I always enjoy reading articles with the top teams, or the top events of a given year, the top players or plays of the decade. Therefore, I've decided to write my personal 3 MMA Tops, in 3 separate posts: the all-time top 15 submissions, the all-time top 15 knockouts and the all-time top 15 fighters.
In this post, these are my all-time top MMA submissions (I was going to put 15 submissions, but I came up with 16 and couldn’t decide on which one to take out; so 16 it is!). Being a practitioner of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA (for over 2 years now), I found out incredible how just a few sessions of submission training can be, both with a GI and without, in effectively being able to submit, in different ways, bigger opponents, guys that don't know anything about grappling. Here are, then, in reverse order, my top submissions. Feel free to disagree or add others!
16 - Kazushi Sakuraba vs Carlos Newton (Pride FC 3) – Sakuraba wasn’t yet a household name at this time, but Newton was a very respected grappler. This match was more a grappling match than a pure MMA match, as very few punches were actually thrown. At the time, there were no judges; if the match would come to its time-limit, a draw would be declared. When both fighters were getting sweaty and slippery, Sakuraba secured a nifty kneebar to beat the Ronin. This was just the beginning of the Sakuraba story.
15 - BJ Penn vs Matt Hughes (UFC 46) – for the welterweight championship. Hughes was the clear favourite, especially because BJ was coming up in weight. Coming up in weight is often regarded as a disrespectful attitude in wrestling and jiu-jitsu. Matter of the fact is that Penn tutored Hughes on the ground, looking like a spider, securing a very nice rear naked choke. He then kissed Hughes on the lips which was, well, strange (to say the least)!
14 - Jeremy Horn vs Chael Sonnen (UFC 60) – Horn is the MMA wiz at Team Miletich. Guys such as Matt Hughes have learned most of their grappling from Horn. That being sad, he wins lots of matches by way of submission; in this specific match-up he was looking very confident with Sonnen in his closed guard. He then applied a submission that I had never seen before. A sort of front armbar, hard to describe. Joe Rogan immediately called it a very creative submission, as Sonnen tapped.
13 - Royce Gracie vs Akebono (K-1 Premium Dynamite 2004) – if Royce seems small when compared to Dan Severn, what to say of him against Akebono? Akebono is the well-known sumo grand champion. In this one, the BJJ master skilfully applies a wrist lock that is actually of the most painful submissions there is.
12 - Frank Mir vs Tim Sylvia (UFC 48) – in a fight for the championship, everybody knew Sylvia had heavy hands and a great chin. Mir knew that, too. It was actually Sylvia who made a mistake, because he wasn’t taken down; when Frank Mir fell to the ground, Sylvia could’ve just refused to play the ground game; but he looked confident, even as Mir tightly secured his right arm and moved his hips in position for an armbar. He got the armbar. Sylvia picked him up with raw strength and spiked him on the canvas, head first. Referee Herb Dean stopped the match and awarded Mir the belt. Boos from the crowd ensued and Sylvia said he wanted to continue the fight, he never tapped. The replay was fairly obvious: Mir broke Tim’s arm, a very serious injury, and Herb Dean actually might have saved Sylvia’s career when he heard the arm snap and decided to stop the match. The belt for Mir, rehab for Sylvia.
11 - Royce Gracie vs Dan Severn (UFC 4) – a big weight difference for this one, a fight between two present UFC Hall of Fame members. Severn was a massive wrestler, physically dominant. He took Royce down, and the match went like that for the following 15 minutes. Severn was in a supposedly dominant position, pounding and taking stamina out of Gracie. In fact, Royce was just setting the trap, setting up a move that Severn didn’t even know it existed. The fans and commentators didn’t know as well what that. Royce put Severn in a triangle choke, to win the UFC 4 tournament final.
10 - Alexander Otsuka vs Mike Bourke (Pride FC 11) – “The Diet Butcher” Otsuka is a widely recognized pro-wrestler in Japan, but not very respected as an MMA fighter. Ken Shamrock had just steamrolled him in the Pride FC GP 2000. Still, Otsuka was there because he was a very recognizable face to the Japanese audience. Mike “The Rhino” Bourke is definitely an imposing physical specimen. His record wasn’t very good, and Otsuka landed a terrific double armbar from the guard. How often do you see that in MMA matches? I’ve seen it once, and this was it. Bourke had to tap with his knee, as both his hands were stuck.
9 - Frank Mir vs Pete Williams (UFC 36) – the veteran from Ken Shamrock’s Lions Den was trying to climb the HW ladder against the newcomer Frank Mir. Mir was looking good early on his feet, but eventually had Williams in his closed guard. He then applied a reversed shoulder lock, a slick submission in that it’s not exactly very easy to catch an opponent. Williams showed a painful grin and had no alternative than to tap. El Duro’s career went downhill, Mir would later become champion.
8 - Karo Parysian vs Dave Strasser (UFC 44) - Karo's debut in the UFC couldn't be better, and it just blew me the way the guy was able to grapple. Parysian comes from a judo background, but is clearly able to effectively make judo throws without the gi. He’s also able to submit opponents with pure BJJ techniques. Strasser was never in this match, he was totally dominated; Karo may be a somewhat weak stand-up fighter, but after some highlight throws, he secured a standing kimura (yes, a standing kimura), rolled to the ground with Strasser and made him tap. Incredible stuff.
7 - Antonio Nogueira vs Mark Coleman (Pride FC 16) – two legends of the sport. But, at the time, Minotauro Nogueira wasn’t yet a very known fighter, and Coleman was a former UFC champion who had recently won the Pride FC GP. The Hammer was one of the top contenders for the HW championship, but Nogueira came and snatched that status from him. How? With a vicious triangle-armbar combo that would become one of the future HW champion’s trademark moves.
6 - Fedor Emelianenko vs Mark Coleman (Pride FC Total Elimination 2004) – even casual MMA fans know Fedor’s path of sheer domination. An extremely well-rounded fighter, Fedor caught Mark “The Hammer” Coleman in a tightly executed armbar, from the closed guard, that came from nowhere. It was fast, accurate and deadly.
5 - Kazushi Sakuraba vs Renzo Gracie (Pride FC 10) – Saku was now dubbed the “Gracie Hunter”, having beaten Royler Gracie and Royce Gracie. This time around, a more well-rounded member of the family stepped up, in Renzo Gracie. The fight was long and Renzo wasn’t looking bad, until Sakuraba secured a standing kimura with Renzo on his back (the kimura from this position was sort of invented by Sakuraba himself, it is credited). Sakuraba turned and spinned Renzo’s arm, on the way to the ground. Renzo’s elbow snapped (clearly shown on the replays) but he refused to tap. The referee stopped the match and Sakuraba’s legend grew further.
4 - Rumina Sato vs Charles Taylor (Shooto – Devilock Fighters 99) – Sato is a grappling legend, famed for his entertaining fighting style. In the highlight of his career, the Shooto veteran landed a flying armbar on Charles Taylor. A perfectly executed flying armbar. Flying submissions are few and far between in MMA matches, because they are hard to pull off against sparring partners, and even more so against real opponents. But this was a beauty.
3 - Antonio Nogueira vs Heath Herring (Pride FC Critical Countdown 2004) – Minotauro had beaten Herring in the first place, to win the first ever Pride FC HW belt. That first time it was from a judges’ unanimous decision. This time around, Nogueira landed another trick from his arsenal showcase, a perfect anaconda choke. The name says it all.
2 - Shinya Aoki vs Joachim Hansen (Pride FC Shockwave 2006) – ah, the gogoplata. A very hard move to get your opponent into. It’s also a very tricky choke that Aoki was able to land on Joachim Hansen, raising a lot of eyebrows.
1 - Ryo Chonnan vs Anderson Silva (Pride FC Shockwave 2004) – anyone interested in MMA knows who Anderson “The Spider” Silva is, the guy that left Cage Rage to dethrone Rich “Ace” Franklin in the UFC’s middleweight category. But even before his UK MMA exploits, the Spider fell victim to one of the most incredible submissions ever, in Pride FC, against Ryo Chonnan. Who’s that guy? Well, it’s the fighter that made Silva tap from a flying scissors heel-hook. Just that.
Next up: MMA’s top knockouts.