This is mostly stealing a couple observations from the DVDVR guys. In his pinch hit workrate report, Phil Rippa pointed out how Angle didn't sell the crossface after he had escaped it. A year or so ago, Dean talked about Lo Ki selling a submission hold like it was a sleeper, because that's what American fans responded to, even if it didn't make a lot of sense.
First, I just want to vent about HHH's recent mini-revival of the sleeper. It's good that he used it to beat Jeff Hardy and Spike Dudley, because he was already using it as a frequent spot in his matches. If it never worked, it would look silly. So establish it as a possible finisher.
The problem is that when Jeff and Spike passed out, the ref did not raise their arms to check. You always raise their arms! There are cave paintings with Ug the ref raising Og's hand to see if he's still awake. When a bowling alley manager had my friend in a headlock, and I raised my friend's arm three times, he knew exactly what to do, and I had never even heard him mention wrestling.
The whole point of establishing the sleeper as a finisher is so when the ref raises RVD/Kane/whoever's arm twice and it drops, the crowd will be cheering for the arm to stay up the third time, instead of thinking it's a foregone conclusion. But when they only check the arm if the face fights back, and just immediately call for the bell when the sleeper finishes the match, it telegraphs what's happening next and ruins the drama, not to mention the suspension of disbelief. When Lesnar beat Hogan with the bearhug, they did the hand raising spot at the end, so now when Lesnar has someone in a bearhug and the ref checks the arm, it's possible to go either way.
Lesnar's bearhug and HHH's sleeper are used pretty similarly. Both are holds that take the breath away from the opponent, who fades instead of being put in intense pain. The Cobra Clutch, Million Dollar Dream, Dragon Sleeper, Crossface Chickenwing, and Tazzmission are generally treated the same way. If someone can grab the ropes or fight out with a burst of energy, they usually don't sell lasting effects of the hold, after a few moments to recover their breath.
Contrasting with this are submission moves which focus on torquing a joint until the pain is too much. The Anglelock, the Crossface Crippler, the Sharpshooter, the Figure Four leglock, etc. They are usually set up by the wrestler focusing on a particular body part to soften it up, and the victim sells that body part with a limp or by not using that arm, or whatever's appropriate.
The thing is, in WWE (I honestly don't watch much non-WWE stuff) the wrestlers tend to sell the work leading up to the submission as doing damage, but not the submission itself. The submission is treated as painful, but not leaving any lasting effects if it can be escaped. Kurt Angle, for example will sell the bejeezus out of a ringpost bump with his shoulder, but won't really sell the crossface after he escapes. During, yes. After, no.
Along with the times a wrestler has passed out from a submission, the line gets a bit blurred between submission holds and sleepers. They are both holds to be fought off, ones that sap your strength, and don't leave significant damage after they're done. I think I'd prefer it if submissions were sold as more damaging and painful than being sold like chokeholds, but at least there's some psychology behind the way they're treated, and it's not just mindless no-selling.
I could probably have edited this down to a clearer version about half the length, but there you have it.
The thing is,your asking for American wrestling here. I mean,American wrestling uses very very little ring psychology from what I hear/seen.
So I think of it this way. To truly see great submissions and sleepers,I suggest you cruise the net for some Japanese matches,such as Jyushin Lyger...and then if any of you have influence talk the WWE into actually signing Ultimo Dragon so he may show people how psychology is done.
Mattitude(ma't-e-toodeh'): Mattitude, is something that can not be taught or learned. Mattitude is something that burns within. In the ring, Mattitude is the intangible, the x-factor, that gives Matt Hardy Ver.1 an advantage over everyone else.
The ironic thing being that many of the "setup" holds do more damage and are easier to put on in a shoot-style match.
HHH's sleeper is hurt by: 1. it does nothing for him now to get sub wins anyway, his main technical stuff is working the arm to make getting the underhook for the Pedigree easier. Using a sleeper now gives you the feeling now that people aren't good enough for the Pedigree or that his knees are so screwed up he can't take doing his regular finisher anymore.
2. He used to actually do the sleeper better in 2000, even doing the whole body-scissor thing as well.
As far as Angle and the crossface-reversed-to-anklelock, remember, he goes "psycho" once he's got it locked in so that any pain from any previous submission doesn't affect him and either the refs have to make him break the hold or someone has to kick him in the head etc.
And while it seems everyone has their token submission (even Rock and his attempt at a Sharpshooter), no one can win with it, as even guys with "proven" subs like Chris and Kurt end up getting pins off reversals etc. most of the time in major matches.
shinstrife: There's a goodly amount of the pee-sychology in the Smackdown half of WWE these days, with Angle, Benoit, and Eddy all wrestling weekly 15 minute matches, and more of a focus on body part work and submissions coming as an order from the top. The approach they take with the psychology is another thing, since there isn't the shoot-work crossover in the US there has been in Japan, so the audience is almost wholly ignorant of legit submissions. You get things like RVD bridging out of a cross-armbreaker as a counter, stuff like that.
darkdragoon: Good point about the freak out/second wind/burst of adrenaline thing. I know a lot of people look down their noses at this, and it can really kill a match if it's overdone (Hogan). But I personally don't mind it at all; it's the old sports cliche of not hurting until the day after the game. If Angle freaks out during the anklelock, or the Rock gets a second wind while his opponent is busy arguing with the ref, I won't begrudge them an offensive spurt without maintaining their limp or whatever it is they're meant to be selling.
ZIMMERMAN: Lil' old moi? Never. I am the very model of a modern duckpin league bowler.