1 – A gentle voice
This is the one you often hear about. Or not.
When calling matches (i.e. telling his opponent what to do next), wrestlers often use move names or a keyword that entails a combination of moves. The keywords sometimes originate from the sequence being associated with particular wrestlers, such as John Cena and his Five Moves of Doom (2 flying shoulder tackles, side slam, Five Knuckle Shuffle, & Attitude Adjustment).
Move-calling is usually done while applying headlocks, chinlocks, or other rest holds so that the mouth area of at least one wrestler could be covered. This allows the covered wrestler to direct the flow of the match without being too overt.
2 – A gentle squeeze
There are 2 main scenarios where a squeeze is used.
The first is right after a big move, such as a powerbomb, a dive off the top rope, or even after a botched (i.e. badly done) maneuver. The wrestler taking the damage (which could be the person delivering the move in some cases) would lightly squeeze the opponent’s hand. Being able to squeeze one’s hand means that the wrestler doesn’t suffer from any neurological damage and is still conscious enough to communicate the signal right after the big move. This is essentially saying “I’m okay.” If the wrestlers end up too far away from one another after the move, the referee’s warm, loving hands will come into play (Spoiler alert: referees are more important than you think).
The second scenario is much less risky. In a wrist lock, the wrestler doing the torturing will use the thumb and index finger to lightly squeeze the other’s wrist/palm to indicate the exact time the wrist lock is to be reversed e.g. right after the torturer twists the arm for an extra half-rotation. This ensures that the reversal generates the biggest reaction from the crowd as they rally their support for the afflicted hero.
3 – A gentle pinch
The pinch is usually used by the wrestler being placed in a hold (e.g. headlock, leg scissors) as a gentle reminder that the other person is applying the hold a little too tightly.
Wrestlers need oxygen too, you know?
4 – A gentle palm turn
In a tag team match, the hand placement of the person not in the match can give off certain clues. When that person holds his/her arm out, but the palm faces down, it’s like telling his/her partner “Don’t tag me in yet, hang on.” But as soon as the palm is up, the hot tag will likely follow.
This palm turn is done because the person in the ring would be reaching for the tag with his/her back turned against the opponent. As a result, there’s no way for the fighting teammate to know exactly when his/her adversary makes an attempt to interfere with the tag. Letting the person know just when to make a heroic leap for the hot tag would create a satisfying visual effect where (usually) the good guy (i.e. face) barely escapes the grasps of the bad guy (i.e. heel) to reach his/her partner for the rescue.
The hot tag is made, and the crowd goes wild.
5 – A gentle beckoning
Whoever is doing the next move may do a little “come here” gesture towards the opponent. At first glance, this might look like an innocent attempt at taunting. But it can mean something more – it could be a signal for the right time to get up for whatever maneuver that ensues.
6 – A gentle clap
You might begin to notice a theme here – timing is pretty important in professional wrestling. And the clap is no exception.
The most notable example of this is Kazuchika Okada. He is regarded to have one of the finest-looking dropkicks in the world. Before delivering his dropkick (right before leaping, to be more precise), he would clap, an action that’s audible most of the time.
He does this especially when attempting to kick opponents perched at the top rope or facing away from him. This is to help the opponent, who might even be running towards him at full speed, time Okada’s jump so that he could bump accordingly. A badly-timed dropkick not only looks terrible due to the receiver falling to the mat unnaturally, but can also be pretty dangerous if the kick actually connects. Whiplash injuries are a real risk that could potentially end careers (Bret Hart, Paige) or even lives (Perro Aguayo Jr.).
7 – A gentle tap
Similar logic to the clap, Exhibit A this time is Randy Orton and his draping DDT.
In a draping DDT, Orton would have his opponent in a front face lock while the opponent’s feet are, well, draped on the middle or top rope.
As you can see, in a face lock, there’s really no eye contact between the two wrestlers. As a result, Orton taps on the back of his foe to let the person know when he will actually execute the DDT. The DDT, if not properly prepared for damage, will result in the opponent’s head being driven straight to the mat. Usually hands or knees are used to cushion the fall, but in a draping DDT, the opponent’s legs are already air-born & the knees would land after the face has hit the ring. Also, without proper timing, he wouldn’t know when to use his hands anyways.
Therefore, the tap is needed, to prevent any nasty surprises.
Even though the question is about communication between professional wrestlers, a huge factor in the success of a match involves the referees, and yes, here’s ANOTHER LIST, dedicated to all the things the men in stripes do to ensure smooth proceedings.
1 – Earpieces
You don’t think those earphones are to prevent eardrum damage from all the noise in the arena, do you?
There would usually be somebody else on the other side of the line giving the referee cues, such as when a commercial has started or how many more minutes a match is supposed to go for. The referee will then relay the messages to the wrestlers so they can make adjustments to the match accordingly.
In case of commercial breaks, the wrestlers will likely tone down their action to avoid any unnecessary risk-taking. What’s the point of doing a Phoenix Splash off the top rope onto 4 tables if what’s on TV at that moment is an ad for hemorrhoid cream?
Meanwhile, cues about the time remaining will help the wrestlers plan the match finish properly. A match is as good as its finish, and if the finish comes too rushed, it could stink the entire contest, making all the efforts thus far as good as gone.
2 – Eye contact
This is especially utilized in contests with complicated endings, such as those involving (multiple) finisher kick-outs, outside interference, or a second referee. Sometimes, things are really hectic out there, so there needs to be a way, a rule-of-thumb to let the ref knows when to tap the mat a third time.
When the pinning wrestler looks at the referee, the message is “Nuh uh. This match isn’t done yet.” But many false finishes, near-falls, & run-in’s later, when it’s finally the end, the referee’s eyes shall be met with none.
“This is it. Let’s go home, buddy”, understood the man in stripes, & down the mat his hand goes. Bam, bam, bam. The bell rings, & another match is in the books.
3 – D-Emergency X
Now this is probably the only thing in this entire answer that isn’t done in a way that protects the perceived legitimate nature (i.e. kayfabe) of a contest. Rather, the X sign is to protect the wrestlers themselves.
When the referee’s forearms go up & across, you know some real sh*t had gone wrong. Terribly wrong.
Maybe a wrestler messed up a move, landed on his neck, & couldn’t feel his fingers. Maybe somebody tore an ACL after a botched top-rope maneuver. Maybe somebody went down with a heart attack & ceased breathing.
Whatever the case, a referee’s X always stops the match.
Something bad had happened. That’s when the theatricals come to an end, & real life intervenes.
Side note: These signs aren’t applicable to every single match, as different wrestlers have different communication styles, based on their locations, trainers, & past experiences. Alternatively, you might come across the cues in a match, but they aren’t used with their original intentions at all – the wrestlers involved could be so familiar with one another that they don’t need to communicate to understand/predict what would happen next.
Also, I don’t write this to expose professional wrestling as being fluke or phony. I write this to illustrate a point.
This form of entertainment is more than what meets the eye. It’s more than just scantily clad men and women grappling in public.
Professional wrestling is an art.
Its subtlety never ceases to amaze me, and after reading this, I hope you will feel just as captivated as I am.
– Trí Quang Lê
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.