The Art Of The Finishing Maneuver

Lewis HennigCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2009

The finishing maneuver is a wrestlers' secret weapon, the ace up his sleeve or the "special" move. Not only does it usually foreshadow the end of the match, but it also serves as something that can get them over with the crowd.

Lately, however, the recent rush to pump new superstars into the veins of WWE's roster seems to have caused management to overlook this handy tactic. Wrestlers such as Cody Rhodes, Santino Marella, JTG, Primo Colon, and many others are victims of this plague.

Before I go any further, let me just say that a finisher does not make a wrestler. Santino and Primo have done a great job getting the fans' attention without the help of a finisher. But a finisher can help promote the superstar and make him a more exciting talent to watch—something I'm sure these two could still benefit from.

Recently, the Slammy Awards were held, and the category of "Best Finishing Maneuver" was introduced. Prior to the ceremony itself, I was found myself asking: What makes a good finisher?

The Art of the Finishing Maneuver

Type of Maneuver

Finishing maneuvers come from all angles and heights. Some take special circumstances to occur, as well. Each has flaws, and some have more benefits than others. Some even fall into multiple categories, giving them a combination of benefits to aid in the match, as well as receiving praise from the audience.

  • The Standard 

The most basic set-up for a maneuver. Both men are standing, usually facing each other, although sometimes an opponent is facing the opposite direction.

The standard is the most versatile of the types of finishing maneuvers. Sometimes it does not even matter the exact direction an opponent is facing for the maneuver to be pulled off. The RKO is a maneuver that demonstrates this, as Randy Orton can perform it from the front, or start from the back of the opponent while running and/or jumping forwards.

The simplicity of this set-up leads to many opportunities for the completion of the maneuver.

  • Location Specific 

These require the opponent to be in a certain position, or within a certain range of positions to be executed. Sometimes it is prone on the mat, other times the maneuver may require the use of turnbuckles or ropes.

The Lionsault is a spot-specific maneuver that comes into play when the opponent is prone, face-up on the mat, usually in the centre of the ring, or close to centre at least. It also requires the use of the ropes to be completed, or possibly some other suitable substitution.

Unlike the standard set-up, location-specific obviously does not have the versatility element, as it requires certain criteria to be met.

This also makes the move harder to perform, as the requisite situation needs to be met in order for the move to be completed. This opportunity may come only once a match, or sometimes never.

  • Aerial 

These moves can also fall under the category of location specific, but are usually the most exciting see, and the most dangerous to perform. As the name implies, it requires a wrestler to take flight, so to speak.

As I noted earlier, aerial maneuvers do require certain criteria to be fulfilled, most notably the element of vertical separation between performer and victim. The star performing the move needs to be higher than his opponent in order for him to succeed. This is usually achieved through the use of the top turnbuckle, although these moves can be performed off of almost any elevated surface. Stage equipment, ladders, and vending machines are all possible launching platforms for an aerial artist.

The set-backs for aerial finishers are of course, lack of versatility and how easily they can be performed. Time also becomes a factor as well because although the opponent may be grounded, time is still needed to reach a higher platform, unless the performer already happens to be there. Too much time spent climbing can lead to a counter—knees to the gut most commonly—or a possible evasion of the maneuver altogether.

One final flaw of the aerial finisher is the landing surface. The effectiveness usually does not vary with the surface, except in rare cases. But the performer must take into account the amount of damage that may occur to himself. A landing on concrete would be more detrimental to a performer than one inside the ring, which is probably why most superstars rarely perform such moves to the outside of the ring.

However, despite these negative factors, the aerial finishing maneuver may be the most exciting to see, and garners alot of applause. And while they may not be versatile in how they can be set up, they do allow for style points as well. Adding a corkscrew to a moonsault may not help its' effectiveness, but it sure makes it pretty.

  • Hype 

Many maneuvers involved in this category would be classified as normal moves, yet when they are performed by this particular person in a particular way they become powerful enough to end a match.

Finishers in this category are usually more build-up and flash that devastatingly powerful. Examples included the Rock Bottom and the Atomic Leg Drop.

  • Submissions 

Submissions are the only finishers that can lead to the end of a match in a way other than a pin. The goal of this maneuver is to either make the opponent give up or have him lose consciousness.

Submissions usually find themselves in the same category as location specific moves, in the cases of the STFU or Sharpshooter. But some can come from any angle, like the crippler crossface or the Khali Vice.

A major drawback of the submission maneuver is the time it consumes. Once the move is locked in the opponent will struggle until he or she cannot take more pain and gives. Unfortunately a person who can deal with a lot of punishment may take longer to submit than others. During this time several possibilities emerge, such as the chance for a submission to be broken up by outside interference, or the victim reaching the ropes for a rope break. Either situation will result in the breaking of the hold.

  • Character Specific 

The final category relies on the superstars performing the maneuver to be successful. While other wrestlers have the ability to pull it off, it will be nowhere near as effective as when this certain individual performs it.

These moves usually are found in the arsenal of large or powerful wrestlers. The Big Show's Knockout Punch is one example of a character-specific finisher. While many superstars could punch in much the same way as the Big Show, his size and unbridled power make his blows far more devastating than nearly anyone else on the roster.

Keys to a Great Finisher

Regardless of whether a finisher is powerful or draws cheers from the audience, there are several key factors that make a maneuver more or less effective during a match-up.

  • Can it come from anywhere?

Requiring a specific location or certain elements to be performed automatically lowers the chances—sometimes to zero—that the finisher can be performed in a match. If you can't perform the move because of a lack of ropes, or if the opponent is not in the right position, the opportunities for your maneuver are rare.

Take the case of the 619. It can only be used in conjunction with an opponent laying across the middle ropes. Well, if a match is to take place backstage, then this maneuver is out of the question.

Even in regular match types, a maneuver that is location specific is hampered by the fact that it has multiple factors that come into play, whereas a finisher that can be performed from nearly any angle enjoys few, if any limitations to where it can be performed.

  • How quickly can it be executed?

A maneuver that is as quick as it is devastating is a truly great finisher. The more time your move takes between set-up and execution, the more time your opponent has to counter it, or for interference to occur.

Unfortunately this is a problem that plagues submissions more than others. The longer it takes for a submission to work, the more time it gives the opponent to find a way out of it.

A move like the RKO is as quick as a blink to perform, because as soon as it is applied it is nearly over. Compare this to the Batista Bomb, the first step is putting the opponents head between his thighs. At this point, a reversal is possible, and it's only Step 1 of a three-step process. Step 2 is to bring the opponent up into position, again giving him another chance of reversal. And the final step is to bring him down for the impact, which is possibly the only step that cannot be countered.

With the RKO, you only have one chance to counter, if at all. The more steps or time it takes to perform a move, the more opportunities are created for your opponent to reverse it.

Even minute pauses can make a move less effective. Such is the case with the F-U. Although the move is relatively simple once the opponent is up on John Cena's shoulders, there is a pause in which they can struggle or reverse the maneuver.

The quicker a move is, the more deadly it becomes.

  • Can it be performed on anyone?

While there is no doubt of how effective a finishing maneuver can be, it doesn't help if you cannot do it against the one opponent you need to. Usually this is determined by the size and weight of the opponent.

The Undertaker, despite even his relatively large stature, cannot perform the tombstone or the chokeslam on large opponents, such as the Great Khali or Big Show. While the Undertaker can use alternate finishers for these big men, stars with only one finisher, like Jack Swagger, are for all intents and purposes, screwed.


Finishers have come along way since their first inception. Moves such as Randy Savage's elbow drop, Dusty Rhodes' Bionic Elbow, and Stan Stasiak's Heart Punch seem to pale in complexity to the maneuvers we are familiar with now, yet they too can be broken down and summarized by the points made on this list.

I believe a lot of these newcomers to the WWE who find themselves without their own finishers should take a look at this veritable how-to guide to finishers. For many wrestlers, this could help make or break their careers.


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