How Scripted are pro wrestling matches?

In another thread someone said that certain matches were rehearsed before being put on, the Hogan-Warrior match at Wrestle-mania VI was mentioned.

How often is this done? I suppose you could meticulously rehearse a main event Pay Per View match*but a live match like on RAW or Smackdown would be more improvised. Which would explain why Pay Per View matches are better

*Though the wrestlers must have forgot the directions at the Hogan-Sting match at Starrcade 1997, Hogan dominated the match and made Sting look weak the opposite to the desired conclusion of that angle.

I read Hogan’s autobiography a few years ago and I remember him saying that with more unexperienced wrestlers, they might have to rehearse some. But with experienced guys they would know the outcome only. Almost everything during the match was improv. The wrestlers would communicate during the match to each other what moves they were going to do. And sometimes (according to Hogan) if a wrestler decided during the match he didn’t want to lose, it could get ugly. He said he was worried about this in Wrestlemania III against Andre the Giant. He did mention the Ultimate Warrior as being a guy who needed rehearsal, but that it didn’t matter much anyway because he just kind of did his own thing. Hogan did not like the UW much.

The producers tell them who wins and the two wrestlers make up the rest between themselves. How much of that is scripted and now much is improv is totally up to those two guys, and there’s no good way to say what’s “average”. I’d guess that producers often come up with the pre- and post-match theatrics as well.

I remember seeing a documentary on television years and years back about this. The wrestlers involved were masked, and they showed how some of the more common moves were performed and how they communicated with each other. The ref also got instructions/feedback from the match directors through his earpiece and would pass on instructions to the wrestlers.

My take on it (based on the documentary and watching matches) was there were specific moves “spots?” during that match that obviously had been pre-determined (when I do x you’re going to do y), usually the wrestlers “signature” moves. But “basic” moves like bodyslams, turnbuckle whips, etc, are almost definitely improv. I very seriously doubt that any entire match has been scripted move for move.

My best friend from HS has worked for a couple pro wrestling federations as a ring announcer, photographer, and general assistant. He confirms Chessic Sense’s description. I’ll ask him more about it, but he’s also said in the past that the promoters also will tell wrestlers to “make sure you do moves X, Y, and Z during the match.”

The promoters will also give them an idea of how long they want the match to be. There’s going to be someone ringside who will give a signal when there are two minutes, one minute, etc. left in the match, so they know when it’s time to start with the finishing moves. My friend used to be that guy with World Extreme Wrestling.

That was then, this is now.

Back in the day, during the kayfabe era, most matches were almost entirely improv. Wrestlers went to the ring knowing the finish and the amount of time they were expected to fill. Everything else was called in the ring…usually by the heel, but if the babyface was more experienced, he might call the match (tell the other guy what to do and when).

Now, that doesn’t happen very often. Many of today’s wrestlers don’t have the skill/knowledge/experience to do that sort of thing. Pretty much the entire match is often planned out move by move backstage. They don’t necessarily rehearse a particular match, but the guys will talk and agree on a sequence of moves to be performed. In the WWE, the ref does have an earpiece, and there will be a “road agent”–usually an old school wrestler, calling adjustments on the fly, which the ref can then relay to the wrestlers.


I think Scott Keith is some kind of wrestling insider blogger or something. But, I do remember Hogan’s autobiography stating that the Warrior was such a terrible wrestler that they did have to script out matches for him. Weird, because his matches were typically pretty short due to the fact that he wasted his energy in his intro. He also no-sold many opponents’ moves. Also, I disagree with that quote that Hogan delivered awful matches…see Wrestlemania III.

This. Back in the day, Gorilla Monsoon would signal to the ref that the match wasn’t going over, and the ref would discreetly whisper to the heel: “Time to go home.” The WWE employs so many former stars as road agents these days that I’m sure the responsibility is more diffuse.

  1. Hogan’s book was a WWE product, and MacMahon has a huge grudge against UW–probably for good reason. Nevertheless, take anything with the WWE logo on it with a grain of salt when it comes to relations with former (or current) talent.

  2. Not sure what match you were watching, but Hogan-Andre was a snoozer top to bottom. Not exactly a highlight of either guy’s career as far as ringwork was concerned. They sold tickets, though, so that’s what counts.

Scott Keith is…not highly regarded as a credible source for much of anything related to the business.

On Hogan…he was capable of more than he was allowed to show in WWF. He’s got some decent matches from Japan that are available on video. I wouldn’t call him a “good worker” ringwise, but considering his stuff from Japan , he wasn’t horrible.

Shawn Michaels in his book also remembers that at the Ironman match v Bret Hart he was rather annoyed at the scripted 0-0 finish, since he though one hour was too long to make it work.

Scripting has become more common and comprehensive in recent years. For one reason, the back stories have become more complex, and pre-scripted, and certain events within a match have to match that story. Wrestlers are also engaged in more difficult ‘big moves’ now that require better coordination to pull off.

Back in the good old days wrestlers could just get in the ring and wing it, but they were using a limited repertoire that they all were familiar. Any match back then could start with a series of repeated arm-drag take-downs, followed by wrestlers going from side to side off the ropes trying to catch the other one in a back flip, or countering that move. Then they would stall for while. A wrestler like Buddy Colt could chew up ten minutes ducking out of every move, building up heat from the audience, until he managed to get the drop on his opponent. All time consuming, sometimes entertaining, and not requiring much pre-planning.

Now, the idea is to get the wrestlers going at it quickly, and almost every match has a gimmick ending, where outside interference in some form affects the outcome. Clean finishes demonstrating superior wrestling ability are rare. So the wrestlers will have the finish well determined in advance. And the big off-the-top-rope moves have to be choreographed for the wrestlers to pull them off successfully. A splash off the top rope doesn’t need much rehearsal, but if the wrestler on the mat has to jump up and put his finishing move on the opponent in the air, it requires more cooperation.

Scripting also prevents injuries. Without scripting, wrestlers themselves couldn’t be sure if their opponent was selling a move, or had actually been injured. Now they can assume any wrestler deviating from the plan has a good reason for doing so.

I disagree with this bit. Workers know if someone is really hurt or just selling. They’ll either know a move was botched, or something else happened…and they talk to each other and the ref. There are certain signals that can be used to alert the backstage people as well.

I have not yet been able to find it, but I believe Lance Storm covered something along the lines of this question in one of his commentaries (probably a Q&A) on Some interesting reads if you’re interested in an ex-wrestler’s views and comments, even beyond this one question.