The Conundrum of the Wrestler's Handshake
Anyone interested enough to read this column is somewhat “tuned in” to the professional wrestling industry and already knows of what's coming next: a dissertation of the “Wrestler's Handshake.”
It's long been part of the tapestry of wrestling just like carney talk, kayfabe and the politics of booking. Mash it among the mystique, the history, the intrigue of the wrestler's handshake. For decades, wrestlers have expressed their finesse in the ring by extending a “dead fish” handshake. Sometimes guys will hold forth as few as two fingers to be shaken. This, lore bestows, means that the worker is compliant—a partner to be trusted—inside the confines of the squared circle. A stiff worker, he is not.
For those who pay attention to the finer details of man's existence, the “dead fish” handshake is off-putting at least, disturbing at worst.
The topic of a wrestler's handshake was brought up recently when the former Jim Hellwig, former Ultimate Warrior, now simply “Warrior” talked about the late Randy “Macho Man” Randy Savage's hands-on greeter. Warrior told how Savage came in over-the-top and met men with a hearty handshake. Warrior, who fashions himself a macho dude of sorts, told of how he disliked the dead fish greeting. Macho, Warrior touted, met everyone with a firm, manly greet.
Limited Internet research shows that classic performers like The Honkey Tonk Man surprises some with his limp-wristed greeting.
Meanwhile, boys everywhere are taught, to be a man, you have to shake hands like one. For many, it becomes a rite of passage, a meaningful step toward adulthood. For some, it was a badge of honor to be 14 and see grown men look at you with respect because the strength of your handshake was unexpected. For a few you see your own 14 year old shock someone else with an impactful greeting.
In Independent locker rooms all across the country you'll find a mix of normal, every day handshakes, the dead fish, and the vice of a steel trap. The tradition is undoubtedly presented to all new recruits.
Not long ago, Dominic DeNucci a legendary wrestling figure in the northeast and parts of Canada, stopped a young worker who gave him the two-finger salute. DeNucci, who after years of in-ring success on his own, has schooled respected wrestlers like Shane Douglas and Mick Foley, admonished the fairly-established regional independent worker on how to shake like a man. All the while, DeNucci, now well into his 70's, has worked decades with peers who barely press flesh when they shake.
Just as memorable is that limp shake is the behemoth clamp from the Gods. When you shake Billy Gunn's hand, you know it. It's as if the former Kip James is clasping from the depths of his thighs. If you aren't ready for it, you will be. In a hurry.
It's actually refreshing to see veterans like DeNucci, Warrior and Monty Kip transcend the industry and in essence rebel against a time-honored tradition of shaking hands in the most apathetic (yet important) of means.
Chalk another one up for being exposed: “The Wrestler's Handshake, Uncomfortably Weak.” I'll take a shake that you feel in the wrist any time.
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