It’s not unusual for professional athletes to have pre game rituals. They engage in these practices to clear their minds and to focus. They do them to physically prepare for optimal performance. Often as not, there’s an element of superstition involved, which is understandable for people who rely so much on their bodies and avoiding injuries to provide their livelihoods. Regardless of the exact motivations or outcomes, these are habits its hard to get someone to break, because the athlete tends to associate his or her specific
Professional wrestlers are no different, as they’re known for their traditions, habits, and routine practices before they step out in front of a live audience. There are fairly straightforward and ordinary rituals like stretching, listening to upbeat music, talking through the plans for a match, or using bands to get a pump so they look their best before they step through the curtain. But then there are other less ordinary or overtly logical practices that top stars have nonetheless embraced backstage or even on their way to the ring to get in the right mental or physical space for performance.
Some wrestlers’ backstage rituals have practical elements to them, honed over the years and proven to deliver results. Others are almost entirely grounded in superstition or oddball habit, and thus might seem the most outlandish of all to the fans. Regardless, professional wrestling has more than its share of unusual behind the scenes practices. This article takes a look at 15 of the most bizarre backstage wrestling rituals.
15. The Bella Twins Get Physical With Each Other
Nikki and Brie Bella are two of the best known female wrestlers in the world. They were, in many ways, the faces of women’s wrestling for WWE for a period of years and their crossover appeal facilitated Total Divas and then Total Bellas becoming successful reality TV properties. On top of all of that, the two demonstrated impressive longevity as wrestlers. That includes making the transition from the less hard hitting Divas era into what was billed as the Women’s Revolution, improving their skills to keep up with the new breed of female thoroughbreds now occupying top spots on the women’s rosters.
The personas that the two have publicly portrayed lean toward Nikki coming across as more of a girly girl, and Brie as a bit more earthy and spiritual. According to a feature at WWE.com, their pre-match ritual to get psyched up was to kiss each other on the cheek, slap each other on their bottoms and tell each other that they’re going to perform amazingly.
14. Dean Ambrose Gets Himself Laughing
Dean Ambrose tends to play an intense wild man on screen, known for feats of violence and incorporating plunder in his brawling offense. When the guy ha spoken about his pre-match traditions in interviews, he comes across as a different sort of character.
Ambrose has spoken about the importance of loosening up not just physically, but mentally, and how he wants to shake off any nerves before he steps though the curtain. Thus, his best established pre-match ritual is to crack jokes with his colleagues and to get himself laughing. He indicates that joking gets him relaxed and ready to head out to the ring completely at ease with himself, and not worried about how anyone else in the arena is looking at him in that moment.
13. John Cena Knocks On Wood
John Cena was the face of WWE for about a decade, and it’s arguable that he still is, as he remains the company’s most recognizable performer who works anything resembling a full time schedule. He’s been asked in a number of interviews about how he gears up for performance and it’s interesting to see that he seems to have had, or perhaps accumulated, a variety of pre-match habits over the years. These range from drinking other people’s water bottles, to eating Tic Tacs, to talking to himself.
One ritual he seems to cling to devoutly is knocking on wood. He’s spoken in several interviews about this practice. While knocking on wood for luck is not so unusual—people from all walks of life do it—Cena’s commitment to the ritual seems especially steadfast as he’s referenced he does it before literally every match, including hitting against the turnbuckle to effectively knock on wood after he’s already gotten in the ring.
12. Ethan Carter III Listens To Classical Music
After a lackluster run with WWE, Ethan Carter III broke out as a top tier star for TNA, playing Dixie Carter’s kayfabe nephew, and emerging as both a main event heel and main event face.
It’s fairly ordinary for wrestlers to listen to music before they head to the ring, but Carter takes a slightly different tack on the otherwise standard practice. While other wrestlers are listening rock, metal, or rap, he, instead, enjoys classical music. He discussed the practice in an interview with The Male Standard in which he intermixed reality with his kayfabe heel persona, and so it’s not entirely clear if he may have been playing his gimmick rather than sticking to real life. Regardless, he indicated that he listens to classical music in order to become completely relaxed before he goes to the ring.
11. Rey Mysterio Seeks Out Kids In The Audience
Rey Mysterio is one of the most popular wrestlers in the world. His small stature made it an up hill battle to break through into mainstream American wrestling. Just the same, his size may have wound up being his greatest asset as it allows him to play the underdog like few others, and particularly facilitates connection between him and children.
Mysterio seeks out these connections, too. In particular during his time with WWE, he made a tradition of seeking out kids near the barricade and in the front rows during his entrance. As Mysterio has explained in interviews, he touches foreheads to them, and says something to the effect that he can’t win this fight on his own, and he needs their support in the ring with him to succeed. This touching gesture builds a connection between young fans and the match they’re watching, and has become one of the most unique wrestling traditions today.
10. Jack Swagger Breaks A Sweat
Jack Swagger has a legitimate amateur wrestling pedigree, and pursued the sport straight through a successful collegiate career. In discussing his rituals as a professional, he’s been explicit that he borrowed from, or continued what he learned in the amateur ranks.
In particular, Swagger has said that he likes to put on his hoodie while he warms up, with the objective of breaking a sweat. This intense form of preparation gets his body fully primed to go out and perform at a top level, already broken in. Swagger had an up and down career with WWE, reaching as high as a brief World Heavyweight Championship reign to as low as several stretches when he was left off TV and mostly jobbed when he was on. Now that he’s left WWE it will be interesting to see what the big impressive athlete does on the indies and for smaller companies—not to mention if he continues with the same pre-match rituals.
9. Booker T Mixed Meditation And Red Bull
Booker T had a long and successful career in wrestling. He was one of the few talents to truly climb the ranks and become a superstar over the course of his WCW tenure. On top of that, he was one of very few WCW stars to cross over and become a legit, long-term main event talent in WWE as well.
Late in his career, Booker T opened up about his pre-match rituals, and it sounds as though he was extremely regimented in his practices. He indicated that he made a habit of meditating before every match, then engaging in an intense round of calisthenics, before chugging a couple Red Bull energy drinks to bring himself to a fever pitch right before he went out to the ring.
8. AJ Lee Cut T-Shirts
In a feature with WWE.com, AJ Lee discussed her routine before heading out in front of a WWE audience. The interview was from when Lee was involved in a small stable with Dolph Ziggler and Big E, and seemed like it might have walked the line between kayfabe and reality. Her core practice seemed legit, though, as she discussed hand cutting her and Dolph Ziggler’s t-shirts before they headed out for their segments.
The feature framed cutting t-shirts as a mix of a creative practice to fee her mind, and an outlet for her aggression—taking out some violence on the cloth before she made her way out to the ring. She used little scissors, referencing that she might be too destructive with big ones, and that WWE’s hired seamstresses would sometimes help her.
7. RVD Takes Stretching To The Next Level
As referenced earlier in this article, stretching is a fairly ordinary practice for professional wrestlers, and really any serious athletes before they head into a performance. Rob Van Dam took stretching to a whole different level, though, as there are photos and videos all over the Internet of him engaging in unbelievable feats of flexibility, including doing a full split with his feet balanced against two folding chairs.
Van Dam’s efforts to limber up showed in the ring as he was known for remarkable aerial displays and impressive flexibility over the course of his career. His ritual practice of intense stretching probably contributed to longevity of his career, too, as his success started in earnest in ECW but stretched across different periods of time in WWE, a stint in TNA, and a number of tours of independent promotions and wrestling companies abroad.
6. Tyson Kidd Did 100 Hindu Squats
Hindu squats are an old school exercise wrestlers used to work a number of parts of performer’s legs as well as his or her core. Chris Benoit in particular was famous for subjecting himself to a high volume of the exercises to punish himself when he made a mistake in the ring—a way of simultaneously giving himself consequences, and improving his already impressive physical condition.
Lots of wrestlers have reported killing their legs doing hindu squats and it’s particularly brutal to think of a performer doing them right before he goes to the ring. Maybe it’s because Tyson Kidd was one of the final graduates of the Hart family Dungeon, but he lived up to the tradition, not just doing a few Hindu squats before his matches, but claiming to do a hundred before his every appearance in the ring. It’s an impressive physical feat from a truly dedicated performer.
5. Seth Rollins Thinks About The Crowd’s Emotions
It’s not uncommon for wrestlers to map out a match’s key moves or stretch out particular body parts in preparation for hitting the ring. Seth Rollins has spoken about taking an even more cerebral approach to his wrestling, though. In an interview with The Fayetteville Observer in 2014, Rollins discussed his approach planning—to not only think about what he’ll do and what he’ll say, but to take stock of the crowd’s overall reaction.
In the interview, Rollins articulated that, “I want to get across the wave of emotion that I want to take the crowd on.” This may explain some of Rollins’s success, being a part of a number of WWE’s most memorable moments of the last five years like when he turned on The Shield, when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract mid-WrestleMania main event, or when he reunited with Dean Ambrose this summer.
4. R-Truth Goes For A Drive
R-Truth has had a deceptively long career in professional wrestling. He started wrestling twenty years ago, and fans tend to forget his first WWE tenure in the early 2000s as K-Kwik. The guy worked his way through smaller promotions, too, including being one of the first world champions for TNA, before he circled back to WWE for his tenure as R-Truth that has now run for nearly a decade.
It makes sense given R-Truth’s experience that he’d have cultivated personalized traditions over that time. Among them is his pre match ritual of going for a drive and cranking up his music. In an interview with TheTimes.com, he discussed that he doesn’t only listen to rap or hip-hop (the music he, himself, has produced) but also heavy metal, country music, and pop.
3. Mick Foley Listened To Tori Amos
As I’ve touched upon a few times in this article, listening to music isn’t an out of the ordinary warm up practice for people from all walks of life, and wrestlers are no exception. Music can focus the mind and the right combination of tempo, melody, and lyrics can get someone’s adrenaline pumping. Mick Foley, however was known to listen to tracks from singer-song writer Tori Amos, and in particular her piano ballad “Winter.”
“Winter” is a beautiful song, no doubt, but not exactly what you’d expect as psyche up music for a wrestler who goes by the moniker of The Hardcore Legend. In his first book, Foley recalled listening to the song on his headphones and visualizing the acts of brutal violence he would engage in minutes later. He reported the anecdote of Kane taking a listen himself, looking at him with confusion, and concluding that Foley really was crazy if this was how he got ready for a match.
2. CM Punk Quoted Marvel’s Fantastic Four
CM Punk was not secretive about his love of comic books. In particular, it’s well established that he is a big fan of Marvel’s Fantastic Four. This interest transcended his backstage interests into an actual part of his ring entrance, as he got in the habit of yelling, “It’s clobberin’ time!” from the stage before heading down the entrance ramp.
While clobberin’ time may be functional as a generic call to battle, it was also the war cry of The Thing in Fanstastic Four and thus had an extra meaning to Punk and fans who were on the same wave length. Punk has followed up on his comic book passion in his life post wrestling as he has now contributed writing to a number of comic book projects since leaving the ring.
1. Goldberg Would Head-Butt Doors
Goldberg always looked like an intense guy, and it takes a big, serious fighter to not look ridiculous throwing air upper cuts and kicks on the stage before he made his way to the ring. Goldberg also had a violent, albeit objectively silly tradition backstage of head butting the locker room door, a locker, or a wall before he made his way out to the hallway en route to the ring.
Goldberg’s odd pre-match ritual got called to attention during his most recent run when, this past winter, his head butt actually cut open his forehead before he went to the ring to cut a promo—not to mention that it happened during the mostly blood-less PG Era. The site of him bleeding without having been hit, and in a talking only segment came across as particularly absurd. The big guy joked afterward that he was going to discontinue the routine after these embarrassing results.
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