Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Wrestling's Greatest Finishers: Piledriver

Welcome to the third installment of Wrestling's Greatest Finishers, here at Enuffa.com, where I discuss a classic finishing maneuver, its physics, its origins, its significance in this fake sport we all love so much.

Today, due to overwhelming popular demand (okay, one person requested it), I'll be talking about one of the most devastating wrestling moves ever invented, one that's spawned a dozen or more variations and legitimately injured numerous dudes, the piledriver!

Thought to be invented by Wild Bill Longson, wrestling star of the 1930s-50s, the piledriver involves picking up your opponent upside-down, his head between your legs, and falling to a sitting position, thus driving him head-first into the canvas.  Realistically this move could kill a person, and for decades it was portrayed as perhaps the most dangerous move in the business.  Hell, the original version of the move was actually banned by WWE for many years, in no small part due to Steve Austin's real-life neck injury as the result of Owen's botched attempt.  The piledriver is one of those moves that must be terrifying to let someone put on you; you are literally putting your life in another person's hands.

Wait, that guy isn't tucking his head,
and that looks like a hardwood floor...

Anyway, the piledriver was a staple of the 70s and 80s, used as a finisher by the likes of Terry Funk, Harley Race, Jerry Lawler, and most famously during my childhood, "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff.  For my money Orndorff's version is still the greatest of all time, in terms of the original variant.  Where Funk, Lawler and others would lift their opponents into position and gently fall to their butt, Orndorff would actually jump slightly in the air while holding his victim, sweeping his own legs up so the drop on the opponent's head would look absolutely crippling (In 2000 an aging Orndorff actually compressed his own spine delivering the move on WCW television).  It was one of the best-protected moves of the era; if Paul piledrove you, you were done.

Still Lawler and Funk's versions, less impactful though they may have looked, were each the catalyst for white-hot angles in their own right.  Lawler famously got into an altercation with comedian Andy Kaufman in Memphis, piledriving him and leaving him in a kayfabe neck brace for weeks to build to a huge money-drawing celebrity vs. wrestler match.  Funk on the other hand returned to the NWA in 1989 and attacked Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair, piledriving him onto a ringside table (one of the first big table spots ever attempted) and putting him out of action for two months (again, a kayfabe injury).  That the piledriver was booked to cause such serious injury illustrates how much credibility the move held.

Damn you Funk!

The most popular variation of the piledriver is of course the Tombstone, or the kneeling reverse piledriver, invented by Dynamite Kid but popularized by The Undertaker as another version from which no one gets up, except in epic WrestleMania matches.  Taker's Tombstone was co-opted by his onscreen brother Kane, ECW stalwart Justin Credible, and is currently a setup move used extensively by IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada to soften his opponent for his Rainmaker clothesline (stay tuned for an upcoming feature on that move).

Other variants include Kevin Steen's package piledriver, Minoru Suzuki's (by way of Karl Gotch) cradle piledriver, and the most spectacular of all, Petey Williams' Canadian Destroyer, a sunset flip piledriver that probably isn't physically possible but looks amazing.  Sadly, like the DDT and the superkick, the Destroyer piledriver has simply become a high spot and doesn't ever seem to finish anyone, crowd-pleasing though it might be.

I mean, that's just absurd.

Whatever the variation, this move is still one of the most violent and credibly destructive finishers in wrestling history, one that should be reserved for very late in the match when all bets are off.  I'd like to see it treated with as much seriousness as it once was; anyone who gets spiked on their head should be more or less done for except in very special circumstances.  It's strange to me that very few current wrestlers who use a version of the move have actually adopted it as their finisher.  Minoru Suzuki seems to be the only modern full-timer who ends matches with it.  What ought to happen is a heel in WWE should use the traditional version and build heat around the move being banned; someone like Samoa Joe for example could go on a tear, laying waste to his opponents when the referee's back is turned, or in match-building angles.  Imagine the reputation Joe could build up as a brutal bastard using a move like that, despite the company "banning" it.

Well it's fun to speculate.  Regardless, the piledriver remains an all-time favorite finisher for many.  When used sparingly and effectively it can create crisis-level drama during a match, turn a villain into a monster, or spark a months-long injury angle.  Like its cousin the DDT, I'd like to see the piledriver mean more than it has in recent years.  Hell, if you're gonna risk actually injuring a guy you may as well get some mileage out of it....

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Maybe the best Taker Tombstone ever.

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