Wrestlers connect with fans in a variety of ways. From their personas and attire to signature catchphrases, fans come to associate certain things with their favorite performers. In addition to these more superficial elements, wrestlers also connect with fans through their signature move sets. Chief among these commonly used maneuvers is, of course, the finishing move – the well established, easily identifiable exclamation point which, when delivered properly, is sure to signal the end of a match.
Whether it's an impressive power move, a painful looking submission hold, or a beautiful aerial attack, when the right wrestler finds the right move, it's like lightning in a bottle. When someone new performs a popular wrestler's signature move, fans can't help but think of the grappler who innovated it. And, should a wrestler with an established signature move come up with something new altogether, fans scratch their heads equally as much.
In other words, the importance of a finishing move in establishing a wrestler cannot be understated. And yet, it takes time for wrestlers to find the right move. Plus, even when that happens, different circumstances – for example, performing under another persona or in a different promotion – may dictate the use of another move. From discarded early signature maneuvers to short lived experiments, here are some of the lesser known finishing moves of wrestling greats.
It's hard to think about Bret Hart without also thinking of his signature hold, the Sharpshooter. Bret used the move to put away opponents of all sizes and skill levels for much of his career. And, more infamously, Shawn Michaels held him in the move as Earl Hebner called for the ringbell during The Montreal Screwjob. "The Hitman" and the Sharpshooter were, for better or worse, two peas in a pod.
But Bret didn't always use the move to finish opponents. In fact, Konnan says that he taught the Hitman how to apply the hold in the early '90s, after Bret saw Sting use the Scorpion in WCW and said he wanted to learn it. Hart had been wrestling for approximately 15 years at that point, and, of course, had won his share of matches with other attacks. One of his favorite signature moves was the spike piledriver, which he used as a finisher back in his Stampede Wrestling days and continued to use occasionally for the rest of his career. But it was too difficult to perform on larger opponents, which made the more versatile Sharpshooter a lifesaver.
If you grew up watching Ric Flair in WWE, WCW, or even NWA, you'd be forgiven for assuming that he spent his entire career as the jet flyin', limousine ridin', figure-four applyin' Nature Boy. After all, the entire persona just pours so naturally (pardon the pun) out of Flair, that there's no way he ever could've done anything else. ...Right?
Of course, everyone has to start somewhere. Flair began his career in 1974, only for it to almost come to a premature end the following year, when he and several other wrestlers were onboard a plane that crashed. Thankfully, Flair not only covered, but began to find his footing as a charismatic performer. In 1978, he began feuding with "The Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, adopting the latter's name, persona, and patented figure-four leglock. It was such a great fit that he never went back.
What did Flair do before he was the Nature Boy? Earlier in his career, he used a diving knee drop to finish off opponents. This should come as no surprise to longtime Flair fans, as Naitch continued to use his knees to attack opponents throughout his career.
Bob Backlund was another legendary grappler who, early in his career, finished off opponents with his knees. The atomic knee drop involves climbing to the middle rope, then coming down hard on a prone opponent. These days, such a move seems fairly routine. In fact, many wrestlers use it to wear down opponents in the middle of a match. Back in the day, though, it was enough to put someone away for the three count.
Apart from the move now seeming somewhat quaint, it's worth considering how Bob Backlund's career might have been different if he'd continued to use the move as a finisher. Backlund's famous crossface chickenwing a more interesting (and effective move), but it was such a great fit for his character. For one, it was something of a nod to his amateur roots and legitimate athletic ability. And then, during his mid-90s WWE run, it allowed him to "snap" – refusing to release a hold that quite believably would render opponents trapped. It lent credibility to Backlund's "loose cannon" character and even made him a more credible two-time WWE champion.
Though he first established himself as "The Legend Killer," it's safe to say that Randy Orton is well on his way to legend status, himself. Owing to 12 reigns as world champion (as of October 2016) and a string of vanquished foes that rivals just about anybody else's, Orton is sure to be a WWE Hall of Famer whenever he chooses to retire.
Fourteen years after Randy's debut on WWE's main roster, his name has become synonymous with the signature move that bares his initials, the RKO. The move's suddenness, coupled with Michael Cole's famous "from outta nowhere" descriptor, even led to the move becoming a popular meme back in 2013.
It seems unlikely that Orton could've achieved so much without such an appropriate finishing move and his previous finisher seems to be proof. The overdrive is a swinging neckbreaker variation where a wrestler uses his leg (rather than his arms) to slam an opponent. Though the move looks cool, it definitely lacks the impact, velocity, and unpredictability of the simple RKO.
Speaking of modified neckbreakers, there's arguably never been a more iconic neckbreaker than the one delivered by WWE legend, "Ravishing" Rick Rude. The Rude Awakening looked legitimately painful, in an era where many signature moves were more sizzle than steak. More importantly, when the move was delivered, it was pretty unlikely opponents would be able to kick out.
Just as Rude didn't develop his iconic persona overnight, he also didn't immediately discover The Rude Awakening. In fact, he tried out multiple finishers before eventually landing on his signature neckbreaker. Among those moves were the overhead backbreaker rack – a modified torture rack also known as the Canadian backbreaker rack -- and the DDT. Of course, in the WWE landscape of the 1980s, there was no beating Jake Roberts' version of the DDT. So it's good that Rude found something he could call his own.
Before the "most electrifying move in sports entertainment," The People's Elbow, and before the iconic Rock Bottom, The Rock was just a young, third generation wrestler trying to find his way in the world's biggest promotion. It's not secret that the "blue chipper" Rocky Maivia didn't exactly win over audiences in his earliest appearances, as is evidenced by the notorious "Die, Rocky, Die" chants that followed him soon after. But then, The Rock would be the first to admit that he hadn't exactly found his footing by that time.
So what did The Rock use to defeat opponents, before discovering his most famous signature moves? Perhaps an elbow drop without all the flair of The People's Elbow, or a spinebuster that wasn't quite as impressive as The Rock Bottom? No, in fact Rocky initially made use of a move that has never really been known as a match ender.
He began by hoisting opponents up over his shoulder, in a way not unsimilar to the great Davey Boy Smith. But rather than deliver a convincing running power slam, Rock would instead deliver a move usually relegated to the middle of a match – the shoulderbreaker. Thankfully, as Rock developed in other areas, his move set also became a bit more charismatic.
For as long as American wrestling fans have been aware of Eddie Guerrero, he's been seen as an innovator of the frog splash. From his initial stint in WCW's cruiserweight division through his ascent to WWE Champion (and beyond), Guerrero performed the move so gracefully that he almost made it look easy. Sure, he had other moves -- for example, his "Lasso from El Paso" submission hold. But it was the frog splash that everybody paid to see.
At the same time, Guerrero could've made seemingly any move look easy and he was extremely adaptable. When he competed for New Japan in 1993, he took on the persona of Black Tiger – a character first portrayed by British wrestler Mark Rocco as a foil for the original Tiger Mask, Satoru Sayama.
As Black Tiger II, Eddie had to take on the characteristics of his forebearer, which included the devestating Black Tiger Bomb -- a crucifix powerbomb from the turnbuckle, which is sometimes also called the Splash Mountain Bomb. Guerrero performed admirably in the role, even making it to the finals of the 1994 Super Grade Junior Heavyweight Tag League tournament with partner The Great Sasuke.
Like some of the other moves on this list, Kevin Nash's forgotten finisher is a perfectly impressive mid-match maneuever that, decades later, comes across as an entirely unconvincing finisher. Granted, "Snake Eyes" was a pretty humorous, punny name for a guy competing as Vinnie Vegas. But even in the early 90s, the feigned powerslam into a turnbuckle smash looked relatively tame.
Of course, Nash wouldn't stick with the move for long. Once he left WCW for WWE in 1993, he finally started to come into his own. As Diesel, Nash began using the infinitely more impressive jackknife powerbomb – a move which catapulted him to a lengthy world title reign and later served him well when he made his return to WCW. With no disrespect to his many achievements, it's hard to imagine this WWE Hall of Famer would've had such a great career without this one simple change.
It's now something of a punchline for astute wrestling fans that the unflinching badass Triple H was once the prim and proper Hunter Hearst Helmsley – a blueblood from Greenwich, Connecticut. But even when the character he portrayed appeared less than menacing, he'd still get things done in the ring. That was largely due to his finishing move which, ever since he began using it, has been called The Pedigree.
What many fans forget is that The Pedigree wasn't the first finisher Trips used in a WWE ring, nor was it even the first of his signature moves referred to by that name. Before using his patented double underhook facebuster, Hunter preferred a variation of the Diamond Cutter (or, if you prefer, the RKO). The move was called, in different situations, either Pedigree Pandemonium or Pedigree Perfection (ironic, considering he hadn't settled on keeping the move). Of course, this maneuver was short-lived and Triple H has now relied on the same finishing move for more than two decades.
Throughout his 25 year run with WWE, The Undertaker has evolved quite a bit. His famous "Deadman" character has, itself, had many iterations. And then, of course, there was his "American Bad Ass" character – which, to the chagrin of some fans, 'Taker actually preferred to his more supernatural persona. But while each of these transformations brought some new tactics into The Undertaker's offensive arsenal, there were some constants. For most of his career, he's defeated opponents with the Tombstone piledriver, the Last Ride powerbomb, or (early on) with a chokeslam.
Before he arrived in WWE in late 1990, 'Taker had plied his trade as Mark Callous (a play on his given name). During that run, the big man tried his hand at a number of finishing moves, including a claw hold (which he'd later use in WWE) and a diving elbow drop. But the most interesting relic from this pre-Undertaker era is also one of the most antiquated moves in all of wrestling. As Mark Callous, 'Taker put opponents away with the heart punch. For those modern fans who've never seen the move, it's exactly what it sounds like. A usually massive wrestler holds back the dominant arm of his opponent, then delivers a single, crushing punch to his chest. Back in the days of kayfabe, it was considered to be a pretty vicious attack. Today...not so much.
Like many other legends on this list, Steve Austin floundered for a short time after he arrived in WWE. It wasn't so much that he wasn't ready or didn't have any ideas, it was just that the company didn't seem to know how best to utilize him. Many fans recall that Austin was paired up with "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and renamed The Ringmaster. He even used DiBiase's signature hold, The Million Dollar Dream, during that time.
But before Austin signed with WWE, he showed potential as a charismatic, if underused member of the WCW roster – capturing the company's United States, Television, and Tag Team Championships. During that time, the blonde-haired "Stunning" Steve Austin won his share of matches with the "Stun Gun" – a move fashioned after Eddie Gilbert's "Hot Shot, which involved throwing an opponent throat-first on to the top rope. The move looked brutal and could be landed very quickly. But, in the end, it just didn't have the explosive appeal of the Stone Cold Stunner.
Mick Foley is another wrestler whose most iconic moves – the double-armed DDT and Mandible Claw – had broad appeal that spanned multiple decades. Indeed, the double-armed DDT worked well enough that Foley used it as Mankind, Cactus Jack, and Dude Love. Many of Mick's signature moves stayed with him for most of his career, as he found what work early on and made sure that those maneuvers were consistently in his arsenal.
Mick's famous Stump Puller piledriver – which was performed by pulling an opponent by the trunks, rather than lifting him by the waist – was one of his earliest finishing moves. And though it remained an integral part of his offense for many years, the prevalence of the double-armed DDT and mandible claw convinced fans that the piledriver couldn't be the proverbial nail in the coffin for Foley opponents.
When Kurt Angle signed with WWE, as a legitimate Olympic gold medalist, his amateur credentials certainly didn't need to be proven. If anything, Angle's opponents should've been learning more holds and takedowns to prove that they had any business hanging with him. And yet, to draw a parallel between himself and a previous bonafide amateur wrestler, Kurt Angle initially made use of his "mentor" Bob Backlund's Crossface Chickenwing.
Never mind the fact that Angle's Olympic performance was levels beyond Backlund's admittedly impressive collegiate record, the chickenwing just wasn't Kurt's move. And it's arguable that Angle didn't truly begin to establish himself as one of the greats until he'd perfected his own pair of equally impressive finishers, the Angle Slam and the Angle Lock. Armed with both a stunning power move and a submission hold that definitely appeared to be "legit," it wasn't long before Angle didn't need anyone in his corner at all. No offense, Mr. Backlund.
Surely, Shawn Michaels and "Sweet Chin Music" (his signature superkick) have to go back at least as far as the beginnings of his singles career. After all, when HBK turned on his former tag partner Marty Jannetty, he levelled him with a superkick. That signaled the end of The Rockers, as well as the beginning of a legendary solo career for Michaels. Before long, the move was his coup de grace and he never looked back.
Well, it's not quite so simple. Yes, Michaels was using Sweet Chin Music even in the early '90s. More often, though, it was just one of several moves in his arsenal. In fact, it briefly served as a setup move for his all-but-forgotten Teardrop Suplex. That move was a modified back suplex, not unlike Kurt Angle's Olympic slam and it certainly stood out at the time. Of course, such a move couldn't be applied so easily to larger opponents and it lacked the quickness of the superkick. So, before too long, Sweet Chin Music was firmly HBK's weapon of choice.
In the long history of pro wrestling, few finishing moves have become more iconic than Hulk Hogan's signature Atomic Leg Drop. From the time of his first WWE World Championship win over The Iron Sheik in January 1984 (and the subsequent birth of Hulkamania), Hogan never even needed to consider using another move. And for the rest of the career, it remained his go-to method for putting away foes.
Except in Japan. While in Japan, Hulk Hogan was another wrestler altogether, who used moves he'd never even bother with in North America. During his 1980 tour of the country, The Hulkster relied heavily on submission holds and strikes that went beyond his usual barrage of punches. His finisher? A crooked lariat (clothesline) referred to as the Axe Bomber.
When Hogan returned to New Japan in May 1993 to face The Great Muta, he once again abandoned his normal brawling for more a technical approach. During the match, The Hulkster applied an STF and even landed an enzuigiri kick. Even more shocking, Muta kicked out of Hogan's patented leg drop. When that move wouldn't put his opponent away, though, Hulk brought out his patented Axe Bomber and promptly scored the pinfall.