The main event of WrestleMania 17 between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock is without a doubt in my top three greatest matches I’ve ever seen. The back and forth battle they had for a half hour inside the squared circle is one that is hard pressed to be topped. It’s also the trend setter of wrestlers kicking out of each other’s finishing move repeatedly. Not only did Austin kick out of The Rock Bottom and The Rock kick out of the Stone Cold Stunner, but The Rock had to kick out of his own Rock Bottom and Stone Cold had to kick out of his own Stunner. At the time, it was considered groundbreaking and widely considered acceptable, as you had the two peak performers of not only The Attitude Era but perhaps of all time, wrestling each other in the prime of their career. All stops had to be pulled out. As it would come to be, really what they did is open Pandora’s Box and no one has bothered to try and close it back up.
Jim Ross, one of the most respected voices in wrestling, made a point of this very thing in one of his recent blogs that can be found at jrsbarbq.com. He wrote the following:
“[Elimination Chamber] and the ROH live event that I attended Saturday in OKC were prime examples of talents wanting to do too much, not selling enough, and kicking out of major, established finishing moves to the point of it becoming predictable and unbelievable. This is not a good trend for the wrestling business because if it continues in this manner what is it going to take to beat another grappler? Howitzer? Bazooka? Kryptonite?”
Obviously his examples were hyperbole to get his point across, but he’s not wrong either. Let’s not forget that Rusev was “blown up” by pyro during his I Quit match at Payback, and was seemingly fine minutes later. Is the “finishing move” in its truest sense, a thing of the past? Sure every wrestler has a “finishing move” but some of them have more than one, such as John Cena with the AA and STF, Roman Reigns with the Superman Punch and Spear, and Big Show with the KO Punch and Chokeslam. Then there are some of them that have changed finishers so much, you don’t know what to even look for anymore.
The current WWE World Heavyweight Champion himself, Seth Rollins, was actually creating an iconic finisher with the Curb Stomp before it was yanked away from him due to whatever reasons WWE decide to give today. He then went to a DDT variant (more on this later) for a week or two, and now is using Triple H’s iconic finisher, The Pedigree. Someone like Wade Barrett went from Wasteland, to The Souvenir, which he then transitioned into something he can hit from anywhere, The Bull Hammer. He may have even used Winds of Change as a finisher for a bit.
Combine all of these facts, and you end up with matches like Kevin Owens and John Cena from Elimination Chamber. I preface this by saying this was the second best WWE match of the year behind the Triple Threat WWE World Title match at Royal Rumble, but it’s the most recent example of what I’m discussing, and was almost certainly the basis of JR’s statement. You had Owens kick out of the AA, get out of the STF, Cena kick out of the Pop-Up Powerbomb among other scenarios that could’ve constituted a finish, like Owens’ suplex variation from the middle rope. Owens has been establishing his Pop-Up Powerbomb as a devastating move that’s had people leave on stretchers in NXT and laid out Cena twice on Raw, but in his first official match, Cena kicks out of it. What’s the point of establishing a finisher if it’s just to be used to be kicked out of?
When you look at the WWE landscape, there’s only two iconic finishers left in the company: Randy Orton’s RKO and Brock Lesnar’s F5. Everyone knows that when Orton and Lesnar hit their respective finishers, it’s light out, minus some very rare examples like how it took three Lesnar F5’s to beat Undertaker at WrestleMania 30.
The fans also know that these two men aren’t going to win a match without hitting the RKO or F5 although Lesnar did use a Kimura Lock briefly. They won’t be using a ROLLUP OF DEATH, as John Canton calls it, to win a match. Bray Wyatt’s Sister Abigail SHOULD be an iconic finisher, but they obviously don’t know what to do with him to give it a chance to be such. That’s another story though.
The point of the matter is there are no moves besides these two that you wait and wait to see and when it’s hit, you think that’s it. Despite Bray being nothing more than a stand in for Undertaker’s yearly appearance at WrestleMania, even he kicked out of the Tombstone.
How do you cure WWE, and pro wrestling in general, of this epidemic? If you watched the fantastic Stone Cold Podcast with Paul Heyman on the WWE Network last week, you already know the answer. Stone Cold and Heyman had a fantastic discussion about the overuse of the DDT and how everyone uses it and no one is selling it. Stone Cold even asked Heyman, “Is the DDT now just a backdrop?” Sadly, it’s a fair question. Jake Roberts made the DDT truly one of the most iconic moves ever, and now everyone has their own version of it, and as Stone Cold points out, the person taking the DDT ends up getting up first before the guy who actually hit the move more times than not. Heyman went into a terrific example of how giving Mark Henry the headlock as a finisher could actually work. Build it up for close to 30 weeks and then when the one guy (key word being “one”), finally breaks out of it at WrestleMania, you have a moment that lives forever.
Heyman summed everything up perfectly, and in one long run-on sentence, fixed the problem that’s plaguing the product in the ring: “Moves will get over as long as people put the move over, get the move over, the announcers react to the move as if it’s something devastating and unusual and big, and everyone on the roster is cognizant of protecting it.”
As Heyman clearly shows, it’s not hard to establish a finisher and make them exactly that, something that finishes a match. It just takes work, coordination, and an understanding by everyone of what you’re trying to establish. It’s not even close to impossible to have a five star classic with multiple near falls, all while holding out on using the finishing move until the wrestlers get the cue to go home from the ref.
Wrestlers just need to slow down, come up with new ways to tell a story without using the cheap way out and go back to creating those iconic moves that people pay to see end a match or end a show. If something doesn’t change soon, perhaps JR won’t be too far off when we see the likes of Seth Rollins defeating Roman Reigns with a rocket launcher and a large container of Acme TNT explosives.