There was a day in professional wrestling when somebody would slap their finishing hold on an opponent and as a fan, you knew that was the end. Back in the 1980s, when it was just squash matches featured on the weekly Saturday morning television show, the finishing move meant a merciful end to the three-minute beating the nobody jobber took from the big star. On January 11, 1993, Monday Night Raw debuted and the day of a finisher working 100 percent of the time was done.
Some finishers, like John Cena’s STF or Attitude Adjustment, still work most of the time, but there is no guarantee. If Wrestler X can never overcome Wrestler Y’s finisher, the outcome of the match is never in doubt. If the outcome isn’t it doubt, the promoter isn’t going to sell tickets.
There are certain holds, such as Scott Hall’s Razor’s Edge or Lex Luger’s Torture Rack that are so closely defined with a specific character that it would look like blatantly ripping the creator of the move off if another wrestler tried to claim that finisher as their own. And then there are the holds that were once finishers that have either disappeared (the swinging neckbreaker), been banned (chairshots to the head), or been converted to a non-finisher (the clothesline). Here are 10 classic finishers that don’t work anymore.
From Koko B. Ware to Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell, the Dropkick was the finisher of those wrestlers who didn’t pick up the number of wins compared to the very top guys on the card. Brunzell’s was traditional, but Koko B. Ware added the flare of jumping off the top rope for the “Missile Dropkick.” Tag teams got in on the move, with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express using a double-team Dropkick to finish off most of their matches. Perhaps the craziest version was Rob Van Dam’s corner-to-corner Dropkick, the Van Terminator, which was also used by Shane McMahon during his short run as a wrestler. Dropkicks are still found in almost every match, but it seems silly to think that wrestling fans ever took it as a serious finisher.
9. Sunset Flip
There was a day when a wrestler escaped a sunset flip (the closest 1980s WWE wrestling ever got to “high flying”) and the move was never the same once it was clear you just had to kick your opponent in the head to get out of the hold. Never a signature maneuver, the sunset flip was a surprise used to turn the momentum back in the favor of the babyface, utilized by the likes of Tito Santana and SD Jones to pull a win out of nowhere. Back in ECW, the sunset flip was an integral part of the chain wrestling sequences performed by guys like Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero, but it’s time as a finisher had long passed even by that point.
8. Pile Driver
Sometimes it’s a good idea finishing moves are banned by wrestling companies because they can, in fact, be a finishing move on someone’s career. Yes, you’ll still see The Undertaker’s Tombstone Pile Drive, but that has never looked more dangerous than placing somebody softly on the canvas. We’re talking about the head-between-the-legs, pick-them-up-and-drive-their-head-into-the-mat piledrivers made famous by guys like Jerry “The King” Lawler and Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff. Those were the piledrivers that looked like they could almost kill someone. After “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was injured by Owen Hart with a version of the piledriver leading to temporary paralysis, it was quickly phased out. John Cena and CM Punk busted it out on a Monday Night Raw several years ago, reportedly to the ire of Vince McMahon.
7. Hammerlock/Chicken Wing
While it’s hard to see much of a connection to Greco-Roman Wrestling in the WWE these days, there were far more amateur moves used inside the squared circles in the 1970s and 80s, and of all people, George “The Animal” Steele used this painful-looking move as his finisher. The simple joint manipulation of holding somebody’s arm against their back and twisting until their shoulder pops seems painful enough, but Bob Backlund put a different kind of twist on the hold, also applying a cross-face. Fans will remember Backlund’s version of the move being what led him to his second WWE championship against Bret Hart in 1994. Hart would use the same Cross-Face Chicken Wing, as then-WWE announcers dubbed it, to defeat Backlund in an “I Quit” match at WrestleMania XI.
6. Flying Headbutt
It doesn’t help when a murderer popularizes a finisher, but despite the tragic Chris Benoit incident, the move existed well before he used it. In fact, Benoit used it as an homage to his idol, Dynamite Kid, who regularly jumped off Davey Boy Smith’s shoulders to perform it as part of the British Bulldogs. You’ll still sometimes see a wrestler use this in a “false finish” but with so much attention paid to head injuries, slowing down the use of this move was a good idea. A wrestler with a concussion is a wrestler we don’t get to see.
5. Sleeper Hold
Be it Sgt. Slaughter’s “Cobra Clutch,” Ted Dibiase’s “Million Dollar Dream” or even Roddy Piper’s traditional application, there was a day when the sleeper hold was applied that it would be just a matter of moments until the referee would drop the loser’s arm for the third time and the match was over. Once Brutus Beefcake became “The Barber,” the sleeper hold was the anticipatory signal that some poor loser was about to get their hair cut. Now, when the move periodically pops up, either the wrestler doing the hold is smashed into a turnbuckle, or the wrestler in the hold miraculously comes back to life. So much for the science of the hold Gorilla Monsoon was trying to teach us all of those years.
4. Claw Hold
In the Minnesota territory, it was Baron Von Raschke. In the Northeast, it belonged to Killer Kowalski. Down in Texas, every Von Erich family member called it their finisher. Tell a young wrestling fan today about the Claw Hold and they’re likely to laugh at you, but prior to about 1990, the Claw Hold was sold to fans as one of the most painful holds one wrestler could put on another. On AWA television, Von Raschke once showed just how strong his Claw Hold was with a demonstration on an apple. If that didn’t convince people of its devastation, what would?
3. Bear Hug
The longest-reigning champion in the history of the WWE (then-WWWF) was Bruno Sammartino, who held the championship for almost 11 years if you combine both of his runs with the top title. Those younger fans who didn’t know him were reintroduced following his WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2013. Everybody knows his name, but few can tell you his finisher was the electrifying, exciting, thrilling… Bear Hug. Yup, simply squeezing a guy until he went limp was once a popular finisher of big guys like Andre the Giant, Big John Studd and even Mark Henry. Now, it seems more like a chance for wrestlers to catch their breath and figure out what’s next.
2. Figure Four Leglock
Somewhere in the Carolinas in the late 1980s, there’s a wrestler who probably doesn’t realize he was the first person to flip Ric Flair’s Figure Four Leglock over, reversing the pain onto Flair, and forever tarnishing the hold. Yes, his daughter Charlotte is sporting a revised version of the hold that is working for the moment, but when was the last time this move ended a men’s match? Other greats who used this as a finisher included Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and, for a short while, Tito Santana. It’s the cousin of the Spinning Toe Hold, another dead finisher, that was popularized in Texas by brothers Terry and Dory Funk, Jr.
You’d think a move that WWE themselves ranked as the No. 5 best finisher of all time on their DVD specifically about closing moves, and a move so closely associated with one of the all-time greats, Jake “The Snake” Roberts would never have devolved into such a common maneuver. Even though it was named for a deadly pesticide used in the 1970s, Roberts once said that the letters D-D-T stood for “The End.” Now it just momentarily stops an opponent. At least Roberts can say the move still has the same name as when he made it one of those moves that always meant lights out. A lot of former finishers, like Curt Hennig’s PerfectPlex, have reverted back to their original names, the Fisherman’s Suplex.