Professional wrestling is a world unto itself, brimming with colorful figures, epic battles, and lingo that can seem impenetrable if you aren’t on the inside. With more than a century of mainstream, pop-culture appeal working in its favor, this form of sports entertainment has had plenty of time to develop its own verbiage. But in pro wrestling, slang isn’t just for fun—for decades, it was an important way that wrestlers guarded the business and kept paying customers from catching on to what was really going on behind the scenes.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to learn the ropes of it now—just don’t think using any of it will endear you to veterans. So grab your strap, do a heel turn, and get ready to learn 31 of the most common pro wrestling slang terms still in use today.
1. and 2. Babyface and Face Turn
In pro wrestling, these are the good guys. The babyface (or simply, face) is the one the crowd loves to cheer for, wants to see triumph in the ring, and hates to spot on the wrong end of a folding chair. They come in a wide range of personalities, from John Cena’s kid-friendly rapper persona to the American hero angle popularized by Hulk Hogan. They’re the protagonists of the story, but that doesn’t preclude a wrestler from eventually becoming a bad guy, or switching back to babyface (the latter of which is known as a face turn).
3. and 4. Blading and Getting Color
Pro wrestling is simultaneously “not real” and also a dangerous and astonishing display of physicality. It can be genuinely gruesome, even within its simpler theatrical elements. Blading (also known as gigging) involves using a razor blade to draw blood (usually referred to as juicing or getting color) from yourself during a match so that it looks like your opponent has done some serious damage. It was outlawed in the WWE in 2008, and several wrestlers since then have been fined for doing it. However, other major promotions like AEW—and independent promotions like GCW—are still A-okay with blood.
Any time a wrestler crashes down to the mat, whether it’s a simple punch or a complex maneuver, that’s known as a bump. According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, the word generally started to be associated with violence (not necessarily of the wrestling variety) around the end of the 19th century, when it was used to describe everything from beating someone up to just generally defeating them in a fight to literal murder.
6. Bump Mat
To facilitate these massive hits in pro wrestling, some shows use a bump mat (also known as a bump ring) specifically designed with more give so that it takes less of a toll on the wrestler’s body. In one of the most memorable scenes of the wrestling reality competition show Tough Enough, the legendary Triple H shows students how to bump, displaying that there’s a huge difference between falling back on the mat and throwing yourself at it.
7. Closet Champion
In an ideal sport, the champion at the top would regularly fend off wannabes in order to prove their true dominance, but sometimes that champ earns the belt and wants to rest on their laurels. The term closet champion refers to a title-holder who sees no reason to get back in the ring to risk losing it. Most of the time, this is considered a bad move that shows poor sportsmanship and outright disdain for fellow wrestlers, but it makes it even sweeter when they eventually lose the belt.
According to Green’s, a gimmick is a “tricky or ingenious device, gadget, [or] idea, especially one adopted for the purpose of attracting attention or publicity.” It’s been around since 1893, and 130 years later, professional wrestling still uses it the same way.
In wrestling, a gimmick usually refers to a wrestler’s persona which, like Dungeons & Dragons, can provide context for their in-ring behavior and wrestling style. Gimmicks broadly start out either in the face or heel (more on that below) categories and branch out from there, limited only by human imagination. Whatever the gimmick, it has to be engaging enough to draw the attention of those seeing the event live, plus the potentially millions of viewers watching it at home.
9., 10., 11., 12., and 13. Heel, Heat, Cheap Heat, Over, and Heel Turn
Every story needs a villain, and the same is true in pro wrestling. A heel is the opposite of the good guy, meant to rile viewers up and create an obstacle in the babyface’s path toward ultimate victory. Green’s notes that, since the early 1900s, the term has been used to describe a generally dishonest person, “especially one who treats women badly,” which more or less lines up with its usage here.
In wrestling, heels break rules, represent bad ethics, and often win by cheating—all of which is part of getting heat. When a heel insults an audience’s hometown (or mocks the fans directly), this is usually called cheap heat, as it’s an easy way for them to get jeered by the crowd. This also helps them get over, meaning they’ve elicited a strong response from viewers, which is something wrestlers want whether it’s a positive or negative reaction, because it makes them a bigger draw within the show.
Like babyfaces, heels can take on tons of personalities as long as their schtick keeps the audience booing. Some famous examples in wrestling history include Ric Flair, Harley Race, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. A face who goes bad is said to have done a heel turn.
14. and 15. Job and Jobber
When a wrestler is booked to lose a match, this is generally called a job, while the act itself is usually described as jobbing.
However, an in-ring performer who consistently loses their matches might come to be known as a jobber, or a wrestler who is only there to take a lot of bumps and make their opponent look good. This isn’t a label you’d want to toss around lightly at a live event, as being a jobber is not usually seen as a path to success or what wrestlers want for their careers long-term. That said, Mick Foley and Bret Hart are two big names who started out as jobbers in the 1980s before eventually finding fame in the 1990s. Being a jobber—especially a talented one—can earn a wrestler a ton of respect inside the business itself even if it doesn’t lead to larger fame with fans.
16., 17., and 18. Kayfabe, Work, and Shoot
Kayfabe is the engine that makes the entire pro wrestling world run. According to Merriam-Webster, the term originated in the late 20th century (before the advent of the internet) and means that the events of a wrestling show—from the competition to disruptions to outside rivalries—are presented as 100 percent authentic, even when they’re almost always staged in advance.
It’s the powerful fourth wall that allows the show to become a soap opera instead of a dull, yet impressive, exhibition of athletic prowess. In the past, kayfabe was also used as a codeword between wrestlers as a reminder not to break character (even when outside the ring) or reveal any backstage secrets to fans, although the internet has made this behavior a bit antiquated. Scripted elements within the show are called a work, but when something real and unscripted invades the storyline, it’s known as a shoot (or breaking kayfabe).
There’s no one clear origin for the word kayfabe (at least outside the business), but it’s suspected to be a jumble of the phrase be fake, either from Pig Latin, where it sounds like “ebay akefay,” or as a scrambled up code once used at carnivals, back in the days when wrestling events were largely held at them. Another theory is that it was named for a real wrestler, Kay Fabian. It may also come from the Latin imperative verb cavēre (pronounced as “kave” or “kay-ve”), meaning “to take care” or “beware.”
So why would wrestlers need to remind each other to keep kayfabe? Simple. It’s in case they were about to be in the presence of a mark, meaning someone who believes wrestling is unscripted and buys into the narratives wholesale, falling in love with the babyfaces they were meant to fall for and dividing into factions over heels.
According to Green’s, this term has been around since at least 1733 and refers to “the potential and actual victim of a con-man,” which fits the bill here perfectly, although a bit more playfully.
This is one of those terms that helps to know when watching matches because it’s used so frequently. The main way for a wrestler to win a match is to pin their opponent for a three-count from the referee. In a near-fall, the wrestler gets the pin, but the referee only counts to two (and sometimes comes within millimeters of slapping the mat a third time) before their opponent pops back up to keep fighting.
21., 22., 23., and 24. Phantom Bump, Sell, Botch, and Showing Light
Sometimes wrestlers end up taking what’s known as a phantom bump, which is when a move doesn’t connect but they try to pretend, or sell, that it did anyway. Flawed execution like this in the ring is usually considered a botch, which is when a pre-coordinated move doesn’t go according to plan. If viewers catch on to the mistake, this becomes an example of showing light, or revealing the false nature of a hit to fans. Instead of a fist connecting with a face, or a leg connecting with a chest, we get a big, wide burst of daylight between the two bodies.
25., 26., and 27. Potato, Stiffed, and Receipt
In pro wrestling, a potato refers to a real hit (some might also use the verb stiffed, which for the sport, means to strike an opponent with actual force or aggression). This can sometimes happen intentionally as part of the storyline or to intensify a match, but it’s typically associated with wrestlers who don’t know what they’re doing. However, some well-known wrestlers (like William Regal) were famously known for stiffing in the ring, as it was part of the wrestling style they were trained in and done to make the match appear more authentic.
Naturally, those genuine blows can come as a surprise to the wrestler receiving them, so they’ll sometimes offer a receipt, meaning a real hit in return as a reminder to their opponent to knock it off.
Part of the wrestling storyline takes place during promotional interviews (known as promos) where the performer gets the mic and speaks directly to an interviewer or the audience. Like all other elements of the business, these are often scripted and cleared in advance, and are meant to intensify rivalries or build excitement leading up to a big match.
Some promos are so good, they take on a life of their own. One famous example of this is when CM Punk took to the mic to air grievances against the WWE live on air, pointing out several problems that viewers at the time largely agreed with. Known as the “pipebomb” promo, it was seen as speaking truth to power and Punk was cheered by many in the audience; a genius heel, he immediately shoveled blame for the downfall of the business on those very same fans.
A schmoz is a crowd of wrestlers in a free-for-all brawl that devolves into chaos. It’s a smart way to get a bunch of performers in the ring without having to choreograph something intricate (they can talk their way through with improv), and it’s a stunning sight for fans to see. There’s no background on where the term came from, but curiously, a shemozzle —a term that Green’s notes originated in the UK around 1886—refers to “a fuss, a disturbance; noise, uproar, [or] excitement,” so it doesn’t seem too far off base.
Although pro wrestling is inherently based in deception of its audience for its audience’s sake, there are viewers who are in on the gag but nonetheless still love wrestling (and often get just as emotionally invested in the storylines). A portmanteau of the phrase smart mark, a smark is a fan who appreciates wrestling despite knowing it’s scripted, and who usually has a lot of knowledge about the industry overall.
31. Squared Circle
When a wrestler climbs into the ring, they’re also getting into what is known as the squared circle. This might seem strange, though, as the ring itself isn’t circular. The term most likely comes from amateur wrestling, where competitors face off against one another on a square rubber mat. All the actual fighting, however, typically takes place inside the center circle on the mat. Others trace the term back to boxing in the 1700s, where opponents would duke it out inside a circle drawn on the floor.