It’s easy to write an article praising (or bashing) wrestlers' finishing moves.
But I don’t like doing anything that’s easy.
Although I will end this column with a list of what I consider the worst finishers of all time, I want to spend a little time discussing the entire idea of “finishing moves”—why they are necessary, and how to identify them.
We’ve got to remember that wrestlers—WWE, TNA, New Japan, indy—spend much of their time in a match helping their opponent “get over” by “selling” moves.
So if this were 1988 and I were in the USWA wrestling against Jerry “The King” Lawler, part of my job would be to make the audience believe that when he threw his left jab, he was just killing me. His jab was better than Muhammad Ali’s!
Or at least, that’s what I want to make you, the audience, think.
So a jobber is expected to endure slams, punches, huracanranas, lariats (clotheslines), neck breakers, and chair shots, all while making his opponent look like the second coming of Bruno Sammartino, but eventually, he’s supposed to lose.
That’s where finishers come in. The finisher basically tells everyone in the arena—from fans, to promoters, to the wrestlers themselves—“this match is just about over, so let’s wrap it up and get to the three-count.”
All of this is premeditated, of course. Otherwise, how can ECW, RAW and SmackDown! mysteriously end precisely when they are supposed to every single week?
It wouldn’t happen without finishers.
When the Undertaker rolls his eyes to the back of his head and performs his ominous neck-slashing routine, you know that the end is less than two minutes away.
A couple of high-impact moves—think big boot and “Snake Eyes”—leave the opponent woozy, and he will “finish him” with either The Last Ride (if the opponent is relatively light, like a Shelton Benjamin or smaller), a Choke Slam (for the extremely large guys, like Mark Henry), a “Tombstone Piledriver,” or his latest finisher, the “Hell’s Gate” gogoplata submission (just about anybody, anytime).
It’s important to make the distinction, though, between “signature move” and “finisher.”
Yes, they are often one and the same. Rick Flair’s “Figure Four Leglock” was his signature move—something that set him apart from other wrestlers, and that he used just about every match—and also his finisher, a move that signals the end of the match.
This has been true of many wrestlers over the years: Lawler (piledriver), Legion of Doom (Doomsday Device), Shawn Michaels (Sweet Chin Music/Super Kick).
Of course, some concession should be made to the fact that times have changed, in the world in general and in wrestling specifically. Sammartino, for instance, used the body slam as a finisher.
Today, fans wouldn’t buy the maneuver as a means to get a three-count.
I have seen many people decry Rikishi’s “Stink-Face” as a finisher. I have an easy answer for that: he never used the move to complete a match (except for the regrettable Stink-Face matches he participated in). He used the Bonsai Drop to close people out.
So the list I am about to compile is of the 20 Least Believable (not necessarily worst) Finishers, or verifiable finishing maneuvers that should NOT be considered “high impact” enough to be accepted as debilitating.
We will assess 20 through 11 tonight. As we get closer to No. 1, the finishers get more unbelievable, even though scores of wrestlers have sold these moves to one extent of believability or another...which is the point, after all.
I warn you, some of the most popular finishers in history appear on this list.
20. The Pedigree
Notable practitioner(s): Triple H
This almost didn’t make the list. The reason? With only a very slight modification, this move is as devastating as anything going. Do the double-underhook, and put one knee on your opponent’s neck, and this is potentially fatal. As it is, it’s a bit of a yawner.
19. Thumb to the Throat (just about anything that ends in “Spike”)
Notable practitioner(s): Terry Gordy, Kevin Sullivan, Don Muraco, Umaga
Okay, we’ve all been hit in the throat. You lose your voice, but unless it’s done just right, it probably didn’t even slow you down. Umaga, for example, clearly jabs his opponent in the side of the neck, which would make you mad, but definitely not incapacitate you.
18. Neckbreaker (and any of it's variants)
Notable practitioner(s): Matt Hardy (Twist of Fate), John Morrison (Moonlight Drive), MVP (The Playmaker); too many in the past to even begin to mention
A move that suffers from the fact that it is a standard tool in most any wrestler’s repertoire. I’m sure it must hurt like hell, but to disable long enough for a three-count? When I just saw you kick out of it 3 minutes ago? That’s another matter, entirely.
17. Drop kick/Missile Drop Kick
Notable practitioner(s): Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Curt Hennig, Brian Pillman, R-Truth
Uhhh, excuse me? But how many times do we see superstars kick out of drop kicks? So, how can they purport to make this athletic maneuver, though impressive, into a match closer?
16. Sleeper Hold
Notable practitioner(s): Rowdy Roddy Piper, Sgt. Slaughter, Ivan Koloff, Ted DiBiase, Virgil, Dan Severn
I once met a wrestling trainer who showed me how to apply a sleeper. I thought I was a big dog then! He invited me to apply one, and I did, maybe with a bit too much vinegar. He reached up, smashed me in the nose with one finger, and broke the hold.
15. The Claw (any variation)
Notable practitioner(s): Killer Kowalski, Von Erichs (stomach); Crush, Khali (face/head)
So the same guys who can take a chair to the head and sometimes kick out, or manage to find a way out of a Sharpshooter or Boston Crab, can’t find a way to withstand or counter a claw? To quote John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious!”
14. Headbutt to ______ (fill in the blank)
Notable practitioner(s): Bobo Brazil, The Bushwhackers, Vladimir Kozlov
Now, in all fairness, a headbutt to the chest knocked the wind out of me once as a kid. Once. And I panicked so much that I just lay on the ground and didn’t try to move. But I caught a ton of heads to the chest and usually just bounced back up. This move all depends on how well the opposition sells it—but I’m not buying it, regardless.
13. Fireman’s carry takeover
Notable practitioner(s): John Cena (FU)
Don’t let the scholarly description fool, you. This is nothing but a variation on the body slam! These guys jump off ladders onto the floor, splash through tables, and take any number of insane bumps, and they can’t kick out from a body slam? I don’t think so.
12. The Bulldog (and it’s thousands of derivatives)
Notable practitioner(s): Barry Windham, Scott Hall (before The Razor’s Edge), Dan Spivey, Stone Cold Steve Austin/Diamond Dallas Page/Randy Orton (modified)
I know, I know, I can hear the howls of derision. But in the end, the Stunner/Diamond Cutter/RKO are all the same thing, and variations of the Bulldog. So if I hold your head on my shoulder when I perform a Bulldog, it becomes magically lethal? Spare me!
Notable practitioner(s): Ultimate Warrior, Yokozuna, Rikishi, Mark Henry
Now, I must say, the bigger the splasher, the more believable the maneuver. I pondered removing Yokozuna from the list. But at least really sell the move; these guys usually hit their hands and knees more than their opponent. And the Warrior’s splash was particularly egregious!
Stay tuned for the Top 10 Least Believable Finishers in a subsequent article!