Due to evolving submission games and more televised fi ghts than ever before, fans are being treated to submission spectacles like it’s Christmas morning. While recent slick subs by Dustin Hazelett and Rosimar Palhares wowed crowds, the sneaky maneuvers have had a long, storied, and success-laden history in mixed martial arts.
These ten submissions were chosen on both historical and technical value, and are in chronological order. What? You thought I was going to rank them too?
ROYCE GRACIE DEFEATS DAN SEVERN VIA TRIANGLE CHOKE: UFC 4, 12/16/94
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu master was pinned under four-time All-American wrestler Dan Severn for more than fi fteen minutes before he managed to slowly work his way into a triangle choke. A little-known maneuver at the time, Gracie’s use of the triangle put it on the radar of every serious fan. It was exciting, too. Before the submission, it seemed as though it was just a matter of time before strength would prevail. However, its immeasurable historical value, not the technicality, is the primary reason that it appears on this list. Of course, it does not hurt the legend of Gracie that Severn outweighed him by nearly 100 pounds. Gracie was quoted as saying “a lot of people made the comment that the fi rst UFCs were a big infomercial for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. Yes, they were. But it was reality.”
RUMINA SATO DEFEATS CHARLES TAYLOR VIA FLYING ARMBAR: SHOOTO, 1/15/99
The historical signifi cance of this bout was little, if any. However, the technical prowess of the move was unlike anything fans had ever seen before. Sato’s fl ying armbar, just six seconds into the fi ght, was the quickest and slickest submission of all time. This record stands today. Fans in the modern era of MMA have seen some incredible events, but pointing their attention toward the video of Sato’s move never fails to draw top submission consideration.
KAZUSHI SAKURABA DEFEATS RENZO GRACIE VIA STANDING KIMURA: PRIDE 10, 8/27/00
It was billed as the fi ght of the century, and it certainly lived up to its potential as the two stars pounded away at one another for nearly ten minutes. As the fi ghters seemed to be at a standstill near a corner in what was the fi rst static moment of the match, Sakuraba snatched a kimura out of thin air, spinning Gracie to the ground and snapping his arm in the process. Gracie refused to submit, leaving the referee to call the fi ght a few agonizing seconds later. The win against Renzo Gracie, considered to be the best in his family, solidifi ed Sakuraba’s place among the greats and puts a severe dent in the once ironclad façade of BJJ.
RYO CHONAN DEFEATS ANDERSON SILVA VIA FLYING SCISSOR HEEL HOOK: PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2004, 12/31/04
One of the prettiest moves in the book, it was also one of the most unexpected. Anderson Silva was happily doing his Anderson Silva thing (winning the standup war with precision striking and takedowns at will) when Chonan snapped in the heel hook before the man who trains BJJ under Nogueira could make a move. The loss, in an ironic way, actually contributed to Silva’s legacy. The heel hook is the last time that Silva truly lost (save a DQ), and the fact that it required one of the rarest moves to beat him only adds to the mystique.
SHINYA AOKI DEFEATS JOACHIM HANSEN VIA GOGOPLATA: PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2006, 12/31/06
It was at this New Year’s Eve event that “Tobikan Judan” or “Master of Flying Submissions,” Shinya Aoki, performed what is thought to be the fi rst successful gogoplata in MMA competition. He would save the fl ying for future victories. The gogoplata, a complicated move in which the shin is pressed against the opponent’s trachea from a guard position, was more of a piece of technicality than a possibility. Aoki changed that school of thinking by famously applying the hold just a few minutes into the fi rst round. Add in the fact that Hansen was (and is) regarded as one of the top fi ghters on the planet makes this a shoe-in for the list.
NICK DIAZ DEFEATS TAKANORI GOMI VIA GOGOPLATA: PRIDE 33, 2/24/07
Just a few months after the fi rst successful gogoplata came the second one—a shocking victory by Nick Diaz over whom many considered to be the best lightweight, Takanori Gomi. Diaz was having his way with Gomi in a standup war before switching attacks and securing the gogoplata. This incredible underdog victory, which came in the rarest of fashions, deserves to be on this list, despite Diaz later testing positive for marijuana.
ANTONIO RODRIGO NOGUEIRA DEFEATS TIM SYLVIA VIA GUILLOTINE CHOKE: UFC 81, 2/2/08
If fans missed Minotauro’s resiliency in his UFC debut against Heath Herring, they had no choice but to watch history repeat itself as Nogueira came from behind to submit Tim Sylvia in the third round. After taking a beating for two full rounds, Nogueira surprised Sylvia with the guillotine choke, becoming the fi rst man to win championship belts in both PRIDE and the UFC. Sylvia would later comment, “I hate BJJ.” Submitting the former champion in the world’s premier MMA organization ensured that even casual fans would recognize him as a top submission fi ghter.
ANDERSON SILVA DEFEATS DAN HENDERSON VIA REAR NAKED CHOKE: UFC 82, 3/1/08
Just a month after Sylvia was defeated with a historic submission, Silva looked to rewrite some history of his own. More than three years had passed since the loss to Chonan, and Silva found himself as champion, ready to defend his belt against his toughest test to date. Dan Henderson was often referred to as “Decision Dan” for more than one reason: while he didn’t fi nish all of his fi ghts, he was equally diffi cult to fi nish. But somehow, after being kept on the ground for most of the fi rst round, Silva turned the tide in round two and moved to Henderson’s back, where he quickly locked in a rear naked choke. The win cemented Silva’s legacy in the sport and allowed him to unify the PRIDE and UFC championship belts.
SHINYA AOKI DEFEATS KATSUHIKO NAGATA VIA TOP MOUNT GOGOPLATA: DREAM 4, 6/15/08
When Bas Rutten fails to correctly identify a submission, you know something is up. Shinya Aoki weaved more of his legendary magic at a DREAM event that saw a seemingly impossible variant on an already amazing submission. Aoki managed to get a top mount position, which is much different from the bottom position he prefers. Instead of attempting to ground and pound, Aoki decided to utilize his favorite bottom mount submission…from the top. And thus, “gogoplata from mount” was born. Aoki would go on to fi ght in the fi nals of the lightweight tournament, further perpetuating the legacy of the Japanese fi ghter’s creative and unusual body of work.
FEDOR EMELIANENKO DEFEATS TIM SYLVIA VIA REAR NAKED CHOKE: AFFLICTION, BANNED, 7/19/08
In the midst of a production war with the UFC and just the second time he had fought in the United States, the mighty Russian surpassed all expectations with a 36-second win over former champion Tim Sylvia, who surely regrets fi nding himself on the wrong end of this list…twice. In less than the amount of time it takes to toast a bagel, Fedor did what took Randy Couture fi ve full rounds. The transition and submission were textbook, as Fedor became the fi rst WAMMA champion and was recognized as a legitimate star in the states.
A quick glance at the top ten will reveal that nearly half of the submissions on this list came in the last calendar year. This pattern reveals two truths regarding the sport: First, with the disintegration of old organizations and the amalgamation of new ones, each submission victory has the potential to be that much more symbolic due to the combination of titles. Second, the increased submission education in the s
port allows even the least technically sound fi ghters to achieve competent ground games. The previously average become talented, and the previously talented become incredible.
As the sport and its fi ghters mature, fans can expect to be treated to faster and more unique submissions than ever before. Even Shinya Aoki couldn’t dream up what we’ll be enjoying in a few short years.
Apologies to: Rosimar Palhares’ armbar of Ivan Salaverry, Nate Diaz’s triangle choke of Kurt Pellegrino, Fedor Emelianenko’s armbar of Mark Coleman, Matt Hughes’ armbar of Georges St. Pierre, Frank Mir’s armbar of Tim Sylvia, BJ Penn’s rear naked choke of Matt Hughes, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s anaconda choke of Heath Herring and triangle-armbar of Mark Coleman, and Marcus Aurelio’s triangle-armbar combo of Takanori Gomi.