wrestling / Columns

Shining a Spotlight 8.09.12: Finishing it Off

August 9, 2012 | Posted by Michael Weyer

When WWE releases DVD sets, I usually enjoy the documentary type. However, their upcoming set, The 50 Greatest Finishing Moves Ever, seems one of their better collection releases. Obviously, there will be debate over the rankings and such but that’s the point of these lists and it is interesting to see what made it in and how they’re regarded. I am a bit surprised that Bruno Sammartino (who WWE has pretty much ignored over the years) has his bearhug ranked at 16, ahead of Jericho, Cena, Goldberg and Brock’s finishers. But the set gets you thinking about finishers. Not who has the best or such but rather the way they’ve evolved over the years and how naming them isn’t as old as you think.

Old Days

Up through the early 1980’s, fancy finishers weren’t a big deal. Guys would finish bouts with stuff like clotheslines, regular slams and submission holds. The piledriver was considered a massive move with Jerry Lawler winning his bouts with it and the move considered so dangerous that it was banned in several territories. The Claw was popular with the Von Erichs as well as Baron von Raschke. But for the most part, you just didn’t see guys doing some ultra-fancy finishing move with a cool moniker.

Jake Roberts may have been the one to start that. It’s a shame you can’t trademark a move or otherwise Roberts would be one of the richest men in wrestling. He had been using a knee lift for a finisher, which was about as silly as it sounds today. When facing off with the Grappler, Roberts got him into a facelock when Grappler tripped and sent them to the canvas, him landing on his face. Roberts got up fast to show it wasn’t him who screwed up but the Grappler heard the rush of gasps from the audience and wisely stayed down, telling Roberts he had something. And so the DDT was born, named after the famous pesticide. And while many have followed him, no one has made the move look as devastating as Roberts did with the quick jerk motion that landed a guy on his head to sell Roberts as a major threat.

Things began moving for finisher after that as some guys could take simple moves and make them look huge. Randy Savage was a great example as his flying elbow off the top rope looked incredibly devastating to the point that when Hogan kicked out of it at Wrestlemania V, Savage perfectly sold having no idea what to do next as it had never failed before. Hogan himself managed to get tons of mileage out of the big boot/legdrop, making it a major thing. Tag teams got into the act with the Road Warriors making the Doomsday Device one of the most brutal moves a jobber could take and Demolition having their own with the Demolisher. While the backbreaker had been popular already, Lex Luger made it look better with the Torture Rack and Sting and Bret Hart both used the reverse leglock to effect as the Scorpion Deathlock and Sharpshooter respectively. You’d have guys putting their spins on moves with Mr. Perfect utilizing the old fisherman’s suplex into the Perfectplex, which fit him as it was the perfect victory. However, it was the coming decade that would really change things up.

Rise in Fancy Stuff

The ‘90’s brought the real dawn of fancy finisher. Keep in mind, things were a lot different then. When Sid and Vader both started using the Power Bomb, it was a huge move, totally devastating and Vader even broke a guy’s back doing it because guys were unprepared for it. We got more stuff like Scott Hall who made the Razor’s Edge an awesome move to watch and added to his rise. There were also moves you just don’t see anymore like Rick Rude’s cool Rude Awakening reverse neckbreaker. And while his ring skills may have stunk, Honky Tonk Man’s variation of a swinging neckbreaker wasn’t bad. But as wrestling grew, fans wanted a bit more flash and wrestlers did their best to match it.

The fact is that fans always pop more for a quick finisher than a submission hold. It’s why the sleeper became passé as well as variations of it like the Cobra Clutch or the Million Dollar Dream. Ditto for stuff like Bob Backlund’s chicken wing or even the Camel Clutch. Look at how finishers in the latter half of the decade became stuff you could hit fast like Diamond Dallas page, who could hit the Diamond Cutter from almost any position without warning, getting fans on their feet. Austin had one of the big ones with the Stunner and while he may not be able to hit it as quick as he once did, it’s still sold as an instant knockout blow that gets crowds cheering. The Pedigree has always worked for HHH as it looks really stunning, dropping a guy face first with your full weight on him and almost always means victory. Brock’s F-5 was awesome when it started out as he’d swing the guy out and crush him into the mat and even better when he did it with some bigger guys. Punk’s GTS is something you’re surprised didn’t come up before and can be more dangerous to take then it looks with a knee to your face. And like DDP, Orton has proven he can hit the RKO from almost anywhere with no warning, which makes it more dangerous. TNA has really got guys who can work cool finishers like the Styles Clash and Daniels with the BME. Aries has brought the brainbuster back to prominence after far too long and I still like Tara’s finisher. Some guys may like the classics but good to see new life brought into ending moves. The indy guys really try to break the mold with stuff like Hollowicked’s Graveyard Smash and Steen’s F-Cing to really stand out.

Of course, some finishers aren’t quite as big as they may look. That includes ones that are amazing to watch like Petey Williams’ Canadian Destroyer. Yes, it’s cool but even the biggest mark has to acknowledge that there’s no way a guy at 230 pounds can flip his opponent completely over in a piledriver without the other guy helping. Cena’s finisher is made a big deal but let’s face it, the Attitude Adjustment is just slamming a guy off your shoulders, something that should be brushed off and let’s not start on the five-knuckle shuffle. The Rock Bottom is great but following it with just an extended elbow only works because it’s the Rock. The chokeslam really only works as a finisher for someone huge like Big Show and the spear has gotten a bit overused (not to mention the long-term neck damage Edge sustained doing it all the time should be seen as a warning). Jeff Jarrett’s Stroke has to be the most anti-climactic finisher I’ve ever seen, made to be on the level of the Pedigree or something but just tripping a guy onto his face (with you always going face-first) and having it be a knockout blow is silly. Scotty 2 Hotty’s Worm is fun to watch but suspends disbelief to have an opponent just lay there for 30 seconds while Scotty does the hopping and such. Indeed, that’s a key shift for finishers lately, how the times have changed.

Changing Times

What’s changed is the fact that a lot of moves that were once finishers aren’t as effective anymore. A big factor is the no-sell trend. When the Road Warriors broke out, they were money because of their status as unstoppable monsters. Lawler recognized that when they came to Memphis for a match with him and Austin Idol and thus he agreed to the idea that Hawk would get up from the piledriver that had finished off so many opponents. It was a stunning moment for fans and Hawk always appreciated how Lawler sacrificed the power of the move just to put the Warriors over.

There’s also shifts in how some moves come off. When Mankind first used the Mandible Claw, it was sold as a truly painful and effective move, even taking down the Undertaker. But when he turned it into “Mr. Socko,” it became more comedic, a bit less threatening (although using barbed wire on it against Edge and Mania 22 was good). At first, Santino’s Cobra was goofy, the joke being it never worked but now it is sold as a real finisher, the addition of the snake glove a great touch. Guys can alter their moves as well such as how Jericho added the Codebreaker to his arsenal while still making the Walls an impressive variation of the Boston Crab. Ditto for the Undertaker adding the Hell’s Gate to flesh out his big power moves. A good finisher works wonders for a while but spreading it out shows a more evolved worker.

Of course, the big one with no-selling was Hogan. It was the formula in the big matches for Hogan to take the damage, the big finisher of the heel, then pop right up from it to “Hulk Up” and make the victorious comeback. It worked in his ‘80’s prime but began to wear thin in the ‘90’s. This became evident when WCW set him against Vader, the perfect match-up given Vader’s monster status and Hogan made one of the most baffling booking decisions ever by having Vader attack him before their big Superbrawl encounter, take a power bomb and then pop right up like it was nothing. It ruined the image of the move for fans and Vader’s career took a major hit too. But as time has gone on, moves that were once finishers are becoming mid-match stuff like piledrivers and even power bombs. So guys have tried to do more and more fancy things to get attention which can be dangerous.

Wrestling is far, far more dangerous than a lot of fans think. The Undertaker has to be careful with his Tombstone as Steve Austin can tell you all about how bungling that can break your neck. WWE has been toning down a bit on extreme stuff for worries of guys getting hurt and so guys aren’t doing the ultra-risk finishers anymore. TNA can be much the same as Jesse Sorensen’s injury shows the risks for the X Division and I’m sure guys have to be careful when Aries and Joe pull their neck-threatening moves. With ROH, guys do want to show off more to get their name out there (especially considering ROH can use all the attention they can get) which can lead to more risk of injury. A cool finisher is great but keep in mind, you have another guy having to take part in it. It’s just as much skill taking the move as it is applying it in the first place. Roberts is fond of telling how Ricky Steamboat wanted to get a DDT on the concrete in their 1986 feud, Roberts warning him it was a bad idea, Steamboat going ahead and ended up knocked out with a melon-sized bump on the head.

But the risks can be worth it as a big finisher can make a worker stand out far more. Cody Rhodes has shifted since he changed his and Orton was so-so before he hit upon the RKO. Fans love a fancy one, something that can be hit out of nowhere like the Stunner perhaps better but the build to a big one can be effective too (like HBK “tuning up the band”). And yes, it can be cool to watch but making it overly complicated takes some of the fun out, not to mention how obvious the setup for it is (see the 619). But a great finisher truly can make or break a guy, a bit more flash all-important in the business. Fans respond more to a big one like the Stunner or chokeslam than a submission one and the wilder, it gets you in more and wrestlers work for that.

Finishers still remain a key part of wrestling for fans and workers alike. That’s proven by how WWE video games have an entire section where fans can create their dream finishers, often ones that would be a bit much in real life. Of course, it’s easier to imagine than to have it in real life but for the most part, finishers remain a key part of the business and how they’ve evolved shows their importance. It goes to show that finding a right ending can often be the beginning of a good worker’s career.

For this week the spotlight is off.


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Michael Weyer

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