is when one man gave up and said he couldn't take anymore. Mick Foley's character was known for two things: 1) Being able to take a ridiculous amount of abuse, and 2) never saying "I quit."
At the bottom of that fall is a wooden, unpadded announcer's table. No shit.
Towards the end of the match, Mick, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was supposed to take a couple of chair shots to the head from The Rock. But The Rock went a little overboard. WARNING: Do not watch the following video if blood or open wounds get to you.
Foley's big thing as a "hardcore" character was that he was so tough he never went down from the first chair shot. So he knew that he'd be taking at least a couple. What he didn't expect was that The Rock would continue hitting him a total of 11 times, ending in him requiring emergency stitches backstage in the locker room. In character, the whole time.
Keep Acting, Even After Being Fired!
Keeping up the kayfabe illusion with fans takes multiple layers of fiction and reality, Inception-style. So you get the practice known as a "worked shoot." This is when it appears that the wrestler has broken out of the script and everyone acts like he's broken the sacred code of kayfabe, when in reality even that was scripted. So you wind up with some truly ridiculous, convoluted stories like this one:
At the height of its popularity, there were several competing wrestling organizations. A wrestler named Brian Pillman wanted to get away from his employers at WCW. But at the time, they were in a huge ratings war with WWE and ECW -- those were the three powerhouses of wrestling. The point being, the WCW wasn't about to let him go.
That's Pillman, and I will provide no context for that picture.
In 1996, it was decided that they were going to stage a fake firing of his character. That is, they were going to pretend fire the character played by a performer who really wanted to be fired.
The story goes that Pillman suggested that the firing would be more believable to the public if they released an actual termination document. General Manager Eric Bischoff agreed and set it up, faxing him the paperwork, signed by all the right people. Pillman signed it, and ... that was that. He was out of his contract, for real. The document was legal and U.S. law actually has very few exceptions for documents executed as part of a pro wrestling storyline.
The next day, he was working for the competing ECW, and later the WWE. He had broken kayfabe, but did it by extending the storyline into real life. And his (former) employer couldn't call him on it, because that would be breaking kayfabe.
The face of one cruel, ruthless, badass ... businessman?
Too add another layer of possible bullshit, Bischoff told interviewers (and said in his own biography) that the whole thing was planned. He says the idea was that he would leave for ECW, develop his character further, and then later return to WCW, but that he just never returned to finish out the agreed upon plan. Is that true? We'll never know. That's how they know they did it right.
Someone Dies in the Ring? Stay in Fucking Character!
In an early 1950s tag team bout, a wrestler named Ella Waldek performed in a match in which another young woman died. There are conflicting stories about what took place before she collapsed, but the majority of reports showed that she wasn't injured from the match.
But that didn't stop police from arresting the other three wrestlers involved in the performance. In fact, they were almost charged with attempted manslaughter, but were eventually released.
That's Ella in black "climbing a mountain of ass."
When news got out about the young woman's death, attendance started to pick up because people wanted to come and see the wrestler who killed someone in the ring. For years after the incident, Ella Waldek had to endure the wrath of wrestling fans, yelling, "Murderer!"
This is what we do with murderers around these parts!
And Ella just had to take it because ... well, kayfabe. She couldn't stop and address the fans, explaining that before the girl's death, Ella had a conversation with her backstage and that the girl complained of a terrible headache. She told the girl she should let the promoter know, but she refused. No, she couldn't say any of that, because then she'd be telling the audience that the feud they had in the ring wasn't real. She'd be admitting that outside the ring, the good guy and bad guy wrestlers all hang out like normal people, and are actually pretty good friends. No, if she wanted a career in that industry, she just had to keep her mouth shut and, in the court of public opinion, be declared guilty of murder. And that's exactly what she did.
Because that's wrestling, bitches.
For more wrestling craziness, check out The 8 Most Insane Moments in Professional Wrestling. And get more from Cheese in The 4 Most Important Things to Know as a Gamer Parent.