When we talk about wrestling psychology, what are we really referring to?
The experienced guys in a wrestling locker room talk about this concept as though it were a level of knowledge out of your reach. “Lol no psychology!”, they’ll judge a rookie’s match. I remember the first time I heard it.
“What does psychology mean?” I asked for some clarification. When the senior I was with said something like “oh, the match doesn’t make sense, hard to explain it”, that’s when I realised it’s possibly just a buzzword many use to sound cool. And not many are capable of teaching it.
Kinda like wine tasting. You know which terms help you appear to be a connoisseur, so you swirl your glass and smack your lips, spouting random pompous shit like “notes” and “bouquet” while making your assessment.
But a good quality wrestling performance truly features a lot of psychology. From match structure, to character work, to selling, you need a working grasp of the concept in order to excel. Here’s my approach so you can benefit from it.
It’s hard to discuss wrestling psychology without first talking about psychology. Let’s take wrestling out of the picture. What is psychology even? I spend a lot of time in sales and marketing careers, and I’ve read plenty of research. Psychology, plain and simple, is a person’s way of thinking and how it ultimately affects behaviours.
Why do you do the things you do? It comes down to psychology. Like when you buy a game because there’s a limited time deep discount. When you spend your super like on Tinder to raise your chances of a match. Or when you face setbacks in life but refuse to give up. All of the above are examples of psychological decision making.
Studying consumer psychology is a major interest of mine. By putting myself in the shoes of the consumer, I adopt their psychology and attempt to experience life from their view. Why? Because I need to know how buyers think and feel, so that we can drive them to take specific actions. Such as buying our goods and services, instead of a competitor’s.
Another instance. When trading Bitcoin, I read the psychology of the market. We call it behavioural finance. Are other traders in pain because they’re losing money? Who is showing their hand on a risky gamble? Or are market participants unsure what to do and staying on the sidelines? Understanding their psychology helps me read predictable patterns that lead to profit.
OK, so what about in wrestling?
Wrestling psychology, or ring psychology, means a deep understanding of the mental characteristics of your wrestling persona/character. Your aim is to fully immerse yourself into the mind of the character you’re portraying. What would he do if he were in a match environment? Then you behave accordingly.
This is conveyed to every member of the audience, who then judges the believability or relatability of the performance. Just like Heath Ledger’s Joker, who was frighteningly insane. Or the gradual evolution of Robert Downey Jr’s Tony Stark from Iron Man 1 all the way through to Avengers: Endgame. The best actors shift into a different psychology very well. Same for wrestlers.
Think of a time you watched a horror movie. A crappy one. You look at the characters dicking about and you say, “There’s no way I’ll ever react like that, are you kidding me? Going closer to an eerie disturbance to check it out alone without telling any of my 5 idiot buddies? Nobody does that!” That’s lousy psychology you just identified. You know no one with any shred of common sense would behave that way in that given scenario.
Now, put that understanding in a fight setting in the ring or on the mat, and you’ve got wrestling psychology.
Assuming a wrestling match is the portrayal of a combat scenario between 2 athletes, where the objective is to win, what are you as a wrestler doing?
The above question is the quick and dirty way to arrive at your broad wrestling psychology.
Does your wrestling character’s mindset and actions reflect that underlying premise? If you demonstrate a believable and logical human response in a fight, that’s good wrestling psychology. Haphazard and meaningless? Then that’s poor psychology. (Unless of course, you’re playing a nutcase, and the whole point is that you’re unpredictable and unorthodox.)
Pro wrestling is a performance art simulating a combat sport, with a predetermined outcome. So it is not a true sporting contest. But it is a portrayal of one (with its own universe of rules). To reflect this, wrestlers have to incorporate genuine emotions and organised thought patterns into their actions.
The common complaint about many wrestling matches is that the wrestlers may be superior athletes with the physical attributes to execute manoeuvres impressively, but they lack the psychology that can elevate their match from a spotfest into a coherent sequence of events unfolding throughout a match. This is like having top quality ingredients for a meal, but no culinary skill to create a full-course dining experience from it.
Psychology is a subconscious messaging you embed within the things you do as a wrestler. It communicates many things to your audience about you and your opponent, and why they should feel invested and react emotionally. So don’t overlook it!
Your goal is to inhabit the mindset of your character and behave exactly as they would. Being congruent and logical is very important. Give the audience a reason to buy into your performance because of the strong characters and their realistic portrayal of a competitive match.
I hope you understand the concept of psychology much better. You can apply it outside of wrestling, by knowing yourself, and the other party. Can be used to great effect in job interviews, at the poker table, and in hostage negotiations. All communication between humans is an interaction of psychologies.
Our advanced students at Grapple MAX pick up psychology from the way we run lessons in our storytelling classes, and when we review matches together. Visit us!
We’ll talk about how to develop bulletproof wrestling psychology in the next post.