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  • Writer's pictureMatt Dod

Lou Thesz, The Great Muta & John Cena. A History Of The STF.

For the video on this article, go here:

In professional wrestling, a lot of importance in attributed to the history of the business. In the wrestling industry – as fans, we look to title belt lineages in order to understand its worth, and the same can be said for the moves which we see performed in the ring.

Not many moves in pro wrestling have a list of proponents as varied or prestigious as the step-over toe hold face-lock.

From Lou Thesz, The Funk Brothers, The Great Muta and John Cena, in this video – I want to take a look at the STF’s invention, evolution and it’s future in pro wrestling. So where better place to begin, than the start.


One of the most famous wrestling matches of all time took place between George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch, a rematch for the ages – which took place in 1911. Wrestling folklore states that before the match, a notorious ‘hooker’ by the name of Ad Santel supposedly caught Hackenschmidt unaware and captured him in a debilitating toe hold or leg lock, allowing Frank Gotch the historic and now heavily disputed victory.

In the 1930s in America, the world of wrestling was in a state of flux, with the audiences of the time beginning to favour the modern pro-wrestling styles that was beginning to emerge from the long history of catch as catch can wrestling brought over from the UK at the end of the 19th century.

The lines between real and fake were beginning to blur and one revolutionary emerged as a hybrid between the science of real fighting and the showmanship of pro wrestling.

Lou Thesz with his background in Greco-Roman style wrestling, could make any man submit in his prime. He was a dedicated disciple of mat wrestling and knew every submission move around at the time, and rightfully so – he invented a lot of them.

And would use them to win an impressive 4 N.W.A World titles in his career.

The world of pro wrestling is murky and opaque at times. Like the stories of Gotch and Hackenscmidt, having never been verified – neither do we have a definitive origin of where Lou Thesz originally learnt the move – but it is said that he was taught variants of the toe hold submission by his mentor Ed The Strangler Lewis and went on to add the step over element as well as the crucial final component of the STF, the facelook.

Pro Wrestling Wiki: STF is short for "Stepover Toehold Facelock". This hold is performed on an opponent who is lying face down on the mat. A wrestler grabs one of the opponent's legs, and places the opponent's ankle between their thighs. The wrestler then lies on top of the opponent's back and locks his arms around the opponent's head.


Lou Thesz would travel the world and receive notable credit wherever he fought. In Japan, Thesz took with him his inventive aura and developed into an elder veteran in the locker room, routinely passing on his wealth of knowledge to the younger combatants on the New Japan Pro Wrestling roster.

At the time, the now iconic Masahiro Chono was one of those wrestlers who took the time to be instructed by Thesz, even adopting the STF submission and going on to make the move the key component of his offensive arsenal, building whole matches and storylines around his ability to defeat his foes by sinking in the STF, this only helped to cement the painful move in Japanese pro wrestling history, but seemingly – that was only the beginning.


Meanwhile, in the good old U.S.A. Two brothers were making names for themselves for, amongst other things, their expert use of several different toe holds, including their now infamous spinning face-lock version which same them claim more than one title belt throughout their careers. Dorry Funk Jr and Terry Funk both went on to have their own successful stories, overs numerous decades which saw them both become esteemed icons of the wrestling industry. But still, one of the most memorable things about the two men, was their ability to disable their enemies with their vicious use of the STF.


Back to Japan, and in the All Japan Pro Wrestling company – one man was inverting the way in which pro wrestling was portrayed in more ways than one. The Great Muta took the idea of horror and mystery in a character and developed his unique brand of green mist spitting, moonsault diving and industry innovation. He inverted the STF submission to create his most famous move, The Muta lock.

The Muta lock alongside an arsenal of other inventions including the shining wizard, aswell as Muta’s surreal and extraordinary flare, his showmanship and sometimes his borderline disgusting antics mean that the Great Muta will go down as one of the wrestling industries most influential figures.

The wrestler first takes the opponent's legs, then, bends them at the knees, and crosses them, placing one ankle in the other leg's knee-pit before then turning around so that they are facing away from the opponent, and places one of their feet into the triangle created by the opponent's crossed legs. The wrestler then places the opponent's free ankle under their knee-pit and bridges backwards to reach over their head and locks their arms around the opponent's head.


Never Give Up! Unless you find yourself forcefully held face down, soaked through with the sweat of a much bigger and obscenely more muscular man, whose only intention is to pull your head and or leg off. Then you should probably give up.

John Cena has defeated a who’s who list of pro wrestlers in his decade spanning, industry defining career with his version of the step over toe hold face lock. His inhumanly swollen arms, serving to create a huge gap between Cena and his unfortunate opponent, seemingly having no bearing on the effectiveness of the submissions.

Cena has stated that his use of the STF, which in the spirit of American pie style humour of the early 2000s renamed to the STFU – get it, it’s rude. And in modern times, where most of John Cena’s past life as the Dr of Thuganomics is most often forgotten by WWE, the STFU is a reminder of this moves most famous origins in WWE.

Today as MMA and UFC have become increasingly mainstream and popular, the adoption of more realistic mat based submission moves have seen a resurgence in use and fan popularity.

More recently Melina Perez performed her California Dream version of the STF and Tenille Dashwood’s version became known as the Emma lock during her time in NXT.

In the modern day of Japan, Kazuchika Okada uses a cross-legged and arm trapped version in New Japan known as Red Ink. William Regal also used this version of the move throughout his WWE career known as the Regal Stretch.

Various versions of the move have evolved over time, with the future of the STF submission being certain to continue to adapt to the modern world of pro wrestling. One this is common amongst all of them. They can trace their lineage back to one man, the inventor of the stepover toehold facelock – Lou Thesz.

For the video on this article, go here:


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