WWE and Pro Wrestling Iconic Moves, Part 2: The Piledriver

Dan PowerSenior Analyst IOctober 1, 2011

In the first installment of the current series exploring some of the most iconic moves in pro wrestling history, the figure four leglock was dissected. Now it's time to take a look at something less sophisticated and very brutal, the piledriver.

When they say "Don't try this at home", it fits perfectly with the piledriver because it can hurt for real, especially when not performed by professionals.

Currently in WWE, only The Undertaker and Kane are allowed to use the piledriver in the ring. Otherwise, all variants of the move are completely banned by the company.

In fact, the maneuver is prohibited in most wrestling promotions and even in some countries, such as Mexico. There are also some states and territories in the USA where it's banned, most notably in Memphis, Jerry Lawler's home territory.

So, The King, the man who won over 160 Championship throughout his career, could no longer use the move that contributed to build his legendary career. The date of the ban in Memphis is not clearly determined; however, we can assume it was somewhere in the middle of the '70s. One sure thing is that it was already banned in 1982 because it's well documented that Lawler used it and he was disqualified for that in an iconic match, but I will come back later on that point.

The move was regularly used in WWE until the famous botch at SummerSlam 1997 by Owen Hart on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Ultimately, the accident precipitated Austin's retirement following his severe neck injury that paralyzed him for several seconds.

To perform the maneuver safely, there is no room for mistake and, if a sound technician such as Owen Hart could botch it, the same could happen with anyone.

The piledriver already made many other victims in various promotions worldwide, including in WWE, and it caused a lot of serious neck or head injuries. So, with Austin severely injured by the move, Vince McMahon had to react and the company officially prohibited the move in 2000. Stone Cold was then in his irresistible rise to the superstardom and he was lucky to have recovered to become the icon he eventually became. He put his health in jeopardy by coming back after and McMahon will never thank him enough for that.

Now that we explored the dark side of the move, let's see how popular it is, even outside the world of pro-wrestling. If we associate the dangers and the accidents related to the piledriver to how the victims always sold the devastating effects, it's no wonder why it is seen as so lethal and why it is used in multiple medias outside a wrestling ring.

We can see the piledriver used with his variants in some Mangas and other Japanese animes, such as in the well-known Naruto  saga. The world of video games obviously borrowed it too and we can see it in Lego Batman, Ninja Gaiden  and, most notably, in the Street Fighter  franchise by the Zangief character. There's even a table game called Deadlands  in which the maneuver is used. Finally, it can be seen in a lot of Asian action movies and, in North America, we could  witness the move applied by Jet Li in the film Kiss of the Dragon  to kill a rival.

Back into the ring, where it usually belongs, the origins of the piledriver is still undetermined. To my knowledge, no one claimed or is credited to be the innovator of the maneuver. It's not even possible to determine when and where it was used for the first time. We can go back to the 1950s without a doubt, but it was probably applied as early as the in 1940s.

There are many variants of the move and the first version could be called the classic piledriver, in which the attacker and the recipient's faces look in the same direction. It could also be called a belly-to-back piledriver.

Bobo Brazil and "The Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers used the classic version of the move on several occasions in the '50s and '60s as a signature move.

In the '70s and '80s, many wrestlers, including Sgt. Slaughter, Paul Orndorff and Jerry Lynn had the classic piledriver in their arsenal. Owen Hart and Jacques Rougeau aka The Mountie were two of the few to perform it in the '90s in a WWE ring.

If many big names in the business used the classic one, Jerry "The King" Lawler is certainly the most famous.

The maneuver became legendary in 1982 in the middle of an iconic feud between Lawler and Andy Kaufman. In what was the precursor of the use of mainstream medias stars in the world of pro-wrestling, Kaufman received two of the most storied piledriver ever by Lawler. That match became the talk of the day in all medias and the feud was even continued on the "Late Night with David Letterman" show after Kaufman went out from hospital following the two piledrivers he received. If you want to learn more on the saga, there's a documentary called "I'm from Hollywood" available on DVD.

Karl Gotch is the first known innovator of a variant called the cradle piledriver, in which he enlaced an opponent's leg with his arms before landing. This way to perform the move is considered as the originator of the tombstone piledriver.

In the '70s and '80s, the tombstone, the most popular variant, appeared and was used by Andre The Giant in his prime and by The Dynamite Kid. The move, also called belly-to-belly piledriver, became famous with The Undertaker because, with the name it has, it fitted perfectly with his gimmick. It is now the only piledriver that is still permitted in WWE because, after 20 years, The Deadman can do it safely and because the knees of the attacker take the shock unlike other seating piledrivers.

There are several other versions of the move innovated in the last 30 years. Bruiser Brody used the stalling piledriver in which he held the his opponents upside down for some time before going down. And the most spectacular one is Petey Williams' Canadian Destroyer.

To conclude, I'd like to invite to watch some vintage piledrivers.

Click here and there to see the tombstone applied by Andre The Giant.

You can watch a classic match in which Buddy Rogers wins a match against Johnny Valentine with a classic piledriver.

If you want to watch 20 different variants in one video, click here.

For the famous piledrivers on Kaufman, click here and fast forward to 6:52. 

Finally, treat yourself with a Canadian Destroyer's compilation as dessert.