Finlay: One of a cruel kind
Ireland, Europe's third largest island, can lay claim to three homegrown originals: Leabhar Cheanannais, a.k.a. The Book of Kells, an extravagantly illustrated collection of the Bible's four Gospels, produced by Celtic monks circa 800 A.D.; Guinness, Dublin's dark ruby-and-cream stout, savored best at 42.8 degrees Fahrenheit since the mid-18th century; and the bruiser from Belfast who loves to fight, Finlay.
Yes, when it comes to kicking arse and taking names every Friday night on SmackDown, Finlay is genuinely 100 percent original. And should you be one of the unfortunate to cross this Celt -- say, someone like Rey Mysterio, whose ongoing rivalry with Finlay continues this Friday night -- you'll have literally bought yourself a whole world of trouble.
"When you're in an environment and you see only one thing throughout your career, then you're limited to that environment," explains former World Tag Team Champion Mike Rotundo. "If you're like Finlay, who has traveled extensively and wrestled against the top people throughout different parts of the world, you're going to pick up bits and pieces of different techniques. He has taken what he has learned in places like Japan, and combined them with his European style experience into a unique type of attack.
"A lot of guys don't know how to defend against him," he adds, "and his aggressive nature makes him a danger to anyone he faces."
Rotundo's words ring true. When it comes to variety and an ability to thump, no one is more aggressive, or remorseless, than SmackDown's irate Northern Irishman. Before joining the brand in January 2006 and winning the United States Title that July, Finlay held 16 major championships throughout Great Britain and Germany, plus WCW Television and Hardcore Titles. One doesn't earn such a full pot o' distinguished gold by utilizing only one ring style, or by waiting to exploit an opponent's flaws. Finlay creates those weaknesses, and in o-so-many different ways. His defense is even more painfully simple -- offense, offense and more offense.
Take, for example, a high flyer like Mysterio. Granted, the former World Champion holds a few recent victories over the Irishman, most recently a hellish Stretcher Match decision at Cyber Sunday. Yet even he would tell you that he hasn't clearly dominated in any of their contests. It sure doesn't help that Finlay is relentless, constantly forcing aerial assailants like the Master of the 619 to fight on their heels rather than off the ropes. And even if they can mount retaliatory air strikes, Finlay quickly regains momentum with brief but brutal maneuvers, like pulling back the outside ring apron enough to ensnare his quarry.
This ornery Irishman is also a manipulative master of the psych job. Just when you expect him to zig, he's already zagging. At No Mercy last month, Finlay completely fooled Mysterio -- as well as medics, officials and our fans -- by feigning serious injury, then hopping off a gurney to viciously ambush the unsuspecting Superstar. And, call us crazy, but his challenge to Mysterio last week, in which he called him a quitter and a loser, leaves one to suspect that Finlay has even more shenanigans afoot when they meet in the ring this Friday.
Don't think the Belfast-born brawler can mix it up with so-called mat strategists? He'll counter just about anything the most veteran ring warrior can slap on him. Certainly, you won't find many "bruisers" around the world, let alone within WWE, who can convert Ric Flair's patented Figure-Four Leglock into an equally limb-breaking Celtic Knot. And have you seen him hoist and plant Superstars head-first into the canvas? A devastating finisher like the Celtic Cross doesn't just happen by accident; it comes from years of teaching yourself how to inflict the most punishment on a given individual.
Then there are the "powerhouses," the ones who completely change a match with one explosive, high-impact strike. The term is often reserved for bigger guns like World Heavyweight Champion Batista, Kane and Raw's Bobby Lashley -- all of whom Finlay has defeated at one time or another. Some credit his fearlessness of these behemoths to a harsh childhood of brawling on the streets of Belfast in his youth; others have joked that he lost that natural instinct for self-preservation during his extensive travels worldwide. Nevertheless, rather than tremble before these supposed monsters of the mat, the Celtic combatant charges head-on, bringing the battle to them. Crazy? Yes...but it has made him incredibly successful.
"Finlay's originality makes him very hard to prepare for," notes Michael "P.S." Hayes, also a former U.S. Champion. "He comes at you in all these different ways that can be easily interpreted as almost genius. And when you have an evil mind like he does, that makes him doubly dangerous."
That "evil mind" was apparent from the moment Finlay first stepped into a SmackDown squared circle -- then onto Matt Hardy's head, forcing his face into the steel ring steps. Yet for all this thinking fighter's forearms, sentons, cruel clouts and malicious kicks, opponents should most mind Finlay's preferred weapon of bludgeoning brutality, the shillelagh. If there's anything that the Celtic combatant doesn't use this blackthorn-wooded walking stick for, it's walking. And he does his damnedest to make certain that none of his foes will be able to use it for that purpose, either.
"You can appreciate the originality of his offense," says Michael Hayes, "but make no mistake about it -- Finlay's out there not just to win. He's out there to hurt somebody."