In 1993, Royce Gracie put mixed martial arts on the map by winning the inaugural Ultimate Fighting Championship.
In doing so, Gracie exhibited the art of submissions with the beauty and poise of a renaissance master. The MMA luminary’s paintbrush was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, while his canvas was typically adorned with a deep shade of red.
Decades later, this art remains one of the most spectacular finishing methods in combat sports. And today, we’re going to look at five of the most unforgettable submissions in MMA history.
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Renzo Gracie
- When PRIDE 10 – August 27, 2000
- Result: Sakuraba via Kimura
The greatest Japanese mixed martial artist of all time, “The Gracie Hunter” is a walking highlight reel.
Arguably the greatest moment of Sakuraba’s career is perhaps his win over the legendary Renzo Gracie at PRIDE 10 in the summer of 2000. At the very least, the win marked one of the greatest submissions in MMA history. Although he had shocked the world in beating Royce Gracie in the Pride Grand Prix Opening Round in May of the same year, he had defeated the all-time great by way of nasty leg kicks.
Before defeating the world’s best-known Gracie brother, Sakuraba had submitted Royler Gracie in November 1999. But there was no way that Renzo would suffer the same fate. Or, at least that was the consensus ahead of the fight. Renzo was one of the most prominent practitioners on the planet and appeared too strong for the Japanese hero.
But that’s exactly what happened, and Sakuraba’s patient work was rewarded when he locked in the kimura with over nine minutes of the second round on the clock. Renzo tried his best to escape, but there was no way out. Instead of tapping, he hung in until his arm snapped under Sakuraba’s grip.
A legendary fight ended by one of the most impressive submissions in mixed martial arts history.
Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi
- When: PRIDE 33 – February 24, 2011
- Result: Diaz via Gogoplata
The world was anticipating a striking fest between Nick Diaz and Takanori Gomi at PRIDE 33.
After all, both men were better known for their standup than anything else. Of course, Diaz would go on to become a Cesar Gracie blackbelt, but it was his pressure boxing style that endeared him to fans around the world.
Now, when discussing the greatest submissions of all time in MMA, we just had to add this one to the list. Not only was Diaz’s execution of the super-rare gogoplata as slick as it was efficient, but it also took many fans and practitioners by surprise, given how rare it is. A major reason for its scarcity inside the cage is that is also one of the toughest submissions to master in BJJ.
Although difficult on paper, this is a very effective submission. As you can see from the video below, the “go-go” is essentially performed from the rubber guard by placing the shinbone over the throat of the opponent. The intention is to apply pressure to the windpipe which effectively shuts off the opponent’s airflow.
Diaz nailed it, earning a place on the highlight reel of the best MMA submissions of all time. Even if the fight was ruled a no-contest due to the Stockton fighter testing positive for marijuana, it is still iconic.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Ray Borg
- When: UFC 216 – October 27, 2017
- Result: Johnson via Flying Armbar
Evolve MMA’s very own Demetrious Johnson makes his appearance on this list of all-time great submissions in MMA.
Johnson’s flying armbar in October 2017 was his last win in the UFC before he hooked up with ONE Championship in 2019. As one of the greatest mixed martial artists of all time, the American has enjoyed a career littered with spectacular finishes inside the cage. But perhaps the best of them all came against Ray Borg at UFC 216, where he landed the most incredible submission.
Having worked Borg over for most of the fight, it looked as though the bout would go then distance. But Johnson took Borg’s back and lifted him into the air, transitioning from suplex to armbar before landing on the canvas.
If this is not the most spectacular submission of all time, it has to be up there with the very best.
Fedor Emilianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum
- When: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum – June 26, 2010
- Result: Werdum via Triangle Armbar
Whenever the greatest MMA submissions of all time are brought up, it should not take long before this one is mentioned.
Sure, the magnitude of the win was heavy enough to punch a hole in the earth. However, the technical nous behind Fabricio Werdum’s incredible submission win was also seismic. In many ways, it destroyed the widely held belief that high-level jiu-jitsu had little place in the heavyweight realm.
When Werdum toppled the indomitable “Last Emperor” in just over one minute, it changed many things. For instance, it snapped the Russian’s lengthy win streak that was approaching nine years. It also marked the beginning of the end of his elite career. And you could also argue that it sent more striking-heavy fighters to the mat than any other victory in the early to late 2000s.
It’s difficult to recreate the amazement of watching the baddest man on the planet tapping to Werdum’s triangle choke, but to say it was a shock was an understatement. Although the Russian great was able to slip out of the first one, when Werdum caught him deep into his second attempt, his technical brilliance saw him through.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen
- When: UFC 117 – August 10, 2011
- Result: Silva via Triangle Armbar
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen is the fight that had it all.
This was an action-packed scrap that looked as though it was destined to end as one of the biggest shocks in the history of the UFC. Silva, who was pretty much considered unbeatable at the time, was outclassed by Sonnen across five rounds.
The underdog was just seconds away from leaving the Octagon a hero and establishing himself as the new UFC middleweight champion. But that dream quickly turned into a nightmare when “The Spider” trapped Sonnen in a triangle like a fly in a funnel web.
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