In a “sport” where there are so many ways to win, including pin fall, knock-out, count-out, and disqualification, the idea of forcing an opponent to give up because they can no longer endure the pain you’re dishing out is a powerful road to victory. Submissions can come from a variety of attacks but a strong game plan for the submission specialist, that wrestler who has perfected a favorite finishing maneuver, is to single out a specific body part and beat it mercilessly so that it’s aching and throbbing before the submission move is ever applied. Then, when the aggressor swoops in for the kill, the targeted limb is primed and ready for the final, debilitating, incredibly painful hold that will end the match.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Picking a body part and attacking it for a potential submission.
In the modern era of professional wrestling in which high-flying style, MMA influence, charisma and promos are an integral part of the program, a wrestler working a body part en route to a potential submission victory is one of the most time-honored, classic methods of telling an in-ring story. Along with a tag team cutting off the ring and focusing on one of their two opponents while making repeated tags to one another, the psychology of body part selection is about as old as the concept of heels versus faces, and when properly executed can make in-ring action much more dramatic and exciting than two guys pretending to punch and kick each other randomly with no sense of purpose or direction.
Unlike Stone Cold Steve Austin’s Stunner, DDP’s Diamond Cutter, AJ Styles’ Styles Clash or Shawn Michaels’ Sweet Chin Music, a submission hold won’t normally be effective it if comes out of nowhere; it usually requires some prior planning. Part of the reason I appreciate submission technicians is that they have a game plan and prepare in advance for their matches, unlike an “instinct” guy who just goes with the flow in the ring. The wrestler who builds his arsenal around a submission finish watches film, studies his opponent, and always works to find the opening required to start punishing a body part that his submission maneuver will exploit once it’s been sufficiently weakened and damaged. That’s a thinking man’s wrestler.
Perhaps one of the most respected and best in-ring performers ever, the Nature Boy Ric Flair did many different things in a match before he got to his bread and butter, the figure four leg-lock. He threw legendary chops to the chest, which obviously won’t win a match or even wear down an opponent for a leg submission later in the contest. They sting the chest and get the victim off his game plan thanks to the pain and humiliation of the strike, plus the crowd singing, “wooooo!” each time Flair connected surely affected the morale of the Nature Boy’s competition. He threw some hard punches to the jaw, but like his chops, those were chess moves to position Flair where he wanted to go strategy-wise, not intended to earn him victory. He played cat-and-mouse with his opponent, winning the battle of mind games and keeping his adversary off balance and frustrated until Flair finally got his shot, normally an underhanded one, to chop-block his victim’s knee from behind and start working over the leg, which Flair considered “taking him to school”.
All of this scheming by the Nature Boy was part of the plan to make the timing right for him to slap on that figure four. If you knew Flair’s in-ring work, you were never too surprised when he targeted the leg and started wearing it down, softening it up for his patented hold. It was always fun to watch that plan unfold, and each time his adversary grimaced, yelled in pain, or bashed his hands upon the canvas, Flair fans applauded the simplicity and effectiveness of the Nature Boy’s strategy. Countless opponents submitted to the figure four at the hands of Ric Flair, and any time a wrestler today pinpoints a body part with a tap-out in mind it’s something of an homage to Flair, whether it’s meant to be or not. That’s how powerful an influence the former 16-time world champion was on professional wrestling in the United States, and how sublime his targeted attack on his victim’s leg was.
Multiple-time world champion Bret the Hitman Hart utilized a leg-based attack much like Flair’s, which often included pounding his intended victim’s the lower back as well, as visions of the Sharpshooter submission hold danced in his head. Since this hold puts extreme pressure on the back and legs, Hart’s psychology was pure poetry. His so-called “five moves of doom”, a series of maneuvers he used when in control toward the end of a match, included a snap-suplex, a side Russian leg-sweep and a big back-breaker over his knee, all of which arguably punish the back and help set up the coup de grace, the Sharpshooter. A fan could almost envision Hart’s game plan unfolding as he pummeled his opponents leg and back while planning the exact perfect moment to execute the Sharpshooter and force yet another rival to submit, earning the Hitman a victory. For the many Bret Hart fans around the world, it was a pleasure to watch this great ring general execute such a flawless strategy and chalk up another “W”.
Former ROH world champion Nigel “Desmond Wolfe” McGuinness has many maneuvers in his offensive arsenal, and while his ridiculously stiff lariats never failed to beat his victims to a pulp, they also damaged his own arms in real life, but his set-up for submission victories was a safer style that ensured his own ring longevity and still gave the impression that he was tearing his opponents apart and making them suffer. By focusing on the left arm of his victim as he plans for the London Dungeon, Nigel makes the hold seem so devastating that when he finally slaps it on in the center of the ring, his challenger appears to be in big trouble. I’ll never forget the image of Tyler Black screaming in agony when the champ tied him up in the Dungeon during their first big meeting in the main event of the Take No Prisoners pay-per-view. Much like Flair, you could see Nigel’s wheels turning as he punished the arm, preparing his adversary to quit from the combination of pain and fear of long-term damage to his arm.
McGuinness’ strike-heavy attack was exciting, but his submission-based style displayed more of a pure wrestling comprehension, which is appropriate for the man who held the ROH Pure Wrestling title longer than anyone else. His grappling prowess is not to be trifled with, and I hope he shows it off in TNA against the likes of Kurt Angle, who also likes to force opponents to tap out with his ankle lock, although his path to the hold isn’t as methodical as other true submission specialists.
Speaking of Angle, plenty of wrestlers occasionally utilize submission moves without basing their entire move set on them. Reigning Ring of Honor world champion Austin Aries has the Last Chancery, John Cena pulls out the STF[U] from time to time, the American Dragon Bryan Danielson uses Cattle Mutilation, the Undertaker has his version of the Gogoplata known as Hell’s Gate, Delirious sometimes uses the Cobra Stretch, the deranged Jimmy Jacobs perfected the End Time, and once in a while CM Punk dusts off the Anaconda Vise, but few wrestlers who employ submission holds scheme, plot, and strategize more completely than Flair, Hart, and (to an extent) McGuinness have in the past. They were submission technicians who relied on a premeditated tactical attack to lead them to the moment where they could force their victim into the ultimate humiliation and admission of being bested by a superior opponent, the submission. What better way to wrestle your way to victory is there?
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “There is no calamity which a great nation can invite which equals that which follows a supine submission to wrong and injustice.” – Grover Cleveland