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.
NOTE: Updated to reflect Damian Priest's name change.
The South of Heaven chokeslam. A new twist on an old classic from a talent who has plenty in his arsenal.
Damian Priest, formerly Punishment Martinez, is in a unique spot as an emerging name who also happens to be an established ring veteran. After spending the last couple of years in Ring of Honor, his South of Heaven chokeslam has led him to a Ring of Honor television championship and numerous victories before he packed up and headed south to the WWE Performance Center.
As Damian tells it, the move came to him by accident.
"For the South of Heaven chokeslam, I was training at the old Monster Factory, and at the time the trainer on Sundays was Jim Molineaux, who was a referee for ECW," said Priest. "It was before I had my first match, and he was telling me 'We've got to come up with a finisher for you. Try a chokeslam,' The reason why I got into pro wrestling was because of the Undertaker. I was a big fan, and just everything about him. When he said try a chokeslam, I got excited, and the first time I tried it, it didn't come out smooth, then I tried it again, and I fell. But when I fell I fell sitting down, maybe because it was a big guy I was trying it on. So then Jim mentioned maybe try something else, and I said hold on, can I try that one more time? And then I did it and purposefully fell, where I did it sitting out, and I did a sit-out chokeslam. He saw it and he was like, 'that's it.'"
You might not be so shocked to learn by looking at Priest, that the inspiration for the name of the move came from one of the most famous metal bands of all time. Damian said "I decided to call it the South of Heaven chokeslam, you know, because of Slayer, and they have a song named South of Heaven, and an album. So that's how that came to be.
For his opponents, the move seems simple enough to take -- you get elevation and take a solid back bump. Priest is quick to admit that he prefers a smaller opponent to really accentuate the move, and broke down the benefits and the hurdles he's faced based on body types.
"I've never had a problem with anybody doing it really, like you said, it's basic, it's simple, and effective, and it looks powerful. As far as favorites to do it to, Ospreay, I gave him a pretty good one where I was almost gorilla pressing him into it, so that was pretty cool. I do enjoy doing that dead lift. Jay White, I dead lift choked him a few times, and though it may seem like he's not a big guy he's a pretty thick person. He's a heavyweight, and he's all muscle. That one was a little challenging, but it worked out really well, because -- I fully praise him, he's really good. He took it really well. I had some really good ones with him. Jay Lethal took a really good one. I do have certain people that I know can take it better than others, obviously, I don't expect you know ... Beer City Bruiser to take it like Jay Lethal does. But he can still take a pretty good one too," said Priest.
Within the colorful world of pro wrestling, the sell can make the finishing move, break it, or make it look completely ridiculous. Scott Hall eating a Stunner at WrestleMania X8, The Rock taking it, and Donald Trump eating one at Ford Field all is subjective from a viewership aspect, and Damian hasn't went without seeing his own friends have a little fun at the expense of the South of Heaven.
"QT Marshall, I gave him one at the Monster Factory and he popped almost all the way up to his feet and fell back down. It was really good though. It was almost too fun, and we're really close and good friends, so it wasn't like I took it in a negative way. It was fun. He took it really well," says Priest.
As mentioned, the versatile Priest has several other attacks at his disposal. A high flier, a brawler, and a competitor who doesn't exactly shy away from powering combatants across the ring, he's got tope con hilos that start inside the ring to flying kicks off the top rope. The giant of a man broke down several of his other go-to maneuvers.
"The Psycho Driver -- I have won matches with it. I'd call it a signature move more than a finisher, but I have won matches with it. If anything I would use, I also use a curb stomp, I use the top rope spin kick, and a springboard punch that I have all used to win matches. But the South of Heaven chokeslam is definitely the main, that's my finisher."
Not to be one-upped by QT Marshall, Kazarian took the rack piledriver in the middle of the ring from Priest during an ROH match, only to be pinned all the way in the corner based on how it was sold
"That one actually caught me off-guard, I wasn't expecting that," Priest recalls. "I saw him fly up in the air after we landed and I was like, 'wow.' And I don't know if he did that purposefully or if it just happened. I mean I've taken moves ... I got a double flapjack one time in a tag match, it was actually my last indie match at the Monster Factory -- I remember because it was two big guys, I think it was like Fallah Bahh and Nick Comoroto -- two big massive dudes doing it to me, and when the three of us landed, without trying, I landed completely standing up. I bounced off my chest and face to my feet and fell back on my face."
Despite the fact that some of the aforementioned offensive moves might be more physically impressive to viewers, Priest tells us that he's headstrong on making the sitout chokeslam synonymous with both his name, and "the end." So far, it's worked out for him. In the long term, Damian is committed, even though that wasn't always the case.
"I like my finisher. I've tried different things, and it's not necessarily that it's not for me, I just established that for so many years, since my first match in 2004, that was my finish," said Priest. "Everywhere new that I work, once I do it, people recognize it as my finisher, so to change now ... I don't know what I would do. Like I said, I've used many moves to finish matches, but the South of Heaven, especially because I named it, and I've seen other people do it and on commentary I've heard other commentators call it the South of Heaven, that kind of makes me feel good. It may have been done before me. It's almost like I named it. So it's kind of cool. That's why I enjoy doing it."
Now, Priest takes his talents, and the South of Heaven Chokeslam to NXT. He debuted on television against a face familiar to himself and Fightful viewers -- Matt Riddle, and has since become NXT North American Champion.