Before Royce Gracie won the first UFC event, most people outside of Brazil had very little knowledge of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and of submission fighting in general. Of course we still had Judo and submission wrestling, but the ground games of these martial arts were not nearly as evolved as that of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. After Royce Gracie's spectacular performance, people around the world picked up the art of Jiu-Jitsu. Now, there are hundreds of Jiu-Jitsu black belts of every continent, and every single MMA fighter has to train in the art in order to stay relevant in the competition.
In an MMA bout, a submission occurs when a fighter is trapped and is unable to escape from a choke hold or is at risk of being hurt from a joint lock, be it at the arm, shoulder, knee, or foot level. Fighters have the choice to tap out, forcing their opponent to let go of the submission. If they chose not to do so, they run the risk of going to sleep from a choke hold, or getting seriously hurt and being forced out of competition for several months. A great submission game can also be used simply to keep control of your opponent on the ground, pinning him down and assuming the dominant position, which often results in dominating decision victories.
Although UFC president Dana White prefers striking bloodbaths over a clean submission, many fighters rely heavily on their ground game to secure their victories. Some even go as far as pulling guard in MMA bouts, something that most fighters would never even consider. All fighters train Jiu-Jitsu in order to compete, but some clearly more than others. Here is a list of the best submission artist not only in the UFC, but in all of the sport of MMA:
15 Frank Mir
Let's be honest, when looking at Frank Mir's physique, you don't exactly recognize a world-class Jiu-Jitsu artist. When you look at him fight however, your mind is blown pretty quickly. Remember Brock Lesnar, that enormous monster that transferred to MMA from professional wrestling? Frank Mir submitted him with a knee bar in 90 seconds (the rematch didn't go so well though). Mir also nearly ripped Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's arm off, and put him out of competition with several months with a dislocated shoulder.
14 Joe Lauzon
Joe Lauzon recently competed in a Metamoris event, one of the most prestigious submission grappling tournaments in the world. Although he lost his match with Dillon Danis, he put up a great fight and showcased some amazing Jiu-Jitsu skills. Inside the octagon, Lauzon has some submission wins over high level fighters such as Melvin Guillard and Jamie Varner. It would be great to see Lauzon compete in Metamoris again, as that is where his grappling and Jiu-Jitsu skills come out the most: a submission-only 20 minute match.
13 Jake Shields
Jake Shields is known for his "American Jiu-Jitsu" style. Although he is not the most dangerous striker in the world, his 12 submission wins prove just how intimidating he can be on the ground. Shields absolutely loves his guillotine chokes and, win or lose, almost every single one of his opponents has had to escape from them at some point (or tap). Submissions aside, Shields in also very good in utilizing his ground game to control his opponents, dictate the fight, and earn well-deserved decision victories.
12 Fedor Emilianenko
Although Fedor is not technically a Jiu-Jitsu fighter, he comes from a combat Sambo background, a Russian martial art that places a big emphasis on submissions. Fedor has 16 submissions to his name inside the cage, including six in a row over the likes of Mark Hunt, Mark Coleman and Matt Lindland. Looking at his record the best strategy in fighting Fedor is to run away. If that fails, no matter what you do, remember that the kimuras are everywhere!
11 Ryan Hall
If you haven't heard of Ryan Hall yet, I guarantee you that you will know about him pretty soon. Hall has just made the transition to MMA and is currently competing in The Ultimate Fighter, where he has submitted his first two opponents by heel hook within seconds of the first round. Being an ADCC and Mundials veteran, Hall is a world class grappler. Although he is already becoming famous due to his heel hooks on The Ultimate Fighter, the scary part is that he has yet to show the Jiu-Jitsu game he is most famous for. Hint: watch out for the triangle.
10 B.J. Penn
Penn has recently retired (but is yet trying to pick a fight with anyone and everyone) and has been inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. Although his submission game is not as visible as others inside of the octagon, it is one of the best in UFC history. BJ Penn received his Jiu-Jitsu black belt in only three years, but is definitely world-class. Recently, Penn has been training at The Art Of Jiu-Jitsu academy with Ronda Rousey and the Mendes brothers, arguably the best Jiu-Jitsu competitors in the world right now.
9 Nick Diaz
With his recent suspension scandal, Diaz is evoking very strong emotions in fans and government officials. Love him or hate him, nobody has indifferent feelings toward this guy. Nick Diaz has a very interesting Jiu-Jitsu game: every time, he uses a different strategy off his back, making it very hard for his opponents to prepare for him. His most impressive and iconic win came against Takanori Gomi, who he submitted with a gogoplata. However, Diaz has also defeated great fighters such as Evangelista Santos with this submission game, putting him #9 on this list.
8 Roger Gracie
Some may say that Roger Gracie does not belong on this list as he lost his only UFC fight and has yet to pay his dues. However, Gracie's Jiu-Jitsu is very impressive. In Jiu-Jitsu tournaments, he is notorious for his cross-collar chokes but in MMA, he is dangerous everywhere. Gracie is also a master at taking the back and at finishing his opponents from that position. In fact, he has three straight wins by rear naked choke over Yuki Kondo, Kevin Randleman, and Trevor Prangley.
7 Demian Maia
Demian Maia's first professional MMA fight was won by KO. After that, he virtually gave up on striking with his opponents and focused all his time on Jiu-Jitsu. Yes, he has another two TKO victories in his career, but both of them were caused by his opponents getting injured. Maia openly explains that the last thing he wants to do in this sport is hurt his opponents: he is only looking for a quick finish so that his opponent can safely tap and go back to training the very next day. Maia also has one of the best back control games in MMA, and is very dangerous off his back.
6 The Nogueira Brothers
I put both these fighters in the same number, as their Jiu-Jitsu games are very similar, and they are both extremely talented grapplers. The Nogueira Brothers have been occupying Jiu-Jitsu tournament podiums since blue belt, and have had a tremendous influence in Brazil. They are one of very few fighters that like to play half-guard and deep half-guard in MMA to set up their sweeps and submissions. Both these guys have had several ups and downs in their career, but remain icons in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu and MMA.
5 Rousimar Palhares
Obviously, not a fan-favorite, Palhares has been bouncing from one promotion to the other lately, after being fired constantly for holding on to submissions too long. But putting that aside, this guy's submission game is absolutely unreal. In MMA, Palhares has submitted (and injured) elite level fighters like Jon Fitch and Jake Shields. Outside of the octagon, this brilliant grappler has won the silver medal at the 2011 ADCC Jiu-Jitsu Championship, winning all of his fights by heel hook but losing the gold by points.
4 Ronda Rousey
Do I really have to explain? Ronda's game is so dangerous and unique, as she constantly mixes her Judo skills with her Jiu-Jitsu: her throws and takedowns land in perfect positions to arm bars, making them extremely hard to defend. The awesome thing about Rousey is that everyone knows EXACTLY what she is going to do, but yet nobody seems to be able to stop it. While a couple of years ago, Ronda's arm bars were the main focus of her opponents' training camps, her striking skills have improved to a point where they are just as dangerous. How do you stop a woman like that?
3 Ronaldo Souza
Ronaldo Souza is a three time black belt world champion in Jiu-Jitsu, and is without a doubt one tough fighter. During a Jiu-Jitsu tournament, Roger Gracie broke him arm in an arm lock. Instead of tapping to the submission, Souza kept on fighting and won the fight by points. Souza is also a great wrestler and is able to utilize those skills to set up beautiful submissions. His next challenge will be a great striker by the name of Yoel Romero: we will have to wait and see how this awesome match-up plays out, and if Souza will be able to bring him to the ground and earn another submission win.
2 Fabricio Werdum
When looking at the heavyweight division we see incredibly powerful power-punchers (Mark Hunt, Roy Nelson) or great wrestlers (Cain Velasquez) but it is very rare to see a heavyweight with the Jiu-Jitsu skills of Fabricio Werdum. Werdum was the first man to defeat Fedor Emilianenko (not counting Tsuyosha Kasaki), a fighter who was considered invincible at the time. His bottom Jiu-Jitsu game won him that fight, as well as the UFC heavyweight title when he submitted former heavyweight king Cain Velasquez.
1 Shinya Aoki
Though he is not the most humble or respectful man in the world, Aoki's Jiu-Jitsu is unmatched. This fighter has 25 submissions to his record, including twisters, neck cranks, gogoplatas, flying triangles, and standing arm bars. His game is extremely hard to predict and counter, and Shinya is ALWAYS attacking, no matter where he is. Aoki's six losses have come either by KO or by decision: this should give you an idea for a game plan if you ever, for some reason, decide to fight this Japanese submission artist.