Welcome to Top 5 Fun Friday, a regularly-occurring blog feature where I give you a list of extremely specific pointless shit from my life no one asked for. Why? Because the internet is incredibly un-fun in 2020 and I miss blogging. It’s Friday and these will be fun! This week’s list…
Top 5 Favorite Pro Wrestling Spinebusters
It’s WrestleMania week! Thanks to, I dunno, inflation, WrestleMania is now two nights, three and a half hours each night. When you combine that with two nights of NXT Takeover (2 hours each), as well as AEW Dynamite (2 hours) the previous Wednesday, the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania (historically the best Raw of the year, and 3 hours long), NXT’s weekly show (another two hours) now moving to Tuesdays, and then Dynamite again on Wednesday (a final two hours), that adds up to math I don’t feel like doing. All in all, it’s a fucking buttload of wrestling. And think of my wife. My poor wife!
She’ll live, and truthfully, I think she’s more excited for the Adam Cole vs Kyle O’Reilly Unsanctioned Match than I am. I consider my life a success when she gets the Andy Dwyer look on her face when I tell her that big time AEW star Chris Jericho is the guest on WWE Network’s Broken Skull Sessions with Stone Cold Steve Austin right after Night 2 of WrestleMania (another 2 hours – Jesus!).
I wouldn’t dream of boring you with minutia about that upcoming veritable cornucopia of professional wrestling (I could!), but instead, and in the spirit of this recurring feature, take an exceedingly small subset of data, and attempt to amuse anyone who reads this with my insights about it. Today, let’s talk about spinebusters.
For those of you not in the know, a spinebuster is a move where one wrestler picks up his opponent by both legs and then drives them back first into the mat, thereby knocking the wind out of them. It’s a deceptively simple move with high impact that allows for interesting artistic flourishes. Here are my favorite practitioners of the spinebuster.
Any discussion of great spinebusters has to start with Arn Anderson. No one did it better than The Enforcer. Technically a twisting spinebuster, where Arn would whip his opponent to the ropes, and on the rebound catch them, pick them up, turn 180 degrees and plant them square on their back. Arn finished off an absolute who’s who of guys with it, and I know we’re talking about scripted fighting, but the way Arn did it always looked devastating.
It’s the tempo. Arn catches a guy dead in his tracks, and as he’s twisting, time almost bends around him as it looks like they’re in slow motion, but blink your eyes and they’ve plunged straight to hell. It’s like a fucking Matrix move. No one sold this better than Shawn Michaels, which only supercharges my romanticism for Arn’s version of this move (Shawn’s the second one taking the move in that clip up there). Michaels was part of The Rockers who feuded extensively with The Brain Busters in the WWF in 1989, and Michaels grew to be the most noteworthy member of either team. It’s a common joke among wrestling nerds that Shawn could get a 3-star match out of a broomstick, so watching him sell Arn’s spinebuster like he’d just been shot with a .22 is always a thing of beauty.
Apart from the superlative spinebuster, Arn was never a flashy wrestler, rather a guy who never wasted a moment, a motion, or an opportunity to advance the story and therefore got probably 125% of the value out of his talent. He’s also someone I once favorably compared my wife to while playing trivia, so there’s that.
Ron Simmons is a legit badass, the first African American World Heavyweight Champion and the third person ever to have his football number retired by the Florida State Seminoles. In virtually every role Ron Simmons has been in, he’s been incredible whether it’s World Champion or comedy sketch player (except for maybe when they debuted him in WWE looking like a spokesman for Trojan condoms).
But when I think of Ron Simmons, the first thing I think about is how gorgeously violent his spinebuster was. Differing from Arn Anderson in that he neither twisted nor went to the mat with his opponent, Simmons used one arm, brute force, and what looks like pure hate to spike his opponents down. Poor Kurt Angle up there looks like he ran into a brick wall, somehow got elevated by it, and then rejected back to earth like a petulant volleyball. The thing I love so much about this version of the spinebuster is the implied disrespect its form connotes. It’s almost as if Simmons is saying, “If I can hurt you this bad with one arm while standing still, just think of what I could do if I were really trying.” It’s an absolutely terrifying move executed by one of the coolest and toughest motherfuckers in the history of the business.
One of the absolute greatest of all-time, it’s WrestleMania season, how can we not talk about The Rock? Now, the clip above doesn’t even do proper justice to The Rock’s spinebuster, but you get a sense for why it mattered. Rock plants Xavier Woods, then immediately pops up, and transitions flawlessly to deliver one of the most ridiculous moves in wrestling history, The People’s Elbow. Rock moves like water, moving fluidly as if his body has no choice but to execute the peculiarities of professional wrestling as if he’s Fred Astaire effortlessly dazzling us all.
The trick to watching The Rock go from spinebuster to People’s Elbow is footwork. Rock would pick up the guy with both hands, perched on his right foot. In his earlier years, he’d pick up that left foot and give it a little jiggle for some added mustard, and then plant the guy down. His right knee would land, but his left foot would go back so he could spring up off the rebound and bound like a gazelle to his opponent’s head in one motion. In this sense, the spinebuster is merely the setup, The People’s Elbow is the punchline, much like Jake Roberts doing a short arm clothesline to signal it was time for the DDT.
There was never anyone like The Rock, and there likely never will be again. I could write a whole essay of small things I love about The Rock from his sell of the Stone Cold Stunner to the way he disrobed Billy Gunn as a main eventer in one promo to the way he made me believe The Hurricane had a chance against him. But that’s a different list, so let’s keep with spinebusters.
I’d call this the first hybrid spinebuster of the list as “The Bossman Slam” (or sidewalk slam, as it’s sometimes referred) looks like a combination of Rock’s version and Ron Simmons’s. It’s one-armed, but Bossman uses his ample girth to add force to the impact. In that clip above, skip ahead to the 1:00 minute mark and you can start to see Bossman really get the hang of what this move should be.
He’d catch his opponent running, and then use their momentum to lift them off the ground. You can see the opponent’s legs fly forward, and then all of a sudden there’s no place to go but down. And Bossman absolutely drives the poor schmuck right through the mat left wondering what happened to their spleen.
It’s odd because the Big Bossman was one of my favorites as a kid and I’m notoriously anti-authority. You’d think a guy portraying a prison guard wouldn’t be my kind of thing, but wrestling has a way of turning your tastes on their head. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Big Bossman had one of the greatest theme songs of all-time. I liked it when the only time I thought about Cobb County, GA it was in the context of this goofy song, not the Atlanta Braves’ hilariously awful stadium grift of a few years ago.
Notoriously one of the stiffest (read: his moves actually hurt to be on the receiving end of) workers of all-time, and noted red ass, I hesitated putting Hardcore Holly on this list. But a few years ago, I heard him on Stone Cold’s podcast, and he seems to have mellowed out quite a bit. I still think he’s an unbelievable dick for what he did to Matt Cappotelli on Tough Enough, but whatever.
His Alabama Slam variant on the spinebuster legitimately made me gasp the first time I saw it. The amount of torque he was able to generate from having the opponent dangling behind his back as Holly grabbed the legs and snapped the opponent forward a full 270 degrees was like nothing I’d seen before. I get out of breath just watching these guys take that impact. If you’ve ever done a back flop off a diving board, you know the feeling of panic when you can’t force air into your lungs, and watching Hardcore Holly pulverize grown men with this insane slam conjures that up immediately inside me.
And that’s why I can’t stop watching wrestling. Damn near every time I watch a match, I find something new that I can’t remember seeing ever before, even if it’s a minor variation on a move I’ve seen a thousand times and wasted more than 1,600 words on, and it takes my breath away.
I’ll see you next week with new content. In the meantime, I have a shitload of wrestling to watch first.