Read a wrestler’s autobiography or listen to a wrestling podcast, and you may be surprised about how many behind the scenes rules there are in the world of professional wrestling. It’s etiquette for everyone to shake everyone’s hand in the locker room, especially when first entering a promotion. It used to the be standard that hand shakes would be limp as a representation of working softly and safely with colleagues in the ring, before wrestlers from the Kliq and their generation rejected the idea as silly, and so it has since become a bit antiquated. There are rules about how to take ribs and how to talk in front of marks. I don’t know that a complete list exists, and it may vary between the cultures of different territories or companies, but regardless the rules can be fascinating and they can be downright silly.
On an even more absurd note, however, there are even more specific rules that exist within WWE. Some of these rules are rooted in wrestling tradition like those described above, but increasingly their also a matter of arbitrary corporate decision making about what’s best for the WWE brand, or what best lends itself to the whims of Vince McMahon or other higher ups in the corporation.
From backstage etiquette, to rules for commentators, to how wrestlers travel, to what happens in the ring, the rules are many and often far from intuitive for even the most hardcore wrestling fan. This article looks at fifteen ridiculous backstage rules that only exist in WWE.
15 There Are No 'Belts'
Wrestling tradition dictates that championships are represented by belts—leather straps, more often than not plated in gold with the name of the company, the title, and sometimes the wrestler himself or herself. However, WWE does not use the term “belt.”
For a time, WWE adhered strictly to the word championship, before loosening to also allow for the word title. Belt, however, still does not fly with WWE. The popular theory as to why is that belts are seen as too pedestrian and ordinary. Vince McMahon allegedly even said, “A belt is what you use to hold up your pants.” Championships are more glorious, more elusive, and thus help them stand out more as unique to the wrestlers whom the company wants fans to look up to with awe.
14 Only John Cena Can Do “Yea-Boo Stuff”
A leaked document of WWE guidelines from management included a particularly interesting line about how only John Cena can do the “yea-boo stuff.” While the terminology is a bit vague, one can only assume that it is in reference to the polarizing reactions Cena tends to get from live audiences. In particular, Cena would get vocal responses of cheers and boos from the fans during back and forth exchanges—the slugfests in which performers slowly trade blows, often at climactic moments in big matches.
These types of sequences did not originate with Cena, but seem to have, at least at one point, become synonymous enough with his matches that management wanted to protect them as exclusively Cena’s to keep them special and unique to him.
13 Referees Can’t Stand On The Ropes
In another leaked document, WWE’s higher ups made it clear that referees should not stand on the ring ropes, and particularly so during their ring entrances. There hasn’t been a clear, credible reason for the policy released, thought it stands to reason this choice would relate to both maintaining the professionalism of referees as unbiased, rule following officials. Additionally, WWE might see climbing the ropes as strictly something that professional wrestlers do, furthering the image of them being masters of the ring who can do things that normal people can’t.
It may be no coincidence that Earl Hebner was at one time known for getting up on the second rope to soak in cheers. Not only is Hebner now persona non gratis in WWE, but the era of the iconic referee has also faded in favor of refs—with the exception of the occasional special guest—being largely faceless, anonymous accessories to a match.
12 Foreign Objects Must Be Approved
The same document that explained only John Cena could do “yea-boo stuff” also articulated that wrestlers needed to clear their foreign objects and plunder with an agent before deciding to use them in their matches. From a practical perspective, this policy seems to be rooted in a desire to avoid redundancy—for example, the risk of over saturating an event with table spots to the point that they become meaningless or even as boring as a traditional headlock over the course of a show.
On a slightly more insidious level, it would appear WWE does not want lower card talents to get themselves over on the basis of plunder, and would rather save the most violent and visually captivating spots for those stars who are already established main event talents.
11 Faces Should Smile
A number of wrestlers have commented, particularly after leaving WWE, that one of the main guidelines for them while they’re playing good guys is to smile all the time. On the surface, this may seem innocuous enough. After all, a smile makes someone appear more approachable and more happy—both qualities WWE would understandably want for wrestlers playing heroes for them.
The trouble is that WWE’s insistence on faces smiling can come at the expense of rudimentary psychology. Going into an intense grudge match, you wouldn’t expect for any wrestler, no matter how nice he or she is, to come to the ring looking happy go lucky. Similarly, after enduring a tough loss, you wouldn’t expect for a face to have much to smile about. WWE’s insistence that faces smile all the time becomes problematic in those scenarios when the character really shouldn’t be smiling, and yet the company seems to hold fast on this guideline.
10 It’s Not a Choke
Reaching back through wrestling history, chin locks and sleeper holds have been staple moves in professional wrestling. They’re logical enough moves to wear an opponent down, and they’re nicely functional in being conducive to each performer resting while it appears they’re still engaged in grappling.
The rise of MMA drew attention to the fact that the sleeper hold, and it being any different from a choke is a myth. Accordingly, more and more wrestlers started using variations on chokes finishers, ranging from the Tazz-mission, to the triangle choke, to The Undertaker’s Hell’s Gate, Samoa Joe’s Coquina Clutch, to plenty of others.
For all of the ubiquity of choke holds in wrestling today, WWE still does not want wrestlers or commentators to refer to them as chokes. On the contrary, WWE insists on referring to any such moves by proper names that do not include the word choke, or simply as “submissions,” as in one performer trapping another in “a triangle submission.” Clearly, this relates to the company’s image and tireless efforts to be family friendly. After all, this is the same company that once fired Daniel Bryan for overtly choking Justin Roberts.
9 Triple H Can Never Look Vulnerable
Triple H is one of WWE’s biggest legends, and also a top executive who earned his spot in about equal parts from hard work and his marriage to Stephanie McMahon. The Internet as well as WWE castaways have a tendency to demonize Triple H as a brown noser when he was coming up in the wrestling world, and as an arbitrary, ego driven jerk now that he’s arrived on top.
While the jury’s still out regarding Triple H’s true nature, one hint that his enemies might be on to something was a press release leaked from the video game press, given instructions for coverage of SmackDown vs. Raw 2009. The release mandated that no screenshots form the game should show Triple H “in a defenseless or vulnerable position.”
This is an oddly specific instruction applied to just one star, which has led to a great deal of conjecture that Triple H was so over protective of his image that he didn’t even want to look bad in a video game.
8 No Stalling Early In The Show
Wrestling pundits have come to place a lot of emphasis on the first match of a show, and even a number of performers have spoken out in agreement, claiming that if they aren’t in the main event, their next pick would be opening an event. The reasoning? An opening match has a unique opportunity to engage the crowd when it’s at its freshest and most malleable. A great opening match can catch the crowd when it has the most energy, and can set an electric tone for the rest of the night, whereas a bad one can set up fans to disengage or react poorly for the rest of the night.
Thus, one of WWE’s more logical, albeit somewhat arbitrary rules is that talents are advised not to stall early in shows. They want to keep the crowd hooked from the get go and get them invested in the live show unfolding before them.
7 The Dress Code
A few years back, WWE implemented a new dress code, calling for all talents to dress in business casual attire when out on the road. A number of wrestlers balked at the rule, with CM Punk standing out as a vocal critic, suggesting that it was an arbitrary policy and a few stars like John Cena didn’t seem to be held to the same standard.
The rule does make some sense for a company as large and corporate as WWE to want its talents portrayed as professional athletes, and to represent the company well when they’re out in public. The policy notably shifted last year to allow for not only business casual clothing, but to reportedly also allow talent to wear Tapout branded clothing, given the company’s partnership with the athletic wear company.
6 Referees Can’t Trust Injured Talents’ Judgment
As much as wrestling matches have predetermined outcomes, and are typically more athletic exhibitions between parties working together as opposed to actual competitions, injuries do nonetheless happen. Head injuries are high profile in this day and age for the controversy around concussions, but all manner of other damage to different parts of a wrestler’s anatomy via a bad fall, a hold gone wrong, or any other number of physical accidents that are all but inevitable in this form of entertainment.
A leaked set of WWE policies revealed that referees and agents are advised not to trust wrestlers’ judgment when they are hurt. The impression is that many wrestlers would rather tough out an injury and risk worsening it for the sake of finishing a match. Badly hurt athletes damages the WWE product on the whole, besides the fact that bigger and potentially life threatening injuries look horrible from a public relations standpoint. Thus, the officials are directed to use their own judgment, ignore talents’ pleading, and err on the side of caution.
5 Don’t Call It 'Wrestling'
In a move that has confounded hardcore wrestling fans, and even some wrestlers themselves for many years, WWE insists on not referring to its own product as wrestling, but rather “sports entertainment.” Vince McMahon spoke on the record about the choice on a visit to Steve Austin’s podcast, indicating that he stands by the delineation, because with its theatrics, music, pyro, and more, WWE’s product really is much more than wrestling.
Cynics balk at the distinction, generally suggesting that McMahon is trying to be more mainstream, or may be embarrassed by pro wrestling’s low brow connotations to the public. These cynics look down on McMahon’s choice on account of it seeming to disrespect the very business that gave McMahon and his family their livelihoods across multiple generations.
4 Announcers Have To Avoid Pronouns
In a choice that many have been annoyed, confused, or frustrated by, Vince McMahon does not like for his announcers to use pronouns like he, she, his, her, them, or their. Reportedly, McMahon finds pronouns confusing and thus distracting for the casual viewing audience. To be fair, he may have a point—most matches include two or more men, or two or more women engaging with one another, and a he or she could just as easily refer to either party in the ring at a given moment.
While striving for clarity is a fair enough goal, most parties who have worked in commentary for WWE in the past also seem to agree that the policy is more cumbersome than helpful. After all, in the context of watching a wrestling match, it can be fairly clear whom a pronoun applies to, and the effort to repeat someone’s name over and over again can sound more awkward than helpful to the fans.
3 Don’t Sneeze
In one of the most bizarre and truly arbitrary unwritten rules of WWE, no one should sneeze around Vince McMahon. McMahon is, himself, a notorious workaholic and reportedly views sickness, and particularly giving in to a sneeze as signs of weakness. Apparently, backstage workers are under particularly harsh scrutiny and can easily fall on McMahon’s bad side by sneezing in his presence.
While a number of people have spoken about the odd rule, Chris Jericho has written about it in his books and spoken about it in his podcast the most. Perhaps that’s coming from a place where Jericho both finds the rule especially absurd, and he knows he has job security so McMahon won’t target him for poking fun at his most oddball beliefs.
2 Only The Brothers Of Destruction Can Use Piledrivers
The piledriver is a legitimately dangerous wrestling maneuver. The kayfabe and real life version of the moves are startling close. In storyline, the move sees one wrestler pick up another’s inverted body, head between his legs, and drive him head first to the mat to, at minimum, knock him unconscious, and to potentially break his neck. When executed properly a wreslter’s head is positioned high enough so it doesn’t actually hit the mat and there is little risk. Accidents do happen, however, including the infamous incident when Owen Hart accidentally spiked Steve Austin’s head for real at SummerSlam 1997.
Understandably, WWE has steered away from this move, both for its real risks and so it’s not role modeling a particularly dangerous move to impressionable kids. Two talents do, however, have the right to execute the move—The Undertaker and Kane. For these two performers, the Tombstone version of the piledriver is such a staple part of their legendary characters that they—in particular The Phenom—would still get to use them for years after the maneuver was placed off limits for everyone else.
1 Don’t Use The Real Move Names
Wrestling traditionalists have had their beefs with Vince McMahon for a long time for choices as substantial as effectively killing the territories with WWE’s national expansion, to more rhetorical choices like avoiding the word wrestling. In another move that can stick in the craws of old school fans, McMahom purportedly doesn’t like his announcers using the real names of wrestling moves.
This choice may seem silly and subjective, but there are practical reasons for WWE to err in this direction. First of all, technical names can be overwhelming and inaccessible, particularly in the case of the newer fans WWE is still trying to appeal to. Secondarily, WWE loves being able to trademark signature moves and brand them as if their performers really do own them. Thus, Rusev doesn’t use a camel clutch—he uses The Acolade. Chris Masters didn’t use a full nelson. He used The Masterlock. John Cena’s fireman’s carry slam? It was the F-U when that fit his character and he was posed as a rebellious heel rival to Brock Lesnar and his F-5, and now it’s the more kid friendly Attitude Adjustment.
Admittedly, WWE does seem to have softened on this note with the influx of more indie talents with more technical move sets, NXT emerging as more of a hardcore fan’s brand, and Mauro Ranallo coming in and using technical names almost to a fault.