"I'm a welder by trade," Mark Carpenter -- yes, that's really his name - told WWE.com in an exclusive sit-down conversation. "I started becoming a welder right out of high school in 1972."
Caprenter is the proprietor of M.T.J. Manufacturing, a Bridgeport, Connecticut - based metal frabrication facility, which specializes in building custom heavy duty truck bodies, tractor trailers, and, of course, the squared circle.
"The first job we ever did for WWE was WrestleMania VI in Toronto," Carpenter explained. "We weren't building rings at the time. WWE had purchased some scissor construction lifts, and they wanted them to be turned into chariots to carry the wrestlers to the ring and back. Within a year, we transitioned into building the old rings, which had springs in them."
One of the men that has been responsible for erecting Carpenter's rings in arenas around the country is Mark Yeaton. A WWE veteran who is widely recognized by longtime fans as the ringside timekeeper, he also performs the role of production manager. During his 29 years in the company, Yeaton has seen rings evolve to accommodate different needs - whether for the health and well-being of the Superstars or for simple travel logistics.
"When I started in 1984, we made the ring to be transported," Yeaton said. "It broke down into 10-foot sections. Each piece had four corner poles, four side poles and a spring in the center 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."
That 1980-era ring, like a bad fashion trend, is thankfully a ring of the past.
"It was the worst thing that could happen to the wrestlers, because a spring could bottom out," Yeaton explained. "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 physcially 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."
That was Carpenter's cue.
"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. The current ring has no springs."
The design of WWE's ring is something of a secret recipe not found in any "The Joy of Rings" cookbook.
"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."
WWE’s rings are built by Carpenter at a standard 20-foot by 20-foot size, but some venues and conditions have required some slight changes.
“We used to do a tent tour in New England every summer.” Yeaton recalled. “In Warwick, R.I., 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, 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.”
For some occasions, it was the venue that provided specific accommodations, not WWE.
“At the Cape Cod Melody Tent, we used a 20-foot ring, but it was also a round stage that would not fit our ring,” the timekeeper said. “They built a special box just for our ring to put our fourth corner post on. So if you were thrown out of the ring, you were thrown into an orchestra pit. When we did Shotgun Saturday Night in Penn Station, we used smaller rings because it wouldn’t fit between the pillars. In regular arenas, it’s always been a 20-foot ring.”
It was WWE New York — WWE’s former restaurant and event space in Times Square — that forced Carpenter to rethink the ring’s assembly.
“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.”
To a layman, the ring is the same as it’s been since the dawn of professional wrestling, but Carpenter has always been making slight adjustments. A wrestling ring is a constantly evolving entity.
“This is like version five or version six of reinforcement of the corner poles,” the Bridgeport native told us. “With the force of hitting the ropes, the poles used to bend like crazy. Now you need two people to pick ‘em up.”
Yeaton was one of the lucky guys lugging around those poles.
“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.”
Carpenter only deals with the metal components and structure of the ring itself. He is not responsible for the ropes, mat, or turnbuckle padding. WWE has never used cable, only real rope.
“Rope, of course, can break over time if you don’t replace it often enough,” Yeaton explained. “I remember back in Poughkeepsie, [N.Y.], 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.”
Plenty of precautions are taken now to prevent any sort of unanticipated collapse when superheavyweights face off or a huge group of competitors is set to be in the ring simultaneously.
“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.”
When Kane was preparing to compete in the first-ever Inferno Match, where the ring was to be surrounded by fire, Carpenter created the hangers to hold the flames and additional measures were taken.
“We had to use different poles so they wouldn’t burn and melt away,” Yeaton revealed.
For this year’s WrestleMania, Carpenter needed to develop a heating system in case outdoor conditions at MetLife Stadium made it too chilly for the Superstars to comfortably perform. This necessitated an unprecedented and groundbreaking new development to how rings can be created.
“They were expecting it to get really cold, so we hung a heater above the ring and there were heated parts of the ring,” Yeaton said.
“The outer frames were the same, but we had to make special poles to bring the heat up,” Carpenter explained. “We hooked furnaces into the poles so warm air could blow up and out through holes in the poles.”
Carpenter hasn’t just built the ring. He’s become WWE’s go-to metal construction expert. He doesn’t build the Hell in a Cell or the Elimination Chamber, but he has built the steel cages for many years.
“We built the hard blue pipe square ones, and then we transitioned to the chain link,” Carpenter said.
“The big, square steel cage, which was made for WrestleMania II in LA with Hogan and [King Kong] Bundy so they could get the camera lens through without obstruction,” Yeaton explained. “The original cage was four 10-foot pieces that were held together with straps and cables. Then we went to eight pieces with 12 holes and cables on top, which was cumbersome and cut the wrestlers up.”
“The cages had aircraft cable, and it took an hour to put them on the ring,” Carpenter said. “Besides the time, if Hulk Hogan went over the top, he’d get cut by the aircraft cable. I designed a system, which is still used now, that has pins and boots. There are boots on the poles and the panels fit into them. The fastest they’ve ever put that cage up is six minutes. And it’s a lot safer. I designed it.”
Mark Carpenter has built 50 rings for WWE. More were just recently ordered for the new Performance Center in Florida. This unsung hero of WWE may have revolutionized the wrestling world, but is he proud of the work he’s done?
“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.”