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The greatest top-rope finishing maneuvers
Sports-entertainment wasn’t always like this. Back in the days when a black and white RCA was still the pinnacle of modern technology, pro wrestling wasn’t much more than two burly guys in cotton trunks trading hammerlocks on the canvas. Early stars like Gorgeous George and Lou Thesz didn’t jump off the top rope. In fact, they barely jumped at all.
Leap ahead to today and it’s rare to find a Superstar who doesn’t perform a maneuver from the perch. Even the 7-foot, 441-pound Big Show throws the occasional missile dropkick off the top. But which high-risk aerial maneuver is the very best? WWE.com dives right into the debate with this list of sports-entertainment’s greatest top-rope finishing maneuvers.
Credit for the innovation of the moonsault goes to Mando Guerrero, son of legendary Mexican wrestling villain Gory Guerrero and brother of WWE Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero. It was perfected by The Great Muta, a mysterious daredevil from the Far East. But the move was never as effective as it was in the arsenal of the mighty Vader.
Lugging around 450-pounds of bulk on a 6-foot-5 frame, The Rocky Mountain Mastodon was a former offensive center for the Los Angeles Rams who hit harder than probably any Superstar in sports-entertainment. His debilitating strikes were enough to stop any man, but the punishing monster also went airborne, heaving his massive body backward off the top rope in a move he dubbed the “Vadersault.” It was far from picture perfect — too often he landed awkwardly or flew sideways and askew — but the paralyzing collision at the end was all that mattered. No other moonsault was as devastating.
Justin Gabriel’s 450° Splash
A signature maneuver of gifted highfliers like 2 Cold Scorpio, Juventud Guerrera and the late John Kronus, the 450° Splash became the trademark attack of Justin Gabriel during his time as a member of The Nexus.
Always appearing to be the least deceptive member of the pack of wild dogs, the aerialist from Cape Town, South Africa, usually displayed a hint of regret after drilling a victim with this devastating dive off the top rope. It was clear that Gabriel knew how destructive his arsenal could be and rued having to show it off in this way.
Sin Cara’s Exploder
Sin Cara emerged in WWE with a reputation as the most spectacular flier that Mexican wrestling had seen in years — a serious distinction when you consider that practically every competitor in Mexico flies off the top rope. It was a mountain of hype for the masked man to live up to, but he proved how dazzling he could be when he executed this thrilling moonsault sideslam from the top rope.
Precipitously balancing himself alongside his opponent on the highest turnbuckle, Sin Cara’s inhuman athleticism allows him to grab his target and execute a backflip with the competitor in his control. When executed properly, the maneuver leads to guaranteed victory, but it is the definition of high-risk. Both Sin Cara and Dolph Ziggler nearly ended up in the hospital when the maneuver turned ugly at Money in the Bank 2012.
Shane McMahon’s Coast to Coast
There was a time when Rob Van Dam seemed like the only competitor with enough dexterity and mettle to execute what he originally dubbed his “Van Terminator.” Perhaps the most daring maneuver in RVD’s extremely daring arsenal, the wild move was performed with a victim downed in the corner of the ring. The ECW standout would then grab a steel chair, leap to an opposing turnbuckle and launch his body across the entire span of the squared circle before booting the chair into the poor guy’s mush.
It was a spectacular sight, but the human car crash became somehow more devastating when attempted by Shane McMahon. Lacking the athletic polish of RVD, Mr. McMahon’s only son performed what he called the “Coast to Coast” with a recklessness that was downright frightening to watch. It was never clear who had gotten the worst of it — Shane’s target or The Boy Wonder’s spine. But whenever the younger McMahon climbed the turnbuckles, it was impossible to look away.
Legion of Doom’s Doomsday Device
Legion of Doom billed themselves from the rough streets of Chicago, but Hawk & Animal looked as though they’d just fought their way out of some post-apocalyptic wasteland. They wrestled like it, too. Using clubbing forearms and backbreaking slams to become the only tandem to capture titles in the AWA, WCW and WWE, LOD stopped the greatest duos of all time with the most punishing tag team finisher, The Doomsday Device.
Hospitalizing more men than polio, the maneuver was executed when the powerful Animal would hoist a challenger onto his shoulders. With the opponent in place, Hawk climbed to the top rope and unleashed a debilitating clothesline onto the unfortunate victim. The initial impact of Hawk driving his softball bat of a forearm into their exposed jaw would be enough to knock any man out. The lucky ones were slammed back into consciousness when they hit the canvas.
Jeff Hardy’s Swanton Bomb
Jeff Hardy’s reckless aerial attacks often did more damage to the daredevil from Cameron, N.C., than to his opponents. But Hardy’s “live for the moment” ethos is exactly what made the conflicted Superstar so captivating. Whipping his lithe, 215-pound frame off the top of ladders, 18-wheelers and even the entryway of Madison Square Garden, The Charismatic Enigma established a loyal fanbase with his air shows, but it was his Swanton Bomb that left a lasting impression.
A daring maneuver that only the most fearless fliers are gutsy enough to perform, Hardy executed the Swanton Bomb by bulleting his body off the top rope and flying headfirst at a prone opponent on the canvas. At the very last second, the iconoclast would roll forward, sending his upper back directly into his target’s sternum. In the ring, the swan dive signaled a guaranteed victory for Hardy. Off the top of a ladder, it was a career ender.
Rob Van Dam’s Five-Star Frog Splash
Elevation was the key to Rob Van Dam’s interpretation of the frog splash. Innovated by Art Barr, one of Mexican wrestling’s great antagonists, the maneuver was later adopted by Eddie Guerrero in tribute to his friend and former tag team partner. In their version, the traditional top rope splash was given an extra kick by tucking in the arms and legs midflight and then extending them right before the point of impact. When done right, the action mimics the movements of a frog swimming.
Van Dam borrowed that element of the splash, but amped it up. Instead of just launching himself forward off the turnbuckle, Mr. Monday Night would go up, jumping as high as he could in the air before crashing down with tremendous impact. The reverb of his Five-Star Frog Splash could be so intense that RVD would often bounce off his opponent and land on the other side of the ring. It wasn’t uncommon to see Van Dam scrambling to cover a challenger after finding himself thrown halfway across the squared circle.
Evan Bourne’s Shooting Star Press
Evan Bourne didn’t invent the Shooting Star Press. Credit for that goes to Japanese icon Jushin “Thunder” Liger. The maneuver was popularized in North America by Billy Kidman and nearly ended the career of Brock freaking Lesnar when the beast got the bright idea to hurl his 300-pound body off the top rope in a desperate bid to finish Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 19. Lesnar failed to make it all the way around and landed on his forehead in front of more than 54,000 WWE fans.
Bourne’s Shooting Star Press was never so reckless. In fact, no Superstar ever performed the maneuver with as much polish and precision as the highflier from St. Louis. Since 2008, “Air” Bourne has used the dangerous move to fly to victory over Sheamus and Chris Jericho and score a Slammy Award for “Best Finishing Maneuver.” And although he’s pulled off the midair backflip from the top of a ladder and to the outside of the ring, Bourne has admitted that he’s frightened every single time he does it.
Randy Savage's Flying Elbow Drop
“Macho Man” Randy Savage never fit the description of a traditional highflier. At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, the well-muscled Superstar more than held his own against mighty rivals like Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. But that’s exactly what made Savage’s Flying Elbow Drop so impressive.
Moving with grace and agility that was uncommon for a man of his size, Savage possessed an athleticism that had carried over from his days as one of the nation’s top high school baseball players. In the ring, his offense was often defined by reckless strikes and blatant chokes, but on the top turnbuckle the former WWE Champion appeared artful. Always taking a moment to pose with his fingers pointed to the heavens, Savage launched his powerful frame at downed opponents, driving the point of his elbow right into the sternum with a clear intent to buckle chest cavities. Superstars like Shawn Michaels and CM Punk later adopted Savage’s signature maneuver, but no one ever matched “Macho Man’s” intensity.
Neville's Red Arrow
I’m going to dispense with the lead-in here and cut to the chase: This is the coolest wrestling move I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know how Adrian Neville does it. Well, I know how he does it, propelling himself off the top turnbuckle into a shooting star press before corkscrewing his body around like an Olympic diver without interrupting the maneuver’s original loop-the-loop, finally hitting paydirt in his prone opponent juuuust after he rights himself. But I don’t know how a man can shrug off Newton’s Laws like some kind of metaphysical vigilante, weaving and twisting his way through the force of the Earth itself to create the most epic finishing maneuver currently marinating down in Full Sail, a place that has no shortage of eccentric personalities or epic finishing maneuvers. One peep at the Red Arrow and you’ll believe … ah, hell, you’ll believe a man can fly.