What were the best submissions of the last decade? Read on for one scribe’s opinion, as the Highly Unofficial Decade Awards continue…
Great champions aren’t defined by their dominance, but how they react to adversity. Anderson Silva got nearly five rounds worth of punishment from trash-talking Chael Sonnen, but just when it appeared that the UFC middleweight champion’s title was slipping away, he pulled off a final round submission of Sonnen that forever etched his name in the record books as one of the sport’s best ever.
Before Chan Sung Jung’s March rematch with Leonard Garcia, you might have assumed that the fight game of “The Korean Zombie” started and finished with his ability to brawl. Maybe Garcia, who defeated Jung in their classic 2010 bout, figured the same thing. He might have even thought that he was safe as the seconds wound down in round two in Louisville in 2011. But that’s when Jung struck with Eddie Bravo’s “Twister,” a painful maneuver that had never finished a fight in the UFC – well, up until Garcia’s tap out at 4:59 of the second round. It was a beautifully executed move, and a historic one.
There is a small school of believers that think a knockout is more devastating than a submission. Frank Mir did not go to that school. In December 2011, he proved it again, becoming the first man to submit former PRIDE / UFC champ Minotauro Nogueira. To do that while one hundred percent is impressive; to do it after getting buzzed and almost finished by one of the greatest heavyweights of all-time takes it to another level.
Ever since Ronda Rousey turned pro, every opponent she faced knew that they were going to have to deal with an armbar attempt sooner or later, usually sooner. Liz Carmouche was no different, and part of her preparation for the UFC 157 bout against the women’s bantamweight champ involved defending random armbar attempts by her teammates at every possible moment. Yet when Rousey made her move on Carmouche after surviving a rear naked choke attempt moments earlier, the Marine Corps veteran got caught and finished by – you guessed it - the armbar.
When it comes to spectacular technique, there were better submissions than Nate Diaz’ finish of Conor McGregor in 2016, but has there been one that captivated the MMA universe more than the come from behind rear naked choke that ended the Irishman’s unbeaten UFC run and began one of the sport’s great rivalries? Not likely.
How can the first and only Ezekiel choke submission in UFC history not get recognized here? So there’s that, but even if it wasn’t the first, Aleksei Oleinik’s finish of Viktor Pesta in January 2017 was so sublime and so surprising that it’s a no brainer for this list. Mounted by Pesta, it looked like Oleinik was about to be in for a world of pain, but the submission master dubbed “The Boa Constrictor” calmly found his way to sink in the choke, and it was game over as Pesta tapped out at 2:57 of the first round.
History is nice, and Demetrious Johnson did set the UFC record for most successful title defenses with his win over Ray Borg in October 2017, but this could have been the first prelim on UFC FIGHT PASS and DJ would have locked up the best submission of 2017 and possibly the decade with a move that will go down as one of the best of any year. How good was this? Try suplex to armbar in one fluid motion, requiring several replays to fathom that this was actually real and not a figment of our imagination. In the process, “Mighty Mouse” continued to show off new wrinkles in his game, further cementing his place as an all-time great.
Brian Ortega’s guillotine choke submission of Cub Swanson proved just how uncomfortable it can be to be caught by a top-level fighter and feel like there is no escape but to tap out or go to sleep. Once Ortega locked in his choke of “Killer Cub,” Swanson knew he was in deep trouble, and to see a seasoned vet like him in such a situation was a bit of a shocker, but Ortega is proving that he can do that to anyone at 145 pounds.
Scotland’s Paul Craig was moments away from retirement as Magomed Ankalaev put him on the canvas, seemingly about to secure his first UFC win at Craig’s expense. But in the miracle comeback of all miracle comebacks, Craig threw up a triangle choke and forced Ankalaev to tap out. The time of the victory, which earned Craig a Performance of the Night bonus and a new UFC contract? 4:59 of round three.
Ryan Hall earned the top submission spot for 2018 on the final card of the year, as he submitted a former Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion in BJ Penn. Then again, this wasn’t an accident from the high-level BJJ black belt, but another example why his leg locks are among the best – if not the best – in MMA. Fast, devastating, and decisive, Hall broke open a close fight and ended it within seconds with a heel hook on a UFC Hall of Famer.
Ovince Saint Preux’s Von Flue choke has rapidly become the MMA equivalent of the Green Bay Packers’ sweep of the 1960s: you know it’s coming, but that doesn’t mean you can stop it. In the last decade, OSP has ended fights with the choke now unofficially known as the Von Preux four times, the most recent in September of this year, as he shook off a slow start to patiently finish Michal Oleksiejczuk in the second round.
Anyone caught in the rare Twister submission will tell you how painful it is, and that was evident on the face of Matt Sayles as he got caught in this fight-ender (only the second in UFC history) at the hands of Bryce Mitchell, a skilled submission specialist who will likely deliver some finishes that will make the next decade’s list as well.