Professional wrestling, like music or fashion, changes over time, bending to meet the needs of its audience. Wrestling in 1976 looked very different from what people watched in 1996, which is quite different from the product we enjoy in 2016. It’s to be expected things change over time...except the fact Vince McMahon is there. He has always been and always will be.
Obviously the wrestlers change and the presentation of the sport reflects fans’ tastes. In the 1970s, wrestling was very no-frills and guys like Superstar Billy Graham who would seem normal today were trendsetters. Guys like Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels took their cues from Graham and that’s why they were trendsetters. Now, you hear about some of the best wrestlers mention how they were influenced by Hogan and Michaels. Things don’t really change as much as they evolve.
There is one area we don’t understand changes and it’s in the moves the wrestlers use. Yes, there has always been the headlock and the flying bodypress and a few others that don’t seem like they’re going anywhere, but over the last decade or two it seems like more and more moves that used to be devastating either don’t have the results they once did or wrestlers have stopped using the move altogether.
There will probably be fans in 20 years lamenting the fact moves like Roman Reigns’ Superman Punch, Dean Ambrose’s Dirty Deeds or Randy Orton’s RKO don’t work like they did back in 2016. Maybe that’s just part of the evolution. We’ll have to wait and see on the fate of the popular moves today, but for now we’ll look back at 16 Wrestling Moves That Used To Be Cool, But Now Suck.
16 Boston Crab
Unless you have a version of the crossface, be it John Cena’s STF, Sasha Banks’ Bank Statement, Asuka’s Asuka Lock, you’re not going to get somebody to tap out 99 times out of 100 these days. As far as old-school wrestlers go, Rick Martel used it during his reign as the AWA world champion, and broke it out on several occasions when he showed up in WWE as “The Model.” The only person who still uses it these days is Chris Jericho, who calls it the Walls of Jericho. It may as well be called the “Walls of Giving Both Guys a Breather Until The One On Defense Inevitably Grabs the Rope.” It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way. This is one of those moves everybody put on their friends as kids and you realized it really did hurt the lower back. It was real! It’s too bad they’ve turned it into just another reason to reach the ropes.
15 Drop Kick
To wrestling fans who have only been paying attention the last few years, it’s probably hard to believe that the dropkick used to be a staple in almost every match the WWE (then-WWF) presented between 1975 and 1995. It was the one move that separated the athletes from the big men. It was doubly as impressive when a big man like Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant would then bust the move out once in a while. These days, it seems like it’s only the veterans and the guys who spent a decade in the indies who use it anymore. Head Performance Center trainer Matt Bloom (Prince Albert) must have something against it because it’s missing these days. A few guys, including Jumpin’ Jim Brunzell, used a missile dropkick off the top rope as their finishers. Guys aren’t even attempting it these days.
14 The Splash
There was something about the Stinger Splash that never sat right with us. Back in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, when Sting would throw you into a corner and run at you, jump and throw his weight into your body, it just didn’t look that impressive. Now, it’s barely even used. When Sting busted it out during his short WWE run, it looked better than ever because nobody was using it. Gone are the days of the big men like King Kong Bundy, Vader and Earthquake using this simple but effective move. Granted, those kinds of big guys aren’t seen these days, but it doesn’t mean it’s not still an effective tool. It’s also a simple move any wrestler can learn in five minutes. Yes, it wouldn’t look good for a cruiserweight to perform it, but anybody over 240 pounds can make it look devastating.
Back in the day if you asked Jake “The Snake” Roberts what DDT meant, he’d say “The End.” Now it stands for “Kick Out of Pin Attempt #2”. Yes, wrestling matches are much more exciting than they used to be when something as simple as a DDT would cause a pin and yes, the action seems more real these days. That said, if somebody took your head and drove it face first into the wrestling canvas, you would be knocked loopy and an easy target for a pin. Allowing the DDT to just be another mid-match move actually makes wrestling look faker than ever. It also kind of puts down not only Roberts’ legacy, but that entire 1980s era. How is it that a guy would always lose to a DDT back then, but never loses now? The only conclusion one can draw is that the wrestlers back then just had much softer heads. Of course, you’d figure out a way for your head to toughen up if you knew a giant snake was going to be placed on you if you fell victim to the DDT.
12 Figure-Four Leg Lock
This was one of those moves when put onto a wrestler, you knew the end was only a “Yes, yes! I give up!” away. Whether it was a match with Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, The Miz or Ric Flair, the day somebody figured out that if you simply flip the figure-four leg lock over it puts all of the pressure on the other guys’ leg, it was the end of the effectiveness of the move. The only person using a version of it these days is appropriately enough Ric Flair’s daughter, Charlotte. While her version isn’t reversal-proof, the bridging of her back into a “Figure Eight” makes the move visually more interesting than it ever has been. There should always be a couple of wrestlers using this move more often and it should spell the end of the match. Charlotte doesn’t get a lot of submission wins. It’s usually a cheap roll-up like she got over Banks at Summerslam in 2016.
This was considered the big man’s flying move starting in the 1970s and used as a finisher by some through the early 90s. Now, it’s a mid-match move that always results in a two-count. Randy Orton’s father, “Cowboy” Bob Orton made the superplex a move everybody recognized in the mid-80s. Back then, a wrestler had to be placed on the top rope - they wouldn’t just fall after climbing to the top themselves. With the wrestler sitting on the turnbuckle, Orton would snap them around and deliver a suplex that was several feet higher than the average. It was an easy win. Now, not so much. This is another one of those moves that makes the current generation’s bodies seem to be able to take more punishment than those who came before them. People would think it was an upset if somebody won by a superplex now and you don’t need any more proof than that it’s simply not effective.
10 Bear Hug
Here was another big man move and unfortunately, we’re just in an era where the big man is a thing of the past. Looking up and down the WWE and NXT roster the only people who could make this look effective right now are The Big Show, Kane, Mark Henry and the guys in Authors of Pain. Otherwise, it’s a world of small men who don’t look like they could squeeze the life out of you. When Big John Studd or Andre the Giant slapped this on an opponent, there was no coming back. They’d literally squeeze you into unconsciousness. One of the lasting memories of the first WrestleMania is Studd and Andre putting the bear hug on each other simultaneously. The problem with the move, even back then, was that it looked easy enough to get out of. You just had to punch the wrestler in the face who was doing it. Or headbutt him in the nose. This never happened, defying the laws of survival.
When Bret Hart whipped this move out at the beginning of his singles’ career, it was nothing like we’d ever seen before...unless you count Sting’s Scorpion Deathlock, but we’re not counting that because the move is now known as the Sharpshooter. Much like The Pedigree or PerfectPlex, it’s a special move in that it was developed by a single wrestler and given a special name, but that name stuck. When somebody launches an elbow from the top rope, it’s not called anything special just because Randy Savage did it. Somehow though, the word sharpshooter stuck. The only other move we can guess that may happen to being used now is John Cena’s Attitude Adjustment. We liked it better when it was called the FU. A combination figure-four leg lock and Boston crab, the sharpshooter was a great finisher for Bret Hart. The only one using it now is his niece Natalya. How’s her career going? Exactly.
8 Sunset Flip
This was another move that only quick, acrobatic wrestlers could perform and yes, while it looked like there were 101 ways to get out of it, it’s how many a quick pin was scored back in the day. Consider it the small package roll-up of yesteryear. The WWE now features much more nimble, skilled wrestlers, but you never see the sunset flip anymore unless it’s part of a chain wrestling sequence, but if you think about it, you rarely see chain wrestling sequences anymore either. They’re not the most hard-hitting aspects of the business but they display a certain sense of artistry you didn’t see in a Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy match. Hardcore fans hate to see the small package roll-up these days so we wonder if the sunset flip returned if anybody would start complaining it was a cheap way to end matches. It’s a funny criticism when you think about it. A win is a win, and a win means very little these days in the world of wrestling.
7 Camel Clutch
Forget the weird Bob Backlund who was trying to make Darren Young great again or who ran for president during a WWE comeback about 20 years ago. At one time, the off-the-rails guy with the bowtie was as squeaky clean a good guy as there was. Vince McMahon decided to make Hulk Hogan the champion, but he couldn’t have Backlund, whom everybody loved lose to Hulk Hogan. Hogan needed to be a huge hero, so enter The Iron Sheik. Backlund refused to tap, so they worked an ending where Backlund was in the dreaded camel clutch and manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel. Sure it had never been done before, but this is wrestling! Let’s make it up as we go along. He dropped the title a month later to Hogan, who was credited as the first to break out of the camel clutch. These days the camel clutch is known as Rusev’s Accolade. It only seems to work when he is defending a title. Otherwise, almost everybody can get out of it.
This move doesn’t work anymore because nothing works when you’re not allowed to use it. This is one of the moves we’re glad to see has been limited in wrestling since it has hurt so many people and basically forced an early retirement to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin when Owen Hart was just a couple of inches off in delivering one. If the wrestler delivering the move isn’t strong enough, bad things can happen. Now that sports understands what concussions do to the brain in the long-term, moves like the piledriver and unprotected chair shots to the head don’t happen anymore. That’s not a bad thing. The only person allowed to do any version of a piledriver left is The Undertaker and let’s be honest, it’s always been the softest version. The other wrestler’s head never gets within six inches of the mat and that’s the way it should be.
5 Flying Headbutt
This is also a move that is no longer used, both because it was proven to cause concussions but also because wrestling’s most infamous personality, Chris Benoit, used it as his finishing move. Since the WWE likes to never, ever mention Benoit by name, they certainly couldn’t have a wrestler using the same movie even though Daniel Bryan would throw one in now and then early in his WWE tenure. Harley Race is credited for inventing the move, but neither Benoit, Bryan nor Race performed the best version, in our opinion. That award goes to The Dynamite Kid, the more talented member of the British Bulldogs. Perhaps not surprisingly, his style was too physical and he ended up living in a wheelchair, bitter about what the business did to him. Any move involving the head just simply shouldn’t be used in wrestling now that we know what brain injuries do to people over the long term. We applaud the WWE for banning certain moves that are just too potentially harmful to even try anymore.
4 Sleeper Hold
If it weren’t for Gorilla Monsoon and the sleeper hold, we’d never have known what the carotid artery was prior to science class. See, wrestling can teach you valuable things! The idea behind the hold is if you cut off the flow of blood to the brain, somebody will pass out. Granted, it’s the fakest looking hold on this list, but it was still cool seeing somebody go down. Then, it stopped working. Everybody started getting out of it. If a wrestler used an elbow or grabbed the ropes, that’s one thing, but wrestlers simply started powering out of it even if they were 95% out. Scientifically, a comeback at that point is impossible and just showed how fake wrestling really was. Maybe it’s better that almost nobody tries it today because it just looks foolish, but we liked the days when wrestling was foolish but we all took it too seriously. Now it’s just seen as a last resort that’s never going to work.
3 The Foreign Object
The foreign object (or international object as WCW decided to refer to it) is less of a move and more of a strategy. The belief is that you’re not good enough to beat your opponent, always the babyface, with your own natural ability, so cheating is the best route. Instead of a thumb to the eye or using the other guy’s tights for leverage, you sneak an object into the ring and when the referee isn’t looking...BAM! Right between the eyes. Usually that’s the old brass knuckles technique. The other popular foreign object is the sharp instrument, be it a fork or a popsicle stick covered in tape. A quick gouge to the opponent’s throat leaves them helpless. If smashing another wrestler with contraband worked in the ’80s, why doesn’t it work now? Most of the wrestlers were influenced by that era. You’d think they would have realized the best way to beat a guy is not with natural talent. It’s with something everyone in the arena except the referee can see.
2 Arm Drag Takedown
This move never beat anybody. This move was rarely seen on television during the days of squash matches but if you went to a live show you can be certain that 9-out-of-10 times the Arm Drag Takedown was going to be the first move on a show. It’s pretty simple to explain why. You only saw stars at live shows for the most part and the first move of the night has to pop the crowd. But, you don’t want the bad guy taking the move to look too bad right away, so a simple, surprising takedown that flips him through the air is the perfect solution. If you’ve got the WWE Network and want to see the greatest example of this move, nobody did it better than Tito Santana. He hooked the arm deep and took his opponent over in a fluid motion. Now that he’s a middle school Spanish teacher in New Jersey, we assume he uses more gentle moves to keep the kids in line. Arriba!
1 Running Powerslam
This was one of the most consistently realistic holds between 1980 and 2000, but like with so many others on this list, it just stopped working as a finishing hold, which meant it lost so much meaning it wasn’t even worth putting into the middle of a contest. Sure, you’ll still see Randy Orton and Goldust - two of the oldest wrestlers on the roster - bust one out in the middle of a match, but they just don’t have the sense of occasion like when Junkyard Dog, The British Bulldog or Steve “Doctor Death” Williams would finish a match with a giant running leap, smashing their opponent into the canvas and taking the victory. We’ll be the first ones to say that wrestling is so much better to watch these days, but we miss a time when power moves actually looked powerful and meant something in a match. The running powerslam is the most perfect example we can think of.