A little over 100 years ago, an early incarnation of professional wrestling came crawling out of a smokey, smelly carnival tent and began its slow climb to the top of pop culture. The more popular wrestling became among the American people, the more it began to distance itself from the sleazy, untrustworthy carnival image. However, it has never been able to fully remove itself from the carnival world, as anybody who has been involved in the business will tell you.
Pro wrestlers still use much carney talk when discussing the behind-the-scenes aspects of the business, often times failing to realize that the words they are using have their origins in county fairs across the world. Of course, pro wrestling language is not just limited to words thought up by carnival proprietors two centuries ago. Over the decades, new words have been added to the wrestling vocabulary, which would make no sense if they were used in any other setting than sports entertainment.
We all know the meaning of terms like “heel,” “babyface,” and “smark.” And how do we know what heel and babyface mean? Because we’re smarks. However, there are many wrestling terms that regular fans may be unaware of. We’re going to look at just a few of those terms in this article and provide you with an explanation of what each one means.
15 Bomb Scare
In his 1999 autobiography Have a Nice Day, WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley recalls having a “bomb scare” in the early days of his career.
In literally any other business which requires people to gather together in one place, a bomb scare means the threat of a terrorist attack. In professional wrestling, however, a bomb scare is any show which initially seems like the audience isn’t going to be into it. Wrestlers are an extremely insecure group of people, so it is possible having a match in front of an unenthusiastic audience would be worse to them than being the victims of an actual bombing.
Fortunately for Mick Foley, his bomb scare turned out to be unwarranted and he went on to have a good match in front of a hot crowd. There have, however, been thousands, maybe millions, of pro wrestling bomb scares which went on to become full-on bombings.
In professional wrestling, it is not uncommon to be paired with a guy who you don’t get along with backstage. A lot of wrestlers are consummate professionals and are able to have a great match without their issues with the other person getting in the way (think of all those classics between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels). Others, however, cannot overcome their problems and so begin to take liberties (throw unnecessary hard punches) with their opponent. Then there are the passive aggressive wrestlers who don’t try to have a great match, but also don’t try to hurt their opponent. Instead, they spend the entire match “sandbagging.”
Sandbagging is when somebody’s opponent refuses to go along with a suplex or a slam. Rather than helping their opponent hoist them into the air, the wrestler goes limp and makes it as difficult as possible for his colleague to lift him.
This is particularly common when a veteran is in the ring with a newcomer who the locker room feels is becoming too full of himself. An example of this can be seen in an encounter between Tensai and Ryback from a number of years ago. Ryback had some difficultly picking up a sandbagging Tensai for the Shell Shock, which instantly killed The Big Guy’s gimmick.
Fans who followed wrestling during the Attitude Era or the years which immediately proceeded it will be familiar with the term “blading.” Younger fans, however, may be unsure about the definition. This is because blading was common in WWE when the company had to produce compelling television in order to beat WCW in the ratings. In 2016, WWE has a strict rule in place forbidding blading for fear, it will cost them their PG rating.
In wrestling, blading is the ancient (kind of) art of cutting oneself during a match, usually with a tiny piece of metal hidden inside a wristband, in order to produce blood and increase the excitement and drama. This is in contrast to the belief of many non-wrestling fans that wrestlers use fake blood during their matches (which really would make more sense).
Blading was particularly prominent during the territory days, and if you watch any interview with a performer from that era you will probably notice countless scars adorning their forehead.
Though the matches in the first round of WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic have been contested under a 20-minute time limit, time limits have pretty much died out in professional wrestling. For that reason, broadways have pretty much died out too.
A broadway is when two wrestlers literally push each other to the limit, and the time limit is met without a winner being declared. Like blading, broadways were not uncommon during the territory days, but have rarely been seen in WWE.
Perhaps the most famous broadway occurred at WrestleMania XII, when Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were tied at the 60-minute mark of their hour-long Iron Man match. Some would argue that the Hart-Michaels draw wasn’t really a broadway because it was an Iron Man match and a winner was declared shortly after anyway. However, it is certainly the most famous example of two performers wrestling to the time limit without a winner being determined.
11 Double Turn
Most wrestling fans are familiar with the term “turn.” This is when a heel decides to abandon his morally questionable ways and become a fan favorite. Likewise, it can be used to describe a face’s transition to a heel. Fans who don’t follow the dirtsheets, however, may not have come across the term “double turn” very often.
A double turn occurs when a face and a heel switch places, sort of like when a chess grandmaster decides to castle. Two performers step into the ring as heel and face and by the end of the match have swapped roles entirely.
Bret Hart, who was involved in the most famous broadway in history, was also one-half of the most famous double turn the wrestling world has ever seen. In his Submission match with Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13, Hart entered as a face but assumed the role of the heel when Steve Austin impressed the fans with his determination and refusal to tap out.
10 Hard Way
We covered blading a couple of entries ago. In case you have already forgotten, blading is when a wrestler uses a razor blade or a similarly sharp object to create a cut on their forehead and produce blood during a match. While blading is admittedly a risky way of “getting color,” it is a whole lot safer than doing it “the hard way.”
The hard way is exactly what it sounds like. When a wrestler decides to abandon blading in favor of producing blood by actually taking a chair shot to the head (or some other foreign object), it can be said that he is doing things the hard way. Mick Foley, the "Hardcore Legend," was a great proponent of doing things the hard way, and spent much of his career being legitimately busted open by kendo sticks, ring posts, and whatever else his opponents could get their hands on. Doing things the hard way is obviously incredibly dangerous and ill-advised, though some WWE superstars have been known to do it in order to get around the company’s ‘no blading’ policy.
As long as we’re talking about wrestlers bleeding, let’s take a minute to discuss the term “gusher.” A gusher occurs when a wrestler accidentally cuts themselves too deep and gets a cut which produces a dangerous amount of blood. An example of this can be seen in Shawn Michaels’ blade job during the main event of WrestleMania XX. If such a cut happened today, even in the main event of WrestleMania, the match would likely be stopped for the safety of the performer and the sake of WWE’s PG rating.
Gushers are most commonly the result of a wrestler doing things the hard way, as it is impossible to control the depth of a cut unless you are using a razor blade to inflict it upon yourself.
However, there is also much risk of a gusher when blading, as a shaking hand or the slightest degree of carelessness can conceivably lead to a near fatal loss of blood. Gushers are rare in WWE nowadays, but are seen frequently on the independent circuit, where inexperienced performers cut themselves in the belief that it will make them a “real” wrestler.
It’s a safe bet that if you have ever watched an interview with a veteran wrestler, you have heard them complain about modern performers and their failure or inability to “sell.”
Selling is when a wrestler makes their opponent’s offense look all the more devastating by acting as if a move inflicted more damage than it actually did. Rather than simply holding their leg for a couple of seconds after a receiving a low kick, a great seller will limp across the ring or use the ring ropes to steady themselves. They will also subtly feed that body part to their opponent, so he/she can continue the beatdown.
Selling is indeed a lost art, but there are some up and coming performers in WWE who are trying their darndest to bring it back. Dolph Ziggler is frequently praised as one of the best sellers in the business today. Former NXT Champion Sami Zayn is also fantastic at making an injury seem convincing, and has mastered the art of facial expressions, which is ironic when you consider the fact he has spent the majority of his career under a mask.
Heaters have pretty much gone the way of managers in professional wrestling. While they existed in spades two or three decades ago, there are few to be found in the modern era of pro wrestling. In fact, heaters seem to have suffered even more than managers. While there are still a couple of great mouthpieces to be found in the business, heaters have pretty much disappeared entirely.
Similar to a manager, a heater accompanies a wrestler to the ring and remains ringside during their matches. Unlike a manager, however, a heater is not there to do the talking for the wrestler. Heaters are usually placed with a smaller performer, and act as that wrestler’s bodyguard or muscle. Historically, heaters have been a way to introduce a big guy who management like the look of but are aware he is not yet ready for the ring. Having him accompany a more talented in-ring performer allows the heater to get hands-on experience while introducing them to the audience.
Perhaps the most famous heater of all time is Kevin Nash, who originally debuted in the World Wrestling Federation as the bodyguard of “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.
6 Apter Mag
Nowadays, it seems crazy to think that a professional wrestling magazine not produced by WWE would stick to kayfabe and cover storylines as if they were actual real-life events. Bill Apter, however, managed to make a decent living from producing such magazines for years.
Apter’s most famous creation, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, developed a huge following after its first issue was released towards the end of 1979. Unfortunately for Apter, the 90s saw a shift in public opinion and wrestling fans began to criticize him for treating a pre-determined television show as if it were a real sport. Readers wanted information about real-life incidences and plans for wrestlers going forward, which Apter didn’t provide.
Pro Wrestling Illustrated, along with a number of other magazines which Bill Apter was involved in, became known as “Apter Mags.” Apter himself has voiced his contempt for the title as he feels it does not acknowledge the efforts of the other people who worked on the magazines, and he has frequently stated that he was not the only person involved in his publications.
Do you remember when Adam Rose first arrived on WWE’s main roster and frequently pleaded with the audience and other performers not to be “lemons?” That died out pretty fast, as did the whole Adam Rose thing. This is because Adam Rose, ironically, turned out to be a lemon.
In professional wrestling, a lemon is a wrestler who has received a push, sometimes to the main event, but has failed to connect with the audience. Sometimes this is because the performer is just not able to get the fans invested in him as a wrestler, and sometimes it is because management has forced an unbelievable character onto the superstar. Whatever the reason, being a lemon is not a good thing.
There have been numerous cases of lemons throughout the history or professional wrestling, the most recent of which being Roman Reigns. Vince McMahon has been trying to get fans to cheer for the former Shield member for over two years, but Reigns has constantly been rejected. Roman is a capable performer inside the ring, and has displayed a talent for being a heel in the past, but as long as he is presented as a white meat babyface, he is doomed to be a lemon.
4 Money Mark
As most of us already know, a “mark” is somebody who does not understand that professional wrestling is not legitimate competition. There are multiple other terms which incorporate the word “mark” in wrestling lingo, and perhaps the saddest of all is the term “money mark.”
A money mark is somebody who has deep pockets and a love of pro wrestling so strong that they are willing to spend millions in order to be around in. A money mark will typically finance a wrestling organization so they have the chance to interact with the performers and, if they’re lucky, maybe get to spend some time in the ring.
There are probably countless money marks scattered around the world, pumping money into independent promotions with the belief they might be the next Ted Turner. However, the most notorious money mark in the business is Billy Corgan, lead singer of The Smashing Pumpkins. Corgan has been funding TV tapings for TNA for a number of years now, determined to return it to its 2006 glory. Of course, the general consensus is that TNA is doomed regardless of who comes on board and Corgan is just wasting his money.
Old school booking states that in order for the crowd to become invested in a match, they must be concerned for the health of their hero. For this reason, most matches from the 70s and 80s involved the face being mercilessly beaten by the heel for the majority of the bout before staging a grand comeback and managing to win the whole thing.
Before the major comeback, a face would have a couple of short lived spots of retaliation in order to convince the onlookers that he had a chance of a greater comeback later in the match.
Such a glimmer of hope is referred to in the wrestling business as a “shine,” and is still factored into many matches these days. Every wrestling veteran has their own opinion about how many shines there should be before the big comeback and how long each one should last, but most would agree a match becomes all the more dramatic when a shine is included.
2 X-Pac Heat
It’s good for a heel to have heat with a crowd. When the fans in attendance are booing the bad guy, then that means he’s good at his job, right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes – and this is becoming more and more common in the Reality Era – when a performer is booed by the fans, it is because they genuinely don’t like him. They’re not booing the character, they’re booing the man portraying him.
Such a negative reaction from the crowd has been dubbed “X-Pac heat,” as the former member of D-Generation X would be booed out of the building by fans who just didn’t like him as a person. Roman Reigns has received a similar reaction from crowds across the world. For most fans, however, the problem with Reigns is that he was pushed to the main event ahead of guys like Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler. Had his rise to the title picture been more natural, it is likely the fans wouldn’t have been so negative towards him.
The term “X-Pac heat” is used to this day, though it might be necessary to change it to “Eva Marie heat” in the coming weeks and months.
1 Dusty Finish
During Dusty Rhodes’ time as a booker for various wrestling organizations, The American Dream perfected “the Dusty finish.” Actually, “perfected” might be the wrong word as no fan has ever been happy to see a Dusty finish. A Dusty finish occurs when a match ends under controversial circumstances. Usually, this sees the fan favorite emerge as victor only for the decision to be reversed for one reason or another. A Dusty finish can also been seen when a match is declared a draw for any other reason than the expiration of the time limit or a double count out.
Dusty finishes did not go out of fashion when Rhodes passed away last year, and one such finish occurred in the main event of SummerSlam 2015, in the hotly anticipated rematch between Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker.
The most recent example of a Dusty finish in a high profile match came this past week on Monday Night Raw, when the WWE Championship match between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins was declared a draw after the referee counted a pin during which both men’s shoulders were on the mat.