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Posted in: In Laiman's Terms
IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: What is it about Finishing Moves?
By Al Laiman
Jul 11, 2012 - 11:57:45 PM

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IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: What is it About Finishing Moves?

Finishing moves.

They're the climactic moments in professional wrestling. They're the ones everyone pays to see, they get the loudest pops, and they're remembered more than any other move the wrestler may do. Some are impressively complicated. Some are high-risk and flashy. Some are ridiculously simple. What is it about finishing moves that makes them effective? What is it that separates a good finisher from a lame one? Due to a request from regular reader Jay, I'm going to analyze this for you this evening.

First of all, the finishing move of a wrestling match should almost always be the conclusion when it's hit. By normal wrestling psychology, the match should build up with transitional maneuvers and lighter offense until the climax, which is where the winner of the match will be determined. If a finishing move isn't the end of a match, very often it will lose its effectiveness and overness. This is of course excepted from WrestleMania matches, where kicking out of finishers could be a deadly drinking game.

The finishing move should reflect not only the wrestler's style, but his character as well. If the wrestler in question is primarily a power wrestler, it makes no sense if their regular finisher is a shooting star press. It may be impressive to pull off once in a while (Yes, I'm looking at you, Brock) but psychologically it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Why would a guy displaying physical strength and power suddenly revert to a high-flyer's move?

One of the most famous combinations of a finisher reflecting both the character and style is of course The Undertaker and his Tombstone Piledriver. Yes, I know he has eighteen other finishing moves, but you're crazy if you think The Last Ride is a fraction as over as the Tombstone is. A modification of the traditional piledriver, allowing the impressively tall 'Taker to turn his opponent completely upside down, and a drop that looks deadlier than say a Jerry Lawler or Owen Hart maneuver, though Stone Cold would beg to differ. Throw in a graveyard name for the Dead Man, and it's tailor made for such a superstar.

One of the most simple yet over finishers in wrestling lore is the Sweet Chin Music. A Laiman might say that it's just a superkick, but let's be realistic here... A superkick might bust your jaw or make you a little dizzy, but a Sweet Chin Music will knock your teeth down your throat and send you into the next solar system. Just ask Shelton Benjamin! With Shawn Michaels being a smaller, quicker wrestler, especially in an age before that was as common as it is today, he needed a move that would allow him to hit it on anyone. When you can't realistically lift most of your opponents, you need another way to knock them out of the match. The Sweet Chin Music could be hit from anywhere on anyone, and it was done so well that even when taken by an Undertaker or a Sid Vicious, nobody questioned the devastating impact.

Not all finishers are as perfect as the aforementioned, however. One of the biggest fails in finisher history is the one most recently known as the "Play of the Day". For the uninitiated, MVP would hook his leg over his opponent's head, and almost do a swinging neckbreaker-type maneuver. It was extremely awkward, and very hard to make it look like it made any sort of impact. Randy Orton early in his career attempted to use it as well, and that disappeared after one match where he couldn't lock it in right the first time.

Hey, transitions, what are those? The point is that finishers do not always have to be the most complex or complicated moves in order to be effective. They may look better in the video games, but as we've seen with the Play of the Day, complicated and unique doesn't necessarily mean good. On the other hand, something that every other wrestler uses isn't always the way to go either. How many wrestlers in the last fifteen years have used the Pumphandle Slam? The Boogeyman, Snitsky, Road Dogg, Test, to name a few... It didn't really work for any of them, because it just looks like another scoop slam with a somewhat :pause: setup. Road Dogg would sometimes give a hump or two before hitting it, which gave an extra pause for a moment of "Uhhhhhhh...."

A lot of the time, it's really up to the wrestler him/herself to get the move over. In an ordinary match, an elbow drop or a leg drop would be mere transition moves that wouldn't even call for a pinfall under most circumstances. However, you add a long buildup involving an armpad being thrown into the crowd or simply a bandana'd, colorful wrestler with limited mobility, and suddenly you have the People's Elbow and the Atomic Leg Drop. Yes, the two most popular wrestlers in history ended their matches with an elbow drop and a leg drop, proof that at the end of the day, if the crowd buys into you that much, just about anything will work. Remember The Worm? A ridiculously long set up, a moderately impressive breakdancing maneuver, and a throat chop? In most circumstances, that would get a Patton Oswalt: "That is fucking stupid, are you kidding me?" Granted, it still was stupid, but the crowd popped huge for it every single time, even after he became a jobber. Sometimes a wrestler catches lightning in a bottle with a move that's a simple reflection of the era in which it was spawned.

Let's face it; in order to buy into professional wrestling, you have to accept the idea that this one move can knock a man out, regardless of when, where, and on whom it is hit. A Stone Cold Stunner might just be a modified neckbreaker, but as a wrestling fan, that is a step from death in the suspension of disbelief. A Pedigree is... Whatever the fuck a Pedigree is supposed to be, but if you're hit with it and it's not WrestleMania, you're done, son. The whole idea behind professional wrestling is the same as any other venue of entertainment: The best is saved for last, and the climax leads to a result. There are always subversions of this trope, but it's what we've come to expect.

So let's hear from you on this one... What is your favorite finishing move? What do you think makes or breaks what gets a finisher over? What's the worst finisher you've ever seen? I can answer that third one for you: The Atomic Wedgie. Yes, that exists. But let's see some off-Monday ham and hear from the peanut gallery on the topic of the week here! Thanks for the request, Jay!

For followers of Jaded Hope, if you haven't seen it yet, check out the best of Season 2 here. This week's new episode is posted at the top, as per usual:

  • IN LAIMAN'S TERMS - A Letter

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - 8-11-14

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - RAW 8-4-Did you know the WWE Network is only 9.99 a Month?!

  • IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: The First 30 Thoughts

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - RAW 6-30-14

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - RAW 6-23-14

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - RAW 6-16-14

  • IN LAIMAN'S TERMS: Laiman Asks Himself: "Have We Retconned WrestleMania XXX?"

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - RAW 6-2-14

  • 30 Thoughts with Al Laiman - RAW 5-26-14