As fans of professional wrestling, we’ve been trained to expect a certain amount of action and give-and-take in a match before we believe the fight will come to an end. That’s why it’s tough to sell false-finishes in a big match situation; experienced observers know better. We expect victims of signature moves and submission holds to kick out or escape at least once (if not multiple times) because there’s so much on the line, and we realize there are chapters in most matches, and the average main event won’t jump right to the end of the story without taking us on a ride first. But this certainty ruins a fun element for the crowd…
TODAY’S ISSUE: Exciting, surprising finishes.
Last week I discussed the slow, methodical, premeditated breakdown of an opponent’s body part leading to a submission victory. On the other side of that coin is the out-of-nowhere maneuver that can catch a wrestler unawares and lead to a sudden, exciting win, usually thanks to a knockout. I mentioned Stone Cold Steve Austin’s Stunner and Shawn Michaels’ Sweet Chin Music among other wham-bam finishers last week; during his run at the top of the WWF Austin’s Stunner had a high likelihood of being hit in a flash and “stunning” an opponent long enough for Stone Cold to secure the win via pinfall. Since HBK stomped the mat ten times before delivering his super-kick, it wasn’t a surprise to fans when he knocked a guy’s teeth out with it.
In 1997-98, Diamond Dallas Page was on a big roll in WCW. Locker room politics and proximity of his home to Eric Bischoff’s aside, and regardless of how notorious Page was for planning his matches in intricate detail, DDP pulled off several exciting moments between the ropes. This was largely due to his ability to shock an opponent and surprise fans by drilling his victim with a modified Ace Crusher, known as the Diamond Cutter, from all angles at any given time with no set-up whatsoever. Paired with his never-say-die attitude and “People’s Champion” gimmick, the Diamond Cutter added an element of intrigue to his routine and kept viewers guessing how his matches would end. One thing few could argue, it was never dull watching Page wrestle.
About seven months ago, in the main event of WrestleMania XXV, Triple H and Randy Orton battled in the main event for the WWE Championship. Far outside the norm for WWE matches, Orton and HHH both delivered their signature finishing moves early in the bout but each failed to keep their opponent down for more than a count of two. This was exciting and different, since finishers aren’t normally seen until late in WWE main event contests but unfortunately, after creating this unusual new first chapter of a match, Orton and Triple H failed to deliver a compelling story to go along with it. It’s too bad, because they really broke the mold and caught fans’ attention (by doing something strategically smart but practically unheard of in going for their match-ending moves early on) but rather than building from there into a new type of classic contest, they just fizzled instead.
Incidentally, I never understood why within wrestling logic, if a match is extremely important it so much harder to knock out an opponent with the same move that normally kills ‘em dead. I get why a wrestler would be willing to endure the pain of a submission hold longer in a big match environment and would be less likely to tap out and more desperate to struggle to escape, but as far as knockouts go, “wanting it badly” shouldn’t affect the physiological response to a cranial blow. If your head gets hit hard enough, or if you get nailed on the jaw just right, you’re going out for a bit, regardless of what’s at stake. But I digress…
Sometime in 1985, in the midst of the famous feud which begat the Four Horsemen, Ric Flair and Magnum T.A. faced off in a match that looked to be another classic battle in their war. But five minutes into the contest, Flair hooked an inside cradle which the crowd clearly expected to be nothing more than an annoyance for the big, strong Magnum, but something highly unusual happened; the referee pounded the match three times, Magnum didn’t kick out and the match was over. I don’t know if there was an early injury, if somebody made a mistake, or if this was the intended outcome all along, but what a surprise it was to see such an unusually quick finish in a match between these heated rivals. Perhaps the bookers were so far ahead of their time that they added a heaping dose of reality-based writing into this feud. After all, why couldn’t an experienced, world-class grappler like Flair hook a tight cover from left field and catch Mangum with his eye off the ball? I loved how different this outcome was from the standard singles match formula we’ve all seen over and over again.
That Flair/Magnum match displayed that a wrestler can secure a surprising victory at an unexpected moment in a match, and while that shakes up the status quo it certainly lacks the drama and excitement of a knockout, like the ones Jake “the Snake” Roberts used to dish out during his WWF run in the late 1980s. The Snake used to plant opponents headfirst in the canvas with his devastating DDT, and it that was all she wrote. Roberts never worked over the neck or softened up his intended victims throughout the match, he just waited patiently for his opportunity, and struck like his nickname would suggest. Sometimes he’d set up for the DDT first with a short-arm clothesline, but that was more like the kick part of Austin’s KICKWHAMSTUNNER. The DDT normally just came out of nowhere and caught the victim and viewers completely off guard, which was the most entertaining part of the maneuver for us fans. On a side note, it’s a shame that a formerly deadly finisher has since become a transition move, but I guess one could always argue that today’s wrestlers grew up watching Jake the Snake and others earn victories with the DDT, so maybe their training included strengthening their own neck muscles and learning how to soften the blow somehow, perhaps absorbing some of it with their hands as they hit the canvas.
When watching boxing or MMA, there’s always the chance that one competitor will land a big shot early in the match and knock out his opponent before the poor slug even gets a chance to consider unfolding his game plan for the fight. While that shortens the match considerably, it can be more fun to watch than a boring-but-time-consuming fight that ends up with the crowd looking to the judges’ scorecards to tell them who won. There’s no questioning the victor when one man is on his feet and the other is flat on his back, out cold, and the same can be said for pro wrestling. Figuring out a way to trap your opponent’s legs and hold his shoulders to the mat for a three-count results in the same victory as a knockout, but it certainly doesn’t make the same statement as drilling him with some huge move, strike, or kick, and putting him to sleep due to the sheer force of your blow. That’s a dominant, violent, intimidating way to defeat a man, and it makes wrestling fans take notice.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “In middle life, the human back is spoiling for a technical knockout and will use the flimsiest excuse, even a sneeze, to fall apart.” – E.B. White
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Friday at midnight on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
The Ace has another new feature? Aaron Glazer switches gimmicks more often than Mick Foley in 1999! The Wrestling Guy talks new blood in ROH, First Time Match-Ups, and why WWE should steal good ideas from the old territories.
Chris Morgado discusses CM Punk in this week’s Column With No Name.
Michael O’Mahony brings another Poll Position, this one about what TNA is doing right.
David Ditch continues the his look at Misawa in the finest Japanese wrestling column on the ‘Net,
David Brashear keeps plugging away at his One Year in Memphis; this is a great read!
Il professore, Big Andy Mac reviews ROH’s A Cut Above DVD.
Finally this week, Anthony Perrillo kicks off a very interesting Pulse-wide effort 2009 Pulse Wrestling Fantasy Draft.