In the professional wrestling universe, a finisher is a particular move that a professional wrestler prefers to use to win a match. Finishers can take many different forms, from the flashy, jaw-dropping Shooting Star Press to the elegant, simple La Majistral cradle. Wrestlers frequently have multiple moves that can be used as finishers, though there is usually one that takes precedence. For instance, the Undertaker has been using the chokeslam and powerbomb as finishers recently, but the tombstone piledriver, which he uses on rare occasions, trumps both of them. There are several different types of finishers, which will become readily apparent when you read the next section entitled:
Different Types of Finishers
Finishers could generally be classified of five types: impact moves, striking, high flying, technical, or submission.1 Each type of finisher has a different connotation when used within the ring, and a wrestler's character and personality within the ring is defined greatly through the kind of finisher he uses. Try to imagine Stone Cold Steve Austin using a schoolboy rollup as his finisher. Conversely, try to imagine a cruiserweight like Kidman trying to use a Jackhammer as a finisher. In both cases, the moves don't fit the look, build, or character of the wrestler in question.
Impact finishers would be things like the Tiger Driver, DDT, Dragon Suplex, or Tombstone Piledriver. These moves are meant to cause extreme pain with a powerful impact. Many impact finishers involve a knockout aspect, delivering a strong blow to the head. Piledrivers and DDTs frequently work around this concept. Using a finisher of this type asserts the power and dominance of the competitor performing the move. As a result of its amateur wrestling origins, a suplex finisher carries with it both the message of power and impact as well as the implication of technical prowess and skill. While a simple powerbomb or piledriver is a fine finisher, many wrestlers use variations on these moves, such as the cradle piledriver or the Ligerbomb. By giving the move a personal touch, the wrestler is able to more easily stand out from the crowd and get the audience's attention.
Striking finishers would include lariats (or clotheslines), the Heart Punch, the Discus Punch, the Roaring Elbow, and the enzuigiri. Since striking is a commonplace aspect of wrestling, these finishers usually add some aspect, such as added momentum from spinning or targeting a specific area of the body. Striking finishers are not as common in the United States as they are in Japan. Because it's not easy to make a striking finisher that's both difficult to pull off and looks more hurty than a normal move, American promotions use them sparingly nowadays, saving them generally for Texans, who are required by law to use a lariat as a finisher for at least 1 year in their career.
High flying finishers, such as the 450 Splash, the Shooting Star Press, the Frog Splash, the Swanton Bomb, and the Flying Elbow, are used as much for their flashy looks as for their potential for damage of the opponent. These sorts of moves are primarily used by junior heavyweights and cruiserweights, who use their flexibility and acrobatic prowess as opposed to the strength and muscular build used by the heavyweights. The idea here is that gravity provides assistance in creating a more powerful move.
Technical finishers are rarely used nowadays, and generally include maneuvers such as the Oklahoma Roll, La Majistral cradle, schoolboy rollup, and other rollups or cradles. These kinds of moves are most used in Mexico, though they will pop up in junior heavyweight wrestling as well. Practitioners of lucharesu tend to be particularly fond of the La Majistral cradle, as seen from Ultimo Dragon in the J-Crown tournament. The Victory Roll is another commonly used technical finisher.
Submission finishers are the most versatile, yet most underused and misused types of finishers. The figure four leglock, the Crippler Crossface, the Sharpshooter, the cross armbreaker, and the Boston Crab are all submission finishers. The most useful part of submission finishers is that they tend to focus on a specific body part. This allows for powerful ring psychology, as the victim can sell the leg and have it affect the outcome of the match. Ric Flair versus Ricky Steamboat is a classic example of this, as Flair works Steamboat's leg, while Steamboat works Flair's arms. Steamboat gets Flair into a double chickenwing, but his legs buckle beneath him, causing him to fall backwards into a pinning predicament. Even better, when using a submission finisher, you can use other submissions to build up to it. You can finish with a figure four, but you might use an indian deathlock, an STF, and a spinning toehold to set it up, and each of these will be viewed as more dangerous when the leg is already injured. However, submissions aren't used very well because the booking and ring psychology require a lot of effort and attention to make them work as credible and effective, yet sensible, moves. In the US (and the WWE specifically), you'll end up with one of two situations: 1) application of the hold causes the victim to instantly submit, or 2) the hold is applied many times throughout the match, and rarely wins. The problem here is that the submission has to be something that a wrestler has to work up to. There needs to be a reason why a hold applied in the first minute doesn't automatically win. On the other side of the coin, the audience needs to believe that the hold is actually painful, and capable of getting the victim to submit. When Kurt Angle puts The Rock in his ankle lock, and the Rock reaches the ropes every time, why should the audience think that the Rock's chances of winning the match are in jeopardy? The hold's power in the promotion's psychology needs to be held in a delicate balance, so that it is not too powerful and not too weak.
Finally, there are occasionally times when a wrestler will use a specific foreign object to finish his matches on a regular basis. Examples would include Raven using a drop toehold onto a folding chair, William Regal using brass knuckles (called by WWE commentators as "the Power of the Punch"), or Edge and Christian's tandem chairshot, dubbed the Conchairto. I don't count these things under legitimate finishers for a number of reasons. For one thing, use of foreign objects is against the rules, and while, yes, wrestling is fake, it's patently illogical to use a finishing maneuver which should get you disqualified. Moreover, these moves are generally temporary gimmicks, and ones that are almost never used on a regular basis unless the attacker is a heel. The one notable exception to this would be La Parka's use of the chair, which got him over as a colossal face in WCW. That brings me to ECW competitors, who I don't count, because all weaponry is legal in ECW, and is considered part of the set, not unlike the ring or mats. In ECW, a drop toehold into a chair is just the equivalent of a drop toehold. Likewise, Tommy Dreamer's or Sandman's use of the Singapore cane is just another striking attack (or, in Sandman's case, an impact move when he uses the cane for the White Russian Legsweep).
The Ring Psychology of Finishers Within Specific Promotions
Depending on the promotion, the psychology of finishers can vary dramatically. In the WWE, finishers are almost always things done once in a match. Two competitors wrestle until one can hit his finishing move, and then he wins. If he doesn't get a pinfall off of his finisher, you are almost guaranteed that his opponent will win. Also, with a few exceptions (such as Rob Van Dam, Eddy Guerrero, and D'Lo Brown), wrestlers do not share finishers. Each wrestler has his own special finisher, and wrestlers do not use another person's finisher. Submissions are used infrequently, are not very powerful, and are very rarely set up by working a specific body part. The psychology of submissions is generally that of any other finisher: hurt the other guy until he doesn't reverse or kick out of your move. It should be noted that the rule against using another's finisher is relaxed when you use the finisher of the person you are currently wrestling. Irony is one of most coveted aspects in WWE matches, and hitting someone with their own finisher makes Vince McMahon have an orgasm.
In Japan, things work differently. In New Japan Pro-Wrestling, the psychology of the finisher is fairly simple, but it elaborates some on the WWE ideas by allowing for repetition of finishers to define how difficult or grueling a match is (almost ad nauseum). Keiji Mutoh will likely hit multiple Shining Wizards in a big match, and Riki Chosyu will almost certainly hit 50 kajillion Riki Lariats. The problem here is that these moves are usually all grouped together at the end of the match, diminishing the meaning of the individual moves. The victim stands there, takes a lariat, and screams a lot so you know he's a big man. This happens 11 times until he falls down and loses. By way of contrast, in All Japan Pro-Wrestling it is not uncommon, especially in main event matches, for the wrestlers involved to hit their respective finishing maneuvers multiple times, but at different stages of the match. The finishing maneuver morphs from a move only used in the finish into a transition maneuver, used to indicate a change in momentum in the match. While some moves are still reserved for finishes, such as the Orange Crush or Tiger Driver '91, the finishing moves (particularly strikes such as lariats, stiff kicks, and elbows) have more versatility and depth to their meaning within the match. It should be pointed out, however, that All Japan has the stupidest submission psychology ever. Nobody really uses submissions, and nobody submits. Some wrestlers use submission holds, such as Kawada's Stretch Plum, but he just holds it for a while and then releases it and tries for a pinfall, which is the M.O. for All Japan wrestlers. Misawa's promotion Pro-Wrestling NOAH makes an attempt to remedy this.
Lucha Libre and lucharesu promotions have some advantage in that their emphasis on trios matches allows them to keep everybody's finisher strong while still maintaining some mystery as to whether a given finisher will get the pinfall. Using Toryumon as an example, you can have CIMA wrestling Dragon Kid in the ring. CIMA hits the Iconoclasm on Dragon Kid, but Magnum Tokyo breaks up the pinfall attempt. Now Dragon Kid rolls out of the ring with what little strength he has left to take a breather on the outside. As a result, Dragon Kid doesn't kick out of the finisher, so CIMA doesn't look weak, and Dragon Kid can sell it more by staying out of the ring longer. In addition, lucha libre promotions in Mexico tend to be more aware of the necessity of protecting finishers, such as the piledriver.
Good Finishers and Bad Finishers
Generally, a finisher needs to have several, if not all, of the following qualities: it appears to do greater damage or be more effective than a normal move; it is more difficult to set up than a normal move; it is more difficult athletically to execute than a normal move; and it is more entertaining to watch than a normal move. Some examples illustrating these qualities follow.
- Dragon Suplex
This is a good example of a good finisher. It has all of the qualities sought. If we take a German suplex as a comparison, the Dragon Suplex certainly looks more painful, as its impact is focused on the neck and shoulders. Secondly, because it requires the attacker to have his victim solidly in a full nelson, it is also more difficult to set up. The full nelson also makes it more difficult to execute, as the attacker has a less certain grip on his opponent. Finally, it's more entertaining to watch because of the difficulty and greater damage.
- Fisherman Suplex
This is a great finisher not only because it has the qualities we mentioned above, but because these points are obvious to the most casual observer. Compared against a standard vertical suplex, it allows the attacker to get an immediate pinfall attempt, and the attacker must injure the victim enough that he can hook the victim's leg before he suplexes them.
- figure four leglock
The figure four is one of the best submission finishers because it legitimately hurts (ask any kid whose older sibling put them in one), but it requires a lot of effort to set up and can be reversed in numerous ways. There's no feasible way to apply a figure four early, so it really necessitates working over the victim before applying it. The victim can reverse the hold while it's being applied, either by kicking the attacker, or by turning it into a small package. Once in the hold, the victim can also reverse the pressure by turning it over. While it's possible for the victim to reach the ropes and break the hold, it's not easy. The fact that Ric Flair uses this move doesn't hurt either.
- Vertical Brainbuster (just called a brainbuster in North America)
I hate to do this, because I honestly like this move a lot, but it's an awful choice for a finisher. It is more entertaining and more damaging than a normal vertical suplex, but the problem is that it is set up exactly as a regular vertical suplex, and while one could argue that it's slightly more difficult to execute, there's essentially nothing the victim can do to make it more difficult than a regular vertical suplex. This raises the question of why anyone would use a regular vertical suplex instead of a brainbuster. It's clearly more powerful and effective, so anyone using a vertical suplex would be a moron.
- The People's Elbow
This is a fairly obvious choice, as The People's Elbow is nothing more than a simple elbowdrop. It is a normal move, and one that completely destroys the character of The Rock's opponent because the poor guy has to lie there motionless while Rocky runs the ropes. Chris Benoit, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Shinjiro Ohtani all do better elbowdrops as a matter of course.
- Billy Gunn's Fame-Asser
This is by far one of my least favorite moves in wrestling. It looks incredibly weak, and is intentionally done that way for no apparent reason. Booker T's Ask Kick is the same move, except Booker T actually adds impact. Billy Gunn deliberately makes the move look weak. This shares one of the problems of The People's Elbow in that the victim has to stay in one position for an unnaturally long period of time, except it's made even worse by the fact that instead of lying down, the victim has to stand bent at the waist, which is an absurd position to revert to when stunned. This move makes everyone involved look very stupid, which is bad.
- Out-dated Moves
Generally, old finishers from the 80's make really crappy finishers in modern wrestling. Some moves are classic, such as the lariat/clothesline or the figure four, but moves like the sleeper hold, the bearhug, the Heart Punch, or Hulk Hogan's legdrop don't cut the mustard nowadays.
1 These classifications are used only for explanation of ring psychology within this writeup; I don't mean to indicate that this is necessarily a standard method of classifying finishers.