In July 2016, Samer Kalaf of Deadspin.com produced a piece in which he called “The Stone Cold Stunner” the most important wrestling move of all time. In the article, Kalaf provides an excellent history of the Stunner, a move that began before Steve Austin was ever “Stone Cold” and before Austin became one of the biggest draws in all of North American pro wrestling. No knowledgeable wrestling fan should understate the importance of the Stunner to the industry. A wrestler is just a guy, after all, unless he has a memorable finishing move. Austin, Diamond Dallas Page and Randy Orton are just three of the wrestlers who had finishing moves that could be completed seemingly out of nowhere and that won matches against some legends of the industry.
Kalaf’s excellent post got us to thinking: What are the most important wrestling moves of all time? Any such list would have to include some of the basics that are witnessed in matches that take place in independent promotions that draw hundreds of fans, and also moves seen on World Wrestling Entertainment television on a weekly basis. We also, obviously, had to include finishing moves such as the Stunner and others that fans have mimicked while fake-wrestling in their backyards or while playing certain video games. We may not all agree that the Stunner is, in fact, the most important wrestling move of all time, but the topic does make for an interesting debate among passionate wrestling fans.
Pro wrestling is ridiculous in many, many ways. Perhaps the one rule that tops the list is that using a closed-fist punch during a match is illegal and should lead to a disqualification finish, and yet just about everybody who works in the WWE throws punches. Punches are executed early on in contests. They are used when a babyface is firing-up for a comeback. Heck, Big Show has a single punch as a finisher! Brawlers, technical wrestlers and cruiserweights alike all throw worked punches now and again. In fact, try to think of the last WWE match not involving female wrestlers that did not include at least one punch. Even the simplest of wrestling moves can get fans attending a show to leap in attendance, in part because we still love the idea of two hated rivals slugging it out inside of a ring even if we know that the punches are not doing any real damage.
While speaking with a worker about the matter many moons ago, he explained that the clothesline would be his pick for the most important wrestling move of all time. His thought on the matter was that the clothesline is everything one could want from a move. It can be used early in a contest. A clothesline can serve as a transition point. If the right person is executing the move and he is working with somebody who can properly sell its devastation, a clothesline can be bought as a serious finisher. That was true even in the 2000s when wrestling fans were jaded by seeing all kinds of crazy dives and flips. Even after the “hardcore revolution” brought to us by Extreme Championship Wrestling, JBL made the clothesline a feared finishing move. There will, down the road and in the future, come another WWE performer who uses the clothesline to win matches. It’s a safe bet fans will buy it.
Rest holds are underrated and important to the professional wrestling industry. Wrestlers are telling a story inside of the ring during a match, but they are also using energy throughout a contest. They, thus, need to take breathers during lengthy encounters. It is entertaining that Kevin Owens has turned rest holds into a gimmick of his own, as he yells at either an opponent, the ref or the crowd during a chin lock or headlock. Viewers now have a reason to pay a little extra attention to a portion of a match that would otherwise be forgettable for some fans thanks to Owens. These necessary breaks are, in some situations, an intermission or a “halftime” for a match. In other scenarios, one of these moves can even be used to advance the story of a particular match. Not every wrestling move is sexy, but there is a certain beauty in the boring parts of an encounter.
Even now, in 2016, there is something remarkable about a dropkick that is beautifully-executed and that involves a wrestler getting his body high up into the air before his feet supposedly make contact with the face of an opponent. Anybody who doubts that only needs to watch A.J. Styles utilize his dropkick in front of a WWE audience. The dropkick has since evolved into different variations. Finn Balor uses a running dropkick as a setup to his foot-stomp finishing move. Chris Jericho’s dropkick that knocks opponents outside of the ring and to the floor is a mainstay of his matches, and yet it still draws pops from crowds night in and night out. Some wrestlers have even used dropkicks delivered from the top rope as finishing moves. Much like the clothesline, a dropkick can be turned into an important move if the right person is using it and if the move is allowed to get over and be taken seriously.
We understand that there are pockets of wrestling fans out there who feel frustrated by the fact that the “Flatliner” was, for a time, arguably the most overused finishing move in organizations such as the WWE, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, Ring of Honor and other promotions. There is a good reason for that. The Flatliner looks cool. A wrestler uses his own body to drive the face of an opponent down to the mat with force. What else do you need to know? We do take joy in knowing that versions of the Flatliner are now being used for more than just ending matches. Sami Zayn, for example, uses the Flatliner as the beginning of a sequence of moves that ends with his locking in a submission hold. The Flatliner is not everybody’s cup of tea. In modern wrestling, however, it has a significant place among the most important moves of all time.
We wish we could conduct a survey of how many fans out there created a wrestling character for a video game that had a version of the powerbomb as its finisher. Think of the different types of powerbombs you have seen over the years. Big Van Vader actually hurt somebody with a powerbomb many years ago. Diesel/Kevin Nash put his own spin on the move with the “Jackknife Powerbomb.” We sometimes wondered if Sid was going to accidentally drop an opponent while delivering his powerbomb. The “Razor’s Edge” is, in reality, a different type of powerbomb. Batista, Ultimo Dragon and The Undertaker are three other well-known wrestlers who won matches using their versions of powerbombs. What is probably the best part about the powerbomb is that it looks devastating when the right guy is delivering it and the right wrestler is selling. You don’t have to work to believe that a powerbomb could actually knock a wrestler out cold.
9 Tombstone/Standard Piledriver
The piledriver, however it is executed, is one of the most important finishing moves in the history of pro wrestling for many reasons. We rarely see it in the WWE today because the move is dangerous in real life. Don’t forget that the career of Steve Austin was legitimately shortened by years in part because of a botched tombstone that occurred in a match involving Austin and Owen Hart.
The Undertaker’s tombstone, meanwhile, has beat some of the biggest names in all of wrestling. There are, of course, far scarier moves used by wrestlers in the WWE and in independent promotions. Know, however, that fans inside of an arena would pop and some would even gasp if a pair of wrestlers hit a spike-piledriver on a babyface, especially if that babyface sold it like he was seriously injured. That type of realism is missed in today’s “sports entertainment,” as it could help make heels into feared characters.
8 German Suplex
We thought about including the powerslam in a piece of the most important wrestling moves of all time, but we instead decided to focus on others. Besides, nobody goes to “Powerslam City” in 2016. Brock Lesnar made a move seen in matches all over a WWE card into one that spawned a chant, sold merchandise and is even referenced in a video game. As cool as that is, Lesnar is hardly the first man to do something big with what has, over the years, been a standard move. Fans often buy that a German Suplex that includes the wrestler delivering the move bridging his body can end a match in three seconds. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle completed combinations of German Suplexes that amazed audiences. In 2016 during the Cruiserweight Classic and an edition of NXT, both of which are featured on the WWE Network, we have seen matches end on a German Suplex. Some classics never get old.
The simple suplex as a wrestling move is the gift that keeps on giving. A basic suplex has all kinds of uses during a match. The slingshot suplex was, for some wrestling fans, made famous by Tully Blanchard of The Four Horsemen. A superplex delivered off of the middle or top rope is impressive and causes fans to react. The setup for the superplex has led to some awesome moves such as different versions of the brainbuster and the corkscrew-tombstone piledriver Scott Steiner used to execute while in World Championship Wrestling. Fans still buy that a snap-suplex is, for whatever reason, more powerful and more painful than a normal suplex. “The Magic Killer,” “Jackhammer” and “Three Amigos” are a few more examples of moves that are branches from the original suplex tree. It is probably only a matter of time before some young innovative wrestler out there creates his unique spin on the suplex. We can’t wait to see it.
6 Figure Four
It was many, many years ago when I heard maybe the best reasoning for why the Figure Four Leg Lock became such a staple of the pro wrestling industry. Fans around the world didn’t care that so many babyfaces kicked out or got to the ropes whenever Ric Flair locked on what was supposed to be his finishing hold. All Flair had to do was submit one person, whether it was a jobber or a top-tier performer, to remind fans that he could win any match at any time with that hold. The beauty with the Figure Four is that fans pop during the setup of the move and also when it is locked-in. Fans then remain on their feet when an opponent either reaches the ropes or turns the move on the original assailant. It is a simple submission hold anybody can do and one that gets over via a single submission victory. Beautiful.
Odds are that somebody somewhere is complaining about the fact that the DDT made famous by Jake “The Snake” Roberts has become nothing more than a transition-move used by babyfaces and heels in wrestling matches. While we do understand why that may be frustrating for some, what’s done is done. Roberts’ DDT was, for a time, one of the baddest finishing moves anywhere in wrestling, and versions adopted by Arn Anderson and Raven were also over among wrestling fans. The DDT is a simple move that draws reactions from fans who suspend their disbelief because it makes sense that a move in which an opponent’s head and face are driven forcefully into the mat could end any match at any time. We have, over the years, seen many varieties of the DDT, and a version used by Dean Ambrose helped him win the WWE Championship in 2016. The DDT isn’t dead as a finishing move quite yet.
We recommend going back and reading the previously mentioned Deadspin.com piece for a further look of the importance of the Stunner. Everything about every variation of the Stunner as a finishing move is awesome. Its setup -- from the “kick, wham, Stunner” used by Austin to the “out of nowhere!” nature of the “Diamond Cutter” and “RKO -- leads to fans rising to their feet in anticipation. Just about anybody who can take a bump either to his knees or down to his face can be on the receiving end of a Stunner. Austin’s Stunner is the one that will live on in the memories of fans for generations to come, so much so that it is currently difficult to imagine somebody using it as his own on WWE TV without that person being known as the guy who stole Austin’s move. We are still holding out hope that we’ll see one more Stone Cold Stunner in a match. Maybe one day...
3 Hogan Leg Drop
We absolutely understand why Hulk Hogan has been scrubbed from new editions of WWE programming and new shows that air on the WWE Network. With that said, it would be silly to even pretend that Hogan’s Leg Drop is not one of the most important wrestling moves of all time. What should be remembered by younger fans who weren’t around during the 1980s or even during Hogan’s heel turn in WCW is that almost nobody got up from the leg drop. His leg drop was, for a long period of time, as over as any finishing move executed by a babyface during the time. Fans still popped for the leg drop even in the 2000s when Hogan was well past his physical prime. We’ll never know for sure how many fans Hogan made with that leg drop. We do know, however, how much physical damage he accumulated because of doing this move thousands of times. The importance of the leg drop today is knowing that wrestlers should probably pick a different finishing move.
2 Elbow Drop
Wrestling was a lot different decades ago when young wrestling fans around the world saw “Macho Man” Randy Savage repeatedly drop elbows down onto the chests of opponents. At the time, it was not routine for multiple wrestlers to take to the top rope during contests. Savage had a finishing move far different than the majority of those working for major promotions in the 1980s, and that helped make him stand out. It is one reason wrestlers such as Shawn Michaels and CM Punk adopted versions of the elbow drop during their careers. A different kind of elbow drop, the “People’s Elbow,” became a finishing move on it’s own that The Rock uses to this day whenever he returns for appearances on WWE TV. The “Rock Bottom” looks better and makes for a better finisher, but everything about The People’s Elbow, including the audience interacting with The Rock, makes it plain fun.
You can tell that this piece is produced in the summer of 2016. All jokes and sarcasm aside, the superkick has become a pro wrestling phenomenon of its own thanks to a variety of wrestlers. Shawn Michaels made “Sweet Chin Music” a finishing move copied by would-be pro wrestlers around the world. We now see “Superkick Parties” executed by The Young Bucks and copied by The Usos in the WWE. The superkick can be a set-up that leads to a finishing move. It can also end a match, as was the case when Dolph Ziggler defeated A.J. Styles during an edition of SmackDown in late July 2016. Some veterans of the business may not like all of the kicks that they see in matches today, but they’d better get used to it. The superkick is not going anywhere anytime soon, and thus we are calling it the most important wrestling move of all time.