It’s time to look at 2016's "Submissions of the Year," which showcases not just brilliant Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) moments, but fantastic mixed martial arts (MMA) performances within the Bellator MMA cage and elsewhere.
Let's cut to the chase:
5. Alexis Dufresne vs. Marloes Coenen
Alexis Dufresne is known for four things: Padding her record with borderline-criminal matchmaking, pounding out Kim Couture, missing weight by eight pounds against Sara Moras, and being on the wrong end of a hilariously one-sided beating from Marion Reneau in which she also missed weight. I still feel stupid for picking her in the latter, although I’m comforted by her -220 odds suggesting that many others made the same mistake.
"Sneaky Zebra," stepping onto the scales for the first time in more than 16 months, missed the 145-pound Featherweight limit by five pounds for her bout with Marloes Coenen at Bellator 155. "Rumina" -- whose only losses since 2009 had come to Cris "Cyborg" and Miesha Tate -- elected to fight anyway and her -600 odds suggested that she wasn’t taking much of a risk in doing so.
Dufresne scored an early takedown, but the crafty Dutchwoman swept her way into guard partway through the first. As soon as she postured up to do damage, however, Dufresne locked up a triangle and ultimately cranked a gruesome armbar to draw the tap.
The weight thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but this was an incredibly accomplishment nonetheless. Who knows? Maybe this could pave the way for an appearance in UFC’s new women’s 145-pound division.
4. Joe Taimanglo vs. Darrion Caldwell
Joe Taimanglo had exactly one way to win this fight. He knew it, Caldwell knew it ... and it happened anyway.
Caldwell, whom Bloody Elbow’s Michael Riordan called the most talented wrestler he’d ever seen, was absolutely red-hot going into this fight, arguably the brightest prospect on the entire Bellator roster. Six fights into his professional career, he took a decision over former tournament winner Rafael Silva. Two fights later, he ran over Joe Warren en route to a first-round submission win.
According to Tapology, he closed as a -1300 favorite over "Baby Joe," who compounded his issues by weighing in at 138 pounds.
All went as expected in the first two rounds, as Caldwell soundly outwrestled the Guamanian fireplug and avoided his heavy swings. Moments into the third round, Caldwell shot in for another routine takedown and, in the classic wrestler’s folly, left his neck out. Taimanglo clamped down on an arm-in guillotine and drew the tap within 10 seconds.
Though Caldwell later avenged this loss in one-sided fashion, it remains a colossal numerical upset and a wholly unexpected roadblock for a man whose rise to the top seemed unstoppable.
Even if it was just a guillotine, that’s enough to show up here.
3. Mackenzie Dern vs. Montana Stewart
The omoplata is just a cool technique. As much a sweep as it is a submission, it’s remarkably versatile if set up correctly. For instance, "Japanese God of Leglocks," Masakazu Imanari, once asked himself how opponents are supposed to defend rear-naked chokes if one of their arms is stuck between your legs.
The answer: Poorly.
ADCC gold medalist and multiple-time world gi- and no-gi Brazilian jiu-jitsu champion MacKenzie Dern came to the same conclusion against standout wrestler Montana Stewart. In her second pro fight, which took place in October under the Legacy banner, Dern locked up the omoplata from guard and followed Stewart’s attempt to roll through. Rather than continue pursuing the armlock, Dern took advantage of the scramble to wrap her arms around Stewart’s neck and force a painful-looking tap.
Considering her list of accomplishments at the age of 23, Dern may have a tremendous future ahead of her. Here’s hoping for years of moments like these.
2. Tie: Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor, Miesha Tate vs. Holly Holm
It was near-impossible decide between these two comeback rear-naked chokes. Diaz survived hellacious punishment to rock McGregor with a one-two combination and draw a desperation shot, while Tate pulled off the Hail Mary upset submission in the fifth round while down on the scorecards.
The Diaz submission was the more dominant of the two -- the fading McGregor visibly crumbled, going from the man who bragged about turning strikers into wrestlers to one who shot a telegraphed double-leg on a Diaz. Holm, on the other hand, never stopped fighting until Tate turned her brain off, but the fact that it was in the fifth round made the situation more dramatic than Diaz-McGregor I.
Take your pick as to which one you prefer because neither can topple the tapout sitting at No. 1.
1. Ben Rothwell vs. Josh Barnett
Rothwell, meanwhile, had one submission win since 2008, choking out Matt Mitrione in his previous fight.
The first round was close, technical and entertaining -- Barnett’s relentless pressure and brutal clinchwork against Rothwell’s deceptively-accurate punching. A little past the midway point of the second round, Barnett changed levels for a single-leg and hauled Rothwell to the fence. "Big Ben" responded with the modified 10-finger guillotine he calls a Gogo Choke, the same technique with which he dispatched Matt Mitrione. An increasingly-panicked Barnett tried to roll out of it, only to wind up on the bottom with all 265+ pounds of Rothwell crunching his neck.
Barnett, who in 19 years as a MMA fighter had only ever submitted to injuries sustained against Mirko Cro Cop, tapped. To see Rothwell, the huge, lumbering powerhouse whose entire game exudes awkwardness, tap a bonafide grappling legend was jaw-dropping and utterly deserving of the top spot on this list.
Honorable mentions: Iuri Alcantara vs. Brad Pickett, Demian Maia vs. Carlos Condit, Evangelista Santos vs. Brennan Ward and Brandon Moreno vs. Louis Smolka
In just a few short hours, we’ve got 2016's "Knockout of the Year" next, so don’t close that tab just yet!