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 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.
Rob Van Dam made his career flying high.
He was on one of the biggest rolls of his career in 2000, holding the ECW World TV Title for almost two years before an ankle injury sidelined him for almost four months. When he returned, he had something new ready to go to regain that steam.
Making his return much quicker than expected, he jumped right back into the TV title picture. It wouldn't last, as his friend Scotty Anton (formerly Riggs) turned on him, setting up a grudge match for Hardcore Heaven.
After years of using the Five Star Frog Splash, the Van Daminator, the split-legged moonsault, Rob Van Dam busted out a new move -- the Van Terminator.
In the lead up to the match, there was much talk about it. What would the "Van Terminator" be? It was referenced in promos and effectively used to help sell a pay-per-view. It would have sold me, had I been able to buy it. But I was waiting by my PC for the live coverage updates to find out what it was. Video emerged shortly after, and it didn't disappoint.
"That’s a really good memory," Van Dam told Fightful. "What was really cool about hitting that Van Terminator is that I hyped it up to the point to where everybody who in the crowd was cheering for this move and nobody knew what it was. [So we threw it up] and hit the Van Daminator, boom! I hit the frog splash, boom! Then usually I’d pin him, but because I didn’t and waited they knew “Okay, it’s coming up, we want to see it” and I was like “I hope you’re not disappointed.” When I hit that, jumped all the way across and nailed it, and it just… The explosion, dude, that was a very good moment."
The move was spectacular. Van Dam flew from one corner of the ECW ring to the other, smashing a chair into Anton's face. Van Dam's trusty manager Bill Alfonso was there to hold it, leading do a thunderous sound in the ring and from the crowd.
Anton took the first Van Terminator on television, but he wasn't the guinea pig, as Van Dam remembers it. Instead, another ECW mainstay in Amish Roadkill took the first couple.
"We were buddies," Van Dam stated. "I did do it a couple of times in the daytime, not that day but a different daytime to Roadkill. Roadkill did eat the first couple of chairs before I did that live one with Scotty. I think it broke his nose, if I remember right. I definitely broke his nose a couple of times, and I think that was one of them. If I’m not mistaken,"
Maybe they needed a few more guinea pigs. But Scotty Anton remembered the first time both of the men took it happening well before Heatwave.
Anton told Fightful "A couple of weeks before the PPV we wrestled in Kansas City, and figured out how to have me end up sitting in the corner where Bill could put chair across my upper body and face. Bill would be saying “he’s lookin' daddy, he’s lookin' daddy.. here he comes” and at time my only thought to protect my face was to just place my hands up. Then bang! Flash of light, black, open eyes to red. My nose was broken. Steve Corino and Jack Victory were hitting the ring for a brawl, which allowed me to crawl back to dressing room with as mashed face. Would have dug that happening on the PPV, would have looked bloody badass with crimson mask! On PPV, I figured out better way to protect my face was to put my arm across and put my nose in my elbow bend. I figured a broken arm would be better than another broken nose!"
That's one way to learn. Anton had just come to WCW fresh off of a run that saw him wrestle in an eye patch after a spot that featured him eating a drop toe hold into a chair from Raven, Despite the injuries sustained along the way at the hands of Van Dam, Anton looks back on things fondly and even says his smashed face isn't a fair representation of the Van Terminator.
"It's actually a pretty safe move once the bugs of protecting the face were out, where he could land ass-wise to lessen some of the impact. I dig the whole idea of the move and looking back to be a part of creating a kickass move. It fit the 'whole f-ckin show' persona," Anton told us.
Van Dam isn't surprised that Anton is okay with things going the way they didn. By that point, the former Scotty Riggs had been wrestling in WCW for six or seven years, and taken his share of scary spots along the way.
"As far as him being ready to take it, of course. That’s what you do. If you’re uncomfortable with something it’s up to you to say that you’re not," Van Dam specified. "I can say for sure I’ve never been told do something and did something I didn’t want to do. Every danger or high risk move that I’ve ever done is because I’m that stupid."
As mentioned, Van Dam had no shortage of finishing moves. With the lax rules of ECW at his disposal, RVD says that the newer Van Terminator was just a natural evolution of another instant classic.
"It was an extension of the Van Daminator. Before my first match in ECW, I was trying to think of a list of hardcore moves because I needed to get over with this crowd. I was in Georgia clapping my hands to get over with the crowd, “U-S-A!” Total different kinda crowd. So, I was thinking of these moves, and I thought “okay, one of them, maybe throw a chair up and do a jumping spin kick into his face. Okay, I’ll write that one down.” I had no idea that it was gonna be such an over move and be a finish for me that would win me championship belts. But we had to play with that. So sometimes [Bill “Fonzy” Alfonso] and I would do what we call “hot potato,” and Fonzy would throw it to me and I’d throw it to the guy, the guy would catch it, then I’d kick him. From there, sometimes I’d crotch my opponent on the top rope half way down and then Fonzy would hold a chair over his face and then I would jump off the top and I would kick him in the face while he was crotched on the top rope with the chair. [I/We] kept pushing the guy back further and further to get more air on that flying side kick and then eventually I came up with “Well, I might as well just sit you in the corner and clear the ring," Van Dam said.
The Van Terminator itself required some evolution. Van Dam went from ECW to WWE in 2001. With that came bigger rings. "The Whole F'n Show" had spent most of his career in ECW, but was no stranger to the then-World Wrestling Federation. His Van Terminator was, though. He used it to help call back to his experience in ECW.
"Not only is it two feet wider from an 18 foot to a 20-footer, but also in ECW we had steel cables for our ropes, steel cable with a rubber hose over it," Van Dam said of the change. "They used nylon so it doesn’t have, it’s not as taut. It doesn’t give you the spring and I totally had to adjust. The first night during the invasion I had to do the Van Terminator to Kane, I believe, and looking back at it I wish I woulda got down there, and stood on the top rope and tested it. But I was so cocky back then, ridiculously cocky, I just said “Ah, I got it.” I’m sure I didn’t want everyone to look at me and have the attention on me [know that I was even up on the top rope. I was just off doing my own thing.] I was going to be a surprise that night when Tommy and I invaded, I think it was in Atlanta. Not just Tommy and I, but that was a good night too because I thought that I had sold out, that WWE was gonna call me whatever and erase my past, give me a new character and I didn’t want that. But it was like the only option, they had the only TV in the United States if I wanted to continue being a TV pro wrestler in the US, that was it. So I said alright, hung my head down, “I’m selling out.” Then I saw Dreamer in an ECW shirt and I was like “Whoa, what? We’re representing.” So it added depth to my past instead of erasing it. So that was really cool.
Adjusting to a new environment was a learning process for Van Dam. Practice makes perfect, even when you've been doing a move for a year. RVD was well aware that there were risks at play, both in making him look bad and hurting the opponent, and explained the trial and error process that would follow his WWE debut.
"When I went up there during the show and I went for the Van Terminator it felt like if I wouldn’t have pushed the chair with my feet I don’t think it would have really connected with him. Sometimes I hit them so hard before I extend my legs all my weight’s going into the face and then I’ll miss one because of what you mentioned and the difference. My ass fell short of where I wanted it to and I had to extend my legs and kick the chair the extra bit. I think I did it to Paul Heyman, I think, shortly after that, it seems like. By that time I was ready for it. But it became more of a Van Terminator into a cannon ball chair that I would kick into the guy. But then I did get in there one time and practiced a few times and was like “Oh, I got this," said Van Dam.
RVD continues to innovate into 2020, but he also knows his limitations. Knowing that his limitations wouldn't be exceeded by jumping across the ring gave us one of the most exhilarating spots ever.
"Usually if I can do it in my mind then I can do it. I can visualize it, I can feel it in my body I know I got it. But something like that is an exception. So, a little bit of practice doesn’t hurt even when you’re the Whole F’n Show," RVD closed.
Today, we still see the move done here and there. In WWE, Shane McMahon will bust it out, usually with the help of a trash can and some camera trickery in order to help hide some deficiencies. Van Dam himself does the move on occasion in IMPACT Wrestling, even effectively writing off Brian Cage with it.