To watch professional wrestling often as not means to suspend one’s sense of disbelief. Yes, the outcomes are predetermined, big spots carefully contrived, and overarching storylines invented by bookers to create interest in the product and offer character something to do. But then there are the moves themselves, too. Are we really to believe Petey Williams is both powerful and athletic enough to legitimately execute his Canadian Destroyer flipping piledriver? In a fight, might people legitimately brawl their way into configuration for a tower of doom spot?
Even greats like the Nature Boy Ric Flair and Bret The Hitman Hart have copped to their respective finishers, the Figure Four Leglock and the Sharpshooter being nearly impossible to apply without the cooperation of their opponents (though they are reasonably painful once they’re on, and if applied with the intent to hurt). Such are the contrivances of wrestling, in which the normal laws of physics and anatomy fall by the way side in favor of storytelling.
There are those finishing maneuvers that really push the limits, however, and pretty clearly hurt the person delivering the move more than the person receiving them in most instances. Sometimes it’s a matter of physical strength or strain to apply a hold. Sometimes it’s physical punishment a wrestler takes in absorbing at least as bad, if not a worse bump than the person getting hurt in kayfabe. This article takes a look at 15 famous finishing moves in wrestling that hurt the person doing them more than the supposed victim.
15 The Stone Cold Stunner
The stunner is on the short list for the most iconic moves in wrestling history based on Steve Austin using it as his signature finisher during his Stone Cold run atop the wrestling world. It was a simple move that could be applied to any opponent. Moreover, it fit wrestling logic, as the cutter was increasingly over as a style of finisher, and no one had made a sit-down version their own leading up to that point.
As Austin has since complained in interviews and on his podcast, the problem with the stunner was that it led him to take multiple bumps on his tailbone and jarring his spine each night he performed. While a wrestler’s body ordinarily takes more punishment on the receiving end of a move, Austin was taking these bumps every time he hit his finish. Given that he won most of the time (and had a tendency to hit the move on by-standers, too) it was a contributor to long-term chronic pain for the Rattlesnake.
14 The Frog Splash
The Frog Splash is a fantastic looking move, popularized in the U.S. by Eddie Guerrero, used to perfection by Rob Van Dam, and more recently a featured piece of Kevin Owens’ arsenal. Leaping from the top rope for a splash is a logical enough move to cause devastation on an opponent, and the extra torque offered by the frog like motion in air adds force, besides giving fans an appealing visual.
The thing about moves like the Frog Splash, however, is that when performed correctly by a true professional, the move is all about protecting the performer on the receiving end. For evidence of how dangerous the move can be to the person giving it, one need look no further than one of Eddie’s first deliveries for WWE, when he landed wrong and immediately injured his elbow. In taking the brunt of the landing on their own bodies, people delivering Frog Splashes take a rough hit.
13 The Atomic Leg Drop
Hulk Hogan became famous for his charisma, his physique, his power, and his signature finishing move—the Atomic Leg Drop.
Hindsight being 20-20, Hogan has conceded that his choice of finisher was pretty dumb. From a logical stand point, he was all about flexing biceps, and some his most iconic moments involved him body slamming big men. The leg drop, then, was quite strange for placing so much emphasis on his lower body based on how high he could jump and how powerful his leg was to theoretically incapacitate an opponent. In reality, having someone’s leg slam down on one’s upper body probably does hurt to a degree, but wouldn’t be so bad relative the rest of the punishment a wrestler takes.
Meanwhile, Hogan himself was jumping in the air just to absorb the bump on his tailbone which would contribute to spinal issues later in life. He's had several back surgeries and has had to have full hip replacements.
12 The Worm
It has been said that The Attitude Era was all about big personalities over actual wrestling. While the period did actually feature some very good performers and quite arguably had more great matches than the eras to immediately precede or follow it, there is some validity to the retroactive criticism about this period in wrestling history. The Worm is a prime example.
Consider the mechanics of The Worm. The move saw Scotty 2 Hotty jump up and down, then drop down and push himself up on his arms a few times, before delivering a chop to his opponent’s prone body. I understand that part of the very purpose of the move was to look absurd. Just the same, especially at the end of the match, it required a fair amount of physical exertion on the aggressor, with minimal actual punishment to the person taking the move. Combine that exertion, with a front bump, with the hurt pride of looking like an idiot, and you arrive at a finisher that takes a far greater toll on the man giving it than the one receiving it.
11 The Salida Del Sol
Kalisto is an impressive athlete whose standing with WWE is pretty interesting. He’s had US title runs and even got to look competitive against Braun Strowman as the company built his monster run (even winning a Dumpster Match against him). WWE hasn’t quite pulled the trigger on a big push for him, though. After getting the best of Alberto Del Rio and Ryback, he put over Rusev clean. After his big win over Strowman, he promptly absorbed a wicked beating from the Monster Among Men.
One of the factors getting Kalisto over to the extent he is is his unique finisher, the Salida Del Sol. The leaping, back-flip, implant move looks sensational. It looks sensational as an athletic exhibition, however, and not as a move that would actually, meaningfully hurt the person taking it by normal wrestling standards. While Kalisto’s victims take a simple back bump, Kalisto himself floats over backward before landing on his tailbone for a rough landing.
10 The Rearview
Naomi crossed over from an era when WWE was more interested in performers’ looks than their wrestling talent to the new era when in ring performance is key. While it’s debatable whether she can be considered a top shelf worker, her athleticism has helped her maintain her spot on the women’s roster. While her side choke submission hold and her split-leg moonsault make sense in the modern wrestling landscape, her most famous move—The Rearview—is a bit of an odd fit.
The Rearview sees Naomi leap and slam her but against a charging opponent. While it’s reasonable enough as striking offense, and draws focus to her—ahem—assets, it nonetheless doesn’t make a tone of sense as the kind of move that could finish off a WWE Superstar. In its real life delivery, it also means Naomi leaping and having someone run into her backside, a collision you’d have to imagine causes at least much impact and trauma on Naomi’s body as it does her opponent’s.
9 The Shooting Star Press
The Shooting Star Press, and particularly its top-rope version, has been a staple for high flyers since the 1990s, with athletes like Billy Kidman going a long way toward popularizing the move and Evan Bourne carrying forward its legacy with a beautiful version in the 2000s.
It was, however, Brock Lesnar of all talents who called into focus just how dangerous the move is for the person giving it. Lesnar had reportedly done the move successfully while training in developmental, he’d never done it on national TV before WrestleMania 19. In his main event match, purportedly with Kurt Angle spurring him on, Lesnar went for the Shooting Star Press only misjudge both distance and how far to twist his body, probably not accounting for the fatigue of trying the move at the end of a lengthy match. As a result, he had an ugly landing, with his head, neck, shoulders, and chest absorbing the impact. Were Lesnar not such a physical beast, he may well have been paralyzed, and yet his layers of muscle upon muscle allowed him to still finish the match and carry forward with his new world title reign.
Even with a good, safe landing, this is a move that requires the person taking the leap to take the worst of the bump. A bad landing can be disastrous.
8 The Batista Bomb
In the 1990s, the power bomb largely supplanted the piledriver is a trendy finisher, modernized to both have a bit more sizzle as a power move, and offer a safer landing for the person taking the move. The sit-down version of the move is all the safer for the victim given the lower point of release and the degree to which the person delivering the move winds up absorbing impact.
The degree to which the person delivering the sit-down powerbomb takes the brunt of the move came into sharper focus when the Dudley Boyz first arrived in WWE. In the early stages of their act in WWE saw them Bubba Ray hitting sit-down powerbombs off the second rope, through tables on different women, including an elderly Mae Young. Looking back, it’s clear Bubba Ray is taking that bump and, if anything, doing all he can to cushion the blow.
Batista took this particular take on the move to the next level as a main event level talent in the 2000s. To be fair, Batista’s imposing physique and smooth delivery did make the move look believable as a finisher, but the truth remained that he was taking more physical punishment than his opponent on that finisher.
7 The Zig Zag
Dolph Ziggler’s finisher sees him come at his opponent from behind, leap and pull his opponent to the mat. The move is supposed to represent Ziggler giving someone whiplash and slamming the back of hi head to the mat, and Ziggler’s a vibrant enough performer to make the move look exciting in the context of a match.
As wrestling bumps go, however, this isn’t a bad landing for the victim at all. It’s Ziggler who’s leaping into his fall, and more often landing at an awkward angle as opposed to a fairly straight forward flat back bump. That’s not to say that this is a particularly devastating move for Ziggler to endure either, but in a move that’s relatively safe and low impact for everyone involved, Ziggler is likely as not getting the worst of it.
6 The Flying Head Butt
The Flying Head Butt sees the aggressor leap off the top rope with intentions of landing head first against his or her opponent. A variety of wrestlers have used it over time, with Bam Bam Bigelow as one of the most famous practitioners in mainstream American wrestling who routinely used it as his finisher in the 1980s and 1990s. Smaller wrestlers including Chris Benoit and Daniel Bryan picked up the charge in the years to follow, rarely ending the match with the move, but nonetheless using it as a key high spot, often in the late stages of matches. The Dudley Boyz also had a move comedic take on the move, with their “What’s Up?” head butt that saw D-Von head butt an opponent’s nether regions while Bubba Ray held down the victim.
While the Flying Head Butt is believably devastating, even in kayfabe, it makes little sense that it wouldn’t hurt the person giving it almost as much as the person receiving it. Factor in that the person giving it usually invested in protecting safety and, if done right, the move produces little impact on the person taking it while the person doing it, at minimum, absorbs a front bump from the top rope. The move was considered to be a contributing factor to Benoit’s brain injuries, and though Bryan used a safer version that saw him mostly land on his arms, it’s unclear if his own head and neck issues could have been related to routine use of the move.
5 The Blockbuster
In the 1990s, as Buff Bagwell came of age as a singles star for WCW, he popularized The Blockbuster. The move saw him leap from the top rope and somersault over his opponent, catching him in a neckbreaker on the way down. A number of wrestlers like Seth Rollins would use it later, though typically not as a finisher (Tyson Kidd and Cesaro used a modified tandem version for their period as a unit).
While The Blockbuster looks impressive and requires athleticism, when performed safely it causes minimal damage to the person taking it, as the neckbreaker element should be almost entirely simulated rather than actual. So, the crux of the move is the person giving it jumping from the top rope into somersault back bump. That’s a fairly safe bump for a well trained and agile professional, but nonetheless does hurt more—and require more risk for—the person using the move.
4 The Big Ending
I can still remember the first time I saw Big E use The Big Ending. He’d made a surprise debut to back Dolph Ziggler, and hit his signature move on John Cena. That move, however, involved him lifting Cena into running powerslam position, only to fall back. On that first watch, I actually thought Cena had countered the move, or else it had been badly botched, because I couldn’t understand the logic of what was happening. Coming out the back of a powerslam is standard enough, and it looked almost like an extreme version of that, maybe into an inverted DDT.
It turned out Big E had performed the move correctly, though, which saw him lift a guy and then take a back bump with the victim still safely in Big E’s arms. The move became an accepted part of the WWE landscape, and got over to a reasonable degree based on Big E’s power and explosive style, not to mention looking better as part of New Day with Kofi Kingston or Xavier Woods adding a diving DDT to make it the Midnight Hour. Still, in actuality, Big E seems to be taking the brunt of this maneuver.
3 The Human Torture Rack
In principle, the Human Torture Rack ought to be excruciating. It’s a move that sees a powerhouse wrestler sling a wrestler over his shoulders, and physically bend him to the point of breaking. In reality, it’s an incredibly inefficient way to hurt someone, clearly designed for wrestling showmanship as a demonstration of strength, and putting on display the physique of the person using it.
In reality, though, assuming a wrestler doesn’t want to hurt his opponent, the move mostly consists of the aggressor like Lex Luger getting his opponent up on his shoulders and bouncing until there’s a submission. While it may not be a comfortable position for the person taking the move, the stress is on Luger’s shoulders, back and quads to keep his opponent’s weight suspended in air, which has to be at least equally uncomfortable in practice.
2 The Spear
The spear basically amounts to a flying shoulder tackle, not so different from what we see football players deliver on a fairly routine basis. The success of the move in wrestling largely depends on the aura of the performer giving the move, and the sell job from the person taking it. Monsters of men like Goldberg and Roman Reigns have gotten the move over as a killer, and almost based in sheer charisma Edge, with his less imposing physique, also succeeded with a spear as his signature move.
The spear, particularly delivered on a repeated basis, puts the person giving it at risk of injury to his head, neck, and shoulders. Yes, there’s impact on the upper body of the person taking the move, but those hits are a bit more routine to the physical punishment a wrestler is going to take. Edge has spoken about the move potentially shortening his career, which the neck and spine issues that forced his early retirement seem to support.
1 The Flying Elbow Drop
In the 1980s, Randy Savage beat the odds of smaller stature and workhorse style that wasn’t befitting WWE programming of the day to become a true wrestling icon. Sure, personality and fire inside the ring and on promos were big contributors to his success. But then there was the Flying Elbow Drop, too.
Savage’s Flying Elbow Drop was a near perfect combination of athletic grace and brutality for leaping so high above the ring, and for (at least in kayfabe) driving the point of his elbow into his opponent’s chest. It was an iconic enough finisher that few wrestlers have tried to copy it since, though many like CM Punk and Bayley wove it into their offense, and Kairi Sane has more recently reinvented the move with her impressive hang time.
This is not a pretty move to take, however, as a safe landing means the person delivering the move take almost all of the impact on his or her back, hip, or side. A number of younger colleagues have commented on how Savage told them, toward the end of his career, he couldn’t do the move any more because he was too broken down. It seems fair enough that a move this damaging to the person giving it would put a shelf life on the move’s use, if not the wrester’s career on the whole.