In the main event of this week’s Raw, Drew McIntyre defeated Kurt Angle – but that’s not really telling the whole story.
Drew didn’t just beat our Olympic hero; he broke him down in disrespectful fashion. He beat Kurt to a pulp, held him down helplessly on the canvas, and at one stage told him he was ‘a disgrace to his bloody family’. Yes, he actually said that.
But the most psychologically devastating aspect of McIntyre’s win came in the form of a certain lost art: the stolen finisher.
The hulking Scot dropped Kurt with a crunching Angle Slam, before trapping him in the Ankle Lock and forcing him to tap out. It was heartless, deliberately humiliating, and the sign of a younger competitor utterly outclassing his older foe. It was a very sad ending to Raw indeed.
It was also brilliant.
Show me a wrestling fan who doesn’t enjoy stolen finishers, and I’ll show you a liar. When the concept was introduced to the SmackDown! games, I’d waste many an hour building up enough momentum to save two signature moves, before burning them both in order to drill Triple H with a Pedigree. Then I’d do it again and again and again. It never got old.
The stolen finisher is one of wrestling’s ultimate rare pleasures, especially these days. In the modern era, people don’t seem too concerned with attempting each another’s signature moves anymore. Back in the Attitude Era, it seemed like barely a week would go by without Austin and Rock ripping off each other’s shtick.
Over the past few years, things have slowed down considerably. We might see the occasional example, but even then they’re usually been saved for marquee events. There’s approximately 0% chance of Undertaker taking a Tombstone on television, but there’s every chance it might happen at WrestleMania (although maybe not these days).
The Miz might be a crucial exception to the rule, having incorporated several of Daniel Bryan’s moves into his repertoire as some sort of elaborate, long-winded insult to his nemesis. But I don’t think that really counts; come the closing stages of a match, Miz is far more likely to rely on his own Skull-Crushing Finale than a cheeky Yes Lock.
Furthermore, until Drew’s deconstruction of Angle on Raw, I assumed that stolen finishers never ended matches in real life. Again harking back to my gaming days, it was easily the most satisfying way of deciding a contest – partly because if a wrestler was hit with his own move in real life, it was almost never enough to keep him down.
In fairness, there’s sound psychology behind this. A wrestler is far more likely to be able to withstand their own signature attack, in theory. If it’s a submission, we can confidently assume that they’ll be able to wriggle their way out. Imagine Jericho not knowing a handful of counters to his iconic Walls, for example.
In the case of an impact move like the Attitude Adjustment or RKO, it’s assumed that the move’s owner can hit it better than anybody else in the business – so when they take their own finisher, however devastating it may seem, there’s actually less damage being done.
Still, I’d be more than happy to welcome stolen finishers back into WWE on an occasional basis, regardless of whether they actually end matches or not. Hopefully McIntyre has kickstarted something of a trend here, but what do his actions tell us overall?
I must note that this isn’t just an extended love letter to the notion of the stolen finisher. There’s an overall point to all of this, I promise. Drew’s crushing victory over Angle wasn’t just exciting due to his revival of a noble pursuit. It was compelling because of what those stolen finishers represented.
For a short while now, McIntyre has started to exist slightly outside of the realms of most other WWE Superstars – and the stolen finishers were just the most recent example of that. He stood up to Braun Strowman to close a recent Raw, and even before his big win this week, he saved Finn Balor from the mocking wrath of Lashley and Rush – before wiping the Irishman out with a Claymore Kick anyway.
At first I thought WWE might be nudging McIntyre into a more loosely-defined tweener role. But the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced they’re just making him look like even more of a strong, uncompromising badass.
The Universal Championship is, currently, an unattainable prize. If Braun Strowman can’t stop Brock Lesnar from holding it, nobody can. Therefore, WWE desperately need to build somebody on Raw into a credible contender. The candidates are few and far between, and while my personal choice would be Seth Rollins (who’s been collecting gold for fun recently) he’s a little tied up with the whole Dean Ambrose situation. Perhaps Drew, in WWE’s eyes, is an even more likely candidate given his size and imposing look.
McIntyre brought back the effective use of stolen finishers this week, and for that I’m eternally grateful. But from a wider perspective, he continued to do things that other Superstars just don’t do. Is this a clue that we could be looking at the next Universal Champion? I certainly wouldn’t have any complaints if this were the case.