One thing that has sapped the emotion out of wrestling matches today is the anticipation of a finishing move has largely disappeared. Why's that? Well, because when wrestlers are kicking out of finishing moves or escaping submission holds every other match, you really don't care as much when the finishing move is hit. You immediately figure it will take one or two more to win.
It's not a new phenomenon, but it is one that has escalated in recent years. We remember the classic Austin/Rock matches where each guy would kick out of at least one finishing move before the match was over. The difference was, these two rarely squared off in a one-on-one match and those confrontations were saved for big events. The act of kicking out of finishers was also saved for big events and would take place in main events, rather than almost every match on the card which is what has happened today.
The trend seemed to start creeping up after Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker's epic WrestleMania XXV clash, which saw plenty of false finishes, including HBK becoming the first man in over a decade to kick out of the Tombstone. Now, every one of Undertaker's opponents since then have kicked out of it.
That brings us to our list, as there are plenty of great moves thrown out there as part of a match, but if WWE's roster sold moves more, they actually wouldn't have to over-work themselves every match. Tell a great story and sell a move properly and the finishing move can take a life of its own. Here are the top 15 moves in wrestling thrown out there routinely, but were once, seen as devastating finishers.
15 Atomic Drop
Today, you'll mostly see an Atomic Drop in the middle of a routine match, and the recipient may either just hop around in pain or will occasionally stay down for a quick near fall. However back in the 70s and earlt 80s, Bob Backlund was finishing matches with this move. This move helped him maintain a four year-plus run with the WWE Championship. This move will never be used as a finisher again, as fans would now scoff at this move finishing a match, but it worked very well for a babyface Backlund.
Have you ever been put in a Toehold? It's damn painful and as someone who grew up with a brother and would wrestle all the time, on top of him being a Judoka, I howled in pain whenever it was placed on me. This hold was mostly seen back in catch wrestling, but it was used by Frank Gotch, who devastated opponents with it. Someone definitely should consider bringing this move back. The right guy would definitely be able to make it look believable as one that would end a match. Don't stop at the drop toehold wrestlers, cinch it in and you have a new weapon in your arsenal.
In a business where the most devastating injuries often involve the neck, how can a move called the Neckbreaker be just a routine move? There are all kinds of variants of the move, and Rick Rude's version, the Rude Awakening brought it to the forefront. Heck, even the Honky Tonk Man used a variation, even though the setup was incredibly cheesy. Today, the move is mostly just a move now that leads to a mini-rest for wrestlers in a match.
The Superplex really does look devastating enough to end a match, but we know all it does today is make for a big spot, followed by a rest period. Cowboy Bob Orton used the move as a finisher, as the suplex off the second rope was a huge deal when it was first introduced. It's been used by many wrestlers since then. Bret Hart used it as one of his signature moves, but superplexes today don't quite evoke the same reaction they used to, as spots are now routinely done off the top rope.
11 Full Nelson
When a guy over 300 pounds is applying a Full Nelson, you're not getting out of it. That's why when Hercules applied the move, it was well accepted that the match would soon be over. Now, it's just used to give the wrestlers a break in the action, while they can then call out their next few spots.
Chris Masters actually brought the move back by hosting the Masterlock Challenge, where he would give an open challenge to anyone who could break the hold. They built the move up well, with Bobby Lashley being the first guy to break it (totally believable) but pretty soon, everyone would break out of it and Masters's stock dropped considerably.
10 Diving Crossbody
Not many moves look prettier than a well executed Diving Crossbody. If you watch any of Ricky Steamboat's classic matches and watch it, it'll still take your breath away. Perhaps that's why it's no longer used as a big finisher, as no one has been quite able to capture the grace Steamboat showed with the move. Now, a crossbody, even off the top, will be reversed into a pinning predicament by the opponent, or in Cena's case, will be used to lead into the AA in a display of Super Cena.
9 Fisherman's Suplex
Curt Hennig's Fisherman's Suplex may have just been too perfect, because after seeing him execute the move so flawlessly, who else could use it as a finisher? Mr. Perfect was arguably the greatest in-ring performer in the WWE in his time, and the Perfectplex got over as a finisher. Bret Hart was the first one to kick out of the move at SummerSlam 1991, which was Hennig's idea to put Hart over even more. Now, the crowd won't even blink at the sight of a fisherman's suplex due to the ineffectiveness of the move today.
8 Elbow Drop
Whether it be People's Elbow, or the Flying Elbow of the Macho Man, the elbow drop in some form or another, used to be used as a finishing move. Andre The Giant used a plain old elbow drop from a standing position, but let's face it, any move by The Giant could have ended a match if he wanted to. Now, Dolph Ziggler does 10 in a row and still doesn't win matches with them. Elbow drops from the top now are, at best, signature move but they just don't have the same impact on a match they once did.
7 Leg Drop
If anybody nowadays would receive a devastating move, only to pop up, start shaking and proceed to punch their opponent three times, deliver a big boot, followed by a running leg drop to win a match, they'd be laughed out of the building. Actually, the internet would take to Twitter and immediately begin bashing the wrestler and WWE, for booking such a ridiculous ending. That's the same ending that drove fans wild in the 80s (in a good way). The crowd popped whenever Hogan began hulking up. The leg drop is now used by various wrestlers, with Fandango's version coming off the top rope, but a plain old big leg? Sorry, it just doesn't cut it anymore.
Ryback has hit Meathook Clothesline, Barrett has the Bullhammer which is a variation of it used with a forearm, but the move is often seen now, usually leading to a turning point in a match. The recipient will usually stay down enough for the opponent to pick up momentum, but there will also be occasions where the recipient pops back up, only to receive another. JBL used the move, calling it the Clothesline from Hell. From a big guy like Bradshaw, it looked devastating enough and if you were to ever catch anybody off guard with it, you could hurt them. Overall though, the clothesline is now just another move.
The Bearhug is now mostly used by giants, but back in the day, you didn't necessarily have to be 400 pounds to add it to your arsenal. Bruno Sammartino used the move as a finisher and he was the biggest star of his time, constantly sending Madison Square Garden in a frenzy and holding onto the WWE Championship for a total of over 11 years. Superstar Billy Graham used it as well, even though he was one of the flashiest competitors ever.
Brock Lesnar brought extreme significance back to the move by defeating Hulk Hogan with it back in 2002, but this move has fallen by the wayside.
Ron Simmons used the Powerslam to become the first African-American world champion in wrestling history. The British Bulldog used a running version of the move and that made for a great finisher as well. There are many ways to alter the move, but the traditional one most closely resembles what Randy Orton uses today. Many would agree that the RKO is one of the best finishers today, but the Powerslam wouldn't quite be seen as a legit finisher.
Shawn Michaels pretty much ruined the Superkick for everybody else. Who else will ever be able to make the move look as cool as Michaels? Who will ever set it up as dramatically as HBK? Now, the move is used by the Usos and Dolph Ziggler, as well as several others on occasion, but usually as a signature move. Alberto Del Rio uses a variant, usually hitting it when the opponent is on his knees, but for the most part, kicks to the face are quite routine in matches today.
How could this move be seen as anything else other than a devastating finisher? I mean, the move involves you grabbing the opponent's head, locking it in a front facelock and driving the skull down to the mat using your own momentum. Jake Roberts invented the move by accident, but it stuck, as fans recognized it as a vicious looking move. Nowadays, the DDT gets the occasional near fall. Stone Cold Steve Austin has made his opinion known that he's not a fan of the move being thrown out there unless it has a significant impact on a match.
1 Sleeper Hold
I have to admit, having grown up in the Atttitude Era, I probably wouldn't like this move as a finisher either if someone were to debut with it today. For decades now, the Sleeper Hold has mostly been used as the ultimate rest hold, while the fans cheer on the babyface to get out of it and mount his/her comeback. Some of the biggest names in the business used the move though, including the late great Roddy Piper. Of course, a well executed sleeper is effective. It's just not aesthetically pleasing as a way to end a match. Dolph Ziggler made an attempt to resurrect it, but it didn't quite go with his fast-paced style. He still uses it today, but mostly as just another part of his offense.