Ever since Royce Gracie started tapping out one-gloved boxers at UFC 1, the submission has become one of the unique intricacies of MMA. It’s a breath-holding moment when a submission is nearly finished and you know the defenseless fighter is either seconds away from tapping or going unconscious. The 11 current fighters on this list laugh at that thought—entering the cage at least 20 times to prove they can’t be tapped.
11. Martin Kampmann
0 submission losses in 26 fights.
He’s not the first fighter you think of when pondering un-tappables, but the numbers don’t lie. The Danish welterweight has survived the submission games of Jake Shields, Paulo Thiago, Carlos Condit, Nate Marquardt, and Thales Leites. Kampmann is usually willing to engage a ground fighter on his own turf, showing either a complete lack of game-planning or his own personal way of flipping the bird to lauded submission games he was supposed to fall victim to.
10. Urijah Faber
0 submission losses in 32 fights.
The golden boy of the lighter weight classes someway, somehow managed to never tap in 32 fights, despite usually fighting a weight class or two above his current bantamweight home. Faber is a fine Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner to be sure, but his scrappiness on the ground has been his best weapon, scrambling out of bad positions and gutting out close submission attempts by his opponents. Renan Baroa, Takeya Mizugaki, Raphael Assuncao, Mike Brown, and Bibiano Fernandes couldn’t make “The California Kid” submit.
9. Gilbert Melendez
0 submission losses in 23 fights.
A Cesar Gracie product, “El Nino” chooses to completely ignore anything having to do with submissions, having never been submitted nor submitting an opponent in 21 wins (well, Harris Sarmiento tapped to strikes). A relentless scrambler fueled by a deep gas tank keeps this California native in a safe place whenever the action hits the floor. Submission veterans Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki, Rodrigo Damm, Clay Guida, and Rumina Sato couldn’t handle his game. When you’re training with the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields, you either learn to escape or you get prosthetic limbs.
8. Demian Maia
0 submission losses in 21 fights
Regarded by some as the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner in MMA—regardless of weight class—the middleweight turned welterweight had every fighter at 185 pounds rejoicing that Maia wasn’t around to crank their limbs anymore. His sound technique keeps him out of trouble at all times, never breaking a sweat when his back is on the canvas. His dedication to Muay Thai kept him off the mat in his last few fights, but he went back to his roots in his most recent fight by making Rick Story’s head explode like a Gusher fruit snack with a choke/neck crank combo.
7. Frank Mir
0 submission losses in 22 fights
The submission game of the big boy division is often overlooked due to some sloppy fighting from gassed out heavies. Mir, on the other hand, has escaped the clutches of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (twice), Roy Nelson, and Tank Abbott (ok, that last one is a joke). The Las Vegas local combines strength and technique, coagulating a brutal submission offense that almost no fighter wants a part of. Even trying submission attempts on him can be hazardous to your health—just ask the pins in Big Nog’s arm.
6. Sean Sherk
0 submission losses in 41 fights
Sean “The Muscle Shark” Sherk hasn’t let one of the worst nicknames in MMA keep him from spitting in the face of submission adversity. With the un-chokable neck of a rhino, coupled with the arms and legs of an alligator, Sherk is physically incapable of being submitted. The former UFC Lightweight Champion battled BJ Penn, Hermes Franca, Kenny Florian, Nick Diaz, Georges St-Pierre, and Matt Hughes without even the faintest thought of tapping.
5. Shinya Aoki
0 submission losses in 39 fights
Not only has Shinya Aoki gone nine years and 38 fights without tapping out, he did it almost exclusively in the submission heavy MMA landscape of Japan. The Far East had an appreciation for the submission game back when American fans were screaming for blood and booing ground games (we all know that doesn’t happen anymore). One of the best offensive ground games in the business keep opponents on edge and unable to work a submission game of their own. The Grand Master of Flying Submissions lives by the mantra “The best defense is a good offense.”
4. Nick Diaz
0 submission losses in 35 fights.
One of two Cesar Gracie-trained black belts on this list, the elder Diaz brother is known primarily for his offense, not his defense. However, he’s been able to get by with less than mediocre takedown defense since few fighters dare take him to ground. Submission savants BJ Penn, Hayoto Sakurai, Chris Lytle, and Frank Shamrock couldn’t even get close to a submission attempt, let alone a finish.
3. Jake Shields
0 submissions in 35 fights.
Unlike a lot of other fighters on this list, Shields spends every possible second he can fighting on the ground—opponents’ submission skills be damned. His self-proclaimed “American Jiu-Jitsu” merges his collegiate wrestling skill with a Cesar Gracie black belt. “Grinding” and “suffocating” do not accurately describe his style that keeps even the best submission fighter looking clueless. Georges St-Pierre, Mike Pyle, Renato Verissimo, and Carlos Condit couldn’t tap him. He even gutted out of a rear naked choke by Jason Miller just to prove his cajones.
2. Diego Sanchez
0 submission losses in 28 fights.
If you are not sitting down before reading the list of badasses who haven’t been able to tap “The Dream” in the cage, pull up a chair so you don’t fall over. Paulo Thiago, BJ Penn, Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson, Jon Fitch, Nick Diaz, and Kenny Florian all gave it the old college try, but Sanchez made it out alive every time. When not trying to absorb power from thunderstorms (remember that?), the Greg Jackson-trained lightweight’s constant motion and cardio make him impossible to corral. Getting him into a bad position is nearly impossible. Keeping him in a bad position is an exercise in futility.
1. BJ Penn
0 submission losses in 27 fights.
Not only has the pineapple-eating Hawaiian never been submitted in MMA, he did it in multiple weight classes: Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Sean Sherk, and Jens Pulver at lightweight; Nick Diaz, Jon Fitch, Georges St-Pierre, and Matt Hughes at welterweight; Renzo Gracie and Rodrigo Gracie at weird, random weights; and just for fun, Lyoto Machida at heavyweight. You have to wonder how Penn is still walking. The first American to win the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Championships never let a thing like a poor gas tank or scale keep him from losing a limb.
These fighters have entered the cage at least 20 times without getting submitted.
0 Submissions in 21 fights.
Survived: Carlos Eduardo Rocha, Jon Fitch, Brock Larson.
0 Submissions in 20 fights.
Survived: Jon Jones, Phil Davis, Lyoto Machida.
0 Submissions in 22 fights.
Survived: Roy Nelson, Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
0 Submissions in 25 fights.
Survived: Fabricio Werdum, Frank Mir, Jeff Monson.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
0 Submissions in 25 fights.
Survived: Kazushi Sakuraba, Phil Davis, Vladimir Matyushenko.
0 Submissions in 27 fights.
Survived: Jason Miller, Dan Miller, Rashad Evans.
0 Submissions in 31 fights.
Survived: Urijah Faber, Cole Escovedo.
0 Submissions in 35 fights.
Survived: Nate Marquardt, Evan Tanner, Jake Shields.
0 Submissions in 36 fights.
Survived Faliniko Vitale, Brian Ebersole, Akihiro Gono.