The art of the handshake: Wrestling’s most important unwritten rule

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October 24, 2013

Respect is an important value in the wrestling business. Though Superstars brutalize each other inside the squared circle, the locker room is a sacred place. Most of the time, no blows are traded, only respect. It begins from the second a wrestler enters the arena, starting a time-honored tradition.

“Guests at a WWE event might notice that everybody shakes hands gratuitously,” Cody Rhodes told

“It seems a little strange when people from outside [the industry] see it,” WWE commentator JBL said.

The handshake’s place in wrestling isn’t something that just became commonplace in WWE. JBL explained how the grip began as a secret shake during the sport’s early carnival days, done to weed out anyone who didn’t belong.

“It looked like you were gripping them real hard, but it was very loose, which showed that you were one of the boys,” the former WWE Champion said.

Over time, though, wrestlers began a game of one-upmanship, seeing who could give the loosest handshake.

“Some people take it to extremes, [using only] two fingers,” Antonio Cesaro said. “It’s weird.”

“It became a very limp-fish handshake,” JBL said, “which is not how it was actually intended.”

How it devolved from a secret variation on the regular shake to a two-fingered tap isn’t quite clear, though Cesaro has his own ideas about how that happened.

“Back in the day, you didn’t know if a guy was good or not,” he said. “I have this theory that they set out a rumor that the really good wrestlers shook hands lightly. That’s how they would recognize all the crappy wrestlers, by their dead fish handshake.”

Rhodes, the son of WWE Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes, grew up in the business. He told that his father taught him the right way to shake hands in all situations.

“A firm handshake,” he explained. “Not a double-tendon, break-your-hand handshake. Firm and look them in the eye, even if that’s the only contact you have. It brings an element of respect to the table.” 

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