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An introduction to wrestling moves

Common moves to watch for in a collegiate wrestling match

NCAA Wrestling: NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

I find that the toughest part of watching a new sport is always figuring out what strategies are called and when they are used. In wrestling, there are countless moves in neutral and offensive positions, and even some in defensive positions, and so identifying those moves can be a crucial part of understanding action. This is intended to be the third and final piece in our understanding wrestling series, so be sure to check out our articles on dual and match structures and wrestling scoring if you aren’t familiar with those concepts.

Neutral Moves

Single Leg Attacks

Probably the most common shot you’ll see taken is a variation on a single leg attack. The wrestler targets the frontmost leg, lowers their level, and shoots in on a leg. Most often, this is a shot to outside of the forward leg, almost swinging the attacking wrestler behind his opponent. There is also the high-crotch single leg, also called a hi-C, which is done by dropping the opposite side knee and sliding into the forward leg, grabbing above the knee and then moving up to finish. There’s also sweep singles and low singles and all sorts of fancy stuff, but those two are maybe the most common shots you’ll see in college wrestling.

Double Leg Attacks

A more aggressive attack is the blast double, which involves a rapid level change and explosion forward, resulting in nearly a football-like tackle. They’re fun to watch, and even more fun to do.

They’re set up misdirection, hand ties, and head snaps (we’ll get more into that later), and they’re finished when the opposing wrestler is caught with his legs too close together and the attacker shoots above the knees.

Fireman’s Series

Watch an Austin DeSanto match.

The fireman’s is my favorite move, and accordingly, I think DeSanto is one of the most entertaining wrestlers to watch. Also for, uhh, other reasons, but we won’t get into that. A fireman’s is executed by first gripping the same-side tricep (underside of the upper arm) with your (preferably dominant) hand. Then, dropping your cross-side knee as you slide into the body and gripping the back of the thigh with your cross-side hand. Fairly often at a college level, the opposing wrestler will give up a takedown to avoid back points, but if the attacker can hold his grips, he can tilt his opponent towards the mat and get 4 or 6 points out of the move.

Hooks, ties, and other things I don’t know very well

For the wrestlers who aren’t so quick on their feet, there’s ties and hooks. These are holds that force your opponent into close combat and allow you to use superior strength, as well as technique, to dominant a match. Underhooks and overhooks are probably the simplest ties to see. Underhooks are when a wrestler locks his arms under his opponents arms, and overhooks are kind of the opposite. Like all ties, these set up more complicated attacks, which we’ll get a little into later.

Another common tie is the Russian, or two-on-one, tie, which is where the offensive wrestler uses both of his hands to control one of his opponent’s arms, building up the body. There are also collar ties, which uses the back of the opponent’s head to control their momentum (which is kind of what all ties do), and front headlocks, which lock the opponent’s head from over and behind, prohibiting movement. Hopefully you get the point, that ties are just grips and holds used to manipulate your opponent.

So, when do these pay off? Ties, hooks, and body locks can lend themselves to high-risk/high-reward situations like trips and throws. If you ever find the time, go watch the back-and-forth battle between Alex Marinelli and Vincenzo Joseph over the course of their careers, as they involved a lot of the following:

The can also be used for things like throw-by’s. A throw-by is the pulling of your opponent towards you a la bull fighting, stepping out of the way and going behind your off-balance opponent. Slide-by’s are similar but different, and usually involve less tie-control. Don’t worry about the difference, honestly, as their aims are the same.

Another really cool series you can see off underhooks is cow-catchers and cement-mixers. These involved landing one tight underhook along with a chinstrap (or front) headlock, then forcing the opponent straight to their back either through the underhook (cow-catcher) or by sucking it in (cement-mixer). It’s not really worth going into as you rarely see it anymore, but watch this video on it if you’re interested. Also, watch all of DPS Breakdown’s videos. They’re awesome.

Control Moves

The following are moves which are most often utilized by a wrestler who is already in a control (top) position following a takedown (or restart). There are tilts, which mostly just aim to score points by exposing your opponent’s back, and pinning combinations, which aim to end the match by recording a pin.


If you’re like me, cradles were probably the only move you knew before you watched wrestling. They are achieved by lacing one arm over the opponents head and far shoulder, and into the body, and the other through the legs, aiming to lock your two arms together and flip your opponent over. A tight cradle is nearly inescapable and will almost certainly result in a pin. There are multiple kinds of cradles, such as a standing cradle which is achieved in neutral position, or a suicide cradle, which I think that Eierman fall qualifies as since he has to roll his own body to lock it. Again though, don’t fret the differences, as the fundamentals are the same.

Arm bars

An arm bar is the locking of the offensive wrestler’s arm under one of the defensive wrestler’s arms, trapping it and using the advantageous position to roll the foe onto their back. There’s variations on this, too, but this Adam Coon pin shows the basics.

Wrist tilts

Another excuse to show a DPS video, and a Spencer Lee match. Wrist tilts are the capturing of the wrist towards the body, then flipping the opponent over without the interference of that arm. Because it is a tilt, it isn’t really designed to pin. But if a wrestler is more focused on fighting that grip than getting off their back, they could get caught flat.

Defensive Moves

A wrestler on the defense can either use certain moves to prevent being taken down, or launch a counter-attack utilizing the exposed nature of their foe. The most common defensive move is the whizzer, which is the use of an arm to prevent control by your opponent, either by tying up their or your own body to prevent them from advancing their position. There’s a straight arm whizzer, which involves sticking your arm directly behind you to prevent your opponent from getting around (yes it hurts); a shin-whizzer, where you grab your own shin around your opponents arm to prevent them from converting a single-leg takedown; and a belly-whizzer, which is basically where you hold onto your opponent’s stomach for dear life in a scramble.

Counter attacks are usually just offensive attacks used during scrambles, or flurries of attacks where neither wrestler has control. They include single legs and slide-bys, among others. Scrambles are largely reflexive positions, so don’t worry too much about watching for technique here.

So, that’s all I have for you today. Feel free, as always, to ask questions or issue corrections in the comments. I am not perfect, and I’m sure I’ve misspoken somewhere here, but this is a good jumping-off point for anyone trying to understand wrestling for the first time. Be sure to follow the site for schedules, previews, broadcast information, and recaps on when your Big Ten team wrestles.