Submissions aren’t the easiest things for mixed martial arts (MMA) newbies to grok, but every once in a while you get a moment so badass that even your buddies who call all martial arts “karate” have to stand up and cheer. Luckily, we had a boatload of them in 2017; therefore, here’s the best the gentle (and not-so-gentle) arts had to offer.
Honorable Mentions: Valentina Shevchenko (armbar vs. Julianna Pena), Brian Ortega (guillotine vs. Cub Swanson), Ovince Saint Preux (von Flue choke vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima), Pedro Munhoz (guillotine vs. Rob Font), Ben Nguyen (guillotine vs. Tim Elliott), Askar Askarov (twister vs. Anthony Leone)
Number Five: Diego Brandao Channels ‘Hellboy’ Hansen
Hey, remember Diego Brandao? The guy with killer Brazilian jiu-jitsu and titanium fists who couldn’t stop shooting himself in the foot? He’s actually doing alright for himself in Russia when he’s not storming out of the cage mid-match.
In his first fight outside UFC, he took on 20-1 Bellator veteran Murad Machaev, who had won eleven straight and beaten down neo-Nazi Niko Puhakka. Karma was definitely on his side, but the intangible universal force of balance was no match for Brandão’s guard.
Brandao managed to stop Machaev, an incredibly adept grappler nicknamed “The Strangler” for his choking prowess, with a helicopter armbar, which is every bit as badass as it sounds. It’s so rad that Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen almost landing one on Eddie Alvarez is a standout moment from a sensational brawl.
Man, imagine if Brandão could just get out of his own way.
Number Four: See, Brett Johns CAN Finish People
Brett Johns, going into his fight with Joe Soto, had gone the distance in six of his previous seven fights. Joe Soto had one submission loss in his entire career and had just beat the snot out of Rani Yahya on the mat. I expected Johns to grind his way to another victory, although finishing the occasionally fragile Soto with strikes wouldn’t have surprised me.
This surprised me.
It took Johns all of thirty seconds to counter a Soto takedown attempt and transition to a wince-inducing calf slicer in the scramble. I can count on one hand the number of calf slicers I’ve even seen attempted in the UFC, much less completed.
And to do it against a grappling stud like Soto is pretty damn impressive.
Number Three: Iuri Alcantara Unleashes CTE BJJ
The fact that this finish happened at all is a travesty. Iuri Alcantara did not win a single millisecond of this fight until Luke Sanders tapped. He took an enormous amount of punishment and both the referee and his corner should be ashamed that they let the fight last as long as it did.
What a damn finish, though.
Alcântara, that beautiful disaster of a fighter, spent eight minutes getting turned to mush before locking up the first kneebar I’ve seen in a while. It seems like the golden age of leglocks in jiu-jitsu with guys like Garry Tonon leading the charge, but with Rousimar Palhares off periodically self-destructing in Europe and Masakazu Imanari now 41 and years removed from the spotlight, there’s been a dearth recently.
Always glad to see them. Would prefer ones that involved fewer lost brain cells, though.
Number Two: Aleksei Oleinik Gets Viktor Pesta Right Where He Wants Him
What makes MMA so interesting is that it can turn on a dime faster than practically any other sport in the world. Even so, getting finished while in mount is just insane. It’s like an NBA player charging down the court for a breakaway slam, only for a member of the other team to teleport in front of him in mid-air and block the ball so hard it lands in the opposite basket.
I mean, hell, Ezekiel chokes generally don’t even work that well outside the gi and Aleksei Oleinik still managed to choke Viktor Pesta out with one while freaking mounted. I’m still laughing over the mental image of Pesta being stoked as hell about getting to mount and being on the verge of snapping his losing streak before realizing there’s no blood going to his brain.
It’s a tragic laugh, but it’s still a laugh.
Number One: Because He’s Demetrious F*cking Johnson
I have been a San Antonio Spurs fan since I can remember. As a San Antonian, it comes with the territory. While our boys have a tendency for tight, fundamental basketball, Manu Ginobili has a penchant for superheroics that wouldn’t be out of place on any superstar’s highlight reel. While those miraculous moments are growing fewer and farther between, my father still turns to me and says the same thing he has for years whenever Manu pulls off something brilliant.
“Because he’s Manu f*cking Ginobili.”
Demetrious Johnson is the greatest martial artist on the planet. I would go as far to say that, were it not for his size, he would be the greatest hand-to-hand combatant this planet has ever produced. He’s a once-in-multiple-generations fighter, one of those rare gems blessed with both natural talent and the dedication to cultivate it to truly spectacular results.
Yes, he was a massive favorite against Ray Borg, but you need to understand that Ray Borg is an absolute beast on the ground. His scrambling ability is off the charts and he can be a devastating chain wrestler when he gets his hands on people. Johnson dove headlong into his world and mopped the floor with him before pulling off the kind of submission you see in a YouTube demo before getting your ass kicked for trying during open mats.
Because he’s Demetrious f*cking Johnson.
Anyone disagree with my picks? Well, keep it to yourselves, because being mean on Christmas is just wrong. We’ve got more to come, Maniacs, so stick around.