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Chapter 17: Chain Wrestling and Chapter 18: Working the Crowd by Matt Murphy

Posted by flairwhoooooo on January 4, 2010

Chapter 17: Chain Wrestling

Before I get started in this short chapter, understand this: you probably won’t see a hammerlock used twice on WWE television this year. I don’t know how important it will be to know holds and reversals in five years — or how important they are Present Day, for that matter — but I’m going to talk about them anyway.

Odds are, when I use the term “chain wrestling,” the average person who’s connected to the wrestling business simply sees a sequence of holds and reversals: that’s incorrect. Most wrestlers treat chain wrestling like a demonstration of all the holds and reversals they can imagine; really, chain wrestling is simply what you use to link Point A to Point B. It’s what you do to get from the headlock to the hammerlock.

Omit wasted motion when using chain wrestling. A few weeks ago, I watched an otherwise excellent wrestler grab a headlock, then reverse into a hammerlock before going directly back into the headlock. You have to trim the fat: what he did was nothing more than fat. He made several motions that took him from Point A back to Point A, exhibiting his knowledge of what he believed to be chain wrestling ineffectively. Had he been in control with a headlock and sought to improve position, such as transitioning from the headlock (Point A) to a headscissors (Point B), then he could have used a bit of chain wrestling to get from A to B.

A good chain wrestler is able to go from Point A to Point B several different ways. If he uses a top-wristlock to counter a headlock and gain control of the left arm, then he will be able to use another method to attempt to take control of his opponent’s arm the next time around.

It drives me nuts to see a wrestler switch to working an opponent’s body part that’s not related to the body part he’s been working for several minutes prior. I know some smart people with good wrestling minds who disagree with this logic, but I think if a wrestler has been exerting his own energy to wear down his opponent’s neck for five minutes, then he probably shouldn’t waste energy working an armbar for 20 seconds. If he ends up in control of an armbar, it’s best for him to find a way to transition into a hold where he is working the neck again.

Many people use the term “rest hold”, which I’m not crazy about. When you are working a hold, it is okay to catch your breath; however, it’s called “working” a hold, meaning you should still work. When you stop making the crowd believe that the hold hurts and the person caught in it is trying to fight out, the crowd stops caring and it becomes a waste of time and motion.

Holds and reversals can be pretty and don’t have to be boring if you learn to use them effectively and without wasted motion. Take the time to execute them properly; smooth looks faster than it really is.

At the wrestling school, I often asked another wrestler to grab a snug hold on me before I tried to reverse it. That showed me which reversals were feasible. Don’t be afraid to do this. It’ll help prevent you from not knowing how to sell, use, or properly reverse a hold.

As with everything, safety is the most important part of executing a hold. Be snug enough to make it look legit, but don’t tear off a guy’s arm.

Daylight exposes a hold as being worked. When a fan can see daylight in between a wrestler’s arm and his opponent’s chin on a reverse chinlock, he can see that the hold is either a choke, an illegal hold which should be broken by the referee, or it is not being applied with any force.

I personally hope there is a place for holds and reversals in wrestling’s future. Done right, they can be as exciting for some of us to watch as high spots.

Chapter 18: Working the Crowd

Working the crowd is manipulating them to react in the manner you intend; it’s being a puppeteer. When you watch Raw on Monday nights, you don’t usually see wrestlers acknowledging the crowd a lot during their matches. It sucks, but it’s the evolution of the televised product. Two wrestlers given six minutes for a singles match have that amount of time to enter the ring, get over, and give the production crew the outshot needed to go on to the next segment. They’re working for the TV viewers, not the live audience.

WWE house shows are different and about ten times as fun to watch live. Fans get the rare opportunity to feel up-close and personal with the WWE Superstars, who interact with the crowd much more without the cameras rolling. Independent shows give fans an even better chance to interact with the wrestlers.

Before I get too far into working the crowd, let me explain the difference between heat and cheap heat. Heat causes fans to buy tickets. Cheap heat doesn’t. Heat is caused more by storyline and action, while cheap heat usually involves making fun of a local sports team or the bald guy in Row Three. There is a time and place for cheap heat — I used it myself when the situation was right — but it garners an emotion that passes quickly.

Back in the day, wrestlers really knew how to get legit heat. Many were stabbed, their cars set ablaze, and put in other dangerous situations because they were so damn good at it. And they filled arenas with fans who paid to see them get their asses kicked. That kind of heat is rare today, but true heat can still be achieved, hopefully on a safer but equally profitable level.

I’m going to sound like a broken record, but listening is the most important part of communication. The real master of working the crowd is the wrestler who listens to the audience and caters to the needs of the fans based upon what he hears.

Ring of Honor fans are somewhat similar to the old ECW fans. They are more informed and more passionate than just about any other type of wrestling fan in the world. In exchange, they have certain expectations from the promotion and they have drawn lines within which they expect ROH to color. I would try to use their passion for the ROH product to my advantage if I was the booker. I think one of the greatest things ROH could do to build some serious heat is to put their World Title on Chris Masters. As insane as it sounds, hear me out. Masters is a jacked-up monster who represents everything that ROH fans hate: he’s everything that Bryan Danielson isn’t. I think those fans would be so disgusted by Masters coming in, unannounced, and winning their World Title that they would pay to see Danielson take the title from him. In winning the title, Danielson would not only take their title off somebody they truly hate, but he would also get a measure of revenge for them against a wrestling world that largely turned its back on them as the business evolved into sports-entertainment. I believe this would be real heat that would result in strong ticket sales, though I could be wrong. It might be the kind of heat you never want, the “stop consuming” heat. That’s the kind of heat that leaves fans feeling so disgusted, offended, or cheated that they decide to stop watching or attending. It’s the kind of heat the infamous Katie Vick storyline created with many now-former WWE fans.

Cheap heat gets you by and might even make fans hate you, but it doesn’t sell tickets. Sure, there might be a fan here and there who will buy a ticket just to heckle their least-favorite wrestler, but those fans don’t attend in masses.

When working the crowd, it is important not to break character. If you’re a satanic beast, you probably shouldn’t be making fun of the bucktoothed guy in the first row.
You have to believe what you’re saying, or at least appear to. It pisses me off to no end when Wrestler A shoots Wrestler B into the corner and says, “I’ve got him now” before his opponent dodges the attack. People see through that crap. I also can’t stand seeing people with bad physiques posing like Lex Luger because the fans know that the wrestler is just pretending, playing “bad-guy wrestler”.

I’m not much of a fan of the walk-and-talk style. While interacting with the crowd is important, it should not be the focal point of the match. People pay to see wrestling, and if they wanted to listen to somebody insult them for two hours, they’d be in the boss’s office at work or they’d go to a Don Rickles show in Vegas.

I once worked a match with a Southern wrestler who I respect a lot. He spent so much time stalling and jawing with the fans that they didn’t care about him or his impressive credentials as an international star by the time we got to the action.

Now let’s do a 180 and look at those who do the extreme opposite, who don’t even acknowledge the crowd at all. There should be no more than one of them in a promotion, but there is a place for them. The Undertaker would be less impressive if he was slapping hands on the way to the ring. I see too many wrestlers taking that approach these days, like they are mixed-martial arts guys coming to the ring for a fight. If fans want to see MMA then they will watch MMA. It should come as no surprise that those MMA-type wrestlers receive little interest from WWE. Working the crowd helps to generate the maximum response for the holds and moves executed inside the ring. Those who learn how to work the crowd get the most mileage out of their work and their careers have the longest lifespan because they don’t need to do a springboard 450 splash through flaming tables to get over.

NEXT WEEK: Chapter 19: Wrestling on TV

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