15 of WWE’s All Time High-Risk Finishers

Watch enough WWE programming and you will eventually hear a commentator describe a Superstar engaging in what is commonly called a “high-risk” maneuver.

Whether it’s Michael Cole describing WWE Champion CM Punk ascend to the top rope or Jerry “The King” Lawler expressing disbelief at Christian’s connection of the Killswitch, high-risk maneuvers can help modern competitors gain a clear and decisive edge over their opposition. So it’s no wonder that all levels of Superstar, from seasoned veterans like Rey Mysterio to up-and-coming grapplers like Antonio Cesaro, add an element of danger to their signature finisher moves.

It’s common for the WWE Universe to be left in awe by a well-timed finisher, but it’s just as easy for them to forget how difficult these carefully designed moves are to implement. So WWE.com tips its cap to the Superstars who regularly put themselves in harm’s way for a chance at glory by reviewing 15 of the riskier finishing maneuvers in the history of WWE.

Killswitch (Christian)

Christian’s signature finisher seems simple enough to pull off. Approaching from behind and wrapping his arms around those of his opponent, Captain Charisma then twirls himself to secure and extend his adversary’s arms. Then, the Canadian Superstar needs only to drop backward to drive his foe’s head directly into the ring apron for the knockout blow.

It’s a thing of beauty when Christian connects the Killswitch, but the devil is in the details. Christian willingly locks his arms while going through the maneuver’s motions, meaning his entire upper body is exposed if things go awry for any reason. If the blond battler can’t overpower his rival enough to twirl him or takes too long to drop, he leaves himself helpless to stop a counterattack by a resilient opponent.

Though his in-ring experience helps him read the ongoing situation and decide if it’s time to go for the Killswitch, Captain Charisma still risks his momentum and his chances at victory when he wraps up his latest target for the final blow.

Codebreaker (Chris Jericho)

Despite possessing an arsenal of moves that includes the Walls of Jericho and the Lionsault, Chris Jericho displays a confidence in the execution of the Codebreaker that speaks volumes about the maneuver’s efficacy. The first-ever Undisputed WWE Champion’s signature finisher benefits from its “shock and awe” delivery, as he can send his knees crashing into his opponent’s skull at any time and without warning.

Yet, Jericho still takes a leap of faith every time his legs leave the ring apron. If WWE’s resident rock star tips his hand too early or targets an adversary who suspects trouble, he cannot react in time to modify or abandon the attack. That leaves Jericho in mid-air and without a means of escaping, making him easy prey for any Superstar who can catch him on the fly.

Of course, catching the Codebreaker is easier said than done — and Jericho’s likely to give opponents an up-close look at the move many times in the future.

The Neutralizer (Antonio Cesaro)

As an international man of mysterious motives, Antonio Cesaro has quickly made his mark in WWE competition with his in-ring results and his over-confident attitude. That comes through every time Cesaro squares up to cradle an opponent before executing an impressive belly-to-back slam that he calls The Neutralizer. From the moment the Swiss-born Superstar inverts the likes of United States Champion Santino Marella or Tyson Kidd in mid-air to the moment it all comes crashing down, it’s clear that Cesaro is already a force to be reckoned with in WWE.

However, Cesaro also needs to take great care in not letting his early successes get to his head if he wants to ensure the painful prowess of his maneuvers. The rookie Superstar takes great care in deliberately applying his belly-to-back slam, but a moment’s hesitation can let a savvy adversary respond by flipping Cesaro off the mat or falling backward onto the ring apron.

And with an alluring Diva like Aksana cheering him on at ringside, Cesaro’s ability to focus on applying his finishing maneuver is just as vital as the actual execution itself.

Flying Bulldog (Steiner Brothers)

15 of WWE’s All Time High-Risk Finishers
15 of WWE’s All Time High-Risk Finishers

Before Big Poppa Pump was your hook up and The Dog-Faced Gremlin was a United States Champion, The Steiner Brothers proved the family ties can bind a tag team together in a way that few, if any, other pairings can match. That chemistry came through with their combined finishing maneuver, which involved Scott Steiner lifting his opponent up on his shoulders and Rick Steiner leaping from the top rope to connect a well-timed bulldog maneuver.

While the strength and agility of The Steiner Brothers was never in question, their sheer size often left the WWE Universe wondering “How’d they do that?” Indeed, if Rick struggled to get the appropriate altitude from the top rope or Scott wasn’t paying attention, it’s entirely possible that a brotherly collision would have knocked out the wrong team.

Of course, The Steiners’ ability to perform such extraordinary moves with regularity is what made them one of the most effective tag team combinations of all time. 

Moonsault (Lita)

Male Superstars aren’t the only ones who risked life and limb in search of greater glory in the ring. Lita, as courageous a Diva as any who stepped into the squared circle, frequently took to the skies to gain an advantage over her competition. And to seal her opponent’s fate, Lita regularly climbed up to the top rope before launching her legendary Moonsault for the win.

Of course, relying on the Moonsault in the way that the four-time Women's Champion performed it is the very definition of “high risk.” For one, Lita turned her back on her opponent on the top rope. Second, she needed to perform a nearly 360-degree flip to ensure an accurate splash down. Third, the fiery competitor needed to pull it off fast enough to prevent her opponent from regaining her composure and blocking or dodging the Moonsault at the last second.

That said, high-risk maneuvers like her Moonsault helped redefine the level of competition for all Divas who sought to follow in Lita’s footsteps. 

619 (Rey Mysterio)

Rey Mysterio vs. Shawn Michaels: Raw, November 14, 2005

Rey Mysterio and Shawn Michaels meet for the first-time ever on the very special Eddie Guerrero tribute episode of Raw.

Named for the area code of San Diego, Rey Mysterio’s hometown, the 619 is a perfect distillation not only of the masked Superstar’s fearlessness in the squared circle, but also of how a finishing move can result in its executor being finished himself.

The 619 requires an opponent to be dazed and draped over the second rope. Gaining momentum by bouncing off the far side ropes, Mysterio sprints across the ring and spins between the cables to land a crushing feint kick on his foe. Many Superstars have been decisively finished just this way.

But the 619 requires not only extraordinary skill and athleticism from the Superstar who is attempting it, but also necessitates its executor to turn his back on his opponent — a recurring “no-no” on this list. If an adversary ducks or moves off the ropes during the lengthy set-up, this finisher will not work. It could even backfire terribly, as leglocks, powerbombs and backbreakers are all effective counters.

Brutally effective when landed, but hazardous to even attempt, the 619 is an “all-in” move and should only be practiced by a talented and fearless competitor. Although the high-flying Mysterio is certainly that Superstar, even he can be caught sometimes.

Skull-Crushing Finale (The Miz)

The Skull-Crushing Finale is as brutal and decisive as its menacing name suggests. The set-up may not seem particularly difficult at first glance, but its effect is tremendous. Intercontinental Champion The Miz locks an opponent’s arms behind his head in a full nelson, then trips his unfortunate foe into a searing facebuster. Used to defeat everyone from John Cena to Randy Orton, it’s hard to argue with the Skull-Crushing Finale’s efficiency.

Yet, it has also led to The Awesome One being reversed and attacked many times. The danger with the Skull-Crushing Finale isn’t that it requires launching into a risky jump, placing a limb in danger of a submission or facing away from an opponent. What makes it so risky is that it takes several seconds to set up, and its perpetrator not only has his own arms tied up, but he also maintains a high center of gravity. That can be used to counter by dropping down and slipping out the bottom or by flipping The Miz over Judo-style.

While the Skull-Crushing Finale is indeed an “Awesome” finishing move, it can also lead to huge momentum swings and changes in position in a match if it is escaped. 

Sharpshooter (Bret Hart/Natalya/Hart Family)

One of the most devastating and painful submission holds in the history of the squared circle, the Sharpshooter is synonymous with the legendary Hart family — from The Excellence of Execution, Hall of Famer Bret Hart, to the Hart Legacy.

It’s brilliant — and brutal — in its simplicity. A grappler puts his or her opponent on the mat, steps between the adversary’s legs with one of his or her own, crosses the opponent’s legs and flips him or her over in an excruciating and nearly inescapable pose. Putting extraordinary pressure on an opponent’s knee and ankle joints, in addition to constricting the victim’s vertebrae, it’s capable of not just ending a match, but an entire career.

However, it’s also an extremely dangerous and risky move to its wielder because the best counter to the Sharpshooter … is the Sharpshooter. Going from offense to defense to losing the match to potential injury is a very realistic course of events if a Superstar isn’t careful and technical in their application of the maneuver.

Granted not many would want to trade leglock attempts with a member of the Hart Family, but getting legs twisted and putting one’s own health on the line is a simply necessary risk when applying the Sharpshooter.

Go to Sleep (CM Punk)

The Go to Sleep does just what it promises: puts its victims’ chances at victory to bed. It does this not with a gentle goodnight kiss, but with a violent goodnight knee to the face. One of WWE’s most devastating finishers, the GTS has been used with great success by WWE Champion CM Punk. But, like many moves that require lifting, tossing and catching an opponent, the difficulty level is very high, with lots of variables that can go wrong.

Punk must catch and lift someone onto his shoulders, toss them off and catch them perfectly in the face with his knee. The timing must be just right, and if an opponent is more alert and conscious than The Second City Savior planned, he just exposed his neck and back to a counter, perhaps a sleeper hold or even quick roll-up.

However, there is little debate that when this maneuver hits, it hits hard and all but guarantees victory.

The People’s Elbow (The Rock)

The Rock’s signature finisher, The People’s Elbow, is one of the most exciting, impactful and dramatic finishing moves in WWE history. The Great One typically sets up this thrilling maneuver with another trademark of his, the Rock Bottom, to stun his opponent. After kicking in his foes arms, he bounces off the ropes on each side of the ring, raises his elbow for maximum power and drops it onto his prone foe with deadening force.

Few moves thrill the WWE Universe more. But all this drama and excitement comes at a high risk. The downed opponent has plenty of time to recover and attack from behind, or even dodge the move at the last moment.

Perhaps the most famous instance of The People’s Elbow being countered came from The Rock. In their “Once in a Lifetime” WrestleMania XXVIII clash, John Cena — in a moment of uncharacteristic arrogance — tried The Rock’s finisher and showed just how terribly wrong it can go.

Tower of Quebec (Quebecers)

The Quebecers vs. Dan Dubiel & Scott Despres: WWE Superstars, August 21, 1993

The Quebecers use their unique double team move set against Dan Dubiel & Scott Despres on WWE Superstars.

Hailing from the Canadian province of Quebec, Jacques & Pierre used every trick in the book to make sure they “always get their man” in the end. Among their more impressive tactics, Pierre ascended to the top rope and used Jacques’ arms like a hinge to help propel himself across the ring for a powerful senton bomb. The high-flying tactic came to be known as the “Tower of Quebec,” symbolizing the upper limit of the French-Canadian competitors’ talent.

Their unique mix of gravity-defying attacks and ground-based grappling led The Quebecers to win the World Tag Team Championship on three different occasions, but their approach in the squared circle isn’t likely to be replicated by future Superstars of similar statures. Jacques & Pierre’s size and fiery temperaments sometimes slowed them down in setting up their finisher, which could create an opening for opponents to exploit by bracing for impact or escaping to safety.

Still, a Superstar surely knew that their chances of success were nill as soon as Jacques propelled his tag team partner into orbit for the grand finale.

A unique “spin” on headscissors takedown (Sin Cara)

Soaring at altitudes many Superstars can only dream of, Sin Cara is a unique competitor on the WWE landscape. He does not implement merely a high-risk finishing move. The high-flying sensation’s entire offensive repertoire is high-risk.

Yet, in a ridiculous treasure chest of dangerous moves, his tilt-a-whirl headscissors which transitions into a single arm drag takedown stands out as strikingly risky as it is impressive. For even an experienced high-flyer like Sin Cara, this is a difficult maneuver that requires impeccable timing and balance. The consequences of a miscalculation can be devastating.

If an opponent has more stamina or strength that The International Sensation anticipated, he can quickly find himself brutally slammed to the ground. An equalizing move that can help Sin Cara win against any opponent, Sin Cara’s unique headscissors takedown is also risky and can give any adversary a window of opportunity. When all goes wrong, it can be a, to quote Jake “The Snake” Roberts, “short flight, bad landing.”

450 Splash (Justin Gabriel)

The 450 Splash is earth-shattering. The 450 Splash is pretty, oh so pretty. The instant that Justin Gabriel drops his opponent to the canvas and heads for that top rope, the WWE Universe erupts into an absolutely frenzy over the gravity defying that they are about to witness. But, in spite of its effectiveness and the pure elation it demands from the fans, it could just as easily become Gabriel’s moment of peril, every time he attempts it.

As in any top rope finisher, the time it takes to set up the attack makes the maneuver a tremendous gamble from start to finish. From the time his feet leave the ropes to the point of impact, there might be 450 things that could go wrong. And the fact that Gabriel stays in the air long enough to rotate as much as he does only increases the chances that one of those things will take effect.

Still, despite the risk, no guts means no glory. And with the incredible move at the heart of the up-and-coming Superstar’s arsenal, he could very well springboard himself into greatness one day soon. 

Frog Splash (Eddie Guerrero)

The explosive maneuver made famous by the late, great Eddie Guerrero entails plunging from the top rope, with the Superstar tucking in his arms and legs and then bringing them out again before he hits his prey below.

Leaving the relatively safe ground in any instance is the very definition of risk. And in the case of the Frog Splash, the dangers are amplified exponentially. First off, there is the extra movement of the arms and legs, which demands that whoever attempts it must get extremely high into the air to get the timing right. So even when the move is a success, the impact from that height may cause the Superstar to suffer almost as much pain as received by the opponent he is crashing down upon.

In addition, opening arms and legs leaves the Superstar completely vulnerable to the lifting knees of his foe or to them simply moving out of the way.

In Eddie’s brave case, there was an additional danger. He once carried out the move on JBL from the top of a steel cage on SmackDown. Although the WWE Universe will remember that great moment forever, the amount of risk involved is almost uncalculated. 

Coast to Coast (Shane McMahon)

If there was one high-flying move that is truly more extreme than the rest, it’s the Coast to Coast. This explosive move encapsulated not only Shane O Mac’s athletic ability and unending supply of guts, but also punished numerous adversaries and brought WWE to its feet with its pure, unique awesomeness. After placing a trash can on his foe, Shane would leap from the top rope and the opposite side of the ring, driving his legs into the unforgiving steel.

While this maneuver may very well be one of the most electrifying ever witnessed, it is also one of the most risky. In addition to the danger of going to the top rope at all, it requires an incredible amount of time to carry out of the steps involved. The Superstar has to get the trash can, bring it into the ring, set it just right, move to the other side of the ring, climb the ropes and center himself. Then and only then, will he leap across the length of the ring and into a big piece of metal. So, in addition to the danger of the leap itself, the competitor’s opponent is given tremendous amount of time to recover, move and launch a counter attack. 

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