Way before I was ever a WWE Superstar, I was a WWE fan.
I mean, I still am.
When I’m not performing in the ring, I spend a lot of time watching old matches. Part of it is to try to learn something new, and a bigger part of it is that wrestling is awesome and I like watching it.
It all started for me when I was just five years old and my dad took me to my first WWE show in Cleveland. I remember we sat in the cheap seats, and the entire time I was completely mesmerized by the show. I don’t even think I fully understood what I was watching, but before I left, I turned to my dad and told him “This is what I want to do when I grow up.”
Fast forward a few years and I found myself wracking my brain trying to figure out what my finishing move could be. I was known for being athletic, even in this profession with so many talented athletes. So my challenge was trying to think of a move that was both athletic and hadn’t been done before. The problem is that there are about 100 years worth of finishing moves that have been invented, and a bunch of slight modifications to those moves. It’s difficult to come up with a good finisher that looks different.
I tested out just about every move imaginable before I was finally directed to what’s now become the Zig Zag. I knew that I was pretty good at shooting in on people, like a collegiate wrestler, and then wrapping my arms around them and hitting a Russian legsweep. At first I tried doing a smooth move into it, then I started mixing in a jump to sort of make it my own. After some tinkering, I tried out the Zig Zag and I knew that was the one. It had what I was looking in a finishing move. It looked impactful – like it actually hurt. And when I performed it, the crowd understood that the match was over.
Those elements were really important to me, but to really make it great, I needed to give it time and repetition. You can do everything right technically but what makes a finishing move truly great is when there’s a story behind it. When a great finishing move is performed, it makes the crowd reflect on that Superstar’s body of work. A Superstar performing a finishing move for the first time will hardly bring the house down. But by the time they perform it for the 100th time, it’s become an indispensable part of this thing that we love. It basically becomes part of the performer’s identity in way.
While there have been a lot of amazing finishing moves performed throughout the years in WWE, these five in particular are my personal favorites.
The Stone Cold Stunner
This is always the first move I think of when it comes to great finishers.
When I was in high school, I used to always make sure I was in front of a TV by 8:58 pm on Monday’s so that I could catch the opening of RAW. My dad would never understand, he’d tell me, “It’s the same damn fireworks every time, why do you care?”
But I always wanted to be there for those fireworks firstly, because it would get me pumped for the show (), and secondly, because I wanted to make sure I had my eyes on a TV as it started because I knew Stone Cold was coming out. And when Stone Cold was introduced, there was a more than decent chance that he might, given the opportunity, see fit to open a can of whoop ass.
When the glass broke and his music started playing, I’d get chills every time. You didn’t know whether the Stone Cold Stunner was coming then or at the end of the show, but you knew you’d see one at some point and you were looking forward to it.
What I liked about The Stunner is that it just looked like it hurt. It had credibility.
Beyond that, the move represented something bigger. Stone Cold was fighting against the system and doing whatever he wanted to do.
I could watch the move 10,000 times and I’d still be looking forward to watching the next one. Iconic.
Sweet Chin Music
So if you Chuck Norris’d somebody in the face in a normal situation, you would probably knock them out and be incarcerated shortly thereafter.
But if you’re Shawn Michaels, you become one of the most famous people in sports entertainment history.
Everyone does a kick in WWE. You’ll see a bunch of them every match. But Sweet Chin Music just sounded different. It also looked great, and if the person taking it really sold it, it could have the appearance of a dramatic knockout in boxing. The kind where a guy gets knocked out on his feet and just crumples to the ground.
And just like with The Stunner, Sweet Chin Music had a built-in narrative attached to the move. Throughout his career Shawn almost always faced guys who were bigger than him — oftentimes much bigger than him. But still, you never really expected him to lose. That’s something that inspired me. I wrestled at 98 pounds in high school, so I identified with Shawn being a smaller Superstar who could be getting beat up the whole match, but still had a chance of hitting that Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere to come out on top somehow.
I’ll never forget back in 2003, when he came back for a Survivor Series match to fight for Stone Cold’s job as Co-General Manager of RAW. Michaels teammates ended up getting eliminated, and at one point he was taking on Randy Orton, Jericho and Christian — at the same damn time. He was fighting for his life out there, and he actually took out Christian and Jericho before eventually losing to Orton. That performance was just so real to me, you could sense the stakes. Eventually reality set in that he couldn’t defeat three of the top Superstars in the game at once, but because he had that one devastating move in his arsenal, it still felt possible the entire time.
Trouble In Paradise
Trouble in Paradise is one of my favorite finishing moves because I’m so familiar with it. I mean, we’ve spent a lot of time together. For a while, it was pretty serious.
I’ve fought Kofi so many times that eventually the announcers started joking that we were having a best of 500 series. By my count, the score was at about 495 to 5 for Kofi. Regardless of how many times we faced each other, it was always fun because we developed a ridiculous comfort with working together. We had a chemistry right off the bat that just got better and better. Eventually we’d be performing a counter to a counter of a counter out there during matches. It was next level stuff.
People might say we’re similar kinds of Superstars because we’re both athletic, but here’s the thing: I’m athletic, but I’m not “Kofi Kingston” athletic. I never could be. So I’ve been a bunch of matches where he does the athletic stuff and is to just playing off of his generally insane abilities.
Eventually, I got really good at reacting to Kofi’s “Trouble in Paradise” finishing move (see above), which is basically a huge roundhouse kick. I took it so many times over the years that I tried to give different reactions to see how the crowd reacted. I always wanted to add an element of realness to it, because Kofi always performed the move so well.
This list wouldn’t feel complete without the RKO. It’s a great finisher and I’ve taken a few of them.
There’s something just special about Randy’s athleticism. He so good at what I’m trying to accomplish that it makes me mad. He has a way of doing something incredibly difficult, while having a look on his face that says I’m thinking about Disneyland right now but I’m still wrestling better than you ever can.
So the RKO is kind of perfect for him because it’s a difficult looking move to pull off that he’s made stand out through art, showmanship and impact. He has many well-documented snake attributes, but he’s also so smooth in the ring that it adds a lot to the RKO. And like a lot of these great finishers, it comes out of nowhere. Like I’m pretty sure he even sells a shirt that says “Out of Nowhere” on it.
The Warrior Splash
By modern standards, this is move that may appear unspectacular. But what made the Warrior Splash one of my favorite moves ever was the man behind it.
The Ultimate Warrior was out of WWE for almost two years in the ’80s. In that time, you had the Honky Tonk Man going on this reign of terror as the Intercontinental Champion. He was talking a lot and then he was backing it up with title defense after title defense. Well, at SummerSlam in ’88 that all came to a head as he issued an open challenge to any Superstar willing to take a shot at the title.
Nobody answered the call at first, and then, suddenly, this music nobody had heard in two years filled the arena. Then The Ultimate Warrior came sprinting down the aisle and the entire crowd went insane. I mean just describing it right now gives me goosebumps.
Mind you, this turned out to be one of the quickest matches in WWE history. It lasted 31 seconds and basically featured no technical wrestling. But what it did have is just about everything else that makes this business great.
But the story surrounding it, the drama of the Warrior answering the challenge and then delivering a Warrior Splash on Honky Tonk Man as an emphatic I’m back! It was one of those moments when as a fan, you realize how emotionally invested you are in these stories. When we get a surprise and a Superstar whose been gone for a while returns, it’s always really exciting. It doesn’t matter whether they left on good or bad terms, as fans we’re always excited to welcome them back into the family.
Part of what made the Warrior’s return particularly special was the pause the entire crowd had when the music started playing. It was quiet for two seconds, like Wait, whose music is this? And then there was a sudden shift as everyone realized Oh snap! It’s Warrior! Hell yeah!
If they’d used that amazing intro to have an actual match, the moment probably wouldn’t have been as special. It would have lost the momentum. But as it was done, with the Warrior coming out and performing couple of clotheslines before hitting a Warrior Splash, it became this elevated moment. For everyone watching, it was one of the greatest things we’ve ever seen.
WWE SummerSlam airs on Sunday, August 21 live on WWE Network at 7 pm ET.