THE BEAUTIFUL THING PRESENTS:
AN ONGOING DISCUSSION OF PRO WRESTLING PSYCHOLOGY
This week’s question:
Do technical matches always have better psychology than spotfests and brawls?
My take: Obviously not always! I wouldn’t even necessarily say that it’s true in general, especially in regard to crowd psychology. The topic generated some pretty interesting discussion, however, and there are many people who have reasonable ideas that differ from my own.
This week’s column features the well thought out opinions of Inside Pulse Staff (IPS), Inside Pulse Forum posters (IPF), posters from the Smark’s Choice forums (SC), my friend J.D. Dunn from 411Mania, and Spencer Baum, author of the new wrestling novel One Fall.
As you will see, their answers to the question cover a pretty wide spectrum:
Technical Matches Tend To Have Better Psych.
Most wrestlers who learn the proper way to apply holds and make them look good will also pay attention to psychology. So, while it’s not always true, it’s a decent rule of thumb.(J.D. Dunn)
It Depends What You Mean By Spot-Fest.
A spotfest, by defention, tends to be based around making spots, rather than telling a story. Although you have to make a clear line. A lot of people will class high flying/technical matches (like the Sabin/Styles/Williams Ultimate X match) as spotfests, which is inaccurate. A match that has insane spots is not a spotfest. A spotfest is when the match has no story, nothing beyond setting up insane spots. Unless the psychology is “Who can top the other”, that has no psychology. (mlsq42, IPF/411mania staff)
A match filled with just wankery wristlock reversals with no more thought put into than a match full of flashy aerial spots or a match of nothing but gory spots, is every bit as much a spot-fest. (JAQK, SC)
Spot Fests Don’t Lend Themselves to Good Psychology.
I steer clear of absolutes, like one type of match ALWAYS being better than another. But from a “purist” standpoint, while the spotfest is exciting, the technical match makes more sense in the context of what is supposedly going on. One wouldn’t take high risk after high risk if one really needed to win a match to further his career, move on to another match, et cetera.(Vinny Truncellito, IPS)
Spotfests, by definition, have no psychology, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t fun. Granted some spotfests try to inject some rudimentary psychology. Ladder matches, for instance, have the simple psychology of beat your opponent so badly that you can climb a ladder (usually in super slow motion) to reach the prize at the top. The psychology, albeit limited, in spotfest matches is solely reliant on how good a wrestler is. (Big Andy Mac, IPS)
Sometimes I can’t even stomach a pure spotfest. Take a look at the TLC’S for example. I actually think the WM 10 ladder match is great, but the TLC’S just seem forced. They do spots just to get a shocked reaction out of the crowd, rather than a somewhat logical offensive move. You really have to ask yourself, how many tables can guys fall thru before you long for something deeper. (smark’n’training, SC)
Here is the best way I can explain it. I consider a person in wrestling to be more talented if they can do more with less. Obviously this would be why I would consider a wrestler more talented if they don’t have to fall back on highspots to get over in a match. I feel that if you have a better understanding of the psychology of wrestling you can do just that. It’s been said hundreds of times before, but why would you do a spinning corkscrew off the top through a table on the floor when you can get crowds to go apes#*t for a couple of in ring sequences? If you intelligently know how to work a match and understand how to build from beginning to end… the crowd will follow. (Dynamite Kido, SC)
Highspots when used correctly can equate into a good psychological match. But that’s the thing. Guys just do highspot after highspot with no real rhyme or reason. Where do they learn that b.s.? (Crown’s Gate, SC)
Some Spot Fests Have Good Psychology.
As for spotfests: in general, I’d say that it is harder for them to deliver a psychologically sound match, but not impossible. I’d take the Michinoku Pro ten man tag from ’96 over many “technical masterpieces” any day of the week. (lessthanpleased, IPF)
In your last column, you differentiated between technical/mat psychology and crowd psychology, and I think that’s a relevant point. I remember in the heyday of WWF tables/ladders/chairs, that the bookers and wrestlers really mastered the crowd psychology of the spotfest. If you’ll recall the 2001 Smackdown TLC match: Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho vs. Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz vs. Edge and Christian there was absolutely no mat psychology, but there was a very effective story, where all the high spot mayhem had Benoit pulled from the ring by EMT’s at one point. Later, Benoit made a surprise return, and when everyone was down after lots of jaw-dropping moments, Benoit, holding his ribs, shakily climbed the ladder for the win. A very dramatic story was told, where six people went through hell, and the one who wanted the win the most got it, just by finding the stamina to climb the ladder when everyone else was smashed. (Spencer Baum)
Many Brawls Have Very Good Psychology.
I would consider the majority of Stan Hansen’s later All Japan career to be devoid of technical spotfests but, instead, filled with beautifully constructed brawls that deliver the emotional goods.
Good example is… Kawada/Tenryu v. Hansen/Gordy.
The story of the match is really quite simple: Hansen and Gordy administer a savage, savage assbeating to Kawada- the rookie- by decimating his leg with kneedrops, then using the injury to brutalize him on the outside and inside of the ring with their power moves and brawling. Once this is accomplished, they isolate Tenryu- who is weakened from sacrificing himself earlier in the match in a vain attempt to buy Kawada some time- and destroy him.
That is psychology. I’d take that match over many, many “technical” masterpieces from the American Indies and Japan. The emotion was real, the heat was through the roof, everything in the match made sense, and it was one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had watching wrestling. (lessthanpleased, IPF)
Brawling does not mean you have no psychology. Mindless brawling, like you got in ECW and over the WWE Hardcore Title at times, that had no psych (although the WWE HC always had the “Complete Chaos” thing going for it). But brawling does not mean you lack psychology. Perfect example is Stone Cold Steve Austin, at his peak.
Austin, a man who knew how to wrestle a technically sound match, for injuries or whatever, couldn’t do that sort of match week in, week out. So he adapted, and changed the WWE, but that’s getting ahead of myself.
A Brawl does not have to be without psychology. It’s just that it does not lend itself as easily to it, you have to work at it, rather than technical matches, where it comes a little easier simply by picking a body part (you can pick a part in a brawl, but it’s usually not as effective). (mlsq42, IPF/411mania staff)
Psychology is storytelling and manipulating emotions. It’s got nothing to do with the actual style, it’s what they do not how they do it. Lawler v Dundee in Memphis or Magnum v Tully locked in a cage are all about the psychology – conveying the hatred and feud and their characters perfectly. Junkyard Dog returning to Mid South to get revenge on The Freebirds after being blinded and not being able to see the birth of his daughter and beating up the p%$$y heel like you would expect him to and Hayes getting the s#*t kicked out of him and cheating is real psychology; JYD taking it to the mat and methodically working over a body part and exchanging holds and reversals would be all wrong. (Fadda, SC)
take a look at Mick Foley, Raven, Stan Hansen or Terry Funk and you’ll see a group of guys who know why and how and when to hit you over the head with a chair. (J.D. Dunn)
Some Technical Matches Have Poor Psychology.
I think we’ve all seen the opening of a Jerry Lynn/RVD match where they will do a spectacular, but ultimately empty, sequence on the mat. The crowd usually gives them an appreciative round of applause, but rarely does it contribute anything to the story of the match. (J.D. Dunn)
Sometimes even a match with flawless matwork can have no psychology, because it’s just two guys working the mat with no direction. Flawless matwork can be aimless at the same time, and you can get a dead crowd to go along with it. If two combatants go at it, and one has taped ribs, it’d be kind of pointless if opponent A just simply wraps a waistlock and they start trading basic mat manoeuvres. A smart wrestler would try his best to go after those ribs early to wear him down later, but also to try not to bust out high-end moves early, because using the same move later won’t have that same effect with the fans. (This is Workrate, SC)
Holds, reversals and mat sequences are still spots and a bunch of them held together in a match with no specific direction is still a spot fest. It doesn’t have to be high for it to be a spot.
The example that sticks out in my mind is always HHH Vs Angle at Unforgiven 2000. HHH was pissed off because his wife had been cheating on him with Angle. Logically you’d want HHH to beat the living shit out of Angle at the bell and have Angle cheat to get an advantage when HHH lets his emotions run too wild. What you didn’t want is what we got. If you think a dude has been cheating with your wife the last thing you’d be is all “Lets hit the mat dude”. Tech work totally out of place and context and a million times worse than the match HHH had with Foley in January of the same year where he did get what his character was supposed to do. (Rob Edwards, SC)
Slow is not smart, smart is smart, slow is slow. (JHM, IPF/SC)
I am of the opinion that psychology and technical wrestling, although connected, are not dependent upon each other. I’ve seen lots of technically sound matches that- in my opinion- sucked balls because there was no reason for the two wrestlers to be fighting aside from the fact that they were booked to fight each other. There’s no emotion.
Psychology is the intangible that makes me buy tickets to wrestling, and what makes me believe that this stuff is real- at least while I’m watching it. But accepting the above statement as true forces one to say that the Southern workers of the past didn’t know what psychology was because they weren’t shoot-stylists, which is, of course, incorrect, although typical of some internet fans. (lessthanpleased, IPF)
Going to the mat and doing a bunch of intricate holds doesn’t equal into a good match if there’s no real intent. One match that comes to mind is the first time Benoit wrestled Austin. Benoit was sure Austin couldn’t match him on the mat, so he started off trying to keep Austin grounded and not letting Austin turn it into a brawl. But Austin surprised Benoit by being able to counter him at every turn. The intent on both men’s part was obvious and it made the time they were on the mat more interesting. (Crown’s Gate, SC)
A match being “technical” has little to do with psychology. Angle-Benoit from Mania 17 is far more “technical” than Austin-Rock, but which has the greater psych? (Ray, SC)
Any Wrestling Match Can Have Good Psychology.
Psychology is something that if you notice it, it’s not working. Makes no difference what sort of match you’re working. (Famous Mortimer, SC)
Thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s discussion!
Moodspins is here!
So far, I think WM XXI the game looks more interesting than WMXXI the wrestling card.
Thanks for reading!