Roots of Kayfabe: Why the Abdominal Stretch Is Not Just the Lamest Rest Hold in Wrestling

The abdominal stretch is a boring filler move in professional wrestling but its roots are a little more exciting. We talk twisters, rolling back takes, calf slicers, and Vaporisers.

by Jack Slack
23 February 2017, 10:28am

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published on FIGHTLAND

Last year we delved into professional wrestling and examined the ins and outs of the Bomaye Knee, the signature move of Shinsuke Nakamura and a staple of 'strong style' professional wrestling. That was before Nakamura made it to the U.S. and there was much speculation over whether the WWE would allow him to keep such a gnarly finisher. As it turned out, Nakamura has been allowed to use the finisher in NXT but there was a subtle name change from Bomaye to Kinshasa. Bomaye was likely taken from Antonio Inoki who adopted the phrase after his bizarre 'fight' with Muhammad Ali. In Zaire, when Ali fought George Foreman, the locals chanted "Ali Bom-a-ye," quite literally "Ali, kill him." Obviously not a good look in the PG era so the name switch made sense, though it retains its roots as Kinshasa was the city in which Ali vs. Foreman took place.

The Bomaye knee or any variation upon it relies on deliberately missing the head with the knee and using the shin across the chest or the shoulders to make it appear as though a much stiffer connection has been made. That's not to say it can't be stiff in itself, the great Kenny Omega's V-trigger looks terrifying to take, but then looking stiff is the point.

If you don't understand how people can enjoy professional wrestling, go and watch Kenny Omega's six star match with Kazuchika Okada.

In that article we ruminated on the art of 'show' strikes. Making it look like you have hit someone without actually hitting them is really, really hard. Compare Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan's work with well drilled teams of stunt men to the rapid camera angle changing schlock of almost every big budget action movie today and you will realise that directors have noticed this difficulty too. But today we are going to explore a couple of holds in professional wrestling which come from the legit grappling roots of the business and which can readily be seen still at work in modern grappling.

The Abdominal Stretch

An abdominal stretch rarely gains much attention or applause because it is simply a rest hold. Like the sleeper hold and the headlock, for the most part it is used to waste time as the wrestlers catch their breath or, occasionally, convey instructions. But the abdominal stretch is a hold with its roots in a legit and punishing submission – nay, a pin.

In fact, the abdominal stretch is simply a standing version of the classic wrestler's guillotine. This is a finish on the mat when the attacking wrestler can get a single hook and get underneath the far arm. In wrestling the idea is to pin the opponent but the technique itself can be a submission hold which, while technically classed as a neck crank or cervical lock, is more than capable of blowing out a rib.

Though there have been a good few in mixed martial arts, the sole twister finish in UFC history came when the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, submitted Leonard Garcia, switching from back control to a single hook in order to attempt it.

In grappling the wrestler's guillotine is referred to as the twister because the guillotine is already a choke and when Eddie Bravo began using the wrestler's guillotine the folks at Jean Jacques Machado's academy invented the name. In the bad old days of Jiu Jitsu competition, Bravo would get side control and wait for opponents to turn into him so that he could hook their top leg and either roll over them or drag them back onto him to attempt the twister.

Here is Bravo's first twister in competition.

Though I am afraid we still have no answers on the utility of the octopus stretch...

So one twister in the UFC in twenty years... didn't I say the abdominal stretch still tied into modern grappling? You will notice that the twister/wrestler's guillotine and the back position are very similar and the two are closely linked. Bravo's entrances into the twister were a more valuable addition to the grappling game than the twister itself.

Grappling in a sweater is all kinds of badass.

Now, catching the far leg with what is sometimes termed the 'twister hook' is a large part of many grapplers' games. Ryan Hall, Gary Tonon and numerous others have taken this idea and run with it to bring out rolling back takes from all kinds of positions.

Here Ryan Hall attacks with an attempted waiter sweep, pops out the back door, and inserts the twister hook before going across Hermes Franca's back.

But this brings on to another classical catch wrestling attack which is still used in professional wrestling, another one from the single leg ride.

The Calf Crusher

A.J. Styles, probably the best professional wrestler in the world and a man who can make even mediocre wrestlers look like a million dollars, is using the rolling calf crusher and a signature move nowadays and it always gets a good pop from the crowd. The secret to a good signature or finisher is that it can come out of almost anywhere, and the twister hook certainly checks that box.

The calf slicer is an old-fashioned catch-type submission that was often taught from the same leg ride that the wrestler's guillotine is attempted. No one really attempts the calf slicer like this anymore because all the hard work of getting to the opponent's back is already done.

You will occasionally see fighters roll to what Bravo named 'The Truck' which is halfway house to the back. From this position the calf slicer is readily available but for obvious reasons most fighters will chose the positional advantage of trying to get straight to the back. T.J. Dillashaw, after outclassing John Lineker quite handily, decided to attempt a rolling calf slicer in the final round of his last bout.

Gary Tonon will even attempt to take the back or get to the truck from standing as A.J. Styles does in the professional wrestling ring because he's an absolute madman.

In the modern era, the calf slicer is more often attempted from the bottom and facing the opponent's head rather than rump. Joao Miyao and others have done well inverting to attack the calf slicer in the of a kneebar and often enter the 50/50 position this way. Coming up with the leg trapped might make a submission possible, the sole calf slicer submission in UFC history came as Charles Oliveira went after his opponent's back from a calf slicer and the leg got caught. Oliveira dragged his man back onto him and secured the submission.

More often though you will see grapplers using the opponent's reaction to a calf slicer attempt to come up on the back. Ash Williams – of Evil Dead fame – attempted a good number of these at the Eddie Bravo Invitational.

Bonus back flip

And new ideas keep coming along. A couple of years back Eddie Bravo, then well into his forties, rematched the equally aged Royler Gracie and showed all kinds of new wrinkles. Sweeping Gracie with an electric chair sweep from the lockdown (the entangled grapevining way that Gracie's leg is tied up), Bravo allowed Gracie's leg to pass over his head and came up into a peculiar, tangled top position.

But having practiced this sweep plenty, it was nothing new to Bravo. Clinching tight, Bravo brought his head up as Gracie complained to the referee that he was stalling and Gracie immediately got a forearm on Bravo's throat and began pushing away. Savvy mind games from Bravo as he held on, encouraging Gracie to keep pushing him away, and then Bravo released and rolled straight into a calf slicer variation he calls, in typical Bravo fashion, 'The Vaporiser'. Will you see this one in pro wrestling? Unlikely, due to the amount of strain it puts on the knee laterally – knees don't bend that way.

Certainly we've come a long way from our original pro wrestling technique, but that single hook offence is the foundation of all of it – the twister, the rolling back takes, the calf slicers. So yes, abdominal stretches are boring as sin and just filler between interesting moves in the wrestling ring... but at least now you can imagine all the cool things that could be done from that position as two gassed guys catch their breath before attempting the next spot.