Going up against a submission expert in mixed martial arts has to be one of the most intimidating prospects in the athletic world. Instead of the thought of “wow these punches are going to hurt my face.” imagine knowing your opponent uses techniques to manipulate limbs and joints in such a way as to tear ligaments, cut off blood supply and ultimately snap bones.
A submission victory usually carries with it several powerful emotive responses. First, they are entertaining in their intricacy and impressive with regard to the skill required to lock in such a technique. Secondly, submissions generally carry a very notable “cringe factor.” Applying immense pressure in order to hyper-extend limbs, choke a fighter out and even break bones is excruciatingly uncomfortable and looks disgusting too. Remember watching Frank Mir break Big Nog’s arm a few years ago? On live television, the Brazilian’s humerus was snapped after his stubborn refusal to snap. That’s a tough man.
While many UFC fans are “strike-happy” and think that punches and kicks are the best way to end fights, there will always be something to be said for the sneaky grappler who can snake his way around an opponent and lock in a choke hold or joint manipulation technique. In much the same way as striking is a beautiful art, submissions require great care, great strength and nearly superhuman attention to detail. Without further delay, here are the top ten submission experts in the history of the UFC.
Placement on the list is determined by overall success within the promotion, number of submission victories, number of particularly impressive and memorable submission victories and finally, variation in submission techniques used.
10. Kenny Florian
With a 14-6 record in his eight year MMA career, Florian finished nine opponents via submission which comes out 64% of his victories. In 2004, he was chosen to be one of the contestants on the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. He lost in the finals to Diego Sanchez, but still managed to build a very successful career in the promotion. Of his nine submission finishes, his method of choice was the rear naked choke; a technique of phenomenal effectiveness that is incredibly simple but can be notoriously difficult to lock in. While he was never able to win a UFC belt, losing three championship bouts, Kenny Florian should be remembered as one of the great submission fighters in the history of the UFC.
9. Demian Maia
Maia is one of the most impressive BJJ practitioners in the Welterweight divisions today. With a professional record of 19-6, he has finished nine of his victories via submission. In his early years he was finishing the vast majority of fights via choke holds, but in more recent years, most of his fights have gone to the judges’ table, with the notable exception of his neck crack victory against Rick Story in 2012. The 36 year old scrapper still looks competitive and has fought twice already in 2014, earning Fight of the Night against Rory MacDonald back in February.
8. Jim Miller
After going 11-1 in smaller promotions, Miller was signed to the UFC in 2008. The New Jersey born lightweight has a black belts in Tae Kwon Do and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and has shown off his striking skills and submission abilities in his UFC campaign. Miller is one of the most consistent competitors in the UFC lightweight division but has never made his way to a title fight. He and Joe Lauzon (seen later) had one of the greatest fights in recent memory back in late 2012. Throughout his career Miller has shown great variation in his submission game, demonstrating good grasp of choke techniques and joint techniques. Jim Miller has finished 14 of his 24 wins via submission. At age 30, it is likely we will see more from him in the future.
7. Ronda Rousey
Rowdy Ronda needs to be on any list that discusses either submissions or the UFC’s current biggest stars. Not only has she manhandled (pun semi-intended) every fighter she has faced, but she has an undefendable signature move. Everyone against whom she has fought inside the octagon knew about her armbar, but the first two were unable to avoid it, despite seeing it in Strikeforce for years prior. Miesha Tate and Liz Carmouche are both elite fighters, but it is a testament to Rousey’s skill and determination that her first eight MMA wins came via armbar.
6. Urijah Faber
The current number two Bantamweight, Urijah Faber does not look anywhere near his age. He is 35 years old but looks ten years younger despite cage fighting for a living. The California Kid is a brown belt in BJJ under Fabio Prado, a student of the late Carlson Gracie. Faber has 31 wins and 18 of those have come in the form of submission victories. While he is a great submission expert, his striking defense is somewhat suspect, and he has been unable to best Renan Barao, who has manhandled him twice. His victory over Alex Caceres in July indicates some degree of promise that Faber will continue to compete for at least a few more years.
5. Nate Diaz
Disagree with Diaz being number five? Let it be known in the almighty comments section. He is a mean fighter who is among the most well rounded in the league. Out of his 17 wins, 11 have come by submission. Possibly his most impressive attribute is the fact that he is never involved in a boring fight. Nate Diaz is one of those fighters that always puts on a great show. On top of that he chokes guys out like it’s going out of style. Finally; flying triangle choke. Diaz completed this rare and extremely athletic maneuver for a submission back in 2008 against Kurt Pellegrino. Hate him if you want for his attitude, but he’s still one of the best submission artists in the history of the league.
4. Joe Lauzon
J-Lau is one of the most exciting fighters to watch in the UFC today. Not surprisingly, he is tied with Anderson Silva as the fighter with the most UFC post fight bonuses, at 12 each. Of his 23 MMA wins, 18 of them have come via submission. He mostly utilizes chokes but has also shown himself to be more than proficient at eliminating opponents via armbar. On top of his submission game, Lauzon has great knockout power that is seldom used, which was apparent in his fight many years ago with Jens Pulver. Only one of his wins has come via decision.
3. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Big Nog is an interesting specimen in MMA. His fight started at a particularly young age, as he was run over by a truck as a child. Ever notice the indent in his back? He had some very extensive surgery in his youth after the accident. His BJJ skills are unbelievable and he has 21 submission victories in his phenomenal MMA career. His time in the UFC has actually seen him sustain a number of notable losses, but he has still submitted the likes of Dave Herman and Tim Silvia. In his 2008 fight against Silvia, he won the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship, but did not hold it for long as it was taken by Frank Mir in their first scrap back in 2008. Big Nog’s most productive time in the sport did occur outside of the UFC, but he is still one of the most prolific MMA masters in the history of the promotion.
2. Royce Gracie
I’ve encountered people who have argued that Royce Gracie is an overrated submitter because he practiced BJJ in the UFC in its early days, before the vast majority of mixed martial artists practiced that school of fighting. Such an argument is as sad, ignorant and incoherent as saying “that football team doesn’t belong in the record books, they threw the forward pass before it was standard” or even “that pitcher used the curveball before anyone else, he doesn’t deserve all the hype.” Jerks making such arguments need to have their internet privileges taken away. 11-0-1 and won three of the first five UFC events. Gracie belongs on every UFC “Best of List.”
1. Frank Mir
Anyone who says he is a well rounded fighter is severely overrating him. His stand-up is not even good. He cannot trade with the likes of most in his division, but in terms of his submission and grappling game, he is the best the league has ever seen. His amount of submissions is not that impressive, as he stands at nine. However, his opponents and the method used to submit them is what makes Mir a truly impressive fighter.
Shoulder locks, armbars, kneebars, choke holds, A TOE HOLD??!! and of course the two submissions during which he broke an opponent’s arm. No, he did not hold those for too long, Tim Silvia and Big Nog didn’t realize they were locked in and refused to tap, therefore it is their fault. His technique is perfect and in terms of tapping out impressive opponents, Frank Mir is the most gifted submission expert the league has ever seen. I don’t always agree with Dana White, but snapping Big Nog’s arm with a kimura is the submission of the century.
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