What makes for a memorable submission?
Certainly, a high level of technical skill is important. If you’re able to pull off a move in a mixed martial arts fight that gets world champion jiu-jitsu players buzzing with excitement on Twitter, then you’ve probably done something that will be discussed for a long time.
The stakes matter, as well, as they do in any sport. Adam Vinatieri’s game-ending field goal to win Super Bowl XXXIV, which toppled the mighty Rams and launched the Patriots’ dynasty, is remembered long after all the other 48-yard field goals kicked during the 2001 NFL season have been forgotten.
Likewise, Anderson Silva’s triangle-choke submission victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 was memorable because of the situation: Silva lost each of the first four rounds on the cards and was sure to lose the UFC middleweight championship after the fifth, had he not goaded Sonnen into his trap. In the process, he created a clip which will be replayed for generations.
But what if you managed to combine all the elements for a memorable submission finish … and add a dash of history, to boot?
That’s what happened at UFC 216, when UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson tapped out Ray Borg in the fifth round of their title fight.
Johnson went into the fight in Las Vegas — which was originally scheduled for UFC 215 in Edmonton, but scrapped two days out when Borg fell ill — needing a victory over Borg to secure his 11th consecutive title defense, which would surpass Silva’s UFC mark for most title defenses.
He was well on his way to achieving his goal on Oct. 7 at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena. He was pitching a shutout going into the fifth round, using his trademark blend of speed, skill, and tenacity to outclass Borg. The best that could be said about the challenger’s performance was that Borg showed quite a bit of toughness and it appeared he was going to survive until the final horn.
And then, it happened. In the middle of a grappling exchange along the fence, “Mighty Mouse” let out a roar as he picked Borg off the mat for a suplex slam. Midstream, Johnson transitioned into an armbar, and by the time they hit the mat, before anyone really understood what was happening, Borg was trapped. He tried to hold out, but he tapped at the 3:15 mark.
Johnson would have earned plenty of plaudits simply for entering the record books with a one-sided decision win. Instead, he went out of his way to pull off a move no one had ever seen, a legendary moment for the all-time highlight reel.
At the UFC 216 post-fight press conference, Johnson explained how he managed to pull it off.
“I kneed him and then I shook his weight, I shifted his weight,” Johnson said. “And when he shifted, he went back and threw an elbow and was like, ‘Got you.’ And then that’s when I threw him up and then landed in the armbar. Yeah. F*ck yeah.”
Johnson insisted he wanted to call his move “The Mighty Wizbar.” Everyone else wants to call it “The Mousetrap.” Here’s another thing you can call it: The runaway winner for MMA Fighting’s 2017 Submission of the Year award.
2. Brett Johns’ calf-slicer win over Joe Soto
There were plenty of submission finishes at the TUF 26 Finale in Las Vegas, but one cut through the clutter: Brett Johns, the undefeated bantamweight from Wales, pulled off just the second calf-slicer finish in UFC history.
The finish came in a fight-opening whirlwind, as Joe Soto, a former Bellator featherweight champion, shot for a takedown. In the ensuing scramble, though, Johns spotted an opening and went for it. Soto knew he was trapped and tapped at the 30-second mark rather than sustain further damage.
On a subsequent The MMA Hour appearance, Johns broke down how the submission played out.
“He shot for the single leg,” Johns said. “I wrap my arms around toward him, toward his backside area, and I grabbed my own foot, so in my head I must have had some sort of inkling it was there. Looking back at the time, I thought I fell into it, but realistically I went around and grabbed my foot, I pulled him over me, I was working for that sub when he shot for that takedown.”
3. Aleksei Oleinik’s Ezekiel choke of Viktor Pesta
Ezekiel chokes are nothing new for the cagey 40-year-old Ukranian heavyweight: He’s gotten 11 of them among his eye-popping 42 career submission wins.
But Aleksei Oleinik’s finish of Viktor Pesta at the 2:57 mark of the opening round in their UFC Phoenix bout marked the first time the move was ever used for a tapout in the UFC Octagon.
All the more impressive was the manner in which the hold was pulled off: Pesta was winning the fight, right up until he wasn’t. As Pesta worked over Oleinik from top position, Oleinik lived up to his “Boa Constrictor” nickname, catching him from the bottom before Pesta knew what hit him and getting his opponent to tap.
4. Brian Ortega’s guillotine of Cub Swanson
There’s nothing quite like the aura of a fighter who has a move that everyone in the building knows is coming, but his opponent still can’t avoid it.
That’s the case with UFC featherweight contender Brian Ortega and his ability to pull off slick chokes out of nowhere. The Torrance, Calif., native has an uncanny ability to flip the switch when he’s losing a fight and end things before his opponent can process what happened.
Such was the case on Dec. 9 at UFC Fresno, when Ortega made the most of his first UFC main event. Veteran Cub Swanson was the victim, as Ortega got a standing guillotine, jumped guard, and even managed to adjust his grip mid-air when he began to slip.
Swanson tapped at 3:22 mark of the second round and later told reporters “I felt like I was going to die” as he was being choked.
5. Georges St-Pierre’s rear-naked choke of Michael Bisping
Remember what we were saying earlier about the stakes involved in a submission? Few fighters had more riding on their fight this year than Georges St-Pierre in his UFC 217 bout with Michael Bisping.
GSP, the beloved former longtime UFC welterweight champion, was returning after nearly four years away, and was going up in weight class.
And after a strong start to the fight, things were trending south for St-Pierre. He tired in the second round as Bisping began landing heavy shots. In the third, he scored a takedown, but absorbed brutal elbows that opened a nasty laceration.
But he persevered, and landed a fight-changing left hook late in the third round. He smartly suckered Bisping into giving up enough room to sink in the RNC. Bisping went out rather than tap out. GSP became the fourth fighter in UFC history to win titles in two weight classes and enhanced his place among the greatest fighters of all-time.
Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2017 Submission of the Year played out.
- Valentina Shenvchenko vs. Julianna Pena
- Ovince Saint Preux vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima/Yushin Okami
- Yuri Alcantara vs. Luke Sanders
- Diego Brandao vs. Murad Machaev
- Ali Bagov vs. Bubba Jenkins
- Suman Mokhtarian vs. Rodian Menchavez
- Rose Namajunas vs. Michelle Waterson
- Zach Freeman vs. Aaron Pico