“Stone Cold” Steve Austin is one of the most legendary WWE wrestlers in history, and the same descriptor applies to his iconic finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner. Deadspin calls it the most important wrestling finisher ever, and it’s also responsible for arguably the most important use of a finishing maneuver in the company’s history: On September 22, 1997, Austin shocked the audience by giving the hitherto untouchable chairman Vince McMahon a Stone Cold Stunner in the ring. According to the Bleacher Report, this incident became known as the “stunner heard round the world.”
The Stunner wasn’t Austin’s original finisher, or even his own invention. In 1996, he was using the Million Dollar Dream (a submission hold inherited from Hall of Famer Ted DiBiase), when fellow wrestler Michael P.S. Heyes came up and showed him the move, saying that wrestler John Laurinaitis was using it in Japan to great effect. Austin modified the move with a little setup kick to the gut, and the rest is history. He doesn’t really remember who named the move, but suspects it was either wrestling commentator Jim Ross or “someone in the office.”
One interesting feature of the Stunner is that it enabled both Austin and the recipient of the move to look good. The dropping motion of the Stunner gave wrestlers the perfect opportunity to sell the move in creative ways, and SB Nation has even compiled the list of the people who did the most entertaining job. The most gloriously inventive over-seller of the move is generally thought to be The Rock. As Sportskeeda reports, he used to make beer bets with Austin to see just how insanely he could exaggerate the move’s effect.
Stone Cold Stunner before Steve Austin
According to Deadspin, many wrestlers have used the move before Austin elevated it to the realm of legends. The Stunner’s innovator, John “Johnny Ace” Laurinaitis, called it the Ace Crusher in the early 1990s. Diamond Dallas Page (Diamond Cutter) and Mikey Whipwreck (Whipper-Snapper) also used versions of the move before Austin, though they were stylistically different from the very grounded version the heavyset Austin uses.
Austin’s true genius — and, arguably, the thing that made the Stone Cold Stunner so popular — was the addition of the kick to the gut he used as a setup. Wrestling is all about theatrics, and the kick adds a “beat of anticipation” to perk up the audience before he unleashed the actual move. Austin did this on purpose, and in fact borrowed the “setup maneuver” concept from one of the very best: The legendary Jake “The Snake” Roberts was fond of using a short arm clothesline before tearing into his devastating DDT finishing move.
The future of the Stone Cold Stunner
Even after Austin made the Stone Cold Stunner his own, other pro wrestlers have managed to successfully use variations of the theme. Randy Orton famously uses a flying version called the RKO, which is closer to Johnny Ace’s original, and Kevin Owens uses… well, pretty much the same version as Austin does. According to the Wrap, Austin is completely cool with other people using the move. In fact, he gives Owens’ version of the move a B+, and thinks that the younger wrestler has the potential get to A+ eventually.
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