SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, April 27, 2001

Submissions don't mean much

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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As a very young viewer of wrestling, and for me this was only fourteen or fifteen years ago, the one aspect of wrestling that always seemed ridiculous to me was submission. At the time, in the mid-eighties, the only real examples of submission holds were the sleeper and various atrocious leglocks. Sure, Ted DiBiase used the sleeper hold as a finisher and executed it fairly well, but then Brutus Beefcake and Sgt. Slaughter also used similar holds. All in all, the effect wasn't always particularly good, and more than anything made wrestling look extremely corny.

Fast forward to 2001, and not only have we been influenced by Crash TV, ECW hardcore style, and a generally attention-lacking generation, but pro wrestling has also been invaded and influenced by the wonderful world of shoot fighting, in which an attempted submission hold doesn't mean a chance to go to the bathroom and make a sandwich and grab a beer only to come back and see it the hold still on with no result.

Raise your hand if you remember the famous 'test' to see if a pre-1996 submission hold victim had lost or not - the referee would raise his hand thrice, and if the hand fell down limp all three times, then the match was over. Of course, I don't know if anyone ever actually let their arm drop three times. If they did, that would have been one heck of an anticlimactic way to end a match. If not, then the whole segment is pretty useless. Either way, it was corny in a way that far surpasses just about everything else in wrestling.

An argument could be made that pinning attempts can be equally corny. The truth of the matter, though, is that we haven't been conditioned to expect the exact same results every time someone is pinned. Toward the end of a match, a two-count is more likely than a one-count, but at least the one-counts happen. Meanwhile, no one ever raises their hand on the first test to see if they're still conscious while in a submission hold. Maybe they're gathering their strength, but if they're out of air on the first hand-raise, you'd think they'd have even less oxygen reaching their brains by the last one. They should be weaker, not stronger, regardless of how many fans stomp their feet.

Finally, my last gripe with ye olde submission hold is the fact that they never seemed to hurt. It's one thing for an early-match warm-up move to look fairly inoffensive, but not someone's finisher. When Bob Backlund was brought back in the 1990's and made WWF champion once again, I thought his hold was a joke despite the fact that he seemed to be executing it well.

All that did eventually changed. Where it changed, exactly, I'm not sure. Bret Hart, one of the most credible wrestlers in the modern age, certainly lent some of that credibility to his own submission hold, the Sharpshooter, and to submissions in general. Ken Shamrock's appearance in the WWF, though he may have been a corny performer himself, ushered in a new age of more lethal-looking holds, and perhaps more importantly, the shoot-fighting tap out.

You wouldn't think that something so simple as tapping out would revolutionize submission wrestling, but it did. Though we still often see submission matches end in unconsciousness to save face, tapping out is a far more dramatic way to end a match than any other - because up until the moment of the tap-out, the victim of the hold is still conscious. If he's being pinned after a Stunner, or his hand is being raised during a Million Dollar Dream, he's still unconscious. But up until he taps out to that Sharpshooter, he's feeling the pain and fighting for his life in that ring, trying to reach the ropes, break the hold, or just hang on.

Now a number of great wrestlers use submission holds not only regularly, but as their finishers. And in most cases, these finishers are vastly improved over those from the days of Brutus Beefcake. Chris Benoit has his Crippler Crossface, a move that not only can Benoit apply right out of the blue, but which almost looks like it might hurt. Chris Jericho employs the Walls of Jericho, which thanks to Jericho placing his knee over his opponent's back, shares those same qualities. Kurt Angle uses not only Ken Shamrock's ankle lock, but also Bob Backlund's crossface chickenwing. Thankfully, he seems to have settled on the ankle lock. Between them, these three men also share three alternate finishing moves (swandive headbutt, Lionsault, Olympic Slam), so that they don't depend on their submission holds when the situation calls for something else. You can also add Steven Regal, Mick Foley, Saturn, Dean Malenko, Tazz, and several others who probably won't be remembered as corny or contrived in the ring, to the list of submission-employing wrestlers.

To boot, submission matches and 'I Quit' matches are increasingly being employed as main attractions on pay-per-views. Main event wrestlers like The Rock and Steve Austin are utilizing submission holds, most notably the Crippler Crossface and Sharpshooter, to fill gaps in their repertoires. In doing so, they add credibility to that whole aspect of the 'sport'.

Submission wrestling, thanks to these folks and others, has grown from something that makes me want to turn the channel to something that makes me want to save more matches on tape. Wrestling may not be perfect, but this is one way that it's improving steadily.

Here's the mailbag.

Drew Maginn, from, writes:
"I really enjoyed your article last week, especially your view on the current situation with the tag team titles.

I find it absurd that the WWF is so willing to take the titles away from Edge and Christian, without either of them putting up much of a fight. Why bother having hard fought TLC matches where they scratch and claw for the titles, when Kane and The Undertaker can just form a tag team overnight, and squash them? I personally enjoy the WWF's tag team division, but if they continue with their current attitude, no one is going to see the tag champions as having any credibility. They'll simply be belt warmers until a team like Chris Jericho and The Rock forms out of nowhere, and crushes them with little or no effort at all. Its just disappointing, at least give these proven tag teams some dignity, because after some of the clinics they've put on, they deserve it!

You know, when I wrote that, I was just thinking that it sort of sucked that Edge and Christian's development would be kind of stomped on. I wasn't even imagining it as an insult to their TLC matches, but now that I think of it, you're absolutely right. That really is awful. The tag team titles, if nothing else, should get more respect than that. At least make Kane and Undertaker earn it, and to save face for them point out that Edge and Christian work very, very well together. Have them do lots of nice-touch type cheating heel maneuvers, but for goodness sake don't sell them out!

Tom Peacock, from, writes:
"The WWF has become a bore. Please if someone out there is listening start to focus on some entertaining matches. Matches involving Malenko and Saturn vs. Raven and Benoit or light heavies and weave the lines so they're battling one another. William Regal is an incredible talent being wasted. If they wish to keep him hooked up with Angle, do so. Make them contenders for the tag strap, or duh - give them the straps! Team up Test and The One. Use the Giant as a mercenary for HHH and Austin. Have a feud between Bradshaw and Ron Simmons. Look Alive!!!!!!!!

You know, this is an interesting contradiction. I disagree with almost each of your ideas in principle. I think that Malenko and Saturn vs. Raven and Benoit would be a waste of Benoit's hard-earned heat, would take Raven nowhere, and without a light heavyweight title I think that Malenko is going nowhere. William Regal and Kurt Angle are too strong as individual talents to team up permanently. The One Billy Gunn is just terrible. Test is good but he needs more consistent backstory. I don't want The Big Show mixed with my main eventers, personally, as he ruins more matches than he adds to. Bradshaw vs. Simmons (Faarooq), though, might be cool.

As much as I disagree, though, I have to admit it might be refreshing if the WWF did as you suggested (or something like it) and just made some changes to shake things up. I'm not jumping on their backs for getting stale yet, but I may begin to worry soon.

That's all for this week. Thanks so much for writing in and for reading this column. I hope you have a terrific weekend.

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