Chris Benoit wins 9 out of 10 matches with his Crippler Crossface submission maneuver, just as Kurt Angle employs his anklelock. AJ Styles finishes most of his matches with the Styles Clash. HBK is all but guaranteed to attempt Sweet Chin Music, just like HHH with his vaunted Pedigree.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Match structure.
A favorite match ending of mine took place during an NWA title defense by Ric Flair against Magnum T.A. in 1985. Out of nowhere at around the 5:00 mark, Flair hit a quick backslide for the pin. This finish leant so much drama and excitement to the match. Instead of Flair “taking T.A. to school” by working the leg for ten minutes before slapping on the Figure Four for the submission, this came off like a real contest that the champion was determined to win. He defended his title successfully by hitting a move out of nowhere and ending the match. Just like when a boxer scores a knockout via the surprise haymaker, this match seemed so authentic because of the abrupt victory by the Nature Boy. The unusual finish made the match appear “unscripted”. The champ saw an opening, an opportunity to successfully defend his title, so he took it.
Now I’ll be the first to concede that Flair is known for working the leg to set up the Figure Four, and that’s cool with me. However, you can’t believe that this is the ONLY strategy a 16-time world champion would ever employ, so this particular title defense against Magnum T.A. made for some nice seasoning to his usual repertoire. I wouldn’t expect that type of finish all the time, but once in a while it simply makes sense.
I always enjoyed when my all-time favorite Bret “The Hitman” Hart would find an opening and start working the legs to set up his Sharpshooter submission. However, he could surprise an opponent with an inside cradle once in a while, just like he did to Diesel at Survivor Series 1995.
I mentioned Benoit at the top of the column. Just look at what he did on Raw against Edge the night after WrestleMania. His shoulder was damaged to the point that he was unable to utilize his trusty submission finisher, so he tried another favorite, the Sharpshooter. This hold required less from his injured shoulder, so it was a smart move to try. When that didn’t work, he found a different way to win. He used a quick rollup, and escaped with the pinfall. Due to Benoit’s improvisation (within the storylines, I mean) the match seemed like a competition rather than a choreographed display. Benoit couldn’t use his usual routine to win, so he tried a different strategy, and it worked.
That’s exactly what you would do in an actual fight. Your gun is out of bullets? Throw it at your opponent’s head! Your left foot is injured? Kick him with your right foot! Better yet, hit him in the jaw with a tire iron! My Dad always said that there’s no such think as a fair fight, and you should feel free to pick up a BUS and hit the guy with it, if you can. But I digress…
Can you distinguish one Flair-Sting match from another? I certainly can’t. They’re all good, but they contain the same basic formula. It’s like a symphony orchestra performing a classical piece straight out of the sheet music, note for note. That’s a performance, a presentation of something well known. The orchestra will be judged upon how well they “recite” the piece.
The Boston Philharmonic’s version of a given piece of music is in no way discernibly different from the London Symphony’s version of the same piece. But when Van Halen is rocking a stadium and Eddie goes off on a 10-minute solo, even though the solo was scheduled for that actual moment in the show, he’s improvising something special just for your hometown on that particular night. He’s playing another guitar solo, but not the same exact one as last night, and tomorrow night’s performance will be different as well.
The same applies to wrestling. When two famous performers meet in the ring, it should not be a recital. The crowd should not be thinking, “OK, Hogan will Hulk Up in another minute…” or “Here comes Cactus Jack’s elbow off the apron to the arena floor…”. Obviously wrestlers have a signature style and a certain moveset they consistently employ, but after all the live performances they put on in a given year, they should be able to improvise occasionally and shake things up, making the wrestling character appear to change, adapt, and grow as a grappler. Unfortunately, most wrestlers get comfortable with a limited number of moves and succumb to old age, so that the final Austin-Undertaker match that took place around 2002 looks MUCH weaker and less interesting than the first few times these two waged war.
At WrestleMania 21, we all knew we’d see Sweet Chin Music and the Anklelock during the HBK-Angle match. However, they also managed to mix things up nicely, so it wasn’t easy to call the next move. There’d be no point in watching match after match if the same thing always happened.
Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar had a certain magic to their rivalry, in that their matches never felt stale or rehashed. Granted, they didn’t feud as long as HHH-Rock or Flair-Sting. Even so, I bet Angle and Lesnar could’ve feuded for another year without ever presenting a boring match. Rock and Mankind had the same magic. They must’ve had 10 high-profile matches in a one-year period, and each match seemed fun, exciting, and slightly different from the last one.
The bottom line is, the workers shouldn’t be afraid to deviate slightly from their normal game plan on occasion. It adds a nice dose of reality when the wrestler actually appears to be adapting his style to a new situation, be it an opponent of unusual size, an injury that limits his offense, or a different type of match (i.e.: the Crippler Crossface submission isn’t the most effective weapon in a battle royale).
A FEW OF MY FAVORITE FINISHERS (and why) –
Petey Williams: Canadian Destroyer (overall amazing)
DDP/Randy Orton: Diamond Cutter/RKO (for the element of surprise)
Bret Hart/Ric Flair: Sharpshooter/Figure Four Leglock (for the psychology of the set up)
Steve Austin: Stone Cold Stunner (signature move that defined the rise of the WWF in 1998)
Goldberg/Edge/Monty Brown: Spear/Pounce (looks devastating when executed properly)
Let me know about your favorite finishers and why you dig them, at email@example.com.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – You’ve heard of “soft rock”, right? Think about it for just a second; you can’t have a soft rock. That’s like… sand or something.