In sports, the truth can often get in the way of a good story. A three-hour baseball game can end with a 1-0 score, and the highlight of the affair is a sacrifice fly scoring a runner from third base in the fifth inning. But what fans want to see is a dramatic, walk-off homerun with a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth. Two boxers can dance, run, and clinch for 10 rounds before one wins a split-decision on points, with no dramatic, Rocky Balboa-like flurry or big knockout blow. But in pro wrestling, very few matches end before somebody delivers a devastating, impressive, signature attack or wraps up their opponent in a deadly hold, literally dominating their victim into submission due to the pain they feel and damage being done.
TODAYâ€™S ISSUE: The finishing move.
One of the most entertaining moments in a modern wrestling match is when the performers â€œgo homeâ€ or begin the final sequence of the contest. This is the time they let it all hang out. The feeling-out process has ended, the body-part focused work is long over, the intensity has increased, and now is the time to throw their big guns at each other. At this point wrestlers break out their ace in the hole, that one move or attack they believe in more than anything else in their arsenal: the finishing move.
Itâ€™s difficult to think of a grappler today who doesnâ€™t employ some sort of big, match-ending attack, like Matt Hardyâ€™s Twist of Fate, Triple Hâ€™s Pedigree, Nigel McGuinnessâ€™ Jawbreaker Lariat, and Samoa Joeâ€™s Muscle Buster. Others have a variety of things they do to win matches, utilizing a strike, a throw, or a submission hold, depending upon which is the best for the particular occasion, but they still all qualify as finishers. Think of your top five favorite wrestlers of all time, and see if you can quickly and easily associate a move like that with them. Iâ€™ll bet in most cases you can.
A key factor in a wrestler finding the correct finisher is how well it matches his persona. You wouldnâ€™t expect the humongous Big Show to use a high-risk maneuver, or the comparatively diminutive Paul London to lift his opponent up in a Gorilla Press Slam, because they donâ€™t fit the performersâ€™ fighting style or body type. A mauler like Erick Stevens wouldnâ€™t rely on low-impact submission holds when explosive assaults are his forte, nor would a daredevil such as Jeff Hardy utilize a multi-elbow strike knockout like Bryan Danielson sometimes does, when a flashy, acrobatic attack is more Hardyâ€™s style.
Steve Austinâ€™s Stone Cold Stunner was perhaps the best marriage of finisher and wrestler in the modern era, as it knocked his opponent cold in an instant, and just looked like the sort of thing that character would actually want to do to his prey. Austin would double his opponent in pain from a swift kick to the gut, drape their chin over Austinâ€™s own shoulder, and drive himself down to the mat, jarring his victim in a quick, sudden, violent burst of fury. Nothing described â€œStone Coldâ€ more than quick, sudden, and violent. Since the Stunner required almost no set-up, it meshed very nicely with his DTA motto and his love for anarchy. Austinâ€™s variation on the Ace Crusher was the perfect attack for nailing referees, partners, random wrestlers and even interviewers out of the blue.
Around the same time Austin was dominating the land with his fearsome Stunner, the Rock was talking a ton of trash and backing it up. Much more suitable to his personality was the Peopleâ€™s Elbow, a long, deliberate, in-your-face move which, like everything else the Rock did, screamed, â€œLook what Iâ€™m doing to your monkey-ass, you jabroni!â€ Drawn out and showy, the Rock made an event of setting himself up for the move, removing his elbow pad and tossing it to the crowd, signaling the crisscross he was about to execute, running the ropes while leaping over his victim, and finally crashing his weight down upon his prone opponent, often including a mocking gesture before drilling their chest with his massive arm. This sort of flash wouldnâ€™t fit Austin, but it worked wonderfully well within the Rockâ€™s arrogant, showman-like arsenal, even if it made suspension of disbelief a little bit harder.
Along the same lines was Scotty-Too-Hotty and his W.O.R.M., which from a pure wrestling standpoint was perhaps the most useless conceivable expenditure of energy considering the small amount of damage it did, but Scott Taylor was a comedy wrestler, and the W.O.R.M. always managed to pop the crowd, and it was a fun moment in any show. What followed the one-legged, around-the-ring hops and old school break dance move by Too-Hot Scott was nothing more than a gentle love-tap of a chop, but the wrestlers who â€œenduredâ€ it often sold it like a cannonball to the sternum. I like to imagine they enjoy having that sort of fun once in a while, compared to all the aggression and anger usually found in pro wrestling angles and matches.
Years after Scottyâ€™s run with Grandmaster Sexay and Rikishi, I used to watch TNA programming regularly, and I felt cheated any week that Petey Williams wrestled but didnâ€™t perform a Canadian Destroyer on somebody. Even if he lost the contest and hit the Destroyer in a post-match altercation it would have been fine with me. The move was such a signature that even as a fan of Williams, I canâ€™t seem to recall much more about his moveset than the pantomimed â€œreeling him inâ€, pretending to pull his victim to him via an invisible rope before executing that sick, flip piledriver. The Destroyer would make me pop like a mark week after week, and it added something so special and different to Williams that he stood out from the TNA crowd, even when I first tuned in and didnâ€™t know who anybody was. Now THATâ€™S a solid finisher.
Perhaps more famous and recognizable than any other match-ending sequence, despite severely lacking in the department of seeming devastating or dangerous, is Hulk Hoganâ€™s three-punch/big boot/leg-drop combination. I wish stats were kept concerning how many total times a wrestler properly executed his finisher compared to the times victims kicked out before it ended the match. Iâ€™d be willing to bet the percentage of Hogan opponents who survived that combo were quite small indeed. But so over was Hogan, and crowds so lapped up whatever milk he poured in their saucers, that when he shrugged off punches from a confused opponent and waged his â€œyou!â€ finger in their face, fans went crazy for his finishing routine time after time. Whether it looked impressive made no difference; it was effective because crowds loved it.
Conversely, nothing in the modern era looked as damaging or vicious as Goldbergâ€™s spear. The spear represented Goldbergâ€™s no-frills offense and defined the non-fancy but effective manner in which he dominated so many opponents during his initial undefeated streak. In less than two years, that streak took him all the way from jerking the curtain to the WCW World Championship, and it was the spear that anchored his entire arsenal.
How Goldberg made it across the ring so swiftly and drove his massive, muscled, 285-pound frame so deep into the gut of his opponents without killing them is a mystery to me. His version blows away that used by Edge, and appears ten times more painful and devastating than Monty Brownâ€™s Pounce ever did. While the Jackhammer suplex might have been technically defined as Goldbergâ€™s finisher since it was the last thing he did before pinning his opponent, make no mistake, the awesome and explosive spear was what ended the match. It took everything out of his victim, who usually wound up already finished before Goldberg hoisted their dead weight up for the Jackhammer.
During his heyday, Bret The Hitman Hart used a submission hold, the Sharpshooter, almost exclusively to win his matches. It was effective for him because it matched his â€œmat-technicianâ€ style, harkening back to his training in the infamous Dungeon at the hands of his father, dangerous shooter Stu Hart. Bretâ€™s father taught him to tear a man down in segments, not to chase a knockout. His dad wanted him to rip and shred his opponents, punishing them and forcing them to give up, and the icing on the cake was that â€œSharpshooterâ€ is a perfect name, blending nicely with his â€œHitmanâ€ identity.
In more recent times, indy feds like Ring of Honor offer a different style of match, in that many high-impact, signature moves can be shrugged off more often, and it might take several devastating blows to defeat an opponent. Within kayfabe, I believe the reason this is possible is that when young, aspiring talents study tapes as they train for a career in pro wrestling, they devise plans for how to best absorb a certain sort of attack, teaching themselves to â€œroll with the punchâ€ and avoid disaster when their opponent delivers what used to be a sure-fire final blow. Regarding submission holds, they might train to increase their flexibility so they can endure a painful hold long enough to execute a counter or make their way to the ropes to force a break.
So times have changed, but the concept is the same. There are things wrestlers do to set up other things, as Jesse the Body Ventura once said, and throughout a match wrestlers are almost always looking for the opportunity to deliver their best stuff, or actively wearing down their adversary so a favorite submission hold will have optimum effectiveness should they be able to apply it.
Whether youâ€™re talking about Ric Flairâ€™s slow build and torture of the leg before slapping on the dreaded Figure-Four leg-lock, Macho Man Randy Savageâ€™s wicked elbow-smash off the top turnbuckle, Diamond Dallas Pageâ€™s Diamond Cutter coming from all angles and at any moment, CM Punkâ€™s GTS knocking his victim cold, or Shawn Michaelsâ€™ Sweet Chin Music nearly taking the head off his usually larger opponents, the finishing maneuver is always a crowd pleaser and an important part of this eraâ€™s incarnation of professional wrestling.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. â€“ â€œIt ainâ€™t over till itâ€™s over.â€ – Yogi Berra
Elsewhere on the Pulse is Big Andy Macâ€™s live review of ROH in Toronto last Friday night, Pulse Glazerâ€™s retort to Disco Infernoâ€™s comments about Bryan Danielson (read down through the comments for Discoâ€™s snippy response to our Ace), and David Brashearâ€™s look back at the relationship between Kelly Kelly Kelly Kelly and Mike Knox in the early days of WWECW.