The Little Things: Why Finishers Are so Important in WWE, AEW and Pro Wrestling
Professional wrestlers do a lot to stand out from the rest of the crowd. They come up with unique entrances, tailor their attire to their gimmicks and come up with personalities the crowd either love or hate. In addition to all of this, Superstars' finishing moves help define who they are.
Pro wrestlers and video game characters have that in common. Like the men and women in Mortal Kombat, a wrestler needs something memorable to beat their opponent.
A finishing move usually falls into one of four categories: strikes, submissions, aerial moves and various forms of slams and suplexes. Just about every move can be classified this way, but finishers need to have an extra level of impact to be believable.
A simple bodyslam, wristlock or clothesline won't do for the majority of today's wrestlers. But every so often, somebody takes a classic move and finds a way to make it their own.
Wrestlers also have to consider whether to switch up their finisher every few years to stay fresh or keep the same move because it's what fans expect to see. Many legends spent multiple decades using the same thing to beat their opponents, while others have never used one move long enough for it to become an iconic part of their character.
Let's look at why finishing moves are so important and the thought process behind picking the right maneuver.
Creating a Unique Move Is Difficult but Rewarding
Having a finisher isn't enough. It has to be something that isn't used by a lot of people at the time and, if possible, something nobody has ever seen before.
Moves like the Figure Four, Boston Crab, DDT, Superkick and Powerbomb have been used by so many people that they rarely lead to a pin or submission anymore.
Think about the first time you saw somebody hit a hurricanrana or a moonsault. It probably blew your mind. But after a little while, those moves became commonplace, especially among cruiserweights.
Wrestlers have had to evolve these moves into things like a reverse poison rana and a 630 splash. They keep pushing the boundaries of what is physically possible in order to outdo the previous generation.
Developing something original is difficult, but if it can be done, the person using it will be remembered as an innovator.
Adopting an Existing Finisher
While creating a brand-new move is great, most wrestlers use existing moves. What sets apart each person is the way they execute it.
Charlotte Flair adapted the Figure Four into the Figure Eight simply by adding a bridge. Before Shawn Michaels would hit a superkick, he would tune up the band and sidestep his way toward the opponent.
Adding a little flavor to a simple move can make it seem special. Jon Moxley is a great example of somebody who took a longstanding move—a double underhook DDT—and changed it just enough for it to be unique to him.
Randy Orton might be the best example of somebody who took a popular move and elevated it to new heights. The RKO is the same thing as the Diamond Cutter. The difference is the way The Viper uses more of a snapping motion, while DDP would hold his opponent's head for a moment before bringing them down to the mat. The minor change Orton made has allowed him to make it one of the most explosive finishers in WWE history.
Some of the most iconic names in the history of the business have had surprisingly simple finishing moves. Hulk Hogan's leg drop is as basic as it gets. But without it, one of his matches wouldn't feel the same.
Matching Your Character
Picking a cool move is easy. Today's Superstars have to choose something that matches their characters. There is a lot more thought that goes into selecting the right move than one may think.
Rey Mysterio is almost always going to be the smallest competitor in the ring. If he tried to use a bodyslam or superkick as his finisher, not only would it be unbelievable, but he also wouldn't be able to perform it on half of the people he faced.
The 619 is perfect because he can hit it just as effectively on a cruiserweight as he can against somebody like Samoa Joe or Kevin Nash. Size doesn't matter when all he has to do is swing on the ropes to hit a kick and springboard on to them with a splash or leg drop.
Speaking of the leg drop, Hogan spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2019 and said that if he could change one thing about his career, it would be using the leg drop. He not only damaged his back by landing on the base of his spine every night, but he also used to brag about having the biggest arms in the world. The Hulkster said if he could do it over, he would have used a sleeper hold.
Stars like Daniel Bryan, Bret Hart and Ric Flair used submissions to show off their technical prowess, while Goldberg, Nash and Batista used moves that slammed their opponent to the mat to flex their power. What good is Big Daddy Cool's height if he isn't lifting somebody above his head?
With bigger promotions, marketability is also a factor when it comes to finishing moves. If it won't look good in a video game, you probably won't be allowed to do it.
Being a Human Highlight Reel
Having an exciting finisher is only half the battle. Being able to perform the move from a variety of setups will turn someone into a human highlight reel.
Orton's RKO can be hit from any angle on any opponent. We have even seen him perform the move on an opponent who was mid-shooting star press. It might be one of the most versatile finishing moves ever created.
When it comes to high-flying maneuvers, Jeff Hardy's Swanton Bomb is one of the most iconic because he has jumped from ridiculous heights to land on his opponents countless times.
The Spear is an explosive finisher that has been used by many top stars, including Goldberg, Edge, Roman Reigns and Charlotte Flair. Johnny Gargano put his own spin on the move by slingshotting himself through the ropes.
Even if your move is as simple as a superkick, how you perform it can turn it from an overused strike into one of the most exciting moves of the night.
Finishers are as important as anything else a wrestler does. Finding the right move, matching it to your gimmick and figuring out how to make it memorable can help propel someone from the midcard scene into the main event.
What do you think is the greatest finishing move of all time? Check out the previous article in this series about entrances.