Professional wrestling has its own distinctive culture attached to it. That culture includes rules like the expectation that talent—especially those who have newly arrived—shake everyone’s hand in the locker room (and a more outdated rule about only giving limp handshakes to symbolize they won’t be stiff in the ring). The rules can arbitrary or even silly, but wrestlers nonetheless abide strictly, knowing that poor etiquette can mean real political trouble in the locker room or even with management.
Speaking of management, the powers that be in any wrestling territory or promotion have their own style. Every owner, promoter, or booker has his or her own ideas about how wrestlers ought to behave. For example, in the Mid-South, Bill Watts infamously demanded that his wrestlers never back down from a fight in public, and said that they’d also better win any fight they got into to protect the business.
While WWE is a more modern and formalized wrestling promotion than any other, it’s a publicly traded company with a legitimately worldwide presence that would make you think it’s above old school silliness about how wrestlers should act and speak. However, even WWE can’t escape its roots, an the trappings of wrestling culture. The powers that be having their own set of rules they expect talent to play by, even in this more corporate setting, and even as the torch is passed to the next generation of leadership. This article takes a look at eight rules Triple H wants talent to follow, eight Vince McMahon wants, and five rules from Stephanie McMahon.
21 Triple H: Milk The Crowd
Triple H is a master of wrestling psychology, touted by many of his peers and students as a ring general who knows how to manipulate an audience masterfully through body language, timing, and selling. One of the key takeaways his NXT proteges have consistently mentioned from his teachings: they should take advantage of every opportunity to milk the crowd.
While some casual fans have criticized Triple H—particularly in recent years—for working too slow of a style in the ring, there’s little doubt, especially for those watching live, that his matches are filled with drama. Big moves are sold as devastating. False finishes abound. Sure, all of this is easier for an icon of the business with signature moves that are so well established. Nonetheless, Triple H has systematically instilled in his NXT stars, and increasingly the main roster the importance of patience and letting the crowd work itself into a frenzy.
20 Vince: Don’t Call Them Belts
Vince McMahon is notorious for having strongly held views on word choices. One of the more oddball selections is that he never wants for his wrestlers in promos, or his broadcast teams in commentary to refer to championships as belts.
The general understanding of this rule is that Vince sees the word 'belt' as pedestrian, given that everyday people where belts in their everyday lives.
Despite the obvious complication that WWE championships are literally represented by physical belts, Vince nonetheless wants fans to look at them as larger than life honors that super hero characters do battle for. Removing the word belt from the WWE lexicon helps to sell them as special and something ordinary people can’t readily access.
19 Stephanie: Challenge The Status Quo
As Vince McMahon’s daughter, who was largely born into her executive role, it would be easy enough for Stephanie McMahon to be complacent. However, in repeated interviews, she has been adamant about constantly challenging the status quo in her own life, and by extension challenging the performers under her leadership to do the same.
Stephanie has pointed toward business strategies like WWE’s use of social media as key examples of constantly evolving. The Women’s Revolution has offered Stephanie an additional voice within the product, as she is largely scene as the de facto executive atop the blossoming women’s division. With each major announcement, notably including the first women’s Royal Rumble this past January, Stephanie has emphasized the division making history, and it’s clear that that’s exactly what she wants all talents to think about each time they get in the ring.
18 Triple H: Have A Plan
There are those wrestlers who notoriously fly by the seat of their parents. They show up to arenas at the last minute, call matches spot by spot in the ring, and party all night afterward without a thought to their futures in the business, or how they are taking care of their bodies or finances. Triple H is the antithesis of all of these sorts of talents. He worked his own wrestling career under a plan and under great discipline, often cited as the stable bedrock member of the Kliq. It’s clear he champions today’s talents following that same rule.
In particular, Helmesley has imposed on talents and the booking team alike to be thinking ahead about storylines and the overall directions for different characters. Word is that he imposed a rule for NXT call ups that no one move up to the main roster without at least three months of booking plans in front of them.
17 Vince: Don’t Call It Wrestling
Despite running a company called World Wrestling Entertainment, Vince McMahon infamously disdains the world wrestling. The popular theory is that, despite it being his family’s business and the source of his fame and fortune, Vince rejects wrestling as low brow. The theory further suggests that’s why he has strived so much toward involving celebrities and has continually tried to expand his media and sports empire with projects like the XFL, the WBF, WWE Studios, and IcoPro supplements.
A part of this mindset is not actually calling wrestling by its name, but rather insisting on the verbiage sports entertainment.
Vince defended the choice in a visit to Steve Austin’s podcast, explaining that what WWE is so much more than traditional wrestling, but rather an entertainment experience.
16 Triple H: Take Risks
In his leadership over NXT, Triple H has made it clear that he disdains complacency. He points to Bray Wyatt as a particular success story from the developmental system. He progressed from the utterly forgettable Husky Harris, to a variety of monstrous incarnations, to the Wyatt gimmick that would ultimately debut on the main roster, and be one of WWE’s most distinctive and recognizable characters over the last five years. (It’s telling, too, that Wyatt has seemingly rebooted again upon entering Matt Hardy’s Woken Universe more.)
Helmsley speaks from experience, having pushed for the DX stable that elevated him from his own lackluster mid-card gimmick to one of the hottest young stars in wrestling. Similarly, he jumped from the group as it was peaking to start his run as a legit main event heel. The essence of the NXT system is to set up talents to experiment in a relatively low stakes setting, and it’s clear that his vision for the future of the company includes talents constantly pushing the limits and trying new things.
15 Stephanie: Talk Like Yourself
There’s an expression radio called “puking on the mic,” which involves people putting on a clearly artificial voice they think they’re supposed to use. Particularly in contemporary radio and podcasting, the approach is seen as outdated, if not downright amateur.
As a variation on this principle, ring announcer Justin Roberts has spoken about imitating Howard Finkel’s voice early in his career, because that’s what he thought a ring announcer was supposed to sound like.
He credits Stephanie McMahon with challenging that assumption, challenging him to use his own natural voice, which allowed him to cultivate a style that both came across as more authentic, and more distinctively his own.
By extension, Stephanie has championed this cause with in ring talents as well, pushing for performers to be themselves and not cut traditional shout-y pro wrestling promos, but rather use their own voices.
14 Vince: Don’t Call Moves By Their Real Names
Vince McMahon is notorious for micromanaging his broadcast teams. There’s little question that he stayed on with the play by play announcer role for longer than he needed to in part because he knew exactly what story he wanted told and how, and thus it was easiest to do the work himself.
Among Vince’s preferences is not to call wrestling maneuvers and holds by their real, conventional names. The rationale is two-fold. First and foremost, Vince reportedly sees real names as overly technical and thus ostracizing to the more casual viewing audience and children. Additionally, he likes to be able own the names of moves attached to specific performers. There’s more money to be made in billing a fireman’s carry takeover as John Cena’s Attitude Adjustment, or Rusev’s camel clutch as The Accolade.
13 Triple H: Stay Safe
While Triple H isn’t unique in this point of view, he notably views a part of management’s role as keeping his wrestlers safe. In the most famous demonstration of this point, Helmsley called a Raw match between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton early, because Bryan seemed like he might have gotten a concussion. The instance led to Bryan and Hunter getting into a heated argument backstage, and Hunter commenting to press that part of his job is to look out for wrestlers when they’re too proud or stubborn to look out for their own good.
Triple H can be seen as a hypocrite, given that one of his signature moments as a wrestler was toughing out a tag match opposite Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, despite having torn his quad, and even taking more punishment on his injured leg during the match. This place of real experience and credibility is invaluable, though, for hi understanding why and the degree to which wrestlers don’t always put their own safety first.
12 Vince: Don’t Rely On Refs Being Knocked Out
Professional wrestling has its traditional mechanisms used to contrive various situations. One of them is referees inadvertently absorbing offense and getting knocked unconscious. This circumstance sets up a referee to miss it when one wrestler has the match won, thus establishing controversy if the other guy wins, or allowing both performers to save face. Other times, the ref getting taken out prolongs bouts because the ref can’t call them when he’s down, or facilitating outside interference entering the equation.
While WWE does still see some instances of refs being taken out, it’s interesting to note how drastically it has reduced in recent years.
Word is that Vince sees this old wrestling trick as outdated, lazy, and running the risk of growing repetitive and predictable if it happens more than once in the same show, or in major matches that happen in close succession.
11 Triple H: Focus On The Feeling
Some of Triple H’s highest profile students are the women of WWE, as so many of the key figures in the Women’s Revolution came up under The Game’s leadership in NXT. Bayley was a beneficiary of Triple H’s faith in pushing her to the Women’s Championship in developmental, including working the first women’s main event at an NXT TakeOver opposite Sasha Banks in an Iron Man Match.
Bayley has noted that Triple H also offered sound advice. The key piece she has cited in interviews was that she should focus on what the fans are feeling. Bayley quoted Triple H suggesting that fans don’t always remember the moves in a match or how key spots were set up. They do, however, remember the way a match made them feel, and so wrestlers should focus on evoking emotions.
10 Stephanie: Be Prepared To Make Sacrifices
Stephanie McMahon gave a speech at Sacred Heart University, focused on leadership, and particularly so for women. One of the key notes she hammered home: you have to be prepared to make sacrifices. This lesson seems plainly emblematic of not only how Stephanie approaches her own career, but also what she emphasizes to wrestlers under her tutelage.
This idea may not seem all that groundbreaking, but a part of what was interesting about Stephanie’s message was that it inherently represented not only hard work, but balance.
She suggested in the speech that sometimes personal needs had to take a backseat to pushing for one’s professional advancement. She also, however, indicated there may come a time when one has to sacrifice career progress for family life. She’s walked her talk, too, as exemplified when she gave birth and focused on parenting for a period of times, rather than her office work and especially over her on-air presence with WWE.
9 Vince: No Choking
WWE finds itself in an interesting spot in 2018. On one hand, the popularization of MMA has made even casual fans more familiar with how fighting actually works and the real names for certain holds and fighting styles. On the other hand, WWE is a family friendly business that caters merchandise toward children and has toy manufacturers as major sponsors, making it unsavory to talk about or show clear depictions of legitimately dangerous holds such as chokes.
Listen carefully, and you can regularly hear WWE announce teams stumbling over their words to avoid using the word choke, including references to the “triangle submission hold” or trailing off on descriptions of a “rear naked [choke].” Additionally, wrestlers themselves are often steered away from using choking or strangulation. Most infamously, Daniel Bryan was briefly fired in 2010 on account of ad-libbing chocking Justin Roberts with his own tie during the Nexus’s debut attack.
8 Triple H: Keep It Slow
Triple H is widely regarded as a ring general who knows what he’s doing at all times in the ring, and does everything with purpose. One of the staples of his own matches, particularly as he’s progressed in his career, is to slow things down. While we might attribute some of that to The Game himself slowing down in his older age, more so, it’s about telling a story and giving the crowd time to process what they’re seeing in the ring.
A number of NXT graduates have spoken about Triple H guiding them through this very advice, and how it shifted them from more fast paced, “spotfest” indie style to telling more impactful stories with the added benefit of not taking as many unnecessary risks between the ropes.
7 Vince: It’s A Contract, Not A Briefcase
Since it debuted at WrestleMania 21, Money in the Bank has ben a staple on the WWE landscape. It’s used as a vehicle to elevate mid-carders, to facilitate heel turns, to cover for injuries, and to otherwise take WWE programming in unexpected directions. The representation of someone winning Money in the Bank and having an on-demand world title shot is carrying briefcase.
Don’t say briefcase around Vince McMahon.
While the reasoning isn’t as clear for this rule as others, Vince has been adamant that wrestlers and broadcasters refer only to the Money in the Bank contract, not the briefcase itself. It may well be similar to the belt situation, in that Vince doesn’t want fans confusing this important wrestling artifact with an everyday object they carry to work.
6 Triple H: Make The Most Of The Spotlight
Upon the occasion of working the UK Championship tournament final opposite Tyler Bate, Pete Dunne recalls Triple H coming to him and advising him to make the absolute most out of his moment in the spotlight. While this suggestion might seem obvious, it is also emblematic of how WWE works. Not everyone can have a long career with the company, let alone a high profile one. When opportunities present themselves, it’s essential for young talents to make a statement.
The Game is speaking from experience, too, of course, remembering in particular the promos and matches he hit out of the park during his own fledgling days with DX. While his talent and work ethic set him up for long term success, no one is promised anything in the pro wrestling business. Being prepared to take advantage of a moment in the spotlight is key.
5 Stephanie: Minimize Drama
Stephanie McMahon has discussed in a number of interviews the unusual dynamics that come with working with family. Her father is the most powerful in man in the history of not only her company, but her entire industry. Her brother Shane rose through the ranks of the company with her. Her husband was a top in ring star and has joined her as a top executive.
One of the keys to making all of these dynamics work? Time and again, Stephanie has touted the importance of minimizing drama. Particularly when personal and professional relationships overlap, there’s lots of room to let personal drama overtake sound, business minded decision making. Stephanie has shared with her wrestlers, too, the importance of keeping things professional and keeping drama out of their careers.
4 Vince: Don’t Leave Space For The “One Fall” Chant
It is conventional for ring announcers to declare that conventional matches will be conducted under “one fall” rules. It’s a bit silly, given that that rule basically means it’s a normal wrestling match, not a two out of three falls or Iron Man bout. Nonetheless, it’s tradition and it does lend a sense of legitimate sport to pro wrestling matches.
It has become normal nowadays, for fans to repeat the ring announcer’s declaration of “one fall.”
The motivations and origins aren’t entirely clear, though it seems to be a demonstration of fans’ knowledge, and perhaps a matter of irony because the announcement is already so obvious. In any event, it’s a fun enough convention that caught in NXT in particular and has carried over to the main roster.
Vince McMahon reportedly hates the one fall chant, however, suggesting it’s annoying and takes away from the gravity of big match situations. He purportedly tells ring announcers to power through rather than leaving time for the chant, and encourages talents, too, to downplay it.
3 Triple H: Wait Until The Tomorrow To Be Critical
Now more than ever it’s easy for wrestlers to be critical of themselves. The Internet and particularly social media provide an infinite supply of immediate feedback for every WWE match and promo. Moreover, with the WWE Network, rewatching matches is easier than ever, not to mention comparing them to the vast library of matches that have happened before.
Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks were reportedly down on themselves for their Hell in a Cell main event match not going as well as they wanted, and particularly the table spot gone awry at the end of the match. Banks has commented in interviews, though that Triple H cut off their self criticism that night, encouraging them to, instead, celebrate what they’d done. The rule at hand: enjoy the moment and wait until tomorrow to get back to work and be critical.
2 Vince: No Sneezing
It’s one of Vince McMahons most unusual, arbitrary, and yet widely reported rules: don’t you dare sneeze around him. Chris Jericho, in particular, has offered insights into this idiosyncratic policy. Vince hates sickness, and hates it when people aren’t in control of their bodies. It’s why the guy hardly ever takes a sick day, and is so often the first to report to work and the last to leave, even in his seventies.
Jericho reported on Vince once actually going so far as to curse himself, saying, “I should be better than that,” when he let his own sneeze slip. When his wrestlers sneeze around him, it can apparently be a kiss of death for showing that they are weak and not fully under control in Vince’s estimation.
1 Stephanie: Don’t Get In Shape, Stay In Shape
While her father Vince McMahon and her husband Triple H tend to get more recognition for their impressive physiques, it is a mistake to overlook Stephanie McMahon. She’s a mother of three in her early forties, and yet maintains a level of fitness women in their twenties strive toward—not only fit, but strong.
One of Stephanie’s central tenets that was even mentioned in her storyline with Ronda Rousey this spring is that she doesn’t get into shape for big events, but rather stays in shape.
It’s a fair enough rule for WWE Superstars, too, who not only have a profession that requires great athletic effort, but whose bodies are constantly on display.
While matches may have predetermined outcome, the wrestlers are nonetheless professional athletes and, in Stephanie’s eyes there’s little reason for them let their bodies slip.