Although it has become common to kick out of certain finishing maneuvers for dramatic effect (the Attitude Adjustment, the Skull-Crushing Finale), the use of a wrestler's finishing maneuver usually signals the end of a match. Fans instinctively know this, so they cheer, boo, or make a sigh whenever finishing moves appear.
Nowadays, finishers have one stipulation: they must look cool. Ever since the age of Jake "The Snake" Roberts, the brilliant grappler who revolutionized the sport with his DDT move, wrestlers have tried to create or innovate maneuvers that look flashy and painful. Some have used the top rope for greater impact, while others have created some permutation of the powerbomb to increase their own appearance as a devastatingly strong athlete. Overall, in the modern product, finishers look well choreographed and strenuously designed. Furthermore, since matches rarely end on non-finishing maneuvers anymore, finishers have to seem like something that would legitimately keep someone dazed for three seconds.
Few if any wrestlers have used the same finisher throughout their careers. Everyone experiments, plus changing one's finisher is a good way to complete a turn or gimmick overhaul. All fifteen wrestlers on this list at one point deviated from the moves that made them famous.
15 Lex Luger, The Attitude Adjustment
Ric Flair's disagreements with Jim Herd, the head of WCW at the time, opened the door for Lex Luger's first run as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. When Flair took the NWA title to the WWE, Luger, as the number one contender, was scheduled to "go over" on a number two contender in order to fill the vacancy left by Flair. At the Great American Bash in 1991, Luger defeated Barry Windham in a Cage match to become the brand new WCW Champion. Now a full-fledged heel, Luger was joined by Harley Race and Mr. Hughes. To complete his transformation, Luger added a new finisher to his arsenal--a Piledriver that he called the Attitude Adjustment.
Years before John Cena created his own Attitude Adjustment as a way to mock Brock Lesnar's F-5 (never forget that the original name for Cena's finisher was the F-U), a heel Luger put people away with a standard Piledriver. A banned move now, the Piledriver in 1991 and 1992 was not common, yet also not extraordinary. However, Luger's 230-day reign not only helped to legitimize the new WCW World Championship, but it also gave Luger his greatest push ever.
14 Arn Anderson, DDT
Arn Anderson is synonymous with the Spinebuster. This is as it should be. Few have ever delivered the maneuver better. Anderson's way of shooting people into the ropes, then picking them up for a spinning back splat is a thing of beauty. However, there was a time when Anderson's Spinebuster did not automatically end matches.
After his very short sojourn in the WWE alongside Tully Blanchard, Anderson returned to WCW in 1989. From that point until the mid-1990s, Anderson was a fixture of the WCW World Television title scene. Also, alongside a few tag team runs with the likes of "Pretty" Paul Roma and Larry Zbyszko, Anderson was a member of two great factions: The Four Horsemen and The Dangerous Alliance. Throughout these years, Anderson's finisher was the DDT. Anderson's version of the maneuver was a clear imitation of Jake Roberts (in full disclosure, Michael "P.S." Hayes did a similar version of the DDT around the same time). No matter; the fans still chanted "DDT, DDT" whenever Anderson made the spinning finger signal.
13 Dean Ambrose, Moxicity
In the WWE, Dean Ambrose has already had two variations of his Dirty Deeds finisher. The first iteration, which came during Ambrose's Shield days, was a Headlock Driver. Today's Dirty Deeds is a Double Underhook DDT a la Cactus Jack. Back in Combat Zone Wrestling, while working under the name of Jon Moxley, Ambrose had an entirely different repertoire.
In many ways Jon Moxley was just an earlier version of Ambrose's current "Lunatic Fringe" persona. A sort of gangly weirdo in black wrestling trunks, Moxley found a lot of success on the independent circuit. In CZW, Moxley not only won the CZW title twice, but he was involved in some memorable and memorably gruesome matches. Besides a cutter variant, Moxley put his opponents away with what he called Moxicity, a spinning side slam. TNA fans may recognize this maneuver as Abyss's Black Hole Slam. Frankly, the move looks better coming from Abyss because he's a larger, stronger man.
12 Seth Rollins, God's Last Gift
Like his former Shield stablemate Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins was a highly successful indie wrestler who utilized a different repertoire for a few years prior to joining the WWE. While known as Tyler Black, Rollins wrestled in Ring of Honor from 2007 until 2010. During that time, Rollins managed to capture the ROH World Tag Team titles and the ROH World Heavyweight Championship. Instead of a cocksure heel or a rough-around-the-edges babyface, Tyler Black was a popular young upstart known for his athleticism. Rollins' noted love for heavy metal and hardcore was still a part of his gimmick back then, however.
As a member of Jimmy Jacobs' stable The Age of the Fall, Black had to have a dark or somewhat spooky finisher to match the team's gimmick. Accordingly, Black created God's Last Gift, a Fisherman's Buster that carried over into a Small Package. Rollins has used the move on occasion on the main roster, but ever since leaving FCW/NXT, God's Last Gift, which helped Rollins to win belts in ROH and other indie federations, has been phased out.
11 Rhyno, Rhino Driver
One of the cooler things about the Brand Split is that it has allowed for both Rhyno and Heath Slater to completely renew and revitalize their careers. For Slater, this meant crawling up from the sub-mid-card, while for Rhyno is meant a second shot at WWE glory. Although it can get a little annoying, the chants for ECW that greet Rhyno are a friendly reminder that modern fans still remember his days as the biggest heel of late-stage extreme wrestling.
From 1999 until 2001, Rhyno allied himself with The Network, a heel stable run by Cyrus (Don Callis) and filled for a time by the likes of Jack Victory, Steve Corino, and Tajiri. Rhyno, or as it was spelled in ECW, "Rhino," used his famous Gore spear to set up his finisher. The Rhino Driver was a Spike Piledriver that Rhyno sometimes delivered from the second rope or ring apron. Also, the Rhino Driver was often done over a table, thereby heightening the move's impact. With this move Rhyno captured the ECW World Television title twice and the ECW World Heavyweight title once. He unified both belts to become the last singles champion during the company's first and most glorious run.
10 Booker T, Harlem Hangover
By 1997, Booker T made the successful move to singles competition following the dissolution of the well-decorated Harlem Heat tag team. For a while, Booker T still dressed in his tag team garb, thus making it hard to fully buy him as a potential mid-card champion. However, within the year, Booker T captured the WCW World Television Championship. He would then go on to have a legendary feud with Chris Benoit over the title, plus Booker T would vie for the U.S. title for years until ultimately winning it at the moment when WCW was bought by the WWF, later WWE.
During Booker T's early run as a singles star, he used two finishers interchangeably. One, the Heat Seeker, was nothing more than a Missile Dropkick. The other, the Harlem, later Houston Hangover, was a flashy somersault Leg Drop from the top rope. The WCW crowd always popped when Booker T climbed to the top rope in order to deliver the move. This grassroots momentum helped the wrestler to capture the WCW World Heavyweight Championship four times between 2000 and 2001.
9 Steve Austin, Stun Gun
Stunning people has always been Steve Austin's thing. Long before the Stone Cold Stunner, Austin, then known as "Stunning" Steve Austin, put his opponents to sleep with the Stun Gun, a fairly prosaic wrestling move that synched up with his gimmick. For those who don't know, in order to perform the Stun Gun, a wrestler lifts his opponent up by the thighs, then drops them neck-first on the top rope. To modern eyes, the Stun Gun doesn't look like a proper finishing maneuver. Back in early to mid 1990s WCW, it was. Austin utilized the move to great success, becoming not only a two-time WCW United States Heavyweight Champion, but also arguably the greatest WCW World Television Champion in history.
The days of the Stun Gun became numbered when Austin moved to ECW in 1995. As "Superstar" Steve Austin, Austin began a brief feud with Mikey Whipwreck, the unlikely ECW Champion. When Whipwreck kicked out of the Stun Gun, it was a signal that Austin would be moving on to a new finisher. Before the Stone Cold Stunner, Austin, both as The Ringmaster and as "Stone Cold," used the Million Dollar Dream as his finisher.
8 Kevin Owens, Package Piledriver
Since the Piledriver is banned in the WWE, don't ever expect to see Kevin Owens' Package Piledriver anytime soon. That being said, Owens frequently teases the move, but always turns it into a Package Side Slam. Back in his indie days, no such ban on Piledrivers existed. As Kevin Steen, Owens became the master of the Piledriver and even wrestled Jerry Lawler at an indie show in order to see who could call themselves the King of the Piledriver.
As dangerous, if not more dangerous than a regular Piledriver, the Package Piledriver involves trapping an opponent's arms and legs into a sort of package-like configuration. Steen/Owens sometimes performed an avalanche package piledriver as well, thus increasing the likelihood of an injury. It all really didn't seem to matter too much, as Owens captured heavyweight gold in ROH and Professional Wrestling Guerrilla. If you haven't watched his old indie work yet, go back and watch it right now. Kevin Steen was just like Kevin Owens except meaner.
7 Edge, Downward Spiral
During his earliest days with the WWE, Edge was depicted as a cross between a moody loner and a vampire enthusiast. In The Brood, Edge was sometimes depicted as an actual vampire. In every instance between 1998 and 2000, Edge was the furthest thing in the world from the "Rated R Superstar." As a nod to the emerging Goth subculture, Edge's first two finishers were named after the darker strands of pop culture. His first finisher, the Impaler DDT, was lifted from former Brood leader Gangrel, who named the move after Vlad the Impaler, aka the "real" Count Dracula.
Edge's other finisher, the Downward Spiral, got its name from a popular Nine Inch Nails album. A reverse STO, the Downward Spiral was a dramatic and exciting move that fit perfectly with Edge's character. At that time, the Spear was merely a signature move. Later, when the Spear became Edge's go-to finisher, the problems with Edge's delivery became apparent. Unlike Goldberg or Rhnyo, Edge's version of the Spear looked like a slow shove downward. He should've stuck with multiple finishers instead of relying on a subpar spear.
6 Sami Zayn, Brainbustaaaahhh!!!
You're reading it right--Sami Zayn's old finisher was called the Brainbustaaahhh!!! A parody of Japanese commentators who theatrically call each Vertical Suplex as a "Brainbustaaahhh," Zayn's version of the Brainbuster Suplex was itself highly theatrical. While wrestling under a mask and called El Generico, Zayn used to stand on the second turnbuckle, lift his opponents up for a Vertical Suplex, then drop them headfirst on the top turnbuckle.
Zayn often used this move in conjunction with the better known Helluva Kick. Of the two, the Brainbuster variant looks more deadly, however only the Helluva Kick is acceptable in the WWE. There's just too much that could go wrong with performing the Brainbustaahhh!!! That being said, the move itself looks very cool and its ridiculousness fit perfectly with the El Generico gimmick. It was also an effective move. During his days as El Generico, Zayn captured the ROH World Television Championship, the PWG World Championship, and the DDT Extreme Division Championship.
5 Chris Jericho, Breakdown
Kevin Owens' best friend used the Full Nelson Face Buster years before The Miz. While the Walls of Jericho has remained his key finisher in the WWE, Chris Jericho has experimented with alternative finishers over the years. His most recent innovation, the Codebreaker, has won him plenty of matches and titles. Prior to the Codebreaker, Jericho's secondary finisher was the Lionsault, a Springboard Moonsault variant. In between both moves was the Breakdown, a move that looked exactly like the Skull-Crushing Finale.
Don't beat yourself up if you don't remember the Breakdown. Jericho only utilized the move from 2001 to 2002. During that time however, Jericho became the first ever Undisputed Champion. Indeed, Jericho used the Breakdown to defeat The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin to win the WCW and WWF World titles. Believe it or not, this was the only time that Jericho would ever win the WWE Championship. Maybe he should bust out the Breakdown again in order to capture new gold.
4 Big Show, Final Cut
Much like Chris Jericho, the Big Show decided that he needed to update his move set in 2001. At the time, the Big Show was starting to be taken seriously again after a string of comical gimmicks in 2000. Following the Invasion angle, Big Show turned heel and began feuding with main event talent. As part of this character overhaul, the Big Show got himself a new hairstyle and began wearing black jeans underneath his wrestling singlet. Also, while still using the chokeslam, the Big Show began winning matches with the Final Cut, a Spinning Headlock Elbow Drop.
In comparison to the Chokeslam, the Final Cut does not look terribly painful. However, between 2001 and 2002, the Final Cut was a big part of the Big Show's success on SmackDown. During 2002 alone, the Big Show feuded with and sometimes defeated Brock Lesnar. At the 2002 installment of Survivor Series, the Big Show beat Lesnar to earn his second and final WWE World Championship.
3 The Rock, Running Shoulderbreaker
2016's "Sexiest Man Alive" once looked like a Chia Pet. With a horrendous high top fade and bright blue ring gear, The Rock, then called Rocky Maivia, was the epitome of a white meat babyface. When he debuted in the WWE in 1996, everyone talked up how The Rock was a third generation Superstar. As such, he became known as the "Blue-chipper," a highly athletic and capable young man.
Unfortunately, the crowds of 1996 and 1997 grew to loathe Rocky Maivia. Much like Roman Reigns, Rocky was shoved down everyone's throat. More importantly, Maivia was a goody-goody babyface during a time when edginess ruled pop culture. Therefore, in order to keep him relevant, the WWE rechristened Maivia as a heel called The Rock. The Rock Bottom replaced Maivia's old finisher, which was a Running Shoulderbreaker. In the pantheon of finishers, the Running Shoulderbreaker may be one of the weakest.
2 John Cena, Proto-Bomb
For younger pro wrestling fans, John Cena has always been the smiley babyface telling people to "Never Give Up." For older fans, or at least those who have watched old WWE shows from 2002 and 2003, Cena is also the guy who gave the Ruthless Aggression Era its name during a match against Kurt Angle. At that time, Cena was a recent call-up from Ohio Valley Wrestling. The WWE presented the newcomer as a babyface, while in OVW, Cena had been a cocky heel called The Prototype.
As The Prototype, Cena called his finisher the Proto-Bomb. The Proto-Bomb was a lifted and Spinning Side Slam. Unless you lived in Louisville, Kentucky, you didn't know much about the Proto-Bomb until Cena started using it during some of his matches on SmackDown and Velocity. The Proto-Bomb disappeared when Cena became the "Doctor of Thuganomics," a heel rapper.
1 The Undertaker, Heart Punch
Sometimes called the Flatliner Fist, The Undertaker's first finisher was a simple punch to the chest. While known as the Master of Pain in Memphis, the Heart Punch was talked up as one of the world's most dangerous moves. In reality, Ox Baker inadvertently killed two others wrestlers with the Heart Punch maneuver. When this became part of his heel persona in the 1970s, fans in Cleveland rioted when Baker refused to stop Heart Punching an opponent.
As the Master of Pain and "Mean" Mark Callous, The Undertaker used the Heart Punch to great effect. Since he was depicted as a ruthless ex-con who had been put away after accidentally killing a man during a fight, the Heart Punch and its history complemented his gimmick. Besides the Heart Punch, "Mean" Mark also defeated opponents with the Heatseeking Missile, an Elbow Drop delivered after a tightrope walk along the ropes. The Heatseeking Missile is the precursor to Old School, 'Taker's famous ropewalk fist drop.