A finishing move in the world of wrestling is crucial. Something that can make or break a pro wrestler, often the coolest looking moves don't click, while something as goofy as "The People's Elbow" becomes iconic. Each wrestler has a different method to their madness when landing on their signature, match ending match up. In this new series, "Making A Finisher," Fightful.com will go in depth with wrestlers as they explain their moves, discuss how they were developed, who took it the best, the worst, why they stopped doing some of them, and the psychology behind them.
It's a spooky time of the year, so what better way to bring Making A Finisher back than with one of wrestling's spooky characters in Gangrel?
In the late 1990s, David Heath finally found his footing. He'd first appeared on WCW and WWF programming a decade prior, losing enhancement matches. He'd return to WWF years later without a contract as "The Black Phantom" -- a gimmick that saw him lose all 25 of his matches in the company, but at least he had a mask, right? A few appearances in ECW and WCW followed as well.
Then it was time for Gangrel's break. In 1998, Gangrel was brought back to WWF in a role that would utilize his signature fangs. He'd be a blood-drinking vampire, complete with a fiery entrance that saw him (and fellow Brood members Edge and Christian) rise through fire.
That wasn't all Heath had. He owned the Impaler DDT. Wrestlers like Raven had taken the DDT and made it their own, but the creator of the move, Jake "The Snake" Roberts, was largely out of wrestling. Nobody else in WWE was trying to reinvent the wheel, and the way Gangrel tells it, he wasn't trying to either.
"I used to run Dean Malenko's wrestling school, and I was in there with his students, specifically Tony Mamaluke," Gangrel told Fightful.com. "I went to give him a suplex, but I forgot to hook the arm. I had him up, almost to cross off the suplex and I thought 'oh crap, it'd be cool if I kicked my legs out and did a DDT from here.' It was an accident, kind of like when Jake 'The Snake' came up with the DDT. He had a front facelock and fell down. I went for a suplex, forgot to hook the arm, and it happened. It's funny how things accidentally happen!"
Not just like Jake Roberts and his DDT, the Jackhammer that Bill Goldberg would eventually use during his ascent to the top of wrestling was also rumored to have been created unintentionally by a familiar name -- Dean Malenko.
While Gangrel certainly popularized the version of the move, it wasn't the first time it'd been seen. During an oft-forgotten main event WCW run in 1993, former world champion Barry Windham used the move. Known as the "leaping DDT," it was delivered without much consistency, and sometimes was a more of a rapidly delivered DDT than the Impaler-style we came to know and love later in the decade.
Either way, Gangrel's Impaler DDT made an impression. Add that to the aforementioned gimmick, the entrance, the music -- the cards were stacked in his favor. The move itself was something that wasn't on WWF television prior, no easy feat even at that point in time. As he was coming up and establishing the move, Gangrel told us about some of the triumphs and tragedies that related to giving the move, and taking the move. Despite it's intimidating look, Gangrel argues it's safer than many other finishers.
"A lot of the old timers know how to rib you. A lot of guys want to put their arm across your waist, and it doesn't look as good. You have to keep your hands down in front of them. Some guys will throw the arm around your waist and drive the wind out of you when you do it. Nobody really freaks out. It's actually a really safe one to take if you were trained right and no how to work. It's actually safer to take than a lot of the finishers. It's just a flat bump," said Gangrel.
Not only wrestlers have taken the move. WSVN's Chris Van Vliet took the Impaler in scary fashion earlier this year. A visibly concerned Gangrel saw the reporter get airborn and land on top of his head, which Gangrel called "gnarly." As he had mentioned in the prior quote, he has people pancake flat and take a face bump in order to avoid such. However, the request to have the Impaler done to him wasn't exactly exclusive to Van Vliet.
"Nobody's really asked to learn it from me, but everybody wants to take it. Everybody's looking forward to take it. It doesn't even make sense to do it in the match, right here, and they're still like 'let's just squeeze it in right here.' There's been wrestlers who will throw out a shout out when they do it, but lots and lots of people have asked to take it," said Gangrel.
"Gangrel is one of the nicest people I’ve never met... that’s people and not just wrestlers. I love how he took the DDT, a move we’ve all seen thousands of times, added some pizzazz to it and made it look deadly. And believe me, the move could actually be deadly if you took it wrong like I did. After shooting a YouTube interview with Gangrel at Gangrel’s Wrestling Asylum in Dania Beach, FL I asked him if I could have the honor of taking his finisher and he obliged. I jumped too high and too vertical on the initial takeoff, landed on the top of my head and my body folded up like an accordion. It was completely my fault but Gangrel couldm't have been kinder about it all. You can see the look of concern on his face the whole time, even after I got up. Lesson learned for me (laughs)," Van Vliet told me.
The Godfather, also known as Papa Shango and Kama Mustafa isn't one who usually gains significant praise for his selling abilities, but he was among those who Gangrel credited for helping get the Impaler over with how he took it. The good came with the bad with the cast and crew of the attitude era, however.
"There's lots of people taking it, young guys, high fliers. Godfather would take it good. Anything Edge and Jeff Hardy took from me nasty. I know I take them terrible. I'm terrible at taking DDTs, so I say if I had to take it, I'd take it terrible. Droz wasn't really good at taking things like that. I've learned to let things go when things go bad, but nobody else really stands out," said Gangrel.
In mainstream wrestling, the move is still used, and Gangrel still wrestles and operates a school today. Many have adopted the even safer spinning variation of the Impaler DDT, which gives more time for the opponent to flatten out to take the face bump. Today, Bobby Roode most famously utilizes it, but many times doesn't bump flat to his own back when using it, instead going to a seated position. However, Tyler Breeze and Heath Slater both implemented a version a little closer to Gangrel's original.
Long after Gangrel was gone from WWE, his Brood Brethren in Edge and Christian would both deliver versions that paid homage, arguably some of the best looking since Gangrel himself. With Slater losing, Breeze abandoning the move, and Bobby Roode switching it up, the Impaler in WWE doesn't even make an appearance on the company's top 10, WWE Fury, or the like. Will anyone carry on the move as originally delivered?