Training Ground with Ricky Steamboat (FSM 122; Aug 2015)
FSM: What are some good ways for wrestlers to become more expressive
with their selling?
Ricky Steamboat: When I went to the WWF [to coach] around 2005, I taught Rey Mysterio a little secret, and that’s using your hands because you’re wearing a mask. Body language is all about being able to tell the story on how much it hurts, especially when you’re wearing a mask, because you can’t show facials. So I started showing him to use your hands, and cameras will pick up on that. Squeezing the hands, or trying to reach out, and trembling with the fingers, you know? It all shows pain, desperation, and so on. And he started doing it, and little Rey-Rey became really good at it. Rey-Rey was special. You put him in with Big Show, and everyone’s gonna think, “How’s this 5ft 6in, 160lb guy gonna go up against a 400lb man and win? And to make it believable?” That little guy was special, and had a great fanbase, as everybody knows about how hot his merchandise was, flying off the shelves.
Let me also say this. There’s one thing I say a lot these days to these babyfaces, and that is when the heel gets heat on you, and they start fighting back, [the babyfaces are] almost fighting back too strong and not staying in the sell mode as [they] fight back. There’s an expression that I use, and that is that when they do this, they throw away the heat. What I mean by that is somebody that was in a sell, and let’s say you’re in a hardcore sell, and all of a sudden you’re firing back, and you’re firing back like you were fresh. Well, then people start to think, “Was he really hurt?” So all the time and effort that the heel spent building heat can be thrown away in a matter of seconds, and it’s just by the way you fight back.
If you fight back [while] still in the sell mode – you fight back still hurt – you’re not throwing away the heat. When the heel stops you, and goes right back to the heat, it’s not a rebuilding process all over again – you stay with the flow.
I know there were times that I was firing back on a heel, and I’m still selling, and firing back and firing back, and I would think, “Okay, I’m getting too far into this fighting back. The heel is letting me, and a lot of it is just out of respect for Ricky Steamboat.”
I would design my own cut-offs so that I could be stopped, in order for the heel to get his heat back, because he’s not calling anything to stop me, or he’s not attempting to stop me. So I would have my own little one-liners: “Duck this. Kick me. Block this!” Because if I’m firing back with my chops, and I grab my gut like I’m still selling and fire off another round, and then another round, I say, “All right, we’re getting to three or four rounds here. We’re getting a little bit too deep.” Then maybe I would throw him off the ropes, and as he’d pass me by, I’d say, “Kick me!” as I go for a backdrop. He’d kick me, which would then stand me up, and I’m looking at him going, “Clothesline! Clothesline! Clothesline!” and then he’d give me a clothesline and down I’d go. Now we’re back into the heat.
I was always very conscious about not getting too far into this fighting back stuff, because if we’re in the middle of the match and it’s not time for a comeback – maybe we’ve still got another 10 more minutes of selling to do – I don’t wanna throw away all of the time and effort spent building to that point. I see that with a lot of the babyfaces today; they’re just firing back and running guys off and hitting the ropes, and then they’re getting stopped and getting back into the heat.
For that 10 or 15 second moment, his body language is telling me he wasn’t even hurt.
When you work with younger wrestlers at independent shows, what specifically do you see in their ring psychology that needs improving?
This weekend I was at a show, and the babyface was passing their belt to the heel. I didn’t know the two guys that were working, but I was out there to oversee the match, be the enforcer type. I said, “I can’t do anything physical and I can’t traumatise my head anymore, but I just wanna make sure this is a straight-up championship match and we don’t have any outside interference”, and there wasn’t any. But getting back to the two guys, I asked around, and the other guys said, “These two are good workers” and this and that. The thing I told these guys before they went out is to make sure to tell your story, because it’s a championship match.
So they went out and had the match, and came back and asked me what I thought. I said, “Well, you did something to the guy, gave him a big bump, but then you’d walk around the ring, and you didn’t cover him.” The other guy did the same thing, but each guy was doing it in their own character. I said there was at least half-a-dozen times at which you should have covered the guy. It’s a championship match; the story should be that it’s a championship match.”
I looked at the babyface, who was the champion, and said, “Your story should be about protecting the championship.” I looked at the heel and said, “Your entire thing is trying to win it.” When you don’t cover a guy after a DDT, and prostitute Jake Roberts, I’m sitting there going, “You’re not trying to win the championship, because you DDT’d the guy and didn’t even cover him to try and beat him.”
I said, “That happened at least a dozen times. Granted, you want to get your character in, but this is how I would have done it: do your move, cover the guy. He kicks out. Get into your ranting and raving character, but after the fact – after you tell me as a fan that you’re trying to beat this guy. And you, you’re trying to protect your championship – that’s the whole story of this match. But neither one of you guys did that.”
You had moments where the babyface did something to the heel, and then he took the heel and threw him out to the floor, only so he could take off and dive through the ropes with the crossbody to the floor. When he did the crossbody, he got up, he fired up, he ranted and raved, hands up in the air, but it was just to get a pop – what I call a cheap pop.
“So he says, “Ricky, what would you have done?” I said, “If you want to do the dive to the floor, this is what I would have done. You hit the guy with the big move. Let the heel roll out. Don’t take him and throw him out just so that you can do the dive; let the heel roll out and stand up selling. Let the move you just gave warrant the heel wanting to get the hell out of there. You see that the heel rolled out to the floor, so you want to take advantage of the situation, telling the fans, ‘Oh, this guy’s thinking on his feet’, so then you come in with your dive.
“Instead of throwing away that big moment, I would have popped up, dragged that guy by the hair, rolled him in the ring and dragged him into the middle, hooked a leg deep, and got a 1-2-kick out of it. We all know it’s not the finish; he’s gonna kick out, but you didn’t throw away any of it.
You capitalise on that big moment where you dove out onto him, and you wanna get his ass back in the ring as soon as possible to see if that moment was enough to win.
“But you didn’t get any of that. You did the big move; you purposefully threw him out so you could follow it up with the dive, and you threw all that away by hoochie-kooing around on the floor thinking you’re cute, popping the fans. You see the difference? You can do all of the moves that you wanna do; it’s just how you do it that tells the reason and story. Let the moves make the heel to want to get the hell out of there because he wants to collect himself. You take advantage of doing a dive, you get his ass back in the ring, and it says now you’re thinking that he’s hurt and you’re going for the win. He kicks out of it, now show me whatever character you have.”
I hope that in the 10-minute seminar we had, those guys walked away understanding more about the psychology and more about the business rather than just doing moves just for the sake of doing them. Do the moves, and have a reason why. Tell me why, as a fan, you did that. You did it as a babyface to beat the heel. You rolled out of the ring as a heel because you were getting your ass handed to you. We can all do what you did, but let it make sense. Tell a story; the better storyteller you are, the farther you’re ahead. And especially the higher-ups will start noticing, “Hey, this guy can put together a match” or “He tells a good story and there’s no denying his work in the ring,” Especially if WWE comes around and you get an audition.
They came back all fired up because they thought they had a hell of a match. I’m sorry I had to, but I thought that it would help these two down the road. Ultimately, they’re all trying to reach the same goal, which is getting to the major leagues: WWE.
To each guy, I said to them, “You guys have talent. I just wish I could spend a week with you guys and tell you all of the reasons why you do what you do when you do it.”