Monday, August 22, 2011

Tap or Snap: Daniel Bryan and Submitting

Tapping out? Not a big deal for AmDrag
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For two weeks in a row on Smackdown, Daniel Bryan wrestled Alberto del Rio. Both matches were hailed by fans as being free TV mat classics, and both ended similarly, with Bryan tapping to del Rio's cross armbreaker. I didn't see the match from last week's show, but the one from the most recent episode was tremendous. It was well-paced, had great limb psychology and ended logically, with Bryan submitting before del Rio did too much damage to his arm. For me, that was good enough. For some, well, I think some people still can't let go of the idea that tapping out is the coward's way out. Furthermore, I've heard some complaints that Bryan, whose gimmick is that he's a submissions expert, shouldn't be tapping out to submission holds.

With all due respect to those complaints, I think they're a bit misplaced for several reasons. Submitting isn't an option only reserved for the yellow-bellied heels anymore, and Bryan being a submissions expert means that he more than anyone should know why tapping out is more than a valid option.

First off, why would anyone submit? As wrestling fans, we've been trained to believe that you take the pain in a submission hold as long as you can until you pass out from the sheer torture if you're one of the good guys. The classic example of this is WrestleMania 13, when Steve Austin, bloodied and wrangled in the Sharpshooter by Bret Hart, passed out in an "I Quit" match, thus setting the bar for the ultra-popular. From a storytelling standpoint, it provided great theater. It would have provided a shining example of one guy's "never say die" attitude if it were the only example, but as always in wrestling (especially with WWF/E), overuse has diluted it.

I'm not sure if it was that WM13 moment that made it uncool for the good guy to tap out or whether it was just a reamplification of an old wrestling talking point where good guys fought on and bad guys surrendered, but for a period of almost a decade, heels as a rule didn't have effective submission holds. There were exceptions, but at the same time, tapping out was very much taboo. Hell, there are still more-than-vestigial signs in current wrestling companies as mainstream as Impact Wrestling that still see the tap out as something to look down on, or at least something that's not easily obtained. The Bound for Glory Series awards 10 points for a submission victory, the most on its slate.

The truth of the matter is that tapping out should be the easiest way to win a match. The amount of effort it takes to kick out of the average pin attempt is minimal, making it much harder for the victor to exert the damage needed to knock the victim out for three seconds. Think about it, all you have to do is get a shoulder up. Meanwhile, even the simplest looking submission hold can be a pain to get out of or to maneuver in if you're far enough from the ropes, even for someone who enters a match in good health and stamina. Furthermore, if you're in a submission hold for a prolonged time, realistically, you heighten your chances for getting severely injured.

So, shouldn't a submission master like Bryan know best how much damage a hold can do on his body? I've mentioned it a few times on here, but tapping out is smart in the long term, and really, Bryan is portrayed as a smart wrestler, be it positively through his in-ring exploits or pejoratively by Michael Cole continually calling him a NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD.

Then again, I guess it bears mentioning how much realism you want in your wrestling. Personally, I'm fine if they keep it heavily "unrealistic" for the sake of tradition and storytelling, because hey, if I wanted to watch real fighting, I'd watch MMA or boxing. Wrestlers can do things that these "legit" athletes can't do because of the scripted nature of it all, and I'll defend until I'm blue in the face the natural order of things. That being said, I do appreciate nods to realism and strategy. I also appreciate attempts to destigmatize various finishes in pro wrestling. When you make the number of finishes that are viable more open and broad, you open up matches for better storytelling.

So, don't lament that del Rio tapped Bryan two weeks in a row. I'd say be happy that Bryan is seemingly being groomed for the main event, tangling with the now-WWE Champion two weeks in a row, looking damn good doing it. That's the important thing to take from the last two Smackdowns.

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