The history of submission holds in wrestling is a long and storied one. The thought that one opponent could stretch another until they say uncle was an appealing way to not just beat your opponent but embarrass them too. At first, they were rudimentary and like a lot of moves from way back, look a little ridiculous. However, if you squeeze or yank hard enough, wrestlers could really hurt you with moves like the Bear Hug, the Claw, or The Sleeper (which really looked like they could decimate a man).
As the business has evolved, as well as real fight sports, these basic finishers, while still damaging, have given way to far more complex and diverse submission maneuvers that get the crowds right off their feet. When we suspend disbelief in this world, the level of pain these moves must feel like if properly applied would cause anyone to tap out. Here are The 10 Deadliest Submission Moves In WWE History, Ranked. Special shout out to moves like Tajiri’s Tarantula and Bret Hart’s Figure Four around the ring post. They’d both have spots on this list if not for them both being illegal.
10 The Sharpshooter
Speaking of Bret Hart, when he embarked on his singles career, he borrowed the Scorpion Death Lock from Sting. He dubbed his version the Sharpshooter and wrestling fans have been enthralled by it ever since. Being a better technical wrestler than Sting allowed for Bret to lock the move in all kinds of interesting ways.
The move has become a staple of the Hart Family and family friend Cesaro, who usually locks his version after spinning his foe around the ring about 65 times first.
One of the coolest things Paige did in her short WWE career was reintroduce the WWE Universe to Bull Nakano’s Angelito submission. Paige called her version the PTO. It’s one of the most inventive submissions of all time. Essentially an inverted Sharpshooter / Surfboard hybrid, if it’s locked in properly, there’s a huge amount of torque being applied on an opponent’s arms, legs, and back - so basically everything. With no escape in sight, anyone would have to tap from it.
8 The Black Widow
AJ Lee might wind up going down as the smallest wrestler ever that wasn’t classified as a “little person.” That didn’t stop the petite pixie from crafting a terrifying submission move, aptly named The Black Widow. Since she was so tiny, any opponent might think they could just heave her around the ring. But once she spun herself around your body, you’d be locked into her vice before you even noticed. One leg sling around your head while she wrenches back on your arm and if you try to move, you would just fall to mat, leaving no choice but to tap.
7 Hell’s Gate
Once it became established that the Undertaker was far better in the ring than having bigger monsters fed to him, it was on. The Deadman began having all kinds of marquee matches against all sorts of great competitors. He would eventually allow his love of MMA to shine through when he is starting using the Gogoplata submission hold for his own. The Hell’s Gate locks your arm and neck right on top of the Phenom’s shin. Then he pulls on his other leg as hard as he can. Just press on the back of your neck for one second. That discomfort - imagine the Reaper Of Wayward Souls doing that tenfold.
6 Figure Four / Figure Eight
For nearly forty years, when Ric Flair had you on the mat, grabbed a leg and let out a “Wooo!” You knew that the Figure Four was coming. Now it’s something his daughter Charlotte does before snapping on her variation of the move - the Figure Eight. Over time the move had become a little bit of an inside joke since Ric was too busy putting guys over than actually winning matches with the Figure Four. When Charlotte bridges up on the other hand, if her opponent is nowhere near the ropes, expect the match to be over really quick.
5 Walls Of Jericho
Chris Jericho is persona non-grata in the WWE these days due to his allegiance with AEW. That doesn’t mean that his variant of the Boston Crab, The Walls Of Jericho isn’t still one of greatest submission finishers in all of wrestling.
The human body isn’t meant to be elevated from its chest with 245 pounds of Chris Jericho leaning into it – knee first. The guy likes to reinvent himself as much as Madonna does and come up with all kinds of finishers, the AEW legend’s original finisher is still his best.
4 Kimura Lock
He doesn’t break it out that often anymore, but when a move is associated with Brock Lesnar, it’s a safe bet that it’s going to be a very dangerous submission hold. The Kimura or Key Lock is an MMA move that can legitimately break a fighter’s arm if they’re caught and can’t escape. In storyline, Brock used it to break both Triple H and HBK’s arm. In reality, it’s the same move that eventual Tough Enough winner Daniel Puder caught Kurt Angle with in Puder’s only claim to wrestling fame.
3 Dragon Sleeper
If you can control an opponent’s body, you can more or less do anything you want to them. If you get them in the Ultimo Dragon’s Dragon Sleeper you can do all kinds of irreversible damage. Grab them from the back as if you were going to deliver a Scorpion Death Drop. But instead of driving your opponent into the mat, cinch in on the reverse facelock and yank as hard as you can.
For extra pain, Ultimo and others who have used the move would bring their opponents to a kneeling position where they could dig a knee into the small of their back. If you’ve ever wrestled around with your friends, be careful pulling this move out - it’s the epitome of “Don’t Try This At Home.”
2 Mandible Claw
Only from the mind of Mick Foley, who was not a master technician, would a submission move so vile come from. He adopted the Mandible Claw from an old school wrestler, Sam Shepard, the real-life inspiration for The Fugitive TV series and movie. Foley would popularize the move while wearing a sock on his hand. But we all know that tanking down a guy’s throat is a much more jarring sight than Mr. Socko.
1 The Stump Puller
It’s a bully move fit for a real nasty heel. That’s why it worked so well for Matt Borne during his days as Doink The Clown. He’d sit on his opponent’s shoulders keeping their arms at bay and then grab their leg and then do exactly what the name of the move implies. He’d pull the stump as hard as he could. The move clearly is too sadistic for anyone to utilize today. It hasn’t been seen before or since the evil clown did it.