The Weird History Of Closed Fist Punches In Pro Wrestling, Explained

It seems like such a routine wrestling move now, but closed-fist punches were once technically deemed illegal in WWE.

Professional wrestling is one of the finest forms of entertainment, as one could say it’s a perfect mix of athleticism and theater. Because professional wrestling is a unique form of entertainment, there are special procedures for producing something as unique as a wrestling show. Whether it’s the in-ring action, compelling storylines, or cutting effective promos, professional wrestling has many ways of putting on a show that combines all of that. Regarding the in-ring aspect of producing wrestling shows, some fans might be aware of the traditional rule in WWE regarding closed-fist punches, where wrestlers could only strike each other with open hands.


Related: 10 Best Punchers In Pro Wrestling History, Ranked

Professional Wrestling’s Unique Way Of Portraying Combat In The Ring

Because professional wrestling is a simulation of combat intended for entertainment, much like movies, the wrestling industry has a traditional way of portraying that simulation in a unique fashion. Considering that traditional professional wrestling is usually done in the wrestling ring without any edits, unlike movies or TV shows, some rules took place in WWE that intended to portray the in-ring action as real. Some people may find such rules ludicrous, but it’s understandable since traditional professional wrestling generally feeds off of live interaction.

The Rock & Steve Austin v nWo Raw March 11, 2002 Cropped

Related: Bret Hart Remains The Only Wrestler To Get Away With Punching Vince McMahon For RealSome older fans may not have heard this specific rule relating to wrestlers punching during their matches, but there was a traditional rule in WWE that a wrestler was not allowed to hit an opponent with a closed-fist punch. If a wrestler goes for a hand strike, it must be open-handed, a rule mainly associated with old-school wrestling.

Ernie Ladd Punch

With that said, considering this is such an unusual rule for WWE, especially when the point of professional wrestling is to portray a fight in the ring, it begs the question of why such a rule was created in the first place. Especially as closed-fist punches are generally realistic in a fight, one would think such strikes would be allowed at a time when kayfabe was more concealed in the wrestling business.

Because the wrestling industry was more cautious about exposing kayfabe, there’s a reason the ban on closed-fist punches was a rule despite being believable in combat. Considering that many closed-fist strikes in wrestling matches may not look convincing to many people, having wrestlers do open-hand striking was probably the more effective way to protect kayfabe.

The Ban On Closed-Fist Punches Comes To An End

Despite measures to ban closed-fist strikes in the past, the open-hand rule wouldn’t be meaningful in modern wrestling, considering that kayfabe is more out in the open in today’s generation of wrestling. Nowadays, as wrestlers are constantly throwing closed-fist punches in their matches, it almost seems like the rule never even existed. It’s worth noting that closed-fist strikes have been legal for at least over a decade, as former WWE referee Jimmy Korderas stated on his Twitter account in 2019 that closed-fist punches had been permitted for many years.

The Undertaker v Big Show Survivor Series 2008 Cropped

One could already tell that the closed-fist punches became legal considering the many superstars who use variations of the move as signature and finishing maneuvers. For instance, when he returned to WWE in early 2008, The Big Show used a closed-fist punch as a first finisher from that point until he left the company in 2021. And let’s not forget Roman Reigns’s Superman Punch, as it’s one of the most recognized signature maneuvers in the current generation of wrestling.

But even when closed-fist punches were technically illegal, that rule often got gnored as plenty of wrestlers would throw punches. From superstars like Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker laying haymakers to their opponents, it appears that the rule limiting superstars to only open-handed strikes wasn’t working.

Related: The Outlaw Rule & 9 Other WWE Rules You Might Have Forgotten About

Steve Austin And Jerry Lawler Were Some Of The Best Punchers In Wrestling


Closed-fist strikes may be frowned upon to an extent, but many wrestlers have realistic-looking punches. For instance, as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is known for many qualities as one of the best in the business, one of those is arguably having one of the best-looking punches in the industry. Another legendary performer considered among the best punchers in wrestling is Jerry “The King” Lawler, also known for realistic-looking strikes. Regardless of how people feel about wrestlers doing punches in their matches, one should not forget the many performers who deserve credit for making their strikes look convincing.

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