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The history of the suplex (and other throws)


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I've become quite interested in, for lack of a better phrase, the history of the suplex. On the Chicago footage, it seems like once in a while the guys would do a throw. Thesz even did a powerbomb sometimes. But 90%+ of those matches are worked on the mat or with strikes.


In the early 70s, in the US, in Japan and in Britain, you still mostly have predominently matwork. In fact, there is not a huge amount of difference (in my view) between the style in the 50s footage and what we see in the early 70s. In the US and Japan, we start seeing more things like hiptosses and bodyslams, and depending on the workers involved, you might get some suplex variations. But for all intents and purposes, the style in all three places isn't a million miles apart. You can look at a McManus match, an Inoki match and a Dory Funk Jr match and recognise plenty of common cross-over points.


By the late 70s, though, in the US and Japan (not really watched British stuff from that era yet) you have guys throwing bombs left, right and centre to punctuate the mat-based game. The difference in the style is marked. More bombs, more bumping.


By the late 80s, in the US, true matwork almost becomes a lost art, and in Japan (at least All Japan) it's mostly used to eat up a little bit of time before those massive strikes and bombs are busted out -- at the very least the emphasis and focus of the style is not really on matwork.


A while back on Titans we watched this Legends Battle Royale from 1987:




After the match (about 19 minutes in), they ask each of the oldtimers to compare the wrestlers of today with wrestling from their peaks. Most of them are really on their best behaviour (in gratitude to WWF for giving them this one last "big" match), and try to put over the contemporary product, but the common thread through all their answers is that guys come from the top rope a lot more, leave the mat a lot more, and don't work submissions like they used to. And *some* of them, you can tell, have a twinge of "these young guys don't know how to wrestle" about them.


In this thread, I'd like anyone with any knowledge about this at all to post whatever they have...


I'm interested in how and why this transition in the style came about. Who were the real innovators? How much of it owes to amateur wrestling? Who was the first real "bomb throwing" type worker? What are the reasons for matwork declining in the late 70s and then especially in the 80s and 90s?


Maybe this thread will die, maybe something interesting will come out of it. I haven't been able to find anywhere online discussing this particular topic.

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Haven't you said before that Harley Race was a big bomb throwing kind of guy? If nothing else, he's got to be a link to that period before it became really common. So maybe that's a good starting point to go backwards from, find the influences that pushed Harley in that direction and continue from there.

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I've always thoughtthat more Suplexes came about because of the advent of more TV. People needed to stand out and they needed moves that could end matches in a quicker fashion due to the restrictions of TV and thus power moves were born. As time went on the moves got bigger and bigger, as well as flashier and flashier with more and more variations. I'm not actually an anti-moves guy, as the array of moves that exist in pro wrestling is one of my favorite things about the sport. The proliferation of moves had to start somewhere, will be interesting to read what others have to say.

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Haven't you said before that Harley Race was a big bomb throwing kind of guy? If nothing else, he's got to be a link to that period before it became really common. So maybe that's a good starting point to go backwards from, find the influences that pushed Harley in that direction and continue from there.

Yes, well there's two things on that:


1. It seems to be crediting Race with an awful lot, even though I can't find many guys before him who work like he does. Terry Funk in many ways is close, especially in his bumping style. They both do a spot where they swing 360 on the ropes and sort of bounce their legs on the top rope while upside down -- a wildly over-the-top bump that I've only seen Race and Funk do period.


2. Race could sit in a headlock with the best of them when he wanted to.


Ray Stevens is someone I am going to look at, but there really isn't a huge amount out there. A bunch of 70s LA / San Francisco stuff has cropped up in the past few days, almost all clips, but between that and the smattering of 70s AWA we have featuring Stevens, I can at least get a sense of how he worked.


Bockwinkel is obviously another link, but my current idea with him is that he changed with the times and was much more mat-work-y in the 70s and before that. And it's not like he stopped working the mat altogether in the 80s.


Beyond those two, I'm not sure.


Buddy Rogers, Pat O'Connor, Lou Thesz, Verne Gagne and Eduard Carpentier -- from what I've seen, all work the older style.


The one guy who seems like he worked in a more action-orientated way is Johnny Valentine. He bumped around quite a bit but seemed to go in more for the big clubbing blows than throws and things. But from what I've seen Valentine is closer to Race than any of those other guys.


Beyond the US, Karl Gotch is a name one has to consider, even if Inoki was extremely mat-based himself.


Seems to me though that guys like Jumbo, Tenryu and so on learned a lot of their style from US workers from their early trips.

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Well this is why I'm thinking about Johnny Valentine as being a guy who would have direct influence on Flair.


Steamboat as I've said elsewhere seems like a post-Brisco babyface.


Flair and Steamer seem like "next generation" guys.


"Standing up" isn't a bad term at all for the transition I'm talking about here.

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  • 2 weeks later...

The Flair interview on the last Steve Austin show is very revealing about this.


And he talks about Johnny Valentine specficially. He reckons that Valentine wouldn't do any rope running or take an Irish whip into the turnbuckle. Says that Valentine would mainly work the mat, but does admit taking the Flair flop from him.


He puts over Ray Stevens as being the real innovator of his big bumping style, as well as Bock, but also credits Harley Race with the turnbuckle slam, Jack Brisco with the figure-four, and Terry Funk for his reverse knife edge.


There's an interesting little moment when he mentions that he wasn't really a fan of Dory Funk Jr because he worked that same semi-shoot-mat style as Valentine, and clearly Flair favours a lot of motion and action.


Really terrific opening ten minutes of that interview, and it seems to confirm a lot of the stuff I was talking about in this thread.

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