While I may have never actually competed in a pro wrestling match, I have had plenty of "amateur" matches in my parents' basement for numerous years. Like almost every other wrestling fan in history I respectfully ignored WWE's pleas to "Don't Try This At Home" in favor of putting on some excellent matches with my brothers and/or friends on the wood floors of my Montreal home.
As hardcore as we were, we never did any move that was too dangerous or high impact. How do you get around this? Perform submission holds! You're able to control the pressure you're applying, and nobody gets hurt (usually).
As much fun as it is to pretend to be passing out in a sleeper hold, it's much more fun to watch the actual moves being used in a pro wrestling match. Unlike a lot of clubbing, lumbering moves you find in the squared circle, submission holds require a more deliberated and calculated style. Not everybody uses them but the ones that can pull them off well are instantly respected in my book.
Another reason why submission holds in wrestling are so great is that you can use a fair bit of them in real life. In a street fight it's highly unlikely that you're gonna bust out a Pedigree or a Stone Cold Stunner. But an armbar or an ankle lock? Those are actual martial arts moves, giving pro wrestling a sense of authenticity that it sometimes sorely lacks.
Now when ranking these submissions we need to keep a few factors in mind:
1. How painful/cool does the submission look?
2. How difficult is it to escape from the hold?
3. Can it be applied from several positions?
With those factors in mind, I present to you the top 15 submission holds in professional wrestling:
16 (Dis?)Honorable Mention: Testicular Claw
Umm... I'll just leave this here:
15 Gory Special
Okay so the name of the move is pretty awful, but at least the technique looks good. Innovated by the patriarch of the legendary Guerrero family, Gory Guerrero in the 1940s, this hold has stayed in fashion due to the numerous sons of Guerrero including Eddie and Chavo busting it out on occasion. The move starts out like a backslide pin but instead of the attacker going on his knees to pin he lifts his opponent in the air and hooks his foe's feet into his crotch to stretch out every muscle imaginable. Because the move is so rarely seen and looks rather easy to escape from, it just slides in at 15.
14 Octopus Stretch
When one thinks of an octopus they usually think of the sea creature but I like to think of the Spider-Man villain, Doctor Octopus. A villain who could multi-task like a study-cramming college student is a dangerous one indeed. In that same way, the Octopus Stretch does several things at once.
Popularized by the Japanese wrestling icon Antonio Inoki, the Octopus Stretch (also known as Manji-Gatame) is a submission which targets the shoulder, elbow and neck all at the same time. Even worse? You have to carry your opponent's weight and your arms are useless to defend it. The move is pretty hard to pull as you must be super flexible but it is devastating.
13 Hell's Gate
In the first of several martial arts submissions on this countdown, the Hell's Gate is actually a move from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu known as the Gogoplata. What is the origin of the name? Nobody seems to know but it is one of the most bizarre and crushing holds in wrestling.
The choke itself is simple but it's the setup that requires tons of practice. Essentially the grounded attacker must pull his opponent's arm in between his two legs and then throw his leg over the extended arm. The shin of that leg is then placed on the opponent's throat and by pulling on the head, the attacker makes life absolutely miserable for his foe. The move not only requires insane flexibility but is also better to use if you have long legs. Luckily, The Undertaker (the man who "invented" the hold in pro wrestling) has both in spades allowing him to add another amazing finishing move even in the twilight of his career.
12 Anaconda Vise
Speaking of Brazillian Jiu Jitsu techniques, I present to you the finisher of he who shall not be named (by WWE officials), CM Punk.
While the move is utilized in real BJJ as more of an armbar, Punk adapted the technique for pro wrestling by making it look more dramatic. The basic setup is the same as the attacker holds the opponent's head and arm and grips his hands into a figure four grip but that's where the similarities end.
The real life move treats the vise as an arm lock, but Punk instead cranks upwards to crush the opponent's chest. While this does make for an awesome visual of Punk's face, it makes it kind of easy for the opponent to escape via knee to the back of the head. Illegal in grappling, not so much in pro wrestling.
11 Sleeper Hold
This technique is not going to win any awards for creativity, but my oh my is it effective. While Judo is credited with formally founding the technique, I'm sure the move was used ever since the beginning of time due to its simplicity.
Step one: get behind your opponent. Step two: place the blade of your forearm on your opponent's throat. Step three: use the choking arm's hand to grasp on to your free arm's biceps and SQUEEZE!!! Because of how easy it is to do, it is seen at nearly every wrestling show and has been used as a finisher by several wrestlers including Dolph Ziggler and Roddy Piper. The move is a classic, and it ain't going away any time soon.
10 Cross Armbar
The armbar could actually refer to several techniques but the one we're talking about now is the one and only juji gatame from Judo, known as the cross armbar in pro wrestling circles. For this move, the opponent lies supine or on his stomach while the attacker places his legs across the face and chest and grabs hold of the arm close to him. From there, the attacker controls the wrist in order to wreak havoc on the opponent's elbow joint.
Several wrestlers have used the move but my award for best user goes to Alberto El Patron (formerly known as Alberto Del Rio). Not only did few people break out of it, but the added standing twist he slam his opponents and his innovative top rope variations push him as the armbar M.V.P. Sorry, Chris Jericho.
9 Cobra Clutch
(Based off only my opinion) Likely created in catch wrestling circles in the late 19th century, the cobra clutch is another pro wrestling submission which can also be used in real life. Made popular by Sgt. Slaughter in the 80s, the cobra clutch is a chokehold that cuts off blood circulation to the neck by jamming a forearm into the carotid artery while pulling one of your opponent's arms across his chin.
The move is not only great because of how powerful it is, but because the escapes from it look so beautiful. Check Bret Hart's reversal on Stone Cold Steve Austin at Survivor Series 1996 as an example (15:08).
The move's effectiveness is now more prominent than ever as grappling competitors have started utilizing it in their arsenals. And that is something that Slaughter can salute to.
8 Rings of Saturn
While the WWE made excellent use of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit when they debuted with the company in 2000, Perry Saturn wasn't as lucky. Quickly made into a comedy character who dumped his smoking hot girlfriend Terri Runnels to date a mop over the bombshell blonde. He could have been a killer character, especially with this submission.
The best way to describe this hold is an abdominal stretch on steroids. The opponent lays on his stomach while the attacker scissors one arm and then pulls the other arm backwards, obliterating the shoulder joints and stretching the pectoral muscles of the opponent. It may not be number one, but this is probably the most underrated submission hold ever.
Okay so after training in Judo for over 13 years, I MAY have a slight bias for this submission so... I'll only put it at number seven.
Many younger fans might only remember Tazz as a commentator but before he ever put on the headset, he was the Human Suplex Machine, an absolute destroyer in the underground ECW promotion. When Tazz came to the WWE in 2000, he burst onto the scene by choking out Kurt Angle with his finishing submission, the Tazzmission.
Known as Kata-Ha-Jime in Judo, the original technique requires a gi but Tazz modified it for pro wrestling. Like a sleeper hold, the attacker puts a forearm across the throat of their opponent and with the other arm the attacker puts on a half nelson. If that wasn't enough, Tazz would also pull them down and grapevine a leg, severely crippling their mobility. Not only is the move devastating, but nobody has ever escaped the Tazzmission once it was fully locked in. If Tazz ever became WWE Champion, maybe this move would have been higher up.
6 Camel Clutch
Believe it or not, The Iron Sheik was not the creator of the camel clutch. I know, Sheiky Baby will probably break my back and make me humble for denying him some glory, but credit for the creation goes to, once again, Gory Guerrero. Fun fact: Camel Clutch means "La de a Caballo". Now on to the actual move.
Imagine the most unbearable pain in your lower back and you'd have a good understanding of what the camel clutch entails. With the opponent lying belly down, the attacker sits on the lower back and hooks the opponents' arms on top of his knees. From there, the attacker cranks back the head until the victim squeals in pain. The move has been utilized by countless men as a finisher, but nobody used it quite as well as The Iron Sheik. Hopefully now Sheiky don't make me humble.
Some of you I'm sure are surprised that the Boston Crab has not made an appearance on the list and there's a simple reason for that: the Liontamer is a better version of it.
Made popular by Chris Jericho in his WCW days, this modified Boston Crab far surpasses the original in my opinion for a couple of reasons. One, the elevation in the hold contorts the spine so much more than the vanilla Boston Crab. Secondly, the knee to the head of the opponent adds another layer of cruelty to the submission, making it work great especially for heels. Unfortunately this move is difficult to apply on bigger guys (that's why Y2J stopped using it) but it's still one of the best.
4 Ankle Lock
When he made his WWE debut back in 1997, Ken Shamrock needed a lethal looking finisher that lived up to his reputation as a Mixed Martial Arts world champion. Enter the Ankle Lock.
Known as Ashi Dori Garami in Judo, the ankle lock is actually "Toe Hold", but Ankle Lock just sounds better. The attacker grabs the toes of an opponent's leg and the other hand is placed on the bicep of the toe gripping arm, like a sleeper hold grip. Unlike a sleeper hold though which is more draining than painful, the ankle lock is a killer which will shred the ligaments in the leg to shreds.
While Shamrock made it popular and his terrifying facial expressions made the move look awesome, Kurt Angle undoubtedly perfected the maneuver. By grapevining the leg, Angle took away almost every means of escape for his opponent. Very few have escaped Angle's version once it was fully locked in, a sure sign that your submission is awesome.
3 Yes Lock
Much like the Boston Crab and the Liontamer, the Yes Lock is an improvement over an already amazing finisher. The Crippler Crossface was one of my favorite finishers as a kid but Daniel Bryan's Yes Lock is now my favorite current finisher in wrestling.
The move itself begins from... well almost anywhere really. The attacker only needs a grip on the opponent's wrist to start the move and from there he/she must move into a an omoplata (a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu technique). What's an omoplata? Essentially, your leg is hooked around the elbow of your opponent so that your knee is pressed into the shoulder. Already that's one submission, but one submission isn't enough for the Yes Man. Once the omoplata is locked in, Bryan cranks back the opponent's head for a crossface. Ouch.
The beauty behind this move is that the size and position of the opponent truly doesn't matter. Bryan is small by pro wrestling standards but he can make any wrestler scream in pain from this move and it will seem believable. That's why it's at number three.
2 Figure Four Leg Lock
What can you say about this submission that hasn't been said already. One of the most iconic finishers in all wrestling, the Figure Four Leg Lock is a staple in the submission bag of tricks for any wrestler. While Ric Flair is most associated with the move, Flair stole the move from Buddy Rogers, the creator of the move (and the Nature Boy name).
Grabbing hold of a foot, the attacker spins a leg around to create the curved part of the number 4. Once that's done, the trapped foot is placed on top of the straight leg and the attacker uses his own free leg to put enormous pressure on the knee.
Not only is the move crippling, but it looks incredible on television and allows for a bunch of spots. Think back to Undertaker's transition into a chokeslam from a figure four at WrestleMania X8 as an example. There's the reversal that switches the pressure on the attacker and plenty of ways the attacker can use the ropes to apply more pressure. The move has so many dimensions to it that it's impossible to put it any lower than number two.
So this has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a big Bret Hart fan and Canadian to boot, but there's no better submission in pro wrestling than the Sharpshooter. Originally created by Riki Choshu and called sasori-gatame, Sting was the first wrestler to use it (albeit a modified version) in North America but it was Bret "The Hitman" Hart who perfected it.
It's extremely confusing to explain the hold in words so instead I'll just say why the sharpshooter is so incredible. To pull it off correctly it requires incredible technique, meaning that if there's something off about it (like the version used by The Rock), astute fans will notice it.
If done properly though, there's no other submission that is more painful. The knees, quads and spine are all targeted in this move and it's extremely difficult to escape from. In fact, the only wrestler to break Bret's sharpshooter was The Undertaker at SummerSlam 1997.
Finally, Hart was able to do it on anybody. One would think that Hart wouldn't be able to perform the move against super heavyweights but there he was at WrestleMania IX giving it to Yokozuna.
To this day, the move still gets a big pop when fans see a wrestler setting up for the hold. Trish Stratus got an enormous pop when she used it in her retirement match. Tyson Kidd and Natalya always get love from the crowd when they bust it out.
With no escape from the move and its iconic status cemented thanks to the Excellence of Execution, the Sharpshooter is the best submission there is, the best submission there was, and the best submission there ever will be.
P.S: While technically a different move, the inverted sharpshooter with a double chicken wing created by Bull Nakano and now used by Paige is also incredible. Perhaps Paige will do to that what Bret did to the Sharpshooter in time.