It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. One would assume Bret Hart worked and reworked an emotional and lengthy diary entry after losing his WWE championship while thrust in his own sharpshooter at the hands of Shawn Michaels that faithful night in November of 1997. We all know how that turned out. One month earlier, The Undertaker’s staple pasty complexion surely succumbed to some reddening after being thumped skull first with his own patented Tombstone piledriver during his “little” brother Kane’s debut at the first ever “Hell in the Cell” match, right? Surely, a true testament to both superstar’s legacies it must have been to have their signature finishers emulated. Such irony indeed.
Over the course of time, wrestler’s fatalities have undergone unceremonious makeovers in some cases. In others, blatant, villainous larceny. And as briefly aforementioned, some have been ironically yet purposely plagiarized from their creators. The debate rages on over which moves have not only been infamous victims of identity theft, but which culprits succeeded in outshining their originators, if even. Scott Steiner’s “Frankensteiner” or Rey Mysterio’s spring board “Huricanrana”? Kevin Owens calls Diesel’s “Jacknife” and raises him a “Pop-up Powerbomb”. Jack Swagger “Vader Bomb’s” them both through the poker table. See what I did there.
So what moves were most widely imitated? By whom? And why does one version resonate with the WWE universe more than others? The report cards on these match-ending blows are out. Jake “The Snake” Roberts will be less than amused by the grading scheme. Neville will probably be polishing his red arrows with a smirk as awkward as his goatee. But that is alright, as the 2015 Slammy Award winner for breakout Superstar of the year will not need to pay any substantial insurance premium to protect his “pièce de résistence”. Good luck trying to replicate that exercise science enigma. We had initially reached a verbal agreement with Diamond Dallas Page for a comment, but OUT OF NOWHERE he-, … could not be disturbed during his yoga teachings. Damn you Randall Kevin Orton.
10 Frog Splash
Performed off the top turnbuckle (normally), many competitors have attempted their respective versions of this acrobatic feat with various degrees of success. What differentiates the frog splash from a standard splash is the mid-air knee-to-elbow crunch which compounds velocity upon delivery. The taller the leap, the greater the impact. This is a rudimentary scientific principle of gravity. The late Eddie Guerrero owns arguably the most flawless conveyance of the move. A generally more aerodynamic physique enables performers to attempt this move, limiting those who can take a swing at it. Perhaps one of the more memorable renditions includes Eddie’s splash on JBL from the top of a steel cage during Smackdown!, in July of 2004. Rob Van Dam redesigned Latino Heat’s top rope crash and made it part of his in-ring arsenal. RVD’s 5-star frog splash was impressive in its own right, ending matches in spectacular fashion. Honorable mention goes out to D-Lo brown of Nation of Domination fame for his cover of the move. His leverage as a character made it that perhaps he is not the first that comes to mind when thinking of the finisher. He did nonetheless execute admirably, albeit unable to match the fan endearment of his comparables which may have given him more weight in the debate. Note: Jimmy Snuka’s revered steel cage splash on Don Muarco in 1983 was not considered, as it was not a “frog” splash, though could not be left unmentioned as that iconic image served as the inspirations for generations of high flyers to come.
A trademark of the cruiserweight division, less likely suspects such as Kevin Owens and Vader have offered some of the most memorable efforts in history. Neville has brought it once again to the forefront with his standing Moonsault. Who would imagine simplifying the flip would augment its effect to the audience? No conversation of the acrobatic feat would be complete without mentioning Shawn Michaels. Oftentimes, he covered greater distance by launching his body outwards, heightening the risk as the pavement is far less forgiving than the canvas. Big Van Vader takes the cake in this debate. A 400 plus pound man has no business on the top rope, let alone flipping backwards onto an unsuspecting human. How can he not be voted number one? Given his size and the velocity of his mid-air trek, he truly used his Vadersault to end matches. Other cross body backflips added excitement, all while displaying athleticism only few performers possessed. But as far as finishers go, give Big V the big W.
8 Choke Slam
What makes a finisher unique? Arguably, the manoeuvre should accentuate the athlete’s physical attributes in such a way that no one other than the person performing it should in fact be able to do it as well. Given the scope of this narrative, the second best thing to not having your finishing move listed would to be to have the fewest copy cats possible. Sort of, anyways. The choke slam checks off in the category of “difficult” to replicate based on what it requires to effectively execute. Power and height are vital. Thus, it is no coincidence to find the superstars that we do in this category. The Phenom, the Big Red Machine, and the World’s Largest Athlete share the unique ability to lift another man by their throat and hammer them to the mat with ill intent. Some wrestling purists will insist that it wasn’t exactly these men’s final act. True. But many matches have ended via the revered curtain call. So whose choke slam takes the cake? Kane was created to be somewhat of The Undertaker’s evil twin. This leaves The Undertaker and the Big Show. The Dead Man made the choke slam what it is. But the Giant’s sheer size renders it an authentic match ender by definition. He lifts you that much higher and he brings you down with that much more force. Hard to bet against it. But I will anyway, and say The Undertaker used it most effectively not only to rack up victories, but to have a finisher define the performer as much as the performer define the finisher.
Wrestling enthusiasts will always appreciate a good old submission as a finisher. These moves are the foundation of the sport. They are also commonly used by “real” fighting brands like UFC, which work twofold in WWE’s aim for staging the most realistic fight sequences possible. The casual fan may not hold submissions as close to their heart, as they naturally slow the pace of action. Some of the greatest tap-out grapples include the Ric Flair’s Figure 4, Chris Jericho’s Walls of Jericho, Chris Benoit’s The Crippler Cross Face and more recently, Brock Lesnar’s Kimora and Undertaker’s Gates of Hell, to name a few. Quite the impressive list of legends, you might say. The most skilled in-ring performers have always been able to incorporate the realism of submission manoeuvres as tactful changes of pace to their matches. Arguably, the Sharpshooter, in all of its surrounding controversy, will go down as the most memorable.
Brett Hart and Sting (Scorpion Deathlock) used them as finishers. Shawn Michaels and The Rock have made less than admirable attempts at reproducing their counterparts hallmark move. There are two lasting images that will forever be embedded in the memories of die hard fans surrounding Sting and Brett Hart, and their carbon copy finishers. The Hitman’s WWE career came to a screeching halt while entwined in his own move at the hands of HBK, via an infamous ghost tap-out. Sting won the WCW Championship from Hulk Hogan with his rival pit in the death-lock, while none other than Brett Hart served as guest referee main eventing Starcade 1997, in arguably the biggest marquee match-up in WCW history. I give this decision to Brett Hart by a narrow margin, predominantly based on the fact that Sting used other moves as well, such as the Scorpion Death Drop (a sort of reverse DDT) to stockpile victories. You just knew once the opponent was trapped, there was no escaping.
Growing up a wrestling fan in North America, my first exposure to this move was the “Frankensteiner” administered by none other than Big Papa Pump himself, Scott Steiner. If not for YouTube, one might not be able to envision the top Google image search results of the superstar performing such an act of acrobatic proportions. Then came WCW’s revolutionary wave of cruiserweights in the late 90s. The finisher would never be the same again. Nor would its title. The Mexican Lucha Libre moniker “Hurricanrana” followed the influx, the move commonly referred to as such in most wrestling dialogue since then. Using the ropes, turnbuckles and apron as catapults, legends like Rey Mysterio Jr, the Ultimo Dragon, Eddie Guerrero to name a few captivated audiences with their versions, seamlessly executed from virtually any and all conceivable angles. Modern day practitioner’s include Neville and Kalisto, both of whom succeed in doing so marvelously.
So, following suit, who did it best? My pick: Lita. Yup. By the time Lita decided to make the manoeuvre her own, it was exactly the fresh spin it needed (no pun intended) to further its reputation as highlight reel staple. Maybe because she was a Diva, a rebellious one at that, who was able to get down and dirty like her male counterparts, that made her rendition more impressive. Maybe because no other Diva of her era could ever even think of attempting one. Maybe it was the fact that truthfully, she contorted her body in such ways that made hers the most aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. Maybe it was because I had a crush on her. Nonetheless, give the W to the revolutionary female Hall of Famer.
Bill Goldberg’s brief NFL career would make him the most suitable candidate to launch his shoulder in torpedo-like fashion straight into the midsection of his opponents. It would make sense that another former football player in Roman Reigns could do the same and potentially leave his adversaries down for the count. Edge must have played some pick-up football in his time as well, as he also delivered some of the most intense spears of all time. Right, Jeff Hardy? Current WWE Diva’s champion Charlotte also uses the tackle-based tactic. However, as gifted of an athlete as she is, her rendition just lacks fluidity and grace in my opinion. But that is just my opinion. Goldberg used his spear to decimate the entire WCW roster in an unprecedented (though questionable) undefeated streak. More importantly, considering the era in which it originated, it posed the most realistic threat to the villainous super group that was the NWO. Combine all that, and Goldberg’s spear was a force to be reckoned with. Edge’s renditions weigh most on the shock value scale. The epic WrestleMania XYZ (check) spear of Jeff Hardy as he was dangling from the belt harness may be the greatest one of all. But was he THE best at performing it? What about Roman Reigns? I believe, unfortunately, he is the one who made the once potent blow sort of just meh. Maybe it’s the annoying scream he lets out after spearing someone, as if to convince us of its efficiency. Again, meh. Winner: Goldberg.
4 Diamond Cutter/RKO
The expansion of social media has made this perhaps the most recognizable finisher, even to non-wrestling aficionados. Fan-made videos of Randy Orton’s RKO have littered the internet. Video editing geniuses have the Apex Predator RKO-ing helpless victims. To be quite honest, the best loops and reels are absolutely hysterical, even to viewers with no particular attachment to the WWE brand. Years before the Viper burst onto the scene, Diamond Dallas Page had been driving his adversary’s heads to the canvas with an underhanded shoulder clutch of their necks with his impactful Diamond Cutter. Much to his dismay, I am sure, DDP did not endure the same viral success of his finisher, fault to non-existence of the social media platforms of his era. When observing both versions, there is no noticeable difference in terms of execution. Both superstars managed to turn bleak predicaments into lightning-quick reversals leading to their famous finishing moves.
During a video interview for the Monday Night War Series, Dallas Page narrates how he had once asked Triple H, then wrestling under the gimmick title Jean-Paul Levesque (his real name) to refrain from using a carbon copy of the move, which he had done in one of his matches. DDP expressed his desire to be sole administrator of the signature in order to make it his own, enabling his character and persona to reach new heights. This request was met with little resistance from the current WWE world champion. Randy Orton must not have gotten the memo. All this considered, which version can we crown champion? It is a tough call. When probing opinions from fellow fans, I tend to notice voting patterns in favor of the character more adorned by those questioned.
Winner: Double count out on this one.
Honorable mention goes out to the Dudley Boyz, whose Dudley 3D is essentially an assisted RKO/Diamond cutter, who occasionally like to add tables to the equation.
No single move has undergone more alterations that Jake “The Snake” Roberts DDT. Tornado, reverse, double underhook, rope-hung, and the list goes on. The move has transitioned from a once fatal blow, to a skill set pre-requisite for today’s aspiring talent. The ability to deliver and receive the DDT is commonplace amongst performers. No move has generated more near falls or close counts than this one. I have read and heard the rhetoric over and over on how superstars executing the exact same move should yield the same results, on how poor Jake Roberts had his move stolen by essentially every wrestler ever after him. My take is that if you are able to add a true wow-factor to the move, who is to say you shouldn’t use it? The quality of athlete has evolved across all sports, pro wrestling being no exception. The performers are more skilled than ever. It is my belief that more moves that were once upon a time a finisher, will evolve into commonalities. We have seen it with the most mundane strikes such as punching (Superman Punch) and kicking (Brogue Kick). The wheel was once square. Of the seemingly endless renditions performed over the years, my current favorite is Randy Orton’s rope hung DDT. The impact to the head is greatly amplified without the stability of your legs beneath you. It looks the most devastating of them all. Winner: To add insult to injury, the Viper takes this one from the Snake.
This one is interesting. Once a hallmark for WWE’s big men (Diesel and Psycho Sid), this high impact manoeuvre has undergone endless innovation over the years, making it a fan favorite. Flipping an opponent from between your legs and up onto your shoulders to only let them crash back down to the mat, through a table, or spine-first into a turnbuckle (right, Sting?) instantly changes the allure of matches. Over the years, the likes of Ahmed Johnson, Batista, American Badass version of The Undertaker and most recently Kevin Owens, amongst others have all added their own twist to the signature move. For the strength it requires, this move has always been a personal favorite. However, similar to the DDT, it has fallen victim to the law of unintended consequences of overuse, demystifying it through its saturation. It became widely used throughout the roster regardless of weight class. While it didn’t by any stretch suffer in entertainment value, the powerbomb became less convincing of a finisher due to over use, in my opinion. That is until Kevin Owens came along. Perhaps the Prize Fighter’s pit bull-like demeanor coupled with his street fighter physique enable the move beyond its previous heights. Or maybe it is the sheer elevation and impact created by the “pop-up” prefix the bomb itself. For that reason, I vote Kevin Owens master of the powerbomb for its contributions in resurrecting its devastation beyond anything we have seen in recent times, or maybe ever.
1 Super Kick
Perhaps the most watered down of them all. Such a shame when considering the legend who made it famous. Spoiler alert: no one ever did it better than Shawn Michaels, and no one ever will. So where do the Usos, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev and/or Luke Harper (really?) harvest such intestinal fortitude as to make Mr. WrestleMania’s long time match ender part of their regular weaponry? While there is no way to confirm the following hypothesis, I believe as rival sports/entertainment factions like UFC gained in mainstream popularity, creative authorities and performers alike felt the need to infuse an element of realism into their matches. I have yet to see a moonsault during a street fight on WorldStar fight reels or in the octagon, but have seen affair number of punches and kicks. If the WWE is to compete on any level with the UFC, a certain element of believability is required in their combat sequences. I would guesstimate that somewhere in the creative focus shift, it became widely more acceptable and commonplace to include such a move such as HBK’s signature Sweet Chin Music.