During a match between Bear Bronson and Hook on AEW Rampage on December 25, Bronson picked up Hook and hit him with an over-the-shoulder driver that planted Hook head-first on the mat. Instead of laying on the mat, hardly moving until kicking out at the last minute, Hook quickly got to his feet and acted like the move didn’t phase him at all. This moment of no-selling would turn a pretty run-of-the-mill squash match into something more conversation-worthy. 

No-selling would appear at first to violate the very fabric of pro wrestling itself. Wrestling is doing moves that don’t actually hurt, but the wrestlers react as if the moves are hurting them greatly. This general agreement in theory keeps the principles of wrestling in line. If a wrestler chooses to not react to the move, it would expose the entire act as a ruse; that the move was fake and it didn’t actually hurt, that wrestling is all a work, and fans are idiots for getting interested in it.

For some fans, particularly older fans who may be accustomed to one specific philosophical approach to pro wrestling (the approach used by WWE) this may feel like a complete infringement of what pro wrestling is supposed to be. No-selling is “exposing the business” and making pro wrestling look fake, a label it desperately has been trying to shed for more than a century. If wrestlers expose the action as fake, then what is the point of investing in the action? Wouldn’t fans stop paying attention to the shows if they knew these guys were not actually fighting? 

Obviously, in 2021, that can’t be considered a serious concern. Every fan is in on wrestling being fake and the idea of working the fans, or keeping kayfabe, has taken on a new meaning. Wrestlers still should avoid exposing the business, or making things appear fake, because it violates the sacred rules of pro wrestling and breaks the general expectations fans have of what they are going to see when they watch pro wrestling. 

Given how clear it is that no-selling breaks some important rules in wrestling, one would think that when it does occur, it would be a devastating blow to the pro wrestling business. The reality is the complete opposite. 

Because no-selling breaks the expectations of fans and occurs rarely, when it does take place, it shows that a wrestler is actually very special. The biggest stars in pro wrestling history were famous for no-selling; Hulk Hogan built his career off of it, but Andre the Giant, The Undertaker, Sting, Vader, Bill Goldberg, Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar and other huge stars got over big because they no-sold. It’s strange that some fans would react so negatively to wrestlers doing something that helped every top star in the history of the business get over, but that is pro wrestling fandom. Oftentimes fans will defend something based purely on conceived principle and tradition, despite what historical record or logic proves is a successful concept. 

The key is that when a wrestler does no-sell, the fans in the arena do not react as if the image of pro wrestling has been shattered. Instead, they often react in a hugely positive manner and go fucking crazy. When Hook quickly stood up during his match on Rampage, the fans did not fall silent in disbelief after witnessing the illusion of pro wrestling being destroyed in front of them; instead, they reacted as if Hook was a total badass for getting right up. People may argue that fundamentally, no-selling is wrong, but the reality is that when guys do it, it typically gets over, and the biggest draws in history all did it. 

If you think about it on a deeper level, no-selling actually does fit the fundamental parameters of traditional pro wrestling. At its core, a wrestling match is performers doing a series of moves that try to hurt their opponent so badly, they either submit or are pinned for a three count. 99% of those moves will not get the job done. Does it really matter if a wrestler doesn’t really react to a move that isn’t designed to get a near-fall? 

Even the most “traditional” of wrestlers will no-sell a move. They might take a clothesline and get right up, or take a punch or forearm shot and fire right back. Fans would never complain about a wrestler no-selling in that situation, but because a move like a piledriver is a historically more-protected move, people will get up-in-arms about a dude standing up after it. If a wrestler no-sells an established finisher of another wrestler, it might prove to be more problematic, since it kind of buries the wrestler doing the other move. However, if it’s just a typical move in a match, it’s not really doing any harm. 

Of course, the really humorous thing about the argument that no-selling exposes the pro wrestling business and is something that should be outlawed is that the opposite is really true. In a real fight, people “no-sell” all the time. In boxing, or an MMA fight, guys get punched in the face all of the time and they don’t fly back and take dramatic bumps; they just keep going like it doesn’t even phase them.

The irony is that the phoniest thing about pro wrestling is selling and the dramatic bumps wrestlers take. In a real fight, the only time the guys act like they are really hurt is because they are really hurt and they lose the fight. If you crave pro wrestling that “looks real”, you should be celebrating a guy like Hook standing up and not acting like he was really hurt, because that is more realistic than a guy taking a dramatic bump, selling for 90 seconds, and then getting up and doing his next move. 

Some wrestlers, such as Tomohiro Ishii, use this philosophy in all of their matches; they pretty much never sell until they absolutely have to. Consequently, he is one of the most entertaining wrestlers in the world, and nobody says that he is exposing the business, if anything his matches feel like more realistic fights than the typical WWE-style of wrestling. 

People are critical of no-selling simply because they have a rigid view of pro wrestling and need it to accommodate that view, otherwise, they are lost. Upon closer examination, the arguments against no-selling hold little water. There is probably a scenario where no-selling can go too far, or it can be done detrimentally, but history and logic tell us that no-selling, when done appropriately, enhances pretty much all elements of pro wrestling. 

On the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) and Jason Ounpraseuth (@JasonOun95) look at some of the former WWE talent that have jumped to AEW in 2021 and assess how they have done in the new company. They discuss Bryan Danielson’s heel turn, how AEW has handled Adam Cole and Andrade’s slow start, while also talking about prospective moves for Kyle O’Reilly and Johnny Gargano, and wrap up by talking about Kevin Owens’ decision to stay in WWE.