77. DAVE FINLAY
Aliases – Fit Finlay; Belfast Bruiser; Finlay; “Fit” Finley
Debuted – October 1978
Titles Held – WWE United States; WCW Television
Other Accomplishments – WCW Hardcore Junkyard Invitational
Trophy winner; awarded LL Cool J Award by Fighting Spirit Magazine
The guidelines for IP’s top 100 Wrestlers feature center on each wrestler’s achievements since 1980 in North America. Given these constraints, # 77 is a decent showing for second generation wrestler, Mr. David Edward Finlay. For, even though “Fit” was wrestling as early as 1978, he didn’t appear before American audiences regularly prior to 1995.
This means that one must discount his reign as the British Heavyweight Champion for All Star Promotions, his four reigns as Joint Promotions’ British Heavy Middleweight Champion, as well as around 15 other title reigns throughout Europe. Also not taken into consideration are his feuds and classic matches with the likes of Alan Kilby, Johnny Saint, Ringo Rigby, Dave Taylor, and Marty Jones.
The Finlay who makes the Inside Pulse top 100 is not the slender young Irishman who would come to the ring with Native American Princess Paula. (I’m not quite sure why those gimmicks went together.) No, the Finlay to make our top 100 is the mean old bastard you see today on SmackDown.
Finlay debuted in WCW around 1995, languishing in the mid-card/lower mid-card. He was given a feud with Lord Steven Regal based solely on the traditional hatred between the English and the Northern Irish. Though this feud produced some memorably stiff encounters (Finlay broke Regal’s nose at Uncensored ’96), it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, or lead to much of anything. Finlay’s career in World Championship Wrestling reached its zenith in 1998 during his reign as TV champion. But even then, he was merely a supporting character in the famed Benoit/Booker T best of seven series.
At a house show in July 1999, Finlay was severely injured in a Hardcore match against “Nasty Boy” Knobbs. He took a seemingly routine bump through a table. Sadly neither the table nor his landing were routine. The table shattered like jagged glass, lacerating a nerve in Finlay’s knee.
Amputation was considered, and there was a 50/50 shot of Finlay ever walking again.
Fit Finlay was wrestling again by the end of the year.
He hung around the hardcore division for a bit, managed some wrestler known as “the Dog” and quietly retired in 2000.
Like so many others in WCW, Fit Finlay was misused. It’s easy to see why. Finlay was a “wrestler” in the era of “sports entertainment.” He wasn’t funny on the microphone. He didn’t have cool hand signals or a bunch of over-used catchphrases for the crowd to parrot. He was the antithesis of the “Attitude/NWO” era. Finlay went out to the ring, and wrestled.
His brutal and deliberate style was “boring” to the bandwagon fans of the wrestling boom. (“Why can’t he do a move like THE WORM?”) Freshly-minted smarks were at a stage wherein they thought good matches consisted of a series of unrelated highspots, and didn’t appreciate his old-school approach.
When WCW folded, Finlay took a job as a Road Agent for the WWF. He was given the task of teaching the “Divas” how to wrestle.
This should be the end of the story.
But in 2004, Finlay started training to wrestle again. He even defeated Jamie Noble that year at a show in Glasgow. In 2005, vignettes started to appear on WWE (nee WWF) programming hyping Finlay, an Irishman who loved to fight. In January 2006, and the tender age of 47, Finlay made his debut as a WWE wrestler.
And it worked.
It worked well, despite all logic saying that it shouldn’t.
Finlay lost his return/debut match against Matt Hardy by means of disqualification for excessive brutality. (Though, through these actions, he gained Eric S. as a lifelong fan.) The nest week, Finlay’s post victory beatdown of Funaki caused the referee to retroactively disqualify him and award Funaki the match.
Finlay then started feuding with Bobby Lashley. With this series of matches, Finlay was able to reinforced his “tough as nails” image, make Bobby Lashley look like a million bucks, and improve Lashley’s wrestling ability by no less than 200 percent.
Pushing 50, Finlay was not only one of the top workers on Smackdown, but in the entire WWE: able to work a stiff and brutal style, without taking liberties or injuring anybody (as opposed to, say, Bob Holly); able to keep up with guys half his age, and avoid injuries in a WWE plagued with them; able to put on an entertaining match with just about anybody.
When saddled with ridiculous Irish gimmicks like a shillelagh and a leprechaun, Finlay made it work. Perhaps it was these things which supplied the level of Sports Entertainment Finlay needed to get over with the casual fans all along.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.