"STUNNER!!! STUNNER!!! STUNNER!!!" Arguably the most popular finisher in the history of professional wrestling, the Stunner is nothing short of a work of art. It’s safe, quick, can be performed on anyone, and when done right, it looks spectacular. From Mikey Whipwreck, Steve Austin, Kevin Owens, and beyond, here is the neck-cracking history of this beloved maneuver.
The History of The Stunner
Firstly, let’s get one thing straight: The Stunner is NOT a Cutter.
A Cutter is a 3/4 facelock where the attacker lands flat back, planting the opponent’s face into the ground like a Bulldog.
On the other hand, the Stunner is a 3/4 facelock in which the attacker drops down in a seated position, crushing their opponent’s jaw with their shoulder.
Before the Stunner became a bonafide finisher, variations of the move could be seen throughout wrestling history, usually as an escape or a reversal.
At any given moment when watching old-school wrestling, you may find yourself pulling a Rick Dalton as someone jaw drops their way out of a sleeper hold or full nelson. Heck, by happy accident, I discovered Steve Austin himself perform such a reversal against Ricky Steamboat during WCW Clash Of The Champions ’94!
Could this be the first time Steve Austin performed a variation of the move?
Who Was the First Wrestler to Use The Stunner as a Finisher?
The question of "Who was the first to use The Stunner as a finisher?" often comes up amongst wrestling fans.
According to ECW legend Mikey Whipwreck, who had his own version called "The Whipper-Snapper" that predates a particular Texas Rattlesnake’s interpretation, it was inspired by one of The Fabulous Freebirds.
However, it’s not the same Freebird who inspired Steve Austin’s version later on!
Speaking to Marc Madison of Pro Wrestling Post back in 2018, Whipwreck admitted, "I got it from Gorgeous Jimmy Garvin when he came back on a WCW pay per view in 1995 or ’96. He came back with a haircut and wrestled Johnny B Badd in some random match.
"Garvin did the move with no kick to the gut. He just grabbed Johnny B Badd and did it. He called it the ‘911.’ So, I got it from Jimmy Garvin."
Whipwreck continued, "Steve [Austin] got it from Michael Hayes, who I guess got it from Johnny Ace."
So did Garvin invent the Stunner?
He was undoubtedly the first to use it on mainstream American pro wrestling television, but the real credit goes to Michael PS Hayes.
"Before I came to the WWE and was just winding down in WCW, I wanted to come up with a new finish," said Hayes, speaking to the WWE Network in the short documentary, Birth Of The Stunner.
“I came up with this move where you drop down on your bottom and drive your opponent’s throat into your shoulder.”
According to Hayes, his buddy Garvin took his place in the Johnny B Badd feud due to back surgery where Garvin used the 911 instead.
The Whipper-Snapper by Mikey Whipwreck
Like most things in Extreme Championship Wrestling, Mikey Whipwreck made his version of the Stunner more, well, extreme. Rather than just taking off from the mat, Mikey evolved it into a turnbuckle high spot, a decision he later would regret.
"Mine was off the middle rope, which at the time seemed like a good idea. But on the back? Not so good. It was a little rough on the rear, rough on the back, and a little rough on the neck.
"[Steve Austin] did it from the mat which originally was how I was doing it. I should have used the middle rope version for a special occasion."
Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Stone Cold Stunner
Soon, it would be time for a change.
"Michael Hayes showed me the Stone Cold Stunner in North Carolina at a TV taping," disclosed Austin, talking to Drew McIntyre on the Broken Skull Sessions.
"He said, ‘Hey kid, you got a second? Come here.’ Well, hell yeah. Michael Hayes is The Fabulous Freebirds, of course, I got time. He showed me the Stunner, and I started using it."
Austin debuted the Stunner in a match against Savio Vega back in 1996.
Over time, it would develop to include a kick to the guts, which would bend the opponent over, getting them in position for the famous drop.
"I needed some type of setup maneuver ala Jake ‘The Snake’ Robert’s signature short-arm clothesline that he delivered before unleashing one of the most devastating finishers of all time…The DDT. An easy and quick solution to this was the kick to the gut, which perfectly set the victim into an effective ‘ready position.’"
Austin continued, "Not only was the kick effective as a weapon to neutralize my opponent, it was also a visual ‘signal’ to the crowd that the Stunner was next…Or was it? Any kind of curveball could be worked into the equation at that point, but from a storytelling standpoint, the Stunner was ‘supposed’ to happen next."
So not only was Jake Roberts the wrestler on the receiving end of the promo that gave us “Austin 3.16,” but he was also a major influence on the Stunner!
The first famous Stunner that propelled the move into the stratosphere was delivered on Vince McMahon on September 22nd, 1997. It kick-started their rivalry and helped kick the Attitude era to the next level with its most enduring and fabled feud.
Speaking of kicks, poor old Vince would sometimes take the hit a little further south than he would have liked.
Austin revealed, "Many times, if I was not going to the gym and drinking too much, my shorts would get too tight to kick my leg up high enough. I’d kick [Vince] in the balls so many times! It wasn’t that I couldn’t kick up high, but my shorts were too tight. I kicked him in the nuts I don’t know how many times. We still laugh about it.”
Despite the image of Stone Cold hitting his move on his dumbstruck boss becoming the thing of legend, Vince could never really take it that well, and he would often flop straight to the ground like a sack of spuds.
The Stunner: Who Took it Best?
So, who took the Stunner the best?
Most would argue that honor belongs to The Rock.
The Rock would ragdoll around the ring, flipping back completely and bouncing all over the shop. It was so ridiculous that it somehow went full circle and became awesome. It’s a point The Rock likes to raise time and time again on his Twitter account, once tweeting, “Me and [Steve Austin] used to bet cases of beer on how crazy I could get with my ‘sell’ of his famous Stunner!”
When Steve Austin retired, he took the Stunner with him. The move would only make sporadic appearances when Austin guested on shows or when it was performed by other superstars (i.e., John Cena’s Springboard Stunner) during big matches.
It wasn’t until the last couple of years that Kevin Owens decided to give the maneuver a new home.
Kevin Owens Explains Why He Changed His Finisher to the Stunner
"I felt like everybody was doing powerbombs left and right, and I wanted to try something else," said Kevin Owens in a 2019 Sports Illustrated interview.
"One day, it occurred to me that no one does the Stunner as a finishing move, but to me, it’s always been the best move."
Owens continued, "So I just went to Steve one day when he was here, and I asked him, and he said, ‘I can’t believe nobody’s asked me this before, but of course you can use it. Do whatever you want with it!’
"I did that out of respect for the people who’ve come before me. I would never want to do that without his approval. He gave me the approval and it’s working for me, so I have no intention of stopping and no intention of renaming it, either. It’s the Stunner and it always will be the Stunner."
The Stunner – In Good Hands
It seems the future of the Stunner is in safe hands. However, whenever the glass breaks and Steve Austin makes an appearance on WWE television, there is a line of superstars queuing to take that bump as a badge of honor.
Take, for instance, WrestleMania 32 when Rusev made sure he had a turn.
As he revealed to his former League Of Nations partner Sheamus on one of his Twitch streams, "We started picking who’s gonna take what. I volunteered right away because I knew. I always wanted to take a Stunner, because I knew I can take it good, and yes, they gave me the Stunner!"
Xavier Woods recalls that very same pay-per-view on A&E’s Biography: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin documentary.
"Everyone is super invested in this one moment in time, to the point I was just thinking about that fact that I might be the last person on this earth to receive a Stone Cold Stunner at WrestleMania. While it hurts like hell, it’s one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me.”
To fans and superstars young and old, the Stunner is one of the greatest finishers of all time, and that’s the bottom line!
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