This surprises people, but I’m really interested in wrestling fandom. I’m shocked that there aren’t more papers and research on it, since it’s a fan studies (or gender/queer studies) gold mine.
I’d like to do some academic writing about pro-wrestling this year, so I’m collecting bits and pieces of online content that seem to get to the heart of what it means to be a wrestling fan. One thing I’ve realized is that there is a steep learning curve. You have to know a lot to have even a basic understand of what is happening. (And even if you do have that knowledge, the narrative is usually completely illogical anyway.) Basically, wrestling is just really, really weird and fascinating.
I saw this on reddit today. It’s a pretty good explanation of what fans want to see (what makes a good performer, good match, mic skills, etc).
Your translations are pretty good. A performer’s work rate describes his/her performance (duh) in the ring while completely ignoring everything else (e.g. mic skills). I don’t mean to bash him, but The Great Khali does not have a particularly great work rate. Daniel Bryan has an outstanding work rate.
This semi-dictionary might be a good start. Some of the definitions may not be the best, but you might find them helpful.
To answer your other questions:
1) A good performer, to me, is someone who’s entertaining (and, obviously, what that means can be totally different depending on the person).
Sure, it’s a live-action soap opera, but you have to remember that these guys and gals are playing characters, and some of the best characters right now are basically the performer themselves “in real life”, but their idiosyncrasies cranked to 11 on their character. He’s not a personal favorite currently, but take Zack Ryder for example. He’s a bit of a doofus, loves his hometown and his family/friends, etc., and could possibly be clueless about women in real life. As a character, his goofball characteristics and mannerisms are amplified even more. Obviously, The Undertaker doesn’t embalm/cremate/bury people in real life, but it depends on the character and gimmick. Dolph Ziggler is probably a confident, sure-of-himself person in real life, but that’s not interesting. That’s why he plays a character who’s obscenely arrogant, haughty, and self-serving: being such a dick makes the general audience hate his guts, which is way more interesting than simply being confident in oneself.
Good vs. Evil will always be the go-to story in wrestling (in my opinion). A good performer also makes the audience invest in him/her emotionally. Performers who are good guys (“faces”) want audiences to cheer for them. However, performers who are bad guys (“heels”) can also induce an emotional investment because we so desperately want to see the shit get kicked out of them!
A bad performer receives no reaction from the audience. If people don’t care if you have a match or not, you might not have a job with the company for very long.
2) Mic skills include being able to articulate the lines you’ve been given without sounding muffled, slipping on words, or forgetting your lines. With very few exceptions, lines are scripted word-for-word, and match times are given a goal time (e.g. ten minutes) to account for commercial breaks and things. Only supremely trusted performers are given an outline of talking points and are allowed to say anything as long as they cover what needs to be covered.
3) The best matches, story arcs, etc. are typically with performers who are flexible enough to work with multiple types of performers. For example, Daniel Bryan could tell a good story with The Great Khali just as well as he could with CM Punk. Although Punk/Bryan are more similar in build and wrestling style, Bryan’s facial expressions, ring psychology (“Knowing what needs to happen to win, but in a way that makes sense – there’s a reason why John Cena can’t hit the Attitude Adjustment or slap on the STFU as soon as the bell rings… it wouldn’t make any sense AND it’d be a shitty story!” is one definition. There’s a reason why Alberto Del Rio would repeatedly attack an opponent’s arm – it would make the opponent’s arm weaker and in much more pain when Del Rio would put his arm breaker submission), and ability to draw reactions from the audience (e.g. getting them to chant YESSSSSS or NOOOOO – it’s even celebrated here in SquaredCircle when you upvote/downvote submissions!), etc. make him more valuable as a performer than, say, the aforementioned Great Khali.
4) The pain is absolutely real, although they are trained to minimize the damage on their bodies. There’s a reason why WWE will send their performers to Dr. James Andrews for surgeries (he’s a sports medicine doctor who routinely performs surgeries on NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and other sports stars). Tyson Kidd is the most recent example of a performer needing surgery (although I don’t know if it was done by Dr. Andrews). Bumps, bruises, lacerations… it’s all part of the job. Diamond Dallas Page suffered through them, and that’s part of the reason why he developed his yoga program: it helped him heal faster, be more flexible, etc., and many performers use it today to help them stay fresh and limit their pain.
The ring collapse (e.g. Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show) is scripted, yes.