The Ring (How WWE Ring Is Made)
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Some of the first recorded competitive fights, happened within the simple confines of a chalk or sand circle, crudely strewn on the ground around the combatants.
Ancient wall paintings found inside the caves of Mongolia depict images of nude combatants fighting whilst surrounded by a group of onlookers in the crowd. The paintings have been dates as far back as 9,000 years ago during the Neolithic period.
In ancient Greece, wrestling matches were a key part of the ceremonial games with prestigious combatants grappling it out on a squared mat or cordoned off area with a circle painted in chalk around them.
In China, records of sporting events from between 221 and 207 BC shown public wrestling matches being displayed for the crowd’s amusement. The bouts took place atop an elevated structure known as a Lei Tai.
The second oldest book on Japanese history, which was first released in the year 720 is called The Ninon Shoki and outlines the events of the very first sumo bout, which is said to have taken place in 23BC.
At this point in time, the bouts were little more than unregulated punching and grappling contests often with no rules, no referee and no real confined to contain the fighters.
In 1578, Oda Nobunaga held an enormous 1,500-man sumo contest in Japan and needed a way to display several bouts at once in order to speed up the rounds.
This is where the ‘circular arenas’ were used in order to keep the fighters in and the fans out.
This tradition continued in many forms around the World, most notably in Japan where beloved Sumo wrestlers have continued to fight for pride in one of Japan’s most iconic athletic endeavours.
This is where we derive the name for the modern combat ring and we see the evolution from a simple rope or sand barrier being refined, elevated and better protected in order to further limit the risk of interaction between fighters and fans.
Another beloved form of combat to take place all over the world is boxing. Where, at this time no real rules or regulations were in place surrounding contests, with fighters using taped fists surrounded by a hoard of betting fans who would often encroach on the arena and slow down the pace of the fights.
In 1743 the London Prize Ring Rules were established, which saw the fighters meeting in a small, designated circle to begin the bout.
In 1838 a 24 by 24-foot square ring was first developed by the Pugilistic Society in London and is seen by many as the beginning of the evolution into today’s modern boxing that we see around the world.
The widely accepted rules at this time stated:
“That the ring shall be made on turf, and shall be four-and-twenty feet square, formed of eight stakes and ropes, the latter extending in double lines, the uppermost line being four feet from the ground, and the lower two feet from the ground. That in the centre of the ring a mark be formed, to be termed a scratch; and that at two opposite corners, as may be selected, spaces be enclosed by other marks sufficiently large for the reception of the seconds and bottle-holders, to be entitled ‘the corners.”
This vast history of combat sports being displayed for the crowds is long and storied. These key areas which I have alighted in this brief history are the clues as to where the term squared circle is commonly said to originate.
In this video we will hear from leading experts from within the pro wrestling business, those who have spent decades honing their skills and perfecting their craft to bring us as fans the most entertaining show possible. But perhaps not the experts you might expect, maybe even experts who you may have never heard of.
However, if you have ever watched two of your favourite superstars fighting it out in a bout of glitter and glory, then these men’s work, you will be more than familiar with. I’m talking about the engineers who imagine what a pro wrestling ring should be and designers who attempt to make those plans better.
The road and international transport crew who take these megalithic structures and bring them to your local city.
And of course, the ring crew who toil away tirelessly to set up and bring down the ring before and after ever show.
These men and women often go unrecognised in their efforts and as we are about to discuss, I believe its time we shine a light on these incredible people and pay respect to their craft.
The construction of the modern-day wrestling ring is very much inspired by sports rings of the past. Take a boxing ring and the two seem almost identical. Some boxing rings vary and have 4 ropes, some of which are connected by another fifth rope, but apart from that – it’s the same thing.
The basic premise for the modern-day wrestling ring, consists of a square canvas, foam and wood layered mat, elevated by a steel box construction, and stabilised by four metal corner pillars, protected by turnbuckle padding and supported by three concentric ropes either elasticated or made from cable. The bottom sides of the ring are usually obscured by a skirt or material apron.
Every element of the basic ring construction has been finely tuned in order to better enhance the athletes’ capabilities during a match as well as adding a sense of spectacle and grandiosity within WWE events.
As with many aspects of sports entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment has led the way in the evolution of the wrestling ring and the hard-work and dedication to create something innovative has spread around the world, evidence of which can be seen in most top promotions internationally.
However, not everyone likes to follow the crowd.
While most wrestling companies choose the traditional 4-sided ring for their shows, some have made a name for themselves using six sides of rope – such as TNA, now Impact wrestling.
TNA used the distinct 6-sided ring through it’s arguably hottest run coming before the company reverted back to four sides in 2010.
There was always much debate a hot topic for discussion which has continued amongst wrestling statisticians and performers alike, no true consensus has ever been reached about the success of the 6 sides. Some speak of the rings unique appeal, it’s very nature to be contrasting to most every other promotion around the world, an encapsulation of Impact’s desire to break the mould.
Whilst other traditionalists speak of the awkwardness of performing in an unusually shaped ring.
Most wrestlers train for years inside of 4 sides and making the change just didn’t come naturally to everyone, which I must say I can completely appreciate. It’s not simply the number of sides that are changed for this special ring. The ropes are shorter which can impact the springiness.
As well as the angles are all completely off for when rebounding across the ring, making it possibly disorientating when acting upon instinct as so many of these vastly experiences athletes do. There is a reason the 4-sided ring is used by 99.9% of all wrestling companies around the world after-all.
Impact wrestling even gave the 6-sided ring a second run-out from 2014 to 2018. A moment which was yet again received with a mixed reception from fans and wrestlers within the grappling world.
AAA Lucha Libre in Mexico is also known for whipping out the hexagonal bad boy for special events and the 6-sided ring is said to have originated in Mexico, where multi-man matches and high flying action lends itself well, to the use of a construct with more posts and more spots for the athletes to climb and inevitably leap from.
Who builds WWE’s rings?
In the case of the world’s most profitable federation, World Wrestling Entertainment has had the largest market share in wrestling for almost two decades, throughout that entire time, their rings have been made by one man.
Mark Carpenter, The founder of MTJ Manufacturing in Connecticut USA has specialized skills in creating parts for farmers, hard wearing lorry load bearers and most notably WWE’s iconic ring.
“I’m a welder by trade,” Mark Carpenter a man with an almost fitting surname— mentioned during a WWE interview . Carpenter has created more than 50 rings for WWE over the last quarter century. Every body slam, piledriver and top rope dive since Wrestlemania 10 has been performed in one of Carpenter’s creations.
“I don’t have a full set of plans anywhere,” Carpenter revealed. “You could reverse engineer it, but only I know how to build one. To have everything laser cut and have the materials in place, it takes about three weeks to build a ring.”
From The WWE Performance Centre in Full Sail, Florida, to the main event of Wrestlemania, the wrestlers learn, evolve and succeed between the turnbuckles welded together by a man dedicated to his passion and driven to improve his craft.
Mark Carpenter, in my opinion deserves more recognition amongst wrestling fans for just how influential his wrestling ring design has been over the years.
As he strived to make the ring more safe for the performers and more conducive to a good wrestling show for the audience those who had wrestled within WWE’s ring. Those who created it spread these ideas to different wrestling companies to make the area in which so many of these men and women take so many thousands of hard falls and bumps, just that little bit nicer a place to ply their trade.
So many ex-wrestlers and industry icons talk of the brutality of taking a flat back bump in an old ring. The feeling of utter shock when they entered training and made that first leap from the top turnbuckle and landed on their face. So many wrestlers of the past’s careers could have been extended, the wear on their bodies lessened if they had been taking all those slams inside of a ring inspired by Mark Carpenter’s design.
So, for that, thanks Mark.
When measured rope to rope the average wrestling ring measures from 16 to 20 feet on each side, Famed 90’s promotions WCW & ECW for instance both used an 18 foot ring. World Wrestling Entertainment has used a ring on the larger end of the scale at 20 feet.
All Elite Wrestling also uses the 20 foot ring, which brings a larger sense of scale to the combat in many fans opinion.
Many have commented over the years how when transitioning from other promotions into WWE and now AEW and their enormous rings, some performers have appeared dwarfed in scale.
WWE have also had their fair share of issues with their decision to use a ring which takes up so much space and is so heavy to transport from show to show.
One of WWE’s long term ring builders, A longstanding WWE veteran who will be recognisable to long term wrestling fans as a ringside hand and time keeper in WWE, but who is officially a production manager for the wrestling giant, Mark Yeaton recalled: “We used to do a tent tour in New England every summer.” “In Rhode Island we could not use our ring because it was on a round stage that was smaller than our ring. So we’d have to bring in a 16-foot ring. When you watch someone like Sid Vicious who was 6 foot 6, he’d take one step, hit the rope, turn around, take another step and end up on the other side of the ring. You couldn’t do highflying stuff off the ropes, because the lights were so low in these tents.”
Under The Ring
The underneath of the ring is not immune to Yeaton & Carpenter’s innovation: “When I started in 1984, we made the ring to be transported,” Mark Yeaton said. “It broke down into 10-foot sections.
Each piece had four corner poles, four side poles and a spring in the centre so we’d make an ‘X.’ Then we’d put the 10-foot beams across, then 10-foot plywood and it fit in a 12-foot cube van truck without a problem. “
The current WWE ring doesn’t utilise springs under the ring like many assume. However, they once did:
“It was the worst thing that could happen to the wrestlers, because a spring could bottom out,” Yeaton said. “We don’t have a spring anymore. We had a ring that we kept up in Alaska, and the wrestlers started raving about how nice that ring was. It wasn’t as physically demanding on the body. Vince [McMahon] brought it back down to the continental states, and we used that to build rings that are better for the wrestlers’ bodies.”
Most wrestling companies use some sort of spring or suspension mechanic under the canvas and mats to help absorb some of the impact from a falling or thrown performer.
Wrestling promoters around the world must make a choice when creating their show’s ring. The spring can be looser and softer, creating s much easier landing for the wrestler and absorbing much more of the force, however the floor of the ring become visually bouncy and some complain of a lack of realism in these circumstances. The other option is to have a hard, stiff ring which bounces much less but also pushes a lot of the impact back onto the wrestler’s bodies during matches.
Mick Foley said, “Rings built for the WWF before approximately 1998 were particularly "stiff," and one of them contributed to my injury suffered during my Hell in the Cell match against The Undertaker.”
The newest form of ring design uses a specialised beam under the ring, which allow the steel construction which supports the ring to flex upon impact and create an effect where the entire mat can act as a spring, without the ring appearing ‘bouncy’.
The ring’s main designer, Mark Carpenter is solely responsible for the metal work and construction, focused on making the steel components and strong and versatile as possible, with years of innovation. However, that is not where the construction of the ring ends..
Hiding Under The Ring
The space below the ring is used for storage.
Items which may be needed during a match such as a chair to whack an opponent with or a table to slam them through during a particularly hardcore event. Any other tool needed on hand quickly during the show is often kept here.
The distance between the ring and the entrance to the backstage area can vary, sometimes with a long stretch separating the two. If a particular match requires the use of a steel cage, ladders or other large objects, some of the tools and items needed will be kept alongside them under the ring.
On occasions where an extra touch of entertainment magic is needed, such as the classic wrestling spot where the lights go out and a wrestler appears within seconds in the ring as the lights flick back on and the crowd is left amazed. Those moments are usually choreographed to have said performer hidden under the ring in order to quickly pull off this trick of the eye stunt.
The Undertaker may be one of the most well-respected figures in all of pro wrestling history, but he has spent countless hours with all 6 foot 8 of his muscular frame hunched down beneath the canvas whilst some random match goes on above him, the whole time the fans unaware.
Kurt Angle and his brother hid under the ring. Drake Maverick famously made that spot his secret hiding place. Kane has burst into matches from beneath the ring on several occasions. Hornswoggle made a name for himself as the little Irish stereotype, clambering out from under the ring to meddle in others matches as well as a host of countless others.
SLIDING UNDER THE RING TITUS
One man who made a memorable moment from doing the opposite.
A man who surprised us all not by appearing from beneath the ring, but surprised us by disappearing instead. Is Titus O’neil.
Titus’s entrance in 2018 at WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble maybe the time in which I can remember being most shocked whilst watching a wrestling show. Forget Hulk Hogan’s turn to the dark-side and allegiance with the NWO.
Forget the separation of the shield at the hands of Seth Rollins.
As Titus made his way down the ramp with a big smile on his cheeky face, nobody could have predicted what would happen next. As he lost his footing and began to fall forwards it seemed as if he may be about to injure himself on the edge of the ring. But narrowly avoiding the peril, Titus began to slide on his stomach and disappeared out of sight.
The announce team erupted in laughter at what we had just witnessed. As Titus began to back up his bum appeared from beneath the curtain, and he regained his feet.
At home at the time and even now as I am remembering it all I cannot help but laugh. This unfortunate accident in front of millions of people around the world might be one of the single greatest unscripted moments in all live entertainment, wrestling or otherwise.
If I was Titus in that moment, as I felt my entire body enveloped by the ring curtain, realising the embarrassing fate which awaits outside – I may be tempted to have remained under the canvas with hornswoggle and drake maverick and finally have that argument about which of the three of us has the most annoying British accent in wrestling.
Much like its boxing counterpart, the wrestling ring attempts to confine it’s action between a physical perimeter. The 3 sets of concentric ropes that surround the ring and are crucial for momentum when being Irish whipped or bouncing off the ropes, spring boarding through the air.
Some have choked their opponents with the ropes, climbed them to celebrate iconic victories and been tossed over them in some of the most memorable royal rumble moments.
The ring ropes can be a natural fibre, twisted into strong ropes and wrapped in coloured tape the way that WWE have done it for years. However, some prefer the old steel cables covered in rubber hosing, the likes of which are used in many promotions around the world.
“Rope, of course, can break over time if you don’t replace it often enough,” Mark Yeaton explained. “I remember back in New York when we used to tape three weeks of TV in one night, there was a match with Hulk Hogan where he hit the ropes and the weld on the bottom of the pole snapped. All the ropes went limp and slid down the canvas. We put a bolt in and were able to finish the night of tapings. It’s never happened again, but now we carry a collar around just in case.”
Another man who I believe deserved recognition for his work behind the scenes in WWE is Charles Robinson a man who you may know from his long career serving as a pro wrestling referee, but who you may not know acted as the head of WWE’s ring setup crew, commanding a large group of workers in the goal of making the ring set up and take down as reliable as possible.
So knowledgeable has Robinson become in his duties of setting up the ring, he can mark out the distance of the 20 by 20 ring simply by eye and footsteps alone. He is the start and finish of every set up with is initial layouts being drawn with chalk for the builders to follow.
Charles then oversees and is heavily involved with every other stage of the construction each time WWE take down or put up a ring.
It is incredible to think that alongside his duty as one of the more familiar faces of pro wrestling refereeing, in the later years of his career Charles Robinson has continued to travel the world alongside the performers and has been a critical part of almost every show which he has been associated with for decades and never received the kudos which I think he deserves.
So for that, thanks Charles.
As the nature of wrestling has changed over time, and with the differing needs of athletes between the ropes, the ring posts have needed to be adapted too.
“This is like version five or version six of reinforcement of the corner poles,” Mark Yeaton said “With the force of hitting the ropes, the poles used to bend like crazy. Now you need two people to pick ‘em up.” “When a big body hits those ropes, it pulls the corner poles continuously and bending them. When I was building the ring, I could carry two poles from the ring truck to the center of the arena without a problem,” Yeaton said. “I can’t even lift one pole up now.”
This goes so far in showing the differences with the modern-day ring improvements. The Posts also now need to support the additional weight of WWE’s use of LED screens for branding and effects around the ring.
Pads & Turnbuckle
The tension of the ring ropes pulled between the posts creates the iconic square ‘ring’ shape. The four corners of the ring are where the ropes are joined to the posts and to one another, leaving otherwise exposed metal links or turnbuckles.
This is where the pads come in. Not only a neat way to advertise your wrestling brand on television and in photographs, but crucial to protecting the athletes.
The designs of these turnbuckle pads and coverings varies between companies, with some using a single pad which stretches down across all three ring corners. However most use three individual cushioned pads in each corner with the colours and logos of the show emblazoned upon them.
The pads and turnbuckle also allow a platform for daredevils to climb up and perform the adrenaline pumping top rope dives, flips and slams.
Online textile wiki states: “Canvas is an extremely durable plain-woven fabric used for making sails, tents, marquees, backpacks, and other items for which sturdiness is required, Modern canvas is usually made of cotton or linen, along with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), although historically it was made from hemp.”
The ring uses canvas for it’s, well, canvas. Pulled tight and thin across the entirety of the mat and usually extensively covered in relevant marketing and branding material. WWE even have layers of different branded canvases one on top of another pre-prepared before live television shows, allowing them for instance to transition between branding for Smackdown & 205 Live.
When I speak of the improvements made to aide with the safety of the performers involved in pro wrestling in the ring, I do not in any way intend to mislead you. Falling from a height, at speed whilst twisting and contorting your body, only to come to a sudden crashing halt must hurt. It must continue to hurt and probably never stops hurting.
There is only so much these wizards with wood behind the scenes can accomplish, only so soft the mats can be before the wrestlers lose their footing, only so springy the canvas before every match looks like it is performed on a trampoline.
The canvas is rough and unforgiving, and I respect each person who has ever been brave enough to go out there and slam into it repeatedly for our enjoyment.
The ring floor and mat and approx. 3 feet off the arena ground below, allowing a large space under the ring to install speakers and mics so as to allow amplification of the ring noise in an otherwise loud stadium.
As well as of course being a place to hide fire extinguishers, blinding salt powders and a whole host of other crazy weaponry and foreign objects to be brought into a match. This is all hidden by large curtains of material draped from within the mat and canvas layers, hanging over the outer side of the 4 sides of the ring and allowing for more branding opportunities.
In recent years, WWE have used LED boards around 2 or more sides of the ring for further promotion and visual effects.
Many have argued that the move into the LED era has drastically taken away from the feeling of what pro wrestling was in the dark and gritty era of the late 90s. I can understand this view point and it’s obvious if you watch even a single minute of WWE programming today that the bright and overly saturated LED’s are all a part of their desire for wider appeal and a target of a younger audience.
For me I can understand WWE’s desire for this modern look which has more of a big sports feel like a NFL match with the advertising boards and neon lights everywhere. But for me, when I’m trying to watch the in-ring competition in between the 10 million camera cuts per match, it’s even harder to focus when there are lights on almost every surface which isn’t a wrestler on the screen, and it becomes so distracting.
New Japan is much more paired back, due in part to financial restrictions and in part due to a desire to keep the focus on the action between the athletes and in my opinion this approach just feels much more respectful to the craft and the combat.
Constructing The Ring
Mark Yeaton worked on rings for WWE in the USA and around the world for more than 29 years, overseeing many changes on the design and construction of the ring. On first view, the ring appears to have changed little over time, but very few understand the evolution than Yeaton. Who has referred to the ring as an “ever evolving entity”.
After the boom of the late 90’s in wrestling, WWE was afforded the funds to expand with their Times Square restaurant in New York, this was one of the first times Carpenter & Yeaton had to completely re-think the rings construction and logistics.
Carpenter explain: “They couldn’t bring the ring to the second floor,” he explained. “It had to go in the freight elevator. We had to design the tube system to come apart and put it together on the second floor. We built that ring specifically for that. I went and took a look at it and designed the new rings,” Carpenter said. “I came up with the structure, the frame, everything that went into that ring.
When the time called for WWE’s first ever ‘inferno match’ a stipulation which saw the combatants surrounded by a ring of fire, Carpenter was called upon to manufacture a solution as to how best display the flames for most visual impact, whilst also being safe.
“We had to use different poles so they wouldn’t burn and melt away,” Yeaton revealed.
For special events in recent years which have been held in open air areas, such a Wrestlemania, Carpenter was tasked with the construction of a system that would help warm the wrestlers and performers in the ring, in anticipation for cold temperatures at the MetLife Stadium.
The crew hung large heaters above the ring as to be away from view and allow air to be forced down onto the ring. But his other idea was ingenious.
“The outer frames were the same, but we had to make special poles to bring the heat up,” Carpenter described. “We hooked furnaces into the poles so warm air could blow up and out through holes in the poles.”
Taking into account large stiff masses and heavy heaving units is second nature to metal worker Mark Carpenter. So allowing precautions to make the ring sound and stable when ham hocks like the big show and Braun Strowman collide.
Legendary referee and backstage staff Mike Chioda spoke of how during a match between the Big Show and Brock Lenar, the ring was expertly rigged in order to implode and create a truly memorable moment:
“They had us stay out of the corner. It was controlled by a gentleman by the name of Mark Carpenter. He used to make the rings for the WWE. I believe he still does. Ellis was part of production in the back. He was with props and was a stunt guy. He took care of all the stunts. He mostly had that on a timer and he was ready to explode it when a certain spot came when they hit the corner off the top. That all came down to Mark Carpenter and Ellis and Big Show and Brock. The thing I had to do was sell that bump. I remember Michael Hayes and a bunch of people were thrilled at how I sold that bump and looked around and dumbfounded and shocked. That’s exactly what they wanted out of me. I remember the crowd just went nuts. It was a pretty good feeling that we accomplished that because it was not something easy and we never did it before.”
Even more steps are taken when the ring is set to be put under additional stress, such as in multi-man matches, the royal rumble and large battle royals sometimes holding up to 40 men.
“We use the same thing, but shore it up. A regular ring is put together with 12 beams — four crossbeams and eight beams on top of that and then the boards on top,” Yeaton explained. “If we know we’re going to have a 40-Man Battle Royal, we’d add more beams underneath and above. If we don’t want any bounce to the ring, we put jacks underneath some of the beams and shore it to the ground, like a jack under a car.”
OUTSIDE THE RING
Sometimes a confrontation in pro wrestling becomes so brought to a boiling point, that the action explodes outside of the ring.
From powerbombs onto the ramp, slams through the announce tables and even death defying dives from inside the ring to out, the area surrounding the ring is just as important to the action as the area inside when it comes to enhancing the performers abilities and attempting to keep them safe.
In WWE we see the highest standards of protection in this regard. They use ¾ inch mats simililar to those you’d find in a jiu-jit-su dojo or karate gym. These mats are sometimes held in place with anti-slip tape and often interlocked with Velcro or staps to prevent them moving under the action.
Some wrestling purists believe that these mats take away from the reality of the action and they have been known to become rather slippery when wet, on occasion causing incidents like these due to the sweat dripping from the wrestlers and the beer being spilt by the barricade side fans.
But in reality, these mats in WWE are essential in order to protect the athletes from the hard concrete or steel which lays below them in the arena or stadium flooring.
Would you really be able to say you’d prefer to see your favourite wrestler slammed head-first into the brutal reality of WWE without mats at ringside?
If so, then there are plenty of promotions around the world who wear their lack of ringside protection like a badge of honour.
The same crew has worked behind the scene of WWE production for years, overseen by Vincent Mcmahon.
In 30 years, on screen we’ve gone from the wild Samoans eating roast chicken on their way to the ring, to Roman Reigns proudly showing his heritage whilst being a key figure at the top of the wrestling card.
And women going from bra and panties matches and 1 minute segments amounting to little more than teenage titillation, to modern women’s wrestling main eventing and leading the way.
The ring however in the most part looks the same, react the same and sounds the same. But when you look deeper you can gain a better understanding that has gone into the evolution of wrestling ring, the hard work and joy that has gone into them…
“I enjoy it. The rings are in Europe, they’re in Japan, five rings had to be sent to South America to move through customs fast enough,” Carpenter said. “It’s great to have the rings around the world.”
So as we move forward into what is more evolution and progression from within the world of wrestling, let us say thank you to those dedicated craftsmen and women who work tirelessly in order to deliver a spectacular show to the very best of their abilities, before the show even starts and long after all the fans have gone home.
Who knows what these creative folk will come up with in the next 20 years of wrestling ring evolution, but I for one am looking forward to finding out.
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