The Psychology of The Beautiful Thing, Part V

A little learning is a dangerous thing; drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring: there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again. Alexander Pope (1688-1744) – An Essay on Criticism.

The most easily recognised form of ring psychology – working a body part – is also probably the most widely misunderstood. Almost every fan who has ever watched a match with their brain switched on has figured out that one of the simplest and most effective stories that can be told in a ring is Wrestler A working over a single body part of Wrestler B throughout the match and then making Wrestler B submit by applying a hold on the injured part, or pinning Wrestler B after dealing the final damage with a move that impacts the damaged area.

Mathew Sforcina: It’s simple, easy to tell, obvious, it works well and is logical. It’s just a simple, useful and effective tool to tell a story.

Vinny Truncellito: Working a body part is simply a smart way to try to win a match. It shows a plan of attack thought out before the match, as opposed to a competitor just winging it.

When this kind of simple story is told in the ring by two great wrestlers, it can be recognised and understood even by people who have never heard the word “psychology” used in reference to Pro Wrestling. It can be, in a very real sense, a beautiful thing.

The problem arises when wrestling fans fail to recognize that there are many different stories to be told in the ring, and more than one way of telling each of them.

Beethoven’s 9th Symphony takes the listener on an emotional journey through despair and back to hope and transcendence. It does so by finally asserting the major key over the minor after several long passages of harmonic ambiguity and tension. When the Symphony is played by a major orchestra under the baton of a gifted conductor, the meaning can certainly be felt even by people who have never heard the word “key” used in reference to Classical Music.

The problem arises when music fans expect all Symphonies to work this way. The dissonance in Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony is never resolved, and it would be asinine to expect that it should be. Shostakovich’s 5th is telling a different story than Beethoven’s 9th, and so it needs to be structured differently.

I also consider it asinine to criticize Ric Flair for working an opponent’s arm for the majority of a match before putting that opponent away with a Figure Four Leg Lock.

If you are any kind of a wrestling geek at all, you should have tried to apply the Figure Four on at least one of your friends by now, and you should have had it applied on you. If so, you know this already: The Figure Four really hurts. I’d assume that even the toughest of tough guys would submit pretty quickly once they were trapped in the hold, even if their legs were not already damaged.

So, what purpose does Flair’s arm work serve?

Hurting an opponent’s arm can take away a great deal of his offense. It can make it more difficult to get the leverage required to break out of or reverse the figure four. It can wear an opponent down and tire him out.

Still, some fans can only see one purpose for the arm work: To set up some kind of arm bar submission. Those fans might be willing to acknowledge Ric Flair as a master of crowd psychology, but they tend to sorely underestimate his ring psychology. It’s my very strong opinion that those fans are missing out on some very compelling story telling.

THAT is how to sell an inury!

Jerrad Moxley: You don’t always need to work a body part. Body work can give a match focus but you can focus a match other ways and sometimes body work doesn’t really make sense.

Working a body part shouldn’t be the story of the match, if it is the match has failed. Working a body part should happen because the story of the match dictates it. The reason’s I think you work a body part are basically to A. Take away something the opponent does. B. Lead to something you do. C. Begin or continue an injury storyline for the opponent or (and this is my favorite) to D. Change the dynamics of the match. Bret vs. Owen at Mania 10 uses Bret’s freak knee injury to totally change the match, prior Bret is totally, masterfully in control of the match and nothing Owen does is gaining him much momentum, the injury suddenly changes Bret from the confident favorite into the role of a suddenly vulnerable face trying to survive.

It is possible to use the basic psychology of body part work to achieve a number of different ends. The method is only effective, however, if the body work is properly sold. If Wrestler B’s arm has been damaged, it should hurt him to throw a lariat. If his back has been thoroughly worked over, then he should have difficulty lifting his opponent to hit big power moves. An injured leg needs to be limped on, not sprung off of.

Big Andy Mac: Working a body part is the basic element of psychology, but it is only as successful as the way the opponent sells that work. An example of this is from RoH’s first pure title tournament. Matt Stryker was working AJ Style’s leg most of the match and AJ did a fairly good job selling it. Then out of nowhere he hit a springboard 450 splash. This can work if it happened during an “adrenaline rush” segment in the match, which it did, but he never sold the leg again. This was part of a tournament and it could have made the story of the whole tournament so much better.

I felt that last year’s NOAH GHC championship match between Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama was a superb example of how to work body part psychology into a Main Event match. In the early part of the match, Takayama was frustrated by Kobashi’s ability to chop his way out of any difficulty. Takayama therefore targeted Kobashi’s right arm, and worked it over thoroughly. This was not done to set up an arm bar finisher (although one was later attempted), it was done to take Kobashi’s chops, and his Burning Lariat, away. Takayama then assumed control of the match until Kobashi finally got the guts to go back on the attack with his right arm, presumably reasoning that it might hurt Yoshihiro more than it hurt him. Even then, his weakened arm was not enough to put Takayama away, and he had to resort to desperate measures to keep his title.

I’ve seen the match criticized because the arm work didn’t play into Takayama’s German Suplex finisher (“He should have worked the neck”). I’ve seen it criticized because Kobashi’s fighting spirit was strong enough to overcome his injuries (“He should have kept selling the arm”). In my opinion, those critics are missing the point.

J.D. Dunn: It’s probably one of the simplest and most effective ways to involve a crowd because everyone
understands what’s going on immediately. Also, it works for just about any situation. If you’re bigger than your opponent and you start working the leg, the announcers can talk about how you’re trying to ground him and his high-flying wacky aerial manoeuvres. If your opponent is bigger, they can talk about “destroying the big guy’s vertical base.”

Working a body part is a simple, effective, versatile and easily recognizable form of Pro Wrestling Psychology. It can be used in many ways to tell many different stories. Try watching a few classic matches with your brain switched on, and see if you don’t appreciate that wrestling can, in fact, be a beautiful thing.

Which matches in particular?

Tune in next week for some prime recommendations!

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