Move type: Submission
Notable users: Ric Flair, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, The Great Muta, The Miz, Charlotte Flair
Wrestling fans from the territory days to the present have likely seen someone tap to a version of the figure-four leglock. Ric Flair is the most iconic master of this devastating submission, but as we’ll see this week, plenty of other significant wrestlers have made the maneuver their own.
In this Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair WWF Championship match clip (from a 1992 episode of Prime Time Wrestling), you can see why Flair had so much success with this maneuver. Okay, yes, part of the reason was that he often cheated and fought dirty to additionally weaken his opponents—as he used cronies (like Mr. Perfect and Razor Ramon here) or grabbed the ropes to gain extra leverage for as long as possible. But while Flair’s sportsmanship was questionable, his submission game was impeccable. In this championship match, he kept the figure-four locked on Macho Man for nearly three minutes, winning the bout and the title after Savage—who refuses to surrender—blacked out from the pain.
Flair, or any wrestler using the figure-four, starts by getting his opponent on the mat. He then manipulates his opponent’s left leg with a spinning toe hold—taking hold of the prone wrestler’s leg—placing his left leg on its right side, and spinning around to face that wrestler. He then maneuvers his opponent’s ankle to just above his right kneecap, making the wrestler’s legs look like a number four (earning the leglock its name). Right after this, he falls to the ground, facing upwards. He then places his left foot over his opponent’s left foot and applies as much pressure as possible until that wrestler submits. Along with those previously discussed underhanded tactics, a wrestler applying the figure-four can legally increase that pressure by lifting their hips and leaning back on their hands.
Though this submission was made famous by Flair, it was most likely invented by the original “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers. And while Flair was strutting around the NWA, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine used the figure-four as a signature move in the WWF, while Tito Santana submitted The Executioner with it to win the first match at the first WrestleMania.
The Great Muta also used the figure-four as a signature move of his impressive arsenal. In this clip from his match against the Great Ruta (a one-match persona of his enemy Yoshikazu Taru) at All Japan Pro Wrestling’s The Unchained World show in 2005, you can see how devastating his use of the leglock was. Rather than trying to reverse the move or make it to the ropes, Ruta escapes the submission by throwing a fireball into Muta’s face.
Since Flair’s retirement, most North American wrestlers who use the figure-four have adopted it as a reference or tribute to him. The year after ending Flair’s career, Shawn Michaels used his own modification of it in his WrestleMania 25 match against The Undertaker.
Flair’s former Evolution stablemate Triple H creatively used a ladder to make the figure-four even more painful in his match against Kevin Nash at WWE TLC 2011.
Currently, temporary Flair protege The Miz is WWE’s most significant user of the classic figure-four. Here, you can see him use the move in his Intercontinental Championship match against Dolph Ziggler (from a 2016 episode of SmackDown).
But the wrestler who has really made this submission her own in present day WWE is none other than the Nature Boy’s daughter, Charlotte Flair. Those who have seen the Queen wrestle know that, although she pays tribute to her dad’s legacy with her entrance and some of his signature moves, she is very much her own woman. She uses a variation of the figure-four called the “Figure Eight,” in which she increases pressure on her opponent’s leg by pushing up into a bridge after locking on the hold.
You can see her use it to tap out Nikki Bella in the above clip from a 2015 RAW tag team match. This is only one of many victories she’s scored with this move, with the most win so far perhaps being when she used it to end Asuka’s undefeated streak via submission at WrestleMania 34.
Both The Miz and Charlotte Flair will undoubtedly continue to use the figure-four and Figure Eight to score Ws in WWE, but season one of the Mixed Match Challenge showed us—without a doubt—who really owns the move in 2018.