By Matt Murphy
Wrestling psychology is perhaps the most-debated, most-criticized, and most-valuable component of a wrestler’s skill set.
Nobody in the history of wrestling has ever had perfect psychology. I didn’t. Ric Flair didn’t, nor did Harley Race, Triple-H, Bruno Sammartino, Lou Thesz, Shawn Michaels, or Bill Mulkey. In the heat of performance, everybody’s had a brain-fart and done something that made no sense.
Wrestling psychology is the art of performing as if the competition were legitimate while telling a story without holes in it: it’s making everything you do make sense. Even the greatest match in the history of wrestling had holes in it, but probably small ones that don’t stand out to the untrained eye. Psychology can pertain to everything you do in the ring: the way you bump, sell, work the crowd, structure a match, execute spots, and everything else.
The basics of wrestling psychology are simple (and I’ll get to those in a moment), but beyond those basics it becomes like looking at a nude photo of Jessica Biel ― if you stare at it long enough, you’re bound to find an imperfection. My attention to detail makes me a nit-picker by nature, but I’ve learned that if a match gets over, serves its purpose to the card and the promotion and the wrestling business, and has no gaping holes in the story, then it’s best to just leave it alone.
The key to good psychology is to leave as few holes in your story as possible. When I began writing this book in 2008, I watched an episode of TNA Impact and began jotting down notes. I ended up with many pages of notes, examples of bad psychology which I will share in this chapter.
When watching your videos, ask questions about the things you do that might not make sense, such as, Why did I ram my left shoulder into his gut when I’ve spent the past ten minutes selling the left arm? How am I strong enough to reverse a whip into the ropes when I was nearly pinned with a power bomb five seconds before? If he outweighs me by 100 pounds, why am I bodyslamming him like we’re the same size?
This is the basic story wrestlers try to tell: wrestlers compete in a legitimate contest for the winner’s pay, hoping the result will favorably affect his ranking so that he moves a step closer to achieving his main goal of becoming the champion. He studies tapes of his opponent, identifying the opponent’s strengths and weakness while developing a strategy on how he is going to achieve victory. He tries to impose his will during the match and makes adjustments (goes back to the drawing board) based on the results of the attempted execution of his game plan. It’s one thing that attracts me to watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship ― those fighters and announcers get over the strategy far better than wrestling does.
When I wrestled, I always enjoyed the match on a little imaginary television inside my head during the match: I visualized every spot in my head before it happened and imagined Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura’s voices calling my match. They told my story and explained the rhyme and reason for everything I did; it made my psychology much better than it would have been without it.
Fans watching a match should be able to identify each wrestler’s strategy. A wrestler should show that he’s trying to capitalize on his advantages while protecting his weaknesses from being exposed. When it comes off as it should and the announcers get it over, it is a real thing of beauty to watch.
The TNA Impact Recap
I want to love TNA. Honestly. I have tried several times to force myself to be interested, but it’s really bad. I am using their nationally televised program to explain many of the holes in the stories they tell and the ineffective way they use their television product. I wish TNA the best and hope they see the light, make some changes, and find enormous success for years to come, because American wrestling is dull with only one game in town. It’s not intended to fault any wrestler or other personality: I don’t know who came up with this crap so I won’t point a finger at any individual.
Segment One: Booker T and Team 3D were in the ring to begin the show.
Brother Ray said that Kurt Angle was “in Hollywood working on his next project.” Nobody watching believed for a second that Angle was really in Hollywood, but I’ll play ball for now and forget that TNA (and WWE, for that matter) has a habit of treating the fans like stupid marks that will buy anything.
Brother Ray said that in this business, Team 3D and Booker T. are considered “bad guys.” However, he said, A.J. Styles is the real “bad guy” because he screwed Karen Angle while the Angle children slept in the next room. Not only is this unnecessary exploitation of children, it also justifies the heels’ actions of beating down Styles the previous week. Of course, this was not the case, as the heels were just lying and everybody knew it, which is cheap-heat bullshit that doesn’t belong on TV. Fans should think that heels believe what they’re saying and not just making pretend.
Booker T. began to talk without acknowledging anything Brother Ray just said. If Booker T. didn’t care about it, then why was he out there with Team 3D instead of doing a promo on his own? Booker started by referring to himself as “Royal-T,” stressing the “T” like a bad poet to be sure that stupid viewers caught the play on words. Getting over his new nickname was the most important thing he had to say, and this was the opening segment.
Booker complained about the locker room smelling like rodent piss. Need he remind us that TNA is inferior to WWE?
Brother Devon started to say something about LAX, which cued their music and entrance video. I have a big problem with the way this was produced. A wrestling TV program is about action and reaction, but we lost Devon’s reaction because it went straight to the entrance video instead of showing what was happening live.
I don’t care for the TNA entrance videos. They consist too much of the wrestlers doing their entrances, so it’s hard to tell what is plugged-in video from what we are seeing happen at the event.
Later in the segment, Christian’s music video interrupted. Seven seconds after his music began, announcer Mike Tenay said, “Wait a minute!” The moment that he should have been surprised had passed long before he reacted. It sounded like the line was fed to him from the production truck.
Christian said to Booker, “What the hell have you been smoking, Bob Marley?” Booker responded by bug-eyeing, a reaction he uses often but I’ve never seen an irate person do in real-life. Booker stomped around like a five-year-old kid throwing a hissy fit. In order to achieve believability, you have to react in a manner in which fans believe. This just looks like making pretend and I believe it insults fans’ intelligence.
Samoa Joe’s video played to interrupt Christian. Joe’s promo was the only believable thing in the segment.
Joe and the babyfaces charged the ring and the heels bailed out. A.J. Styles came from the heel entrance and gave the heels chair shots that didn’t look too devastating, so that was his revenge for being left in a pool of his own blood the week before.
Segment Two: The Rock & Rave Infection (w/ Christy Hemme) vs. Sonjay Dutt & Jay Lethal (w/ SoCal Val and Ace Young)
The program was at the 25:00 mark before the bell rang to begin the first match.
The referee didn’t seem to care about wrestlers breaking rules in front of him. This, fans, is because he is a prop.
Ace Young, from American Idol, tripped Lance Hoyt to lead to the pin, but the camera missed what move was done to pin Hoyt. If this aired live, I could forgive TNA for this, but how did they miss this in post-production?
Post-match, Hoyt was outside the ring, less than ten feet away from Young. Although the semi-celebrity cost him the match, Hoyt did nothing to try to get revenge because, Wrestling is a work and that is the spot we planned for the finish and I’m not really mad at him.
Young had a surprise for Jay Lethal and SoCal Val and he told them to look at the screen. His new video “Addicted” music video, featuring Lethal and Val, played. How was this a surprise when they were in the damned video? Hey, I have a big surprise for you. You know when we filmed you two making out with sheets blowing in the wind? Yeah, that wasn’t for YouPorn. We actually did it for a music video. Surpriiiiise!
When the video ended, the cameras were on Mike Tenay and Don West because Lethal and Val’s reaction to their “big surprise” didn’t matter.
Segment Three: Lauren interviews the Beautiful People
Lauren interviewed Angelina Love and Velvet Sky. Lauren was brown-bagged by the heels and, rather than removing the brown bag from her head, she stumbled away like she was blind. Honestly, it happened.
Love said, “Don’t hate our beautiful looks, hate the game.” This made no sense. “Don’t hate the player, hate the game” works, but you can’t just randomly take a catchphrase, change around a few words that change its meaning to nothing at all, and expect it to make sense.
Love said that Roxxi Leveaux makes her want to barf and the only time she wants to barf is when she needs to get below 95 pounds. Is bulimia funny and not a serious disorder that kills girls? I spoke with a friend about this and he thought it was funny. Maybe I’m getting oversensitive in my old age, but I thought it was disgusting and stupid and the kind of thing that makes viewers want to change the channel.
Segment Four: Jim Cornette and Jeremy Borash talked backstage.
Cornette was freaking out because Awesome Kong beat up a fan last week and Borash was to blame.
Borash showed Cornette the ratings for that segment (because an announcer would have that information in his pocket and the boss would not know the ratings). Cornette changed his tune and said to keep it between them before doing an aside, both looking at the camera awkwardly. It was a bit funny at the expense of believability, but by this segment what viewer believes any of it?
Booker T. and Team 3D entered Cornette’s office, not selling the chair shots they took in the opening segment at all. I assume this was pre-taped and nobody thought to tell them that they’d be taking chair shots in a segment that would air before this one.
Booker complained again about the locker room smelling like rodent piss, in case any viewers had the misfortune of missing it the first time he said it. Cornette told Booker that if it’s good enough for everybody else, then it’s good enough for him (confirming that the locker room indeed smelled like rodent piss).
Booker T. kicked Cornette out of his office because that’s how things work. Try it. If you’re upset with your boss, kick him out of his own office.
Segment Five: Cornette in-ring.
Cornette plugged the Slammiversary lineup. He said that he was going back to his office, that there was a monitor back there so he knew Booker T. and Team 3D were watching, and he expected them to be gone when he got there. Nobody in the universe thought this was the end of his promo.
Kevin Nash came out to the ring with Cornette. Nash said that TNA security couldn’t contain the crowd at a Jonas Brothers concert (so if you feel like jumping the railing at a TNA event and attacking performers, feel free to do so).
Nash said that Booker and 3D were playing rock, paper, scissors over who got to take a dump on Cornette’s desk. Nash has gray hair and is pushing 50 ― why must he talk like a 15-year-old boy?
Nash offered to rid Cornette’s office of the heels if he could be the enforcer for the King of the Mountain match at Slammiversary. Cornette asked why Nash wanted to be involved, to which Nash replied that he thought the people should have to pay to see his answer. Cornette agreed.
Nash told Cornette he would do it, but Cornette had to ask him nicely. Cornette then asked him nicely and they had a deal. This was seriously awful stuff.
Segment Six: Awesome Kong fan challenge.
A fan that would get into the ring and face Kong, the announcers said, would get $25,000.
After a commercial break, a fan was in the ring. Her name was Lita Bates or something. It was then called a $25,000 fan challenge and said that she had to beat Kong to get the money. They really suck at getting gimmick matches over because I don’t think even they understand them.
Bates was excited to get into the match, but when the bell rang she was running scared. I could understand this if Kong knocked her on her ass first, but why do the 180 without a reason for the change of heart?
The action spilled to the floor. The referee, one of the Hebners, got out of the ring with them because I guess TNA only does count-outs when they’re convenient.
This was a complete squash. Kong is very good as a monster heel, much like Vader when he first came to WCW and destroyed people.
Segment Seven: Booker T. and Team 3D were hanging in Cornette’s office.
Nash entered Cornette’s office. The heels didn’t know why he was there, even though Cornette just said that there was a monitor back there and that he knew they were watching.
The dry-erase board said, “Booker’s Office ― No Poo-Putts allowed.” Forgive me for not knowing what a Poo-Putt is: I’m not eight years old.
After Nash wielded a baseball bat, the heels left.
Segment Eight: Rhyno vs. James Storm
A video package showing the history between Rhyno and James Storm was interrupted by Rhyno and Storm brawling backstage. This led to a commercial break.
Back from commercial, the fighting spilled into the Impact Zone.
Storm hit Rhyno with an opened bottle of water. The problem with things like this is that people at home can try this themselves and know that it doesn’t hurt much.
Less than five minutes since the last commercial, it was time for another break.
Rhyno was selling on the outside like he was unconscious. For some reason, Storm threw him back into the ring instead of taking the count-out win to advance to the King of the Mountain match. This wasn’t acknowledged by the announcers. Rhyno quickly hit the gore on Storm for the win. Storm did a back-flip bump off the finisher and, while I appreciate his effort, backflipping off a gore doesn’t make it look stronger.
Segment Nine: Jeremy Borash interviewed A.J. Styles and Karen Angle.
A.J. said that he has something to say, but he wanted to say it in the ring.
Kurt Angle was shown backstage, to the surprise of everybody who thought he really was in Hollywood.
Karen Angle entered the ring. A.J. Styles’ music played, but he didn’t enter.
Backstage, Kurt Angle was beating the hell out of Styles. I have a hard time buying an Olympic wrestling gold medalist punching and throwing around a man who is supposedly doing his wife instead of breaking bones with shoot holds, but maybe I’m being picky. It does matter that he used a European uppercut in a “fight”.
Kurt entered the Impact Zone, got into the ring, and screamed at Karen. Karen slapped him and cowered as Kurt appeared ready to do her harm.
No-selling the ass-beating he just took, Styles ran in and beat on Angle
Team 3D, Booker T., and Tomko (who shouldn’t have been involved after losing to a finishing move in a singles match minutes before, although to his credit he still sold it) ran in and it was Styles getting the beat-down from five men. Christian tried to make the save but got whipped, too. That was the end of the show. There was no Samoa Joe, no LAX, no Rhyno making the save even though they were all involved in the opening segment. I guess they didn’t care and neither should the fans.
There were only five matches in two hours. That leaves too much time to fill with bullshit.
TNA is too dependent on stars built in WWE. Booker T. and Team 3D were in four different segments.
The TV product is too fast-faced with poor program timing.
TNA has too many screwball characters and storylines. This doesn’t put asses in seats or sell pay-per-views.
Overall, the program is tasteless and caters to the lowest common denominator of society. That doesn’t equal advertising revenue because the lowest common denominator of society spends its welfare checks on cigarettes and tattoos, not on penis-enhancement pills and Applebee’s. In this two hours alone, TNA directly or indirectly touched on adultery with children in the next room (Styles/Angle), suicide (an Abyss padded-room segment I left out), bulimia (Beautiful People), grown men pooping on a desk (Nash), and domestic violence (Angle).
All television programs take a measure of creative license and we have to suspend disbelief to a certain extent. On TV, crime dramas unfold and are solved over the course of a one-hour program before another huge case opens for the detective the following week. I can accept that although it doesn’t happen that way in real life. However, Impact had ridiculous storylines and segments with numerous holes in their stories, TNA excusing all of it with, “It’s just wrestling.”
TNA has a great pool of talent and should be a quality product. If they presented fans with a wrestling-focused alternative to the current WWE product, I really think they could find success. Instead, we get what looks like Vince Russo trying to recreate the WWE Attitude Era on WCW Saturday Night. Comparing it to WWE is like comparing Arena Football League to the National Football League.
If you’re interested in ordering a print or Kindle copy or to leave a review of The Professional Wrestler in the World of Sports-Entertainment go to Amazon.com. You can also order a print copy of my first book, The Story of a Nobody and the Pursuit to Become a Somebody, at Amazon