A stoppage victory in Mixed Martial Arts is unlike anything else in sports. In other sports, you might prove that you’re able to run faster, throw a ball accurately or slap a puck into a net more times than your opponent but those victories lack something. Outside of real life, the majority of those feats will mean absolutely nothing to you. However, the ability to best an opponent in combat is something that truly has worth. The power to defend yourself in combat is the only thing that might save you in a life or death situation.
Now of course I’m being a tad overdramatic but there is truth to the fact that combat sports appeals to some of our most primal urges. Lots of people love the good ol’ knockout and yeah they’re awesome but there is a different kind of appeal that goes into a submission. With a knockout, you are robbing the opponent of any chance of victory. His spirit might want to keep fighting, but his body cannot respond to its wishes. With submissions, your opponent is still in control of his body; they aren’t unconscious, they have the power to fight back but because of their enemy’s choke or arm/leg lock, they must concede defeat and tap out. Making an opponent willfully give up grants you an incredible sense of superiority and dominance over an opponent that a knockout can’t.
MMA has had several fantastic submission victories and I’m gonna rank them. As impressive as pulling an unorthodox technique like an inverted flying spinning ultra triangle choke is, that doesn’t make those kind of wins a lock for this list. Factors like the timing of the submission, the opponent it was executed against and the magnitude of the submission itself. These are the submissions that when you see them and think about them, they make your mind explode. Prepare to pick up your brain remnants several times over by the time you’re done reading.
10. Royce Gracie vs Dan Severn: UFC 4
The Gracie family is the reason why Mixed Martial Arts exists at all. More pertinent to this countdown though, they brought Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the masses via their Gracie Challenges and their part in the creation of the Ulimate Fighting Championship. At the inaugural tournament, Royce Gracie upheld the family’s tradition of dominance by defeating three men in one night to win the first UFC tournament.
In the finals of the fourth UFC tournament, Gracie would square off versus former Olympic wrestler Dan “The Beast” Severn. Using his wrestling skill and near 100-pound weight advantage to take down the tiny Gracie and hold him down for 15 minutes. Without attempting much of anything Severn thought he had Gracie right where he wanted him… Nope. Gracie threw up his legs around the massive Severn and pulled off MMA’s first triangle choke. This was the submission which showed that being on the bottom is not the end for a fighter.
9. Ryo Chonan vs Anderson Silva: PRIDE Shockwave 2004
Ryo who? I forgive you for not knowing who Ryo Chonan is but for a long time, Chonan held a highly prestigious honour. For over eight years, he was the only man to finish Anderson Silva and the last man to defeat him, because who honestly counts Yushin Okami’s DQ win over Silva. Not only did Chonan squash the Spider, the manner in which he did was truly remarkable. After a back and forth fight which saw both fighters have their moments in the striking and grappling exchanges, Chonan decided that he wasn’t going to leave it up to the judges and instead would submit Silva.
There was the problem that he would need to get Silva down in order to do that. Rather than shoot for a double leg, Chonan pulled off a flying scissors sweep (kani-basami in Judo) inverted heel hook which had Silva screaming in pain immediately. The submission remains in MMA highlight reels to this day and is the pinnacle of Ryo Chonan’s career. If Nick Diaz is stuck for ideas on how to face Silva, there is always the Chonan route.
8. Ronda Rousey vs Miesha Tate, Strikeforce: Tate vs Rousey
The majority of fights on this countdown come from BJJ practitioners but the reality is that the basics Brazilian Jiu Jitsu were taught to the Gracies from a Judoka by the name of Mitsuyo Maeda. Ronda Rousey has brought the power of submission back to Judokas on the back of her eight armbar (excuse me, juji-gatame) submission victories. Her finest limb massacre? That would have to be her first match up with Miesha Tate in Strikeforce. Already in the opening minute Rousey trapped Tate but the champion Tate escaped by a hair. On the second armbar attempt later in the round, Tate wasn’t so fortunate. Her armbar was bent way past breaking point and she had to tap out, conceding defeat to her hated nemesis. For Rousey, this was just the beginning of her legacy.
7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria vs Mirko Cro Cop: PRIDE Final Conflict 2003
Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueria built a career on two things: the ability to take shots that would drop a horse and the power to submit his opponents immediately after. At PRIDE Final Conflict 2003, Nogueria would face one of the premier knockout artists in MMA history, the Croatian Special Forces (seriously) agent Mirko Filipovic. The Brazillian couldn’t work any of his submission magic on the Croatian in the first round and worse for him, was dropped by the left cemetery kick at the end of the round.
Coming in the next round, Nogueria came out calm and dragged Cro Cop into his domain where he quickly mounted the helpless kickboxer and armbared him after Cro Cop made the rookie mistake of straightening his arm out. This fight perfectly captured the skill and heart of one the best heavyweights ever and was a thrilling submission to boot.
6. Nick Diaz vs Takanori Gomi: PRIDE 33
Nick Diaz, has quite a doozy of a submission victory. In 2006, Takanori Gomi was considered one of the finest Lightweights on the planet. He earned this fearsome reputation by combining his hands of steel with some of the most awkward movements to starch countless opponents in the PRIDE promotion. In his televised United States debut Gomi was scheduled to face the Stockton Bad Boy at PRIDE 33.
Gomi was winning the fight by hurling what Diaz described as a “hadouken” right hook at Diaz’s head. While Diaz went down, he wasn’t out. The match went from fight to brawl from there as both men attacked each other from close range until the end of the first round. Gomi was tired and where others get tired, Diaz does not. When Gomi took down Diaz in the second round, it was the only opening Diaz needed as he wrapped up the unicorn of MMA, the gogoplata. The win remains one of the best wins of Diaz’s career, even if it is technically a no contest due to Diaz failing the post fight drug test for marijuana. Yup, Diaz subbed one of the best lightweights with a gogoplata while being high.
5. Matt Hughes vs Frank Trigg: UFC 52
This has now crossed from a sport into a movie. Two hated rivals, Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg, were scheduled for a rematch of their UFC 45 encounter which Hughes won via rear naked choke in the first round. The trash talk was in full swing leading up to the fight and Trigg was willing to do whatever it took to win. Seriously. Trigg, after kneeing Hughes in the nuts, continued to go after Hughes because referee Mario Yamasaki didn’t see the illegal shot.
After a beatdown and a choke attempt, Trigg still couldn’t finish Hughes. From his knees, Hughes picked Trigg up on his shoulder and ran the diameter of the octagon to deliver a spinebuster. After that, Hughes layed the smackdown until Trigg turned over and Hughes choked him out for a second time to retain his title. I don’t care what you say, recovering from a knee to the groin and then choking out your opponent deserves a top 10 entry.
4. Kazushi Sakuraba vs Renzo Gracie: PRIDE 10
In the early days of MMA, it was career suicide to challenge a Gracie with grappling in a Mixed Martial Arts fight. After all, they were the ones who kind of invented the whole idea of a small guy beating giants with BJJ in the UFC. There was one Japanese fighter who laughed in the face of the Gracies’ reputation. His name is Kazushi Sakuraba. Sakuraba earned his nickname of “The Gracie Killer” by knocking off one Gracie after another.
He began this quest to defeat every Gracie by first defeating Royler Gracie at PRIDE 8 by referee stoppage due to the ref fearing that Gracie’s arm would break under a Sakuraba kimura. Four fights later, Sakuraba fought ADCC World Champion and one of the best members of the family, Renzo Gracie. The contest between two master grapplers that didn’t dissapoint. After 19 minutes of hard striking, clinch work and grappling, Sakuraba reversed Gracie’s body lock into a standing kimura, the Japanese icon brought Gracie to the mat and cranked on a kimura until Gracie’s arm snapped under the pressure. Of all his Gracie hunts, the submission of Renzo remains Sakuraba’s greatest trophy. Despite the family feud, a deep respect is shared between Sakuraba and Renzo, even after their rematch in a grappling at Metamoris 5, which ended in a draw.
3. Fabricio Werdum vs Fedor Emelianenko, Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum
To think, the current UFC Interim Heavyweight Fabricio Werdum was once thought of as a sacrificial lamb to the greatest heavyweight in history, the great Fedor Emelianenko but who could blame anybody? In his final UFC appearance, Werdum was flattened by the unknown Junior Dos Santos with an uppercut that would make Street Fighter’s Ryu feel insecure. This was a match designed to get Fedor into a heavyweight title fight with Alistair Overeem.
Apparently, Werdum didn’t get the memo and instead of rolling over for The Last Emperor he instead submitted the legend with a triangle choke only 69 seconds into their main event fight. With a few slaps of Werdum’s thigh, the perfect mystique of Fedor was shattered and Werdum became the man to watch in the heavyweight division.
2. Anderson Silva vs Chael Sonnen: UFC 117
Anderson Silva fans were living a nightmare when this fight was taking place. How could this loudmouth lay and pray wrestler have knocked down their hero with a punch? How could the man who insulted and spat on Silva’s BJJ black belt out grapple the middleweight champion? Most importantly, how on earth was Chael Sonnen backing up his trash talk? Sonnen took it to the (debatable) greatest of all time for over four rounds by taking Silva down and making it an ugly beatdown for Silva supporters to endure.
Just when all hope was lost in the fifth round, Silva threw up his legs for a last chance triangle choke to retain his championship. When the smoke cleared, it was the black belt from the Nogueria brothers which Sonnen mocked that granted Silva his first victory over his greatest rival. This was the submission which reminded fans that the greatest fighters in the world are never, I repeat never, out of a fight.
1. Frank Mir vs Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria: UFC 140
If you were a fan of grappling, you were probably drooling over the announcement of this matchup. This rematch of a UFC 92 title fight could have turned into a sluggish kickboxing match or incredibly entertaining grappling match. From the gate it looked to be neither though as Nogueria pressured Mir to the fence and tagged Mir clean with a jab-straight combo that put Mir on spaghetti legs. Mir fell down and Nogueria had his prey wounded, seemingly about to force Mir to tap out. Or was he?
Nogueria couldn’t quite get the roll he needed to mount Mir and Mir countered to side control. A kimura was attempted by Mir but there was no way… no, okay Nogueria is squirming… oh my god, Frank is keeping up with him… one roll, two rolls and Mir is still cranking on it! Nogueria isn’t tapping but… SNAP! There goes his arm! Joe Rogan went bananas, the Air Canada Centre went bananas and everyone around the world went bananas. The greatest submission artist in heavyweight history had that honour stolen from him. To add injury to insult, he had a broken humerus which he could only stare at in the octagon. That is why it is the greatest submission in MMA history.
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