The Sharp Shooter #8
March 31, 2009
By: Sean Hurley of

Illustrating a Struggle with Face Paint

Think of The Sharp Shooter as a Math course, in that, each new column builds on the foundations and principles of a previous column. Except, unlike a Math course (in my experience), I hope The Sharp Shooter isn?t boring, redundant and impossible to understand. Nevertheless, with the Math course analogy in mind, I want to take a look at a feature found on some professional wrestlers ? face paint? and examine exactly how it works and more importantly why it works in illustrating the struggle, the toll that a professional wrestler’s physical journey (otherwise known as a wrestling match) takes on his or her body and mind. I use the Math course analogy for face paint because in a previous column I talked about a wrestler’s face being a visual vehicle, a dermal canvas of sorts, used to illustrate struggle, display a multitude of emotions, and to exhibit pain. Face paint is a natural and logical extension of this principle because its works as facial enhancement tool, available for employment by any professional wrestler seeking a subtle psychological edge when purporting the image of the battle-tested warrior who has just been in the fight of his life.

he benefits of face paint are multilayered. On the surface, face paint provides color, aura, stimuli for the eye and originality. Like cayenne pepper in spaghetti sauce, face paint can add the extra kick, the bold flavor, to an otherwise bland product. A wrestler who chooses to color coordinate his face paint with his outfit becomes a walking firecracker, full of color and pizazz. Furthermore, along with masking a wrestler’s identity, face paint can even mask charisma, as genuine charisma is not necessarily required if the visual presentation is powerful enough.

Powerful visual presentation is 99 percent of what makes professional wrestling work. We, the fan, aren?t in the ring with the wrestlers, taking the blows, feeling the pain, so we have to SEE the pain carved on the wrestlers? faces. We have to SEE the sweat seep from their pours; we have to SEE the blood spill and the spit fly. Face paint illustrates this back and forth struggle with higher potency because as the physical journey wears on, we start to see the face painted wrestler’s decorative design chip and melt away under the sweat and blood discharged from his body during battle. It’s as if the painted wrestler displays a life meter on his face that slowly drains as the match drags on, providing a stunning visual of his resilience and will to persevere.. This works particularly well for a babyface wrestler such as Jeff Hardy, who is constantly involved in underdog battles, where his guts and determination are literally painted on his face. Perhaps that’s why it’s called FACE paint?

The powerful visual presentation, however, doesn?t begin when the two combatants lock up. It actually begins when the wrestlers make their way down the aisle. A face painted wrestler profits from this fact because, before the paint starts to bleed and ooze off his face, a painted wrestler comes down the aisle as a pristine, perfect being, unsoiled and untouched, sporting a perfectly etched design, full of vitality, primed for battle. The ring entrance and subsequent goings-on before the match shows us the face painted warrior pre-battle, again, untouched and untested, serving as the ultimate image of preparation and confidence. Much like a horror movie shows us the extremely happy times before revealing the mass slaughter and horrid times, ring entrances show us the face painted warrior in pre-battle mode, ready and willing, before the ensuing contest crushes that image and reveals a vulnerable, weakened man, at risk of being defeated.

Speaking of warriors, look no further than The Ultimate Warrior for proof of the profits of face paint both on the surface and on the unconscious level because honestly, has any wrestler alive used face paint more effectively than The Ultimate Warrior?

Wrestlemania VI’s main event is a perfect example of everything I?ve said about face paint thus far, with Warrior flying down the aisle for his entrance, sporting an eclectic combination of greens, yellows, oranges and reds on his face, coordinating perfectly with his orange trunks, multicolored tassels and red-ish colored Warrior symbol impacting his chest. As the Hulkster steps into the ring, staring down Warrior, we see Warrior in the aforementioned pre-battle mode; life meter completely full, hair wonderfully teased, not one spec of paint missing. The mysterious aura of The Ultimate Warrior hangs low in the Skydome as the fans continue the wonder what kind of a man The Warrior really is. His promos only cloud the issue, his face paint skews his identity and his overall demeanor is downright mysterious.

However, as the match wears on, the physical journey exacts its tool on Warrior, chipping away his face, revealing a normal looking human being who is capable of suffering defeat, a mortal human the fans can sympathize with and rally behind. As the paint wears away and the physical struggle rages on, The Ultimate Warrior begins to reveal himself; the mysterious aura is temporarily lifted from the Skydome as the fans can start to see his face. By the end of the match, after completing his physical journey, Warrior emerges looking like you or me, sporting a face of uncertainty, slight fear, and bewilderment. Exhausted, his hair is no longer teased and the paint has evaporated. The image of the pristine, perfect warrior sheds itself, revealing an image of a battle-tested hero, no longer masked by conspicuous face paint, who has just endured the fight of his life.

Intensifying the illustration of a professional wrestler’s struggle can also be achieved on a smaller scale through long hair or ponytails. As in Warriors case, the long, teased, spectacular hair that he began the match with was not the same sweaty mop he was sporting at the match’s conclusion. Ponytails have had a huge impact on Rob Van Dam’s visual presentation, as he usually comes to the ring sporting a tightly pulled, well groomed ponytail that, after a long, grueling match, usually ends up tossed and turned every which way, subtly convincing us visually that he has just endured physical Hell.

In closing, a powerful visual presentation is 99 percent of what makes professional wrestling work, as there are only two ways a fan can take in wrestling: through sight and sound (ok, sometimes smell, in the case of the Godwin’s). On the surface, face paint is one of the most powerful ways to enhance visual presentation, but on an unconscious level, what face paint does best is illustrate the wrestler’s physical and mental struggle endured during a wrestling match. Though effect can be illustrated in many different ways, there’s nothing like watching the reserve of The Ultimate Warrior, Jeff Hardy, Sting and many others melt away right before our eyes, forcing us to become engaged in their struggle, suspending our disbelief and totally engulfing us in the wonderful, incredibly visual world of professional wrestling.

If you agree, disagree, like what you see or want to debate me, send me an email ?

P.S. – Before I go, let me just say thank you to everyone who emailed me regarding last week’s column where I called sports writer, Steve Cofield, to task for his obtuse, unfair assumptions regarding professional wrestling and Bobby Lashley’s second MMA contest. I truly appreciate the feedback, as it makes me smile when I realize that I?m not the only wrestling fan who feels journalists and writers of any sort should be held accountable for their assumptions and opinions of professional wrestling. If you missed last week’s column and are interested in checking it out, here it is:

Also, I know some of you sent emails to Mr. Cofield (I sent him last week’s column as a matter of fact). However, I have yet to receive a response from Mr. Cofield and probably won?t, so if anyone reading this column receives a response from Mr. Cofield, send it to me and I?ll see if it’s worth publishing or pursuing.

P.P.S. ? Wrestlemania weekend is only three days away. My friends and I will be attending all the festivities this year in Houston, including the Hall of Fame. I just wanted to say that I hate when I read that (insert random wrestling know-it-all) isn?t going to buy or watch Wrestlemania this year because of any number of grievances. You know what? I say, if you truly love professional wrestling to the point where your eyes begin to water upon hearing ?Hello everyone and welcome to Wrestlemania!? then you won?t care about how strong the event looks on paper. You won?t care about who should be used and who shouldn?t be used. If you only surround yourself with wrestling because you love to hate it, then sit at home Sunday night, April 5th and watch ?How I met Your Mother? or some other meaningless drivel. If you love professional wrestling like me, then sit back and enjoy the show because a true wrestling fan will always enjoy Wrestlemania.