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  1. #1
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    [KOTC:R1] The Psychology Of Mercy In Professional Wrestling

    Mercy.



    So much comes to mind when I think of the word- religion, psychology, Duffy, compassion. Being in a position of weakness. To an adult professional wrestling fan, mercy has layers of meanings. As one among that type of fan, the first wrestling related imagery that popped into my head was of Ric Flair pleading on his hands and knees, begging his opponent to not hurt him...






    Strange what a simple image conjures in our mind. Also strange how in pro wrestling this often works. The opponent is often a ďfaceĒ, and they almost always let up a bit in the moment. At least in current times, stopping their offensive barrage long enough to give the heel a rest. I sit here, finding it odd that this not only happens in professional wrestling to this day, but is expected by most fans. Ask yourself as a fan, ĎIf in this situation, the face just kept attacking, would it affect my level of immersion?í


    Would you scoff, and chalk it up to bad character play? Would it take you out of the moment, even if only briefly? What if the two opponents had no history between them?


    Now think about the real world- how often do you feel like you need mercy, and how often in those moments do you receive it? As a parent of young kids, I beg for mercy practically daily. There are days every week in which I have been up for 20 hours straight between work and then afterwards spending the rest of the day alone with my 3 year old, and every time itís like Iím John Cena, and heís just suplexed me a fifteenth time at Summerslam 2014- right around the time my girlfriend is finally walking through the door to call the ďfightĒ.


    Iím begging him to let up, stop, give me a break- from pillar to post that little boy owns me on those days. And Iíd say just about anyone who knew him would say Wyatt is a total face. But does he heed my call for understanding, does he relinquish or let up? Does he even nap?? Nope.


    Do you ever just beg for the bills to stop piling up, or for the bullshit at work to die down, or for someone in your life to just simply give you a break, or cut you some slack? It is human to do so. We wind up in situations, especially as adults, in which the weight of responsibility and society tend to sometimes wrap us up in a rather nasty submission hold, or relentlessly beat on us, and we just feel helpless in the moment. At first we resist, we fight. Then eventually we lose the power or strength to do so. We start to slip- we find our limitations, we begin to feel weak. As if we have lost control, and we are drifting into the darkest of depths- falling into a void of uncertainty and vulnerability- at our most desperate. And almost every time, life doesnít let up. At least not right away.


    We simply have to get used to the hardship(s), and soldier on. No matter how hard, and often in the moment, how impossible that seems. And yet, in professional wrestling, a sport where some of the most ultimate brutality is encouraged and expected, we see people begging for respite, and we expect it to be given to them, but why?


    Especially knowing what we do about professional wrestling. I mean weíve seen this play out before- Ric begs on his knees for forgiveness, with his hands clasped together in seeming prayer, the face lets up, and then what happens? Yep, you guessed it, Ric uppercuts them right in the crotch. The guy that just gave him the break that he begged for, and this is how the face is repaid for his act of compassion. So why do we expect the face to give the heel a break in wrestling? Especially when often in the real world, faces donít even grant as much to other faces?


    Even despite knowing that, and add in watching Ric display evolutionary tactics so perfectly by playing up how helpless he is, only to twist the proverbial knife into his opponent to gain the upper hand the moment compassion is offered or granted, we still expect the faces to put themselves in vulnerable positions in order to appear fair/compassionate. I think we partially want that because we want to believe if we need help, it will be given. And also because I think most of us would like to believe that we would be so fair if the tables were turned.


    We want to believe that in our time of need, we will receive respite, release, or a break. Oftentimes, this isnít reality, which might be why we still subconsciously expect it in pro wrestling. We watch to escape reality. We watch to not only escape, but surround ourselves with the extraordinary, spectacular, and ideal. We want to watch, and live in a world where nobody expects so much of us, and if they do, we can always just tell them itís too much, and they will just simply ease up.


    I think we also want to live in the lie that this ideal of mercy is as far as our psyche goes on the subject. There is a much deeper level though, lying underneath the layers of our super-ego. The thing of it is, deep down, we want the face to get hurt. We want to watch them feel bad, and to bleed. I think most of us look at ourselves as underdogs, and as flawed, so when we see a face so perfect that despite all the dastardly tricks in the book being used against them, they still extend courtesies and maintain a moral compass, we subconsciously want to watch them suffer.







    As adults, part of why we root for the bad guys/heels is because we are tired of not being good enough, of being viewed as weak, or of feeling like we are worth less than anyone else. We identify with the bad guy begging for mercy on his knees, because we feel that projected weakness in some aspect of our lives everyday. We imagine ourselves on our knees, pleading to life. And we enjoy when Ric Flair crotches a face, partially because itís a big fuck you to those we perceive as better than us, or those who have us feeling weak/inadequate. Itís also a big fuck you to life. And somewhere in there, buried down deep within our ID, we love seeing someone feign weakness in order to help them beat the perfect face, because the average adult fan doesnít associate with the person who can do no wrong. We associate with the one who knows weakness so well, that they even know how to use it to their advantage.


    Did you love Stone Cold? Truly his character was a heel for the vast majority of his career. His ďfaceĒ run involved him beating the hell out of his boss repeatedly. In real life he would frequent prison for everything he did. Us fans loved it. We ate it all right up. As soon as we are old enough to understand what it feels like to have life put us under its proverbial thumb, we begin loving to watch someone in a similar position lash out. Even if lashing out makes us/them the heel.


    Kids typically love the face, because the Hulk Hogans, and John Cenas are what they aspire to become. Kids view them as perfect, or infallible- a paradigm of goodness/wholesomeness- a moral compass for which they can set life's course with. Yet as we grow up, we start to see life pointing a finger of shame down on us as we look up at the "faces". We start to see and view those perfect individuals as an unrealistic expectation on ourselves. It subconsciously makes us resent/hate them, we want someone to take them down a peg, and we enjoy it so much when it happens- because, ultimately, on some level, we hate ourselves.


    We hate feeling inadequate. We hate feeling like we let opportunities slip, or that we failed. We hate thinking that if we had put in as much effort as we could or should have, that we could have been the one looking down at the others. We hate ourselves for not making the unrealistic, real.


    And yet our Egos will chalk all this up to not applying to us. We partially recoil when we realize deep down that the words above might be true. We donít want to admit such a weakness, such a perversion, even inside the safety of our own minds. So we bury it way down. We write it off as not pertaining to us. We put it underneath the surface, in places we feel when we beg for mercy.


  2. #2
    You know who I am, but you don't know why I'm here
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    Excellent work, Kleck. I love columns like this, which are obviously about wrestling but simultaneously about the human psyche as well. I was sucked in quickly and was compelled throughout the piece.
    Author of The WrestleMania Era book series, author of The Doctor's Orders columns on LOP since 2010, LOP Columns Hall of Famer, former host of The Doc Says podcast on LOP Radio (2013-2018), former LOP Raw and WWE PPV Reviewer (2006-2007), and former LOP Smackdown Reviewer (2004-2006)

  3. #3
    Great quality as always. I have to say I expected a closer look at psychology in wrestling and itís trope of begging for mercy, you took it on a different route. I think it works but on a personal note it didnít reasonate fully with me as your work usually do as you move towards good vs evil rather than simply on mercy. Difficult topic, a good take and itís down to your complex take on the topic vs Nonyís straightforward and climatic story. Itís going to be close.

  4. #4
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    This was a great look into the human psyche and I liked how you twisted mercy into this. Perhaps I was never a normal kid but I was never fully on board with the faces. Most likely because I've learn from a young age that we are all incapable of being infallible.

    Good luck.

  5. #5
    Lamb of LOP anonymous's Avatar
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    I enjoyed the column. I think NXT has been phenomenal at exploring the concept of Mercy and Gargano’s storyline especially has been a wonderful example of the blurred lines between a heel deserving treatment whilst begging for mercy and a face becoming uncomfortably brutal against a heel. It’s interesting that the bloodthirsty audience that the WWE has had would eat up acts of no mercy, and I wonder if the audience has changed now to no longer be desperate for “cruelty”. The human brain is a unique place and people are sheepish in their behaviour. You could write tens of thousands of words on this alone, so to do it in so few is creditable.

    Well done.

  6. #6
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    Nice analysis here. I love a good psychological dissection when it comes to wrestling. And I largely agree with your analysis. The point that really drove home to me was the instance where you discussed people connecting to the heel begging off, relating to the dirty Flair asking for mercy. The rebelliousness felt upon that low blow or poke to the eye really is cathartic for many. Loved you tying that human element to wrestling psychology. Overall, this was a good column, and especially connected well when considering the topic you were given.

    Now, I will say that in an ideal world, I would have preferred a little more content directly tied to wrestling. I’m all for connecting wrestling to the human element or real life. And a column dissecting psychology clearly needs that connection and exploration of the mind in a larger picture. It’s crucial. I get that. I guess my optimal mixture when reading an LOP column, without trying to quantify an art too much, is having the human/life element complement the wrestling discussion rather than vice versa. It’s purely a personal preference, but I want a few more hooks into the meat of the wrestling.

    Zooming in on some really tiny quibbles now – I would have removed the brackets from “hardship(s)” altogether. I know you were covering bases of hardship and multiple hardships, but in virtually every scenario, I feel the latter covers it enough. The brackets give me a feeling of a lawyer-drawn document or a manual. On the technical side of things, the column was largely there with maybe a run-on sentence here or there, and a comma issue once in a while, but nothing massive to disrupt the flow. One key thing I noticed was that you used ID instead of id for the term representing one of Freud’s three psyche components. Positively, though, I thought you nailed it when talking about the id and its role in our savage undercurrent.

    Solid pacing and fluidity to the column. No issues with the word restriction feeling like it had any adverse effect on you. This column, in terms of length, would be perfect with or without the upper limit. Nice work here, Kleck.

  7. #7
    The Brain
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    Great take on the topic, that first image is perfect and iconic for what you’re going for. Interesting idea that we identify with heels because of how they are beaten. I think there’s some truth to that as well. Who among us feels as righteous as the top babyfaces seem to all the time? A really nice take on this, liked the ending line quite a bit, though it also felt just a little abrupt.

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