When it comes to the reality of fi ghting that is revealed within the arena of MMA, perhaps nothing paints a better picture of such than the strangling, deliberate squeeze of a fi ght-ending choke hold. With just an upward pull of a correctly placed forearm, the constriction by a neck-dwelling biceps, or the tight pinch of a pair of fi gure-foured legs or arms, the chokes seen in MMA are the epitome of power and mastery over one’s foe. After all, what other fi ght technique can turn a once-aggressive man into the likes of an obedient puppy, lest he deal with the panic of losing his consciousness in front of thousands of fascinated eyes?
But in modern day MMA, where all fi ghters are ever-aware of the looming threat of these fi erce—yet surprisingly safe—techniques, sometimes it takes a particularly sly maneuvering on one fi ghter’s part in order to catch his opponent in the carotid-artery-closing clutches that leave only those watching in safety and screaming for more. Certainly, it’s those specifi c instances of sneaky, unexpected or brutal submission that best stick in the minds of the fans who are bound to see countless such fi ght-fi nishers in the duration of their MMA spectatorship. That being said, let’s take a look at 10 of the most memorable choke outs in MMA history.
10. Most Historical Choke: Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock UFC 1 November 12, 1993.
For those unaware, UFC 1 effectively served as ground-zero for the fi gurative bomb of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that detonated on American soil in the early 1990s. The fi rst to fall victim to such was none other than Ken Shamrock. Being one of the only other competitors savvy with submission holds, the physically awesome Ken Shamrock posed a slight threat to eventual UFC champion, Royce Gracie. Knowing as much, Royce had to act quickly in a scramble and secure a rear naked choke (RNC) from an unorthodox side position, without even securing his hooks fi rst. The choke was so slick and fast-acting that the ref even missed Ken’s initial tapout. And thus began the longtime rivalry between Shamrock and Gracie, alongside America’s fascination with choke holds.
9. Most Highlighted Choke: Hughes vs. Trigg II UFC 52 April 4, 2005
During his stint as the most dominant champion in UFC history, Matt Hughes would twice meet Frank Trigg in battle. Although the second bout would eventually be billed as one of the most memorable in MMA history, it was the fi rst matchup that produced one of the nastiest choke outs to grace replays for years to come. After opening the fi rst round with quite the grappling war, Hughes was able to not only dish out a vintage-Hughes slam upon Trigg, much to the pleasure of the screaming crowd, but to soon secure his hooks and take Trigg’s back—while Trigg was in a standing position. Resembling a pissed-off backpack with a mind of its own, Hughes rode Trigg, squeezing his neck until Trigg collapsed backward onto the mat, tapping just in time to avoid taking a nap from the now-highlight choke hold.
8. Most Unexpected Choke: Jens Pulver vs. Cub Swanson WEC 31 December 12, 2007
Coming off of two back-to-back losses in the UFC lightweight division against both Joe Lauzon and B.J. Penn, Jens Pulver’s MMA career looked to be somewhat in jeopardy. Making a lateral move to the Zuffa-owned WEC and dropping down a weight class, Pulver—known primarily for his striking—had all eyes on him, including those of an overly confi dent Cub Swanson. Prefi ght smack talk ensued and eventually culminated in the cage, where Jens secured a vicious, modifi ed fi gurefour guillotine on Swanson, nearly making good on his own prefi ght promise to “choke [Cub] unconscious” and “rip [his] head off.” In just 35 seconds, Lil’ Evil had racked up his third submission victory ever (out of 22 wins total) and was defi – nitely looking badder than ever!
7. A Choke Worth Remembering: Evan Tanner vs. Justin Levens UFC 59 April 15, 2006
Serving as one of the pioneers that helped to carry MMA through its supposed “dark ages,” the regrettably late Evan Tanner was always an exciting fi ghter to watch in the Octagon. Tanner, who self-admittedly learned much of his submission game from VHS instructional videos, had an affi nity for triangle chokes (using either his arms or legs) in particular. In fact, he still holds the honor of being the UFC fi ghter with the most wins by this technique, which stands strong at nine—not an easy task to accomplish, considering the pattern that such a habitual tendency leaves for subsequent opponents to guard against. Nonetheless, Tanner’s last opponent to fall victim to his triangular ways was Justin Levens at UFC 59. Evan Tanner, you will be missed by all!
6. Most Career-Catapulting Choke: Miguel Torres vs. Chase Beebe WEC 32 February 13, 2008
Following the destruction of Eddie Wineland by a tenacious Chase Beebe, it looked as if the Bantamweight division of the WEC would be locked down for good. Enter veteran, yet virtually unknown, fi ghter, Miguel Torres. Perhaps avenging the loss of Wineland (Torres’ teammate), the multitalented Torres pummeled, out grappled, and eventually choked Beebe out, using almost the same brutal fi gurefour guillotine that Pulver had showcased in the cage a few months earlier. With one beautiful fl ow of Jiu-Jitsu ending in a throat-slicing squeeze, the world would fi nally come to know Miguel Torres.
5. Most Brutal Choke: Dan Miller vs. Dave Phillips IFL World Championship Finals August 2, 2007
Of all the IFL highlights that unfortunately went unnoticed by most, this jawdropper can defi nitely not be counted as one of them! Battling in the ring of the IFL, Dan Miller did all he could to defeat Dave Phillips in order to push his team into the fi nals—including catching Phillips in what might be the nastiest guillotine choke ever to be caught on fi lm! Appearing to have severed Phillips’ head from his body, Miller fully choked his opponent into unconsciousness, thus becoming the star of what became a certifi able “viral video” among MMA chat rooms and online communities. And just so you can rest easy, Dave Phillips suffered no permanent injury from this choke.
4. Most stunning Series of Chokes: Brad Imes vs. Bo Cantrell KOTC Arch Rivals October 27, 2007
Following a scant running in the UFC after losing to Rashad Evans in the TUF 2 fi nale, Brad Imes seemed to go MIA from mainstream MMA. However, following the growing trend of fi ghters hunting for unconventional submissions, such as the shin choke from one’s guard known as the “gogoplata,” Imes quickly joined the modest ranks of those who could claim to have won by this method. But that wasn’t enough for The Hillbilly Heartthrob. Utilizing his uncanny fl exibility that isn’t exactly commonplace in the Heavyweight division, Imes pulled out his rubber guard once again in his very next fi ght, securing a second consecutive victory by gogoplata; something that no one else has done to this day!
3. Most Stunning Upset By Way of Choke: B.J. Penn vs. Matt Hughes I UFC 46 January 31, 2004
Possessing a natural talent that most fi ghters would kill for, B.J. Penn is perhaps one of the most celebrated fi gures on the stage of MMA. Most peculiar might be the fact that Penn has tasted repeated success against fi ghters who, quite frankly, look to be his physical superior in most cases. Just ask Matt Hughes. In what could be called one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, Penn single-handedly ended the 13-fi ght win streak of then-champ Hughes when he secured a RNC in the fi rst round forcing Hughes to concede defeat and wave “Aloha” to his title belt.
2. Most Unexpected Choke: Kevin Burns vs. Roan Carneiro UFC 85 June 7, 2008
Even if you’re a conn
oisseur of MMA, perhaps this is the slickest choke out that you’ve never seen! Making his UFC debut on the deep under card of UFC 85, it certainly looked as though Kevin Burns, then a blue belt in BJJ, was being thrown to the wolves, as his opponent was Roan Carneiro, a decorated BJJ black belt and Pan Am BJJ Champion. Yes, it looked to be a long night for Burns … or a short one for Carneiro. Utilizing his surprisingly dynamic guard to keep a frustrated Carneiro at bay for most of the fi ght, Burns would eventually land a series of upkicks, causing Carneiro to fall right into his awaiting guard. Not wasting a second, Burns sealed up a triangle that had Carneiro seeing stars and his own hand tapping out.
In order to fully grasp the gravity of such an upset, let’s look at this situation in other terms: To the sci-fi geek, this fi ght would be the Star Wars equivalent to a young Luke Skywalker catching Yoda himself in the Grand Daddy of all Jedi mind tricks—it simply shouldn’t happen! But for his efforts—and borrowing the dialect of our little, green Jedi-friend—“Submission of the night, Kevin was awarded!”
1. Slickest Choke: Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi PRIDE 33 February 24, 2007.
Taking the honor of being the deliverer of possibly the slickest choke in MMA history is Stockton, Californiadwelling bad boy Nick Diaz. Perhaps known more for throwing up his area code, along with his hair-triggered middle fi ngers, let it be known that the elder Diaz brother can also throw up some sick-ass chokes, effectively adding injury to his insults. Going from organization to organization, Diaz’s nomadic career eventually led him to PRIDE 33, where he faced the heavily favored Takanori Gomi. Not only did Diaz arguably outstrike a gassed Gomi for much of the match, but he then equally impressively mounted his attack on the ground, securing a gogoplata that rendered Gomi beaten and nearly unconscious. Whereas this wasn’t the fi rst gogoplata victory to be seen in MMA, it was arguably the most celebrated, as news— and highlights—of Diaz’s victory instantly spread around the MMA world. Although Diaz was offi cially stripped of the victory for testing positive for THC, this certainly submission remains a choke out that everyone will remember, no matter what the NSAC may say!