This past Sunday’s PPV, Backlash, was a horrible show for all intents and purposes. The lone bright spot of the evening was the opening Intercontinental Championship match between Seth Rollins and The Miz. It was a well-worked, high-pace match that had the crowd on its feet and hopefully made you grow an appreciation for both of those two. However, there was a portion of the match that left a bitter taste in the mouth of everyone, not in the arena watching. Seth Rollins went for his patented Top Rope Superplex/Falcon Arrow combo, but the leg The Miz was working over gave out on him. The Miz would hit his 2nd Skull Crushing Finale, but Seth Rollins managed to kick out of it. It certainly elicited a loud reaction from the live crowd and from some watching at home. The Superstar Shake-up basically guaranteed that Seth Rollins was going to win here, but if there was ever a moment where WWE made you think that they would pull a swerve, it was at that moment. It was a great near-fall and was perfectly timed. That said, it was also one that irked a lot of people. Why? Because of a long-standing issue that has plagued WWE matches for years now. Finishers are no longer finishers.
How many times do you watch a match between two main event guys and automatically expect a kick out of a finisher? Pretty much all the time, right? Why is that the case? It’s because finishers have been pilfered to the point where they are no longer the ending portion of a match but merely a bridge towards another portion of the match. For example, whenever you see Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar, you already have an idea of what’s going to happen. Roman Reigns is going to hit about 5 Superman Punches, maybe 3-4 spears and Brock Lesnar will kick out and we won’t be surprised. Brock Lesnar will hit F-5 after F-5 and Roman Reigns will kick out anyway. Back when Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar had their match at 2015, what made their match special was that their finishers were being protected most of the time, especially Roman Reigns’ spear. That’s why when Brock Lesnar kicked out of two consecutive spears at WrestleMania 31 back to back, it was a special moment and the crowd bought the finish. Fast forward three years later, and Brock Lesnar kicking out of 4 spears gets the same reaction a basic vertical suplex would get. Brock Lesnar only needed one F-5 do put away Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe, but needed 6 (!!!!!!) to put away Roman Reigns. The crowd wasn’t nearly as endearing to it and chanted “This is Awful!” Why? It’s stupid. It’s because we all know one of those moves won’t finish them now. And not only that, needing 6 F-5’s to finish one guy is just childish. Hell, one finisher won’t do away most of the roster.
I’m not sure when finishers started to, you know, not finish their opponent, but the best guess for me would be somewhere towards the end of the Ruthless Aggression Era. People were starting to kick out of Sweet Chin Music, Attitude Adjustment, Pedigree, Batista Bomb, RKO and most of the other well-known finishers in the mid-2000s. Before dating all the way back to the very foundation of the sport, finishers were a highly protected move, and the key was that finishers weren’t being done in a meaningless way as if it was a regular move. The crowd constantly anticipated when the finisher would come, and when it did, it signaled finality. That’s why when someone kicked out of a finisher before, it was so shocking. Why? There was credibility. One famous finisher that I’m sure even Bo Dallas can kick out of right now is the AA. The Attitude Adjustment, in theory, shouldn’t hurt all that much because it’s just a Fireman Carry and landing flat on your back. There’s nothing unique about it. That said, it’s still a finisher, and should be treated as such. Now, not only are people kicking out of multiple AA’s, but it’s being kicked out of from the top rope as if it was nothing. If you were someone who faced John Cena from 2006-2015, do you honestly believe that someone was kicking out of a top rope AA? Of course not. Now, in the modernized version of WWE, it’s no different than an Irish Whip.
One thing I wish WWE would consider doing is going back to the old formula of wrestling matches. Kicking out of finishers is great for a tease, but when it’s done as commonplace as it is now, it loses its meaning. For example, arguably the greatest match in the history of WWE is Shawn Michaels against The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25. Up until that point, the Tombstone Piledriver was one of the most heavily protected finishers in all of WWE before everybody started kicking out of it. Look at the reaction of not only the crowd but Undertaker’s body language after he kicks out. We wouldn’t have been surprised if the match ended there, but when he kicked out, it was a moment of shock. Aside from a rare squash of John Cena at WrestleMania this year, if The Undertaker gave anyone a Tombstone, you’d practically anticipate them kicking out now.
WWE is under the impression that kicking out of finishers will make a match better. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Hell, you don’t even have to connect a finishing move in order to make a great match. That’s what storytelling and plotlines are for. Let the match carry itself with an underlying story. Work a body part. Use storyline logic and integrate it. That’s what makes a wrestling match. Not spamming finishers and kicking out of them as if they aren’t supposed to hurt a great deal. My ideal wrestling match is smaller moves leading to more impactful moves leading to a match where one guy hits one finisher and it’s over. Every now and again you can get away with a finisher kick out if it’s protected enough. But if you want some perspective, there probably isn’t one finisher in WWE you could name that could finish off the 2018 version of Roman Reigns if it’s only hit once. F-5? No problem. AA? You’d need at least 4 of them. The RKO from out of everything except nowhere? It’s just a diamond cutter.
It’s high time finishers mean something once again. Finishers are called that for a reason. Unfortunately, they no longer finish their opponent. That needs to change, and hopefully soon.