Why does the DDT hurt more coming from Jake “The Snake” Roberts than just about anybody else?
Welcome back to another edition of Explain Like I’m Kayfabe, the only wrestling column in the known world to never, ever take itself too seriously. After watching one of those endless YouTube compilation videos last weekend, I want to explore a question I’ve had since I was a kid: why do finishers hurt more?
From the Stone Cold Stunner to the Rock Bottom, from the Sharpshooter to the Figure-Four Leg Lock, from the Chokeslam to the other Chokeslam, every wrestler has a finishing maneuver. I am positive that most wrestlers have finishing moves in mind before they even begin working on the basics in the ring. Some finishers are incredibly specific, only performed by one or two wrestlers under unique circumstances, while others are ubiquitous, changing into standard moves over decades of exposure. High flyers have certain finishers, grapplers others, and brawlers, strikers, technicians, and others even more. I want to focus on one specific move today and track its evolution from a deadly finisher to a standard part of the moveset and back again. Today’s move is the dreaded DDT.
While made famous by WWE Hall of Famer Jake “The Snake” Roberts, the DDT was first used by Mexican wrestler Black Gordman in the 1970s. Roberts gave the maneuver its moniker, however, and was the only major wrestling star to use the move for many years. His most memorable use of the DDT is most likely when, in May of 1986, he DDT’d Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat onto the concrete outside the ring on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event. This devastating blow knocked Steamboat unconscious and led to multiple high-level matches between the two.
Roberts’ purposeful vagueness about the origin of the name DDT brought even more excitement and danger. Most likely named after the damaging pesticide used throughout the 1970s, the move catapulted Roberts into the spotlight just as much as his pet snake Damien and his cerebral and psychotic interviews. For those who haven’t seen or experienced the move, it is shattering when performed correctly. A wrestler normally kicks or strikes his opponent in the midsection, causing him to buckle. The attacking wrestler then grabs his opponent in a front facelock (also known as a headlock) and falls to the ground, driving his opponent’s forehead into the mat.
When Roberts first performed this move it was unbelievable that he had managed to not kill his opponent. This move, clearly, is meant to cause enough trauma to render one’s opponent inert for a three count. At least. Sometimes, I need five. Sorry, Big E Langston flashback. Remember when wrestlers were allowed to keep their last names? Anyway, I digress.
Fast forward a few decades to today. Everyone does the DDT. It went from being only performed by Roberts – an expert in his craft – to a standard move in most agile wrestlers’ repertoire. What happened? And why is the move used as a finisher by several grapplers and not by others?
As with most wrestling maneuvers, a few things occurred. First, it became ubiquitous. The move was amazing and more wrestlers wanted to emulate Roberts’ success. This came at a price. Roberts spent years perfecting the maneuver and knew exactly when and how to use it to the fullest. Others just slammed an opponent down. Soon, variations popped up in attempts to recapture that original impact. Kenta Kobashi invented the Double-Arm DDT, a move used as a finisher by both Mick Foley and Dean Ambrose. Sting had the Scorpion Death Drop, which was an inverted DDT. There are others. Lots of others. Second, as the move gained popularity, it became easier to avoid the worst of the impact. Roberts’ version of the move was so smooth and unexpected, it was rarely blocked. Other wrestlers needed to add flashy or more dangerous situations to cause similar damage. See Randy Orton’s Elevated DDT or Paige’s Cradle DDT for examples. Finally, the reason why the standard DDT and its variations are used as both standard maneuvers and finishers is simply study and practice. The move is dead simple. Anyone can perform it. But few can do it so well as Roberts did. And few can end their opponent’s night with a simple drop facelock. 1. 2. 3.