Welcome to a new feature here at Enuffa.com, Wrestling's Greatest Finishers, where I'll take an in-depth look at one of the legendary signature moves in pro wrestling lore, examining its origins, popularization, physics, and where it is today.
For this inaugural edition I’ll be looking at one of the most beloved of all finishing moves, the DDT. Such a simple maneuver, yet also one of the more treacherous and violent, the DDT was allegedly an accidental innovation from the man with whom it is most associated. Jake “The Snake” Roberts maintains he had grabbed his opponent in a front facelock when both men’s weight shifted, resulting in Roberts appearing to drive the other fella’s head into the mat. This origin story has been disputed over the years, but what’s unquestionable is the DDT’s lasting, visceral appeal, along with Jake’s success in making it one of the all-time great finishers.
In the 80s most North American wrestling holds (including finishing moves) were fairly basic. Hulk Hogan for example made a career of ending matches with the legdrop of all things; King Kong Bundy would simply squash guys in the corner; the Junkyard Dog used a rudimentary powerslam. Once in a while you’d get a high flier with a top rope finisher, but for the most part finishing moves looked pretty safe and unspectacular.
Then along came Jake’s DDT - one of those finishers no one, and I mean NO ONE got up from. Jake would often attempt the move several times during a match, but if he actually nailed it the match was over, period. It was portrayed as so effective in squash matches that Jake could subsequently dump his signature python on top of an unconscious opponent and the guy would never know what happened. Finishing moves in general were held up with much greater sanctity in the 80s than they are now, but even by the standards of that era the DDT was a showstopper. It was rather fitting that a character nicknamed “The Snake” was equipped with a maneuver so akin to a sudden cobra strike. Once the head and face of Jake’s poor victim were drilled into the canvas, he wasn’t getting up without smelling salts or an adrenaline shot to the aorta.
Another superb aspect of the move was Jake’s ability to execute it without warning, on an opponent of virtually any size. Given his slender, less than spectacular build, a power move like a superplex would hardly have suited Jake. But the DDT’s effectiveness only depended on quick reflexes and the inevitability of gravity.
The DDT became arguably the most popular single maneuver in the business, to the extent that the WWF eventually had trouble keeping Jake a heel. Even against popular babyface opponents the crowds started chanting “D-D-T” during Jake’s matches, and it was clear he needed to become a babyface. This may be the most significant example of a wrestler owing so much of his success to his choice of signature move.
A few other wrestlers adopted the move in the late 80s - Arn Anderson, Michael Hayes, and Dusty Rhodes each had a variation – but they all paled in comparison to the aggressive, lethal force Jake exerted when snapping it off. Over the years many other stars have put their own spin on the DDT: Mick Foley integrated a double-arm underhook to make the move seemingly inescapable. The Rock’s version was lightning-quick, and he also introduced a floatover variation off the ropes to give it an athletic flair. Gangrel and Edge both used the Impaler DDT which incorporated a jumping motion for extra impact. In today’s WWE The Miz executes the move on a kneeling opponent for greater torque. But probably my favorite variation belongs to another “snake,” Randy Orton. Several years ago Orton pioneered the Elevated DDT which involves dragging a facelocked opponent through the ropes but leaving their feet resting on the second strand. Then after a dramatic pause conveying sadistic glee, he drills them into the mat face-first from a floating position. From a character standpoint this is probably Orton’s most defining move.
While all these DDT variants have merit in one way or another, the downside is that this once unique, unendurable move has lost some of its lethality over the decades. Where 25 years ago the DDT spelled certain doom for its recipient, now dozens of wrestlers use it as a throwaway mid-match hold, and sadly it’s no longer all that distinctive. Probably the only current star actually using the DDT as a finisher is Jon Moxley, and his version is essentially a carbon copy of Mick Foley’s. WWE might be wise to issue a moratorium on all non-finisher use of the hold to restore some of its mystique.
The DDT should still be one of those moves that realistically would kill a person, thus it should take a wrestler with little regard for the welfare of others to be willing to use it. Think of how much heat a heel could generate just by employing a finisher the babyfaces have too much compassion to resort to. Why a wrestler could build his entire career on the notoriousness of that one move. Just like Jake Roberts did.
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