A heel grabs his opponent and unleashes four monstrous punches directly to his head. The opponent is stunned, but remains standing. The heel then hurls him into the ropes, where he bounces off and runs headlong into a clothesline. The crowd hears the slap of flesh hitting flesh, and the opponent catapults into the air, slamming down onto the canvas with a solid thud.
If anyone really went through this, they'd probably end up with a concussion, a broken jaw and some cracked ribs at the very least. Pro wrestlers work very hard to make their moves look real, but inflict minimal damage. This is known as selling. If someone hits you with a pulled punch that barely touches you, but you time it correctly and leap backward as though you'd been smashed, then you've sold the move. Wrestlers really do hit each other, and it really does hurt. They just don't hit each other as hard or get hurt as badly as they make it appear.
While a match is going on, stage directions and signals are flying between the performers, the referee, ringside officials and ringside managers. Occasionally you can spot the wrestlers talking to each other, planning the next series of moves. When it's time for the match to end, the ref will tell one of the wrestlers to "bring it home."
Complex maneuvers are carefully choreographed, and both wrestlers help execute the move.
Wrestlers also help each other pace the fight, going into a "rest move" like a simple headlock to stall and let the performers catch their breath. A ringside official can also inform wrestlers during a live TV performance when the show goes into a commercial. They then go into a rest hold for a minute or two so the TV audience doesn't miss any real action.
Wrestlers use specific methods to reduce pain and damage. One method involves maximizing the area of contact. Your elbow is hard and sharp. Your thigh, however, is larger and well padded by muscle and fat. If you jump from the top rope and land on someone, the damage inflicted by your elbow could literally kill them. If you did a leg drop and hit them with your outstretched thigh, the force would be spread out over a larger area. It would hurt and probably bruise, but it wouldn't do nearly as much damage as an elbow.
This tactic works with punches and even attacks with chairs and other foreign objects. Often, punches turn into open-handed slaps at the last second, so quickly you don't notice. Other times, wrestlers use their forearms instead of their fists. Chairs are always used flat side first -- using the edge would be dangerous. Getting slammed into the turnbuckle (the padded posts at the corners of the ring) is another way to spread force out over a large area, and it isn't very painful.
Flying leaps and body slams are not as dangerous as they appear, either. Today's wrestling ring is slightly padded and has a lot of spring action. Wrestlers avoid injury by spreading out the force of impact. No one ever gets slammed down directly onto their neck. Instead, they hit the mat back first. That said, high-flying leaps are among the most dangerous moves in wrestling. A slight miscalculation can lead to serious injury for the wrestler or his opponent. In 2001, a performer known as Sid Vicious suffered a severely broken leg after attempting a high-flying leap that he wasn't properly trained for.
Piledrivers, a move in which a wrestler drives another headfirst into the mat, are popular because they look dangerous. In fact, they are dangerous. Performed properly, the victim's head comes within inches of the mat, but never touches it. Miscalculate by a few inches, and serious injury will result. The list of wrestlers who have been hurt by piledrivers is a long one.
Watch enough wrestling, and eventually you'll see some performers who don't have the skills to sell their moves properly. You will notice punches that don't even come close and reactions that are delayed by a second or two. Veteran wrestlers are experts at glancing blows and near misses that look completely real.
If wrestlers aren't really getting hurt, then why do they sometimes bleed? Gruesome matches featuring wrestlers drenched in blood (known as "the crimson mask") were frequent in the 1970s, and were especially popular in Japan. In many cases, capsules filled with fake blood are used. However, a more popular method is known as blading. A wrestler hides a small sliver of metal in his glove or in a turnbuckle, which he then uses surreptitiously to inflict a cut on his forehead. Head wounds bleed profusely, even if the wound itself is minor. However, blading is risky. It leads to scarring, and wrestlers can sever an artery if they don't do it correctly. The Great Muta, a Japanese wrestler, is known for his gory blading practices.
Next, we'll learn how professional wrestling began.