There really is something special about a good martial arts submission. Obviously the same can be said of a great knockout. A perfect strike placed right on the button is about as exciting as the sport can get (hence Joe Rogan's screaming), but any joint lock or choke hold applied by a true expert is a thrilling thing to watch as they move step by step to isolate their target body part, and finally execute the maneuver.
Equally as impressive as the actions of the person carrying out any given hold however, is the persistence and pain tolerance exhibited by the victim. Trying to counteract every move of someone trying to snap your arm (for example) while keeping your wits and making sure that opponent can't grab for another vulnerable part, is nothing short of impressive. Of course, the goal of any submission attempt is the tap, but some fighters just can't bring themselves to do it.
There is some discussion in the MMA community over not tapping. Some consider it impressive; being able to withstand such pain and not do a simple act that would make it stop. On the other hand, many consider it unsportsmanlike. Their logic goes something like this: martial artists (for the most part, not Rousimar Palhares, for example) love to compete, but genuinely don't want to hurt or mangle their opponent. Refusing to tap while being in an armbar, for example, can lead to broken bones and/or torn ligaments. Most fighters don't want this to be the end of their fight even if they are on the winning end. Therefore, putting an opponent in that position is something that some fans call unsportsmanlike. Whatever your thoughts on this issue, here are 21 instances of martial artists toughing it out and refusing to tap when caught in submission holds.
21 Tom Lawlor: Put to Sleep by Chris Weidman
A former contestant on The Ultimate Fighter, Light Heavyweight/Middleweight "Filthy" Tom Lawlor currently has a 6-5 record in the UFC. Despite being an experienced wrestler and BJJ practitioner, Lawlor proved to be no match for Chris Weidman, who choked him unconscious via Brabo choke back in late 2011.
20 Razak Al-Hussan: Gnarly Armbar
In his two UFC fights, Razak Al-Hussan lost a split decision and had his arm snapped. The arm injury occurred when former WEC Light Heavyweight champ Steve Cantwell caught him an in armbar and reefed on the limb until it snapped back in 2008. Cantwell later said that it was never his intention to hurt Al-Hassan, but that he wasn't going to give up the armbar, and tap or snap were the only two choices.
19 Takeya Mizugaki: Choked Out by Urijah Faber
The current number eleven on the UFC's "These don't matter at all or always make sense" official Bantamweight rankings, Takeya Mizugaki has over ten years experience in the sport and while he has some very convincing wins, he has yet to demonstrate himself as a top tier contender, as demonstrated by 2014 and 2015 losses to Dominick Cruz and Aljamain Sterling, respectively. His most memorable loss, however, was to Urijah Faber when the two were still in WEC. Faber locked in a solid rear-naked choke and Mizugaki wouldn't tap. Faber was awarded the fight via technical submission.
18 Lyoto Machida: Naptime Courtesy of Jon Jones
Lyoto Machida remains one of the most interesting fighters in to watch to this day. He has a fighting style all his own and has executed some of the most entertaining knockouts fans have ever seen. Back in late 2011, Machida was fighting Jon Jones for the Light Heavyweight belt, but by the second round he was clearly outmatched. Late in the round he was pinned up against the cage by a couple of knees and Bones caught him in a standing guillotine, which left Machida unconscious, falling to the ground limp. It was the first time he was submitted.
17 Royce Gracie: Matt Hughes' Armbar
In 2006, an almost 40 year old Royce Gracie fought Matt Hughes in a catchweight fight at UFC 60. A gifted overall fighter, one of the greatest of all time in fact, Matt Hughes was able to catch Gracie in a straight armbar just after halfway into the first round. Gracie dealt with the pain, keeping a calm face, and worked his way out of the submission over the course of about thirty seconds. He was unable to get out from under Hughes however, gave up his back and suffered a TKO loss about a minute later after a barrage of blows to the side of the head by Hughes.
16 Mizuto Hirota: Shinya Aoki's Hammerlock
These two Japanese fighters faced off at K1 Dynamite!! 2009 and their bout was over in relatively quick and unpleasant fashion. Ayoki skillfully outmaneuvered Hirota early in the first round and was able to take his back, and apply a hammerlock. Refusing to tap, Hirota was rolled over, and subsequently his arm was broken. Aoki ran away briefly, before returning to taunt (via the ol' bird flip) his injured opponent, followed by the entire crowd.
15 Ed Herman: Choked Out and Beaten Stupid by Demian Maia
Ed Herman is one of those names that came out of The Ultimate Fighter (Season 3) and while he's never going to tear up the UFC, he's been competing in the promotion for about 10 years, and always puts on a good show. Back at their meeting in 2008, Demian Maia caught Herman in a triangle choke. The great thing about a mounted triangle choke is that, in this case anyway, Maia was able to not only strangle Herman, but wail on his face as well. This one could have been called a technical submission or a TKO, as Maia was pummelling Herman while he fell asleep. But like the rest on our list...there was no tap.
14 Karlos Vemola: Jack Hermansson's Armbar
Czech wrestler Karlos Vemola, who went 2-4 in six UFC fights between 2010 and 2013. Earlier this year he was tossed in prison for a one year sentence after being found guilty of growing weed in the UK, according to MMA Fighting.
While fighting Jack Hermansson for the Warrior Fight Series Middleweight Championship, he got caught in a first round armbar and tried to get out of it for just a few seconds too long, sustaining a broken arm.
13 Antonio "Big Nog" Nogueira: Frank Mir's Kimura
Big Nog is one of the finest submission experts the sport of mixed martial arts has ever seen. That fact makes Frank Mir's December 2011 kimura victory even more impressive. It was the first time Nogueira was defeated via submission. Mir was also the first to knock out Minotauro, doing so in December 2008.
But in 2011, the Brazilian refused to tap and Mir ended up visibly breaking his arm. It was less than a pretty sight.
12 Angela Magana: Not Tapping to Twister
I'd rather go out crippled than tap to a twister pic.twitter.com/bgwxb7pDvk— Angela Magana (@AngelaMagana1) November 2, 2015
Strawweight fighter Angela "Your Majesty" Magana Tweeted a picture of herself in the hospital with the caption "I'd rather go out crippled than tap to a twister" back in November. The twister is a submission hold in which the lower half of the victim's body is held in place with the legs (in back mount, of course) while a neck crank is applied, putting serious strain on the back and ribs. In her picture, she had clearly sustained an injury to her back or chest. Little other information was made available. She's currently on a four fight losing streak. Who knows when we'll see her again.
11 Royler Gracie: The First Gracie to Fall to Sakuraba
A multiple gold medal winner in several jiu jitsu championship tournaments, Royler Gracie is one of the most accomplished of the legendary Gracie family. His mixed martial arts career ended with a 5-5-1 record, which involved a first loss to Kazushi Sakuraba; the man who would become known as "The Gracie Killer." More on his exploits later.
Back in 1999 at Pride 8, Sakuraba was able to apply a kimura lock against Gracie and while he looked quite comfortable trying to counteract the hold, his corner threw in the towel, as it looked as though he would not get out of the hold.
10 Holly Holm: Choked Out by Miesha Tate
Most of us remember this one as it is the most recent entry on the list. Just three and a half months after her devastating knockout of long time Women's Bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm was defending her title against Miesha Tate. While Holm was able to dominate the striking portion of the fight, Tate's skill on the ground was unmatched and she was able to lock in a tight rear-naked choke, to which Holm refused to tap. She went unconscious and the match was ruled a technical submission.
9 Tim Sylvia: Mir's Other Victim
Behemoth Heavyweight Tim Sylvia went 16-0 to start his mixed martial arts career, but in 2004 he fought a young submission artist from Las Vegas named Frank Mir. Mir is one of the best the game has ever seen, even if he is showing rust these days, but back then it took him just fifty seconds. He snapped a bone in Sylvia's arm while applying an armbar, but Sylvia insisted that the ref had stopped the match prematurely, as he didn't think he had been injured.
8 Renzo Gracie: Sakuraba-Related Broken Arm
The Gracie-Hunter/Killer strikes again. In May 2000 he beat Royce Gracie at the Pride Grand Prix. A few months later, Sakuraba took on Renzo Gracie. In the second round of their fight, he was able to lock in a very solid kimura and put Gracie on the ground, breaking his elbow as he did. Gracie did not tap and barely showed any signs of pain, but the match was called anyway. The impressive act of showing no pain is clearly something passed down through the generations, as we'll see next.
7 Helio Gracie: Kimura by... Kimura
Get ready for what can loosely be called a history lesson. Helio Gracie, one of the founders of Gracie Jiu Jitsu, fought three incredible bouts against Japanese martial artists who were among the best in the world at the time. He fought Yukio Kato twice, winning once and fighting to a draw once. In October of that year, he faced legend Masahiko Kimura. The Japanese martial artist had a significant weight advantage and ended up winning the fight, but was so impressed by the fact that Helio was able to withstand the incredible pain of the kimura submission hold.
There are several accounts of the fight; some saying that Gracie's arm brok, and others saying that his brother Carlos stopped the fight when he was caught in the submission. The latter is likely true, but don't take my word for it, as the event happened over thirty years before my birth.
6 Sami Berik: Escaped Two Submissions and Got TKO'd
So we've looked at times when fighters got choked out and rendered unconscious, and seen some instances of limbs ending up mangled from joint locks; now we'll see fighters who were caught in solid holds, but managed to get out of them.
Turkish Welterweight Sami Berik suffered 35 losses throughout his career, but nobody can ever say he didn't put in a stupid amount of effort every time he fought. He fought Andre Winner, who would later have a brief but unsuccessful time in the UFC, at Cage Rage Contenders 3 back in 2006. Berik was caught in an arm triangle and then an armbar, but never tapped. It looks like he may have been unconscious during the armbar and that's why he let his elbow hyperextend. Despite getting out of two submissions, he lost the fight via TKO.
5 Ronaldo Souza: Beat Roger Gracie With Broken Arm
The current number three contender in the Middleweight division is one of the best wrestlers out there. Jacare Souza recently beat Vitor Belfort, which is a tough job for anyone, and if he gets a shot at Michael Bisping's belt anytime soon, the Middleweight Championship will likely once again be in the hands of a Brazilian.
Years ago. in 2004, he was fighting Roger Gracie in the 2004 jiu jitsu World Championship. Gracie broke Souza's arm after applying a tight hold, but Jacare refused to tap, got out of it, kept fighting and won the championship on points.
He later said that despite his effort and win, he received nothing but maltreatment from the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation and that the event was his motivation to get into MMA.
4 Carlos Newton: Reversal
An early MMA submission artist, Canadian Carlos Newton submitted Welterweight Champion Pat Miletich in 2001. Prior to that however, he completed a phenomenal submission reversal. Fighting Kazuhiro Kusayanagi in Japan in 1998, Newton was caught in a kimura, but managed to turn it into an armbar, winning a match he had nearly lost.
3 Jon Jones: The Belfort Armbar
In under a month, Jon Jones will return to the octagon with the chance to unify the Light Heavyweight title. The media storm will get into full swing soon as it's hard to find two people who hate each other as much as he and Daniel Cormier.
In 2012 at UFC 152, Jones and Vitor Belfort fought, and Jones' belt was on the line. Early in the fight he was caught in an armbar, but refused to tap. Belfort could only hold on for so long and, after some time, Jones escaped. A few rounds later, Jones locked in a tight americana that finished off Belfort in one of his most exciting title defenses.
2 Quinton Jackson: Triangle Choke Defense
At 37, Rampage is still about as exciting as he ever was and is currently riding a four fight win streak, with three victories in Bellator in 2013 through 2014 and a single victory in the UFC in 2015. He's expected to fight again in the former, later this month. For his entry on this list, we go back to 2004, when he was still fighting in PRIDE. He was fighting Brazilian Ricardo Arona, who caught Jackson in a triangle choke late in the first round. Rampage picked Arona up, while still being choked and slammed him into the ground, earning the knockout.
1 Matt Hughes: Slams Newton for the Belt
Much like how Rampage Jackson answered the question "what to do when caught in a triangle choke?," Matt Hughes did not choose "tap" as his answer. Back in 2001, Hughes was fighting Carlos Newton for the Welterweight Championship. Early in the second round of their fight, it looked as though Newton had the upper hand and he had almost locked in a choke while in guard. Hughes, however, picked him up and hauled him over to the cage. Newton held on for a second but moved his arm when instructed by the ref. A few seconds later, while still being choked, Hughes let Newton crumble to the mat, winning the Welterweight belt via KO.
I'll admit with this last entry, that Newton didn't have the hold applied perfectly, but caught in such a situation, some fighters would have panicked, and others would have just tried to escape and keep the fight on the ground, but not Hughes. He kept a cool head, used the absurd amount of strength and endurance we all know he had, and came away with one of most memorable title wins the fans have ever seen.