Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: for people who like yoga ... and also hurting others.
The rate of submission finishes has declined over the years as the baseline for UFC-worthy grappling has scooted upward. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get our fair share of fancy groundwork, though; here’s our top five. Technically six, but whatever.
Honorable Mentions: Ricky Simon guillotines Merab Dvalishvili, Tomasz Narkun triangles Mamed Khalidov, Tyron Woodley d’arces Darren Till
No. 5: Claudio Puelles with the Miracle Leglock
This was the opening Fight Pass Prelim on a card headlined by Kamaru Usman vs. Demian Maia. Both fighters had been knocked out on their previous fight. One guy was a three-to-one favorite. It had all the hallmarks of being forgettable, until suddenly it wasn’t.
Felipe Silva beat the stuffing out of Puelles, denying his takedowns and pummeling him with impunity. Round Two was an easy 10-8, and Puelles opened the third round either getting rocked or pulling guard. It could easily have been stopped without a peep of complaint from me. As the punishment continued, Puelles pulled half guard and turned for a kneebar.
We had a brief MMA leglock renaissance some years back, but nowadays, going for a leg as a desperation tactic usually just means both of your hands are too occupied to protect your face. This time, though, it actually worked, and Puelles somehow managed to draw the tap and earn both a $50k bonus and a spot on this list.
No. 4: Adam Wieczorek Taps an Olympian
Arjan Singh Bhullar didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his Octagon debut, but he was still an Olympic wrestler going up against a gangly submission whose debut victory came over Anthony Hamilton, who’d lost his previous three fights by first-round stoppage.
For the first round, everything went according to plan. Bhullar took him down, sat in his guard, and landed enough ground-and-pound to keep the referee from standing them up. The second round looked like more of the same, at least until Wieczorek locked up an omoplata of all things.
Hitting an omoplata is almost unheard-of in UFC. Tapping an Olympic wrestler off of your back is a hell of a lot more difficult than it used to be. Doing both of those things as a heavyweight? Now that’s something.
No. 3: Only Alexey Oleinik
Okay, real talk, there’s like five different ways of spelling Oleinik’s name that I’ve seen, and that’s not even close to the most ridiculous thing about him. He’s 41 years old, has had almost 70 fights over the course of 22 years, and has a choke that apparently only he can do.
Giving up over 30 pounds to Júnior Albini, Oleinik locked up his Ezekiel choke once again, finishing it from bottom half guard in just 105 seconds. He’s now 6-2 in the UFC, all finishes, and has earned Performance of the Night in four of those wins.
Only Oleinik, and only in MMA.
No. 2 (TIE): Aljamain Sterling, Zabit Magomedsharipov Double Up
Going into UFC 228, there had been one (1) successful kneebar from back mount (AKA the “Suloev Stretch” in the history of the UFC. Kenny Robertson landed one on Brock Jardine at UFC 157, the card that introduced the UFC Women’s Bantamweight division. I’d seen one other person attempt it in the Octagon, though I can’t for the life of me remember who it was.
Early that evening, Aljamain Sterling pulled it off against Cody Stamann. Considering that Sterling has tried on two occasions to submit people with full nelsons and is called “The Funk Master,” it figures that he’d be the one to end the five year drought.
It also figures that it would happen again on the same card, with only a four-second difference in fight time, because this sport is insane. Just four fights later, Zabit Magomedsharipov used that ridiculous 6’1” frame of his to do bad things to Brandon Davis’ leg.
Now we get to see if this follows in the footsteps of front kick and calf kicks and becomes a staple of fights from now on. As someone who had his fourth knee surgery earlier this year, the victims have my sympathy.
No. 1: Paul Craig goes Braveheart
This isn’t anywhere near the fanciest submission on this list, nor anywhere near the most divisionally significant. It was, however, a monumental upset, a nail-biting comeback, and a stunning buzzer-beater.
Magomed Ankalaev entered the Craig fight looking like a top young talent in a Light Heavyweight division that desperately needed those. He’d beaten some of the better fighters on the Russian circuit and looked good doing it, and though Craig’s sneaky submission game was a threat, Ankalaev’s striking and wrestling advantages seemed sufficient to get him the win.
For 14 minutes and 59 seconds, they were. Then Craig locked up the triangle choke that had earned him three of his previous eight submissions. Ankalaev tapped, giving the +460 underdog an improbable victory.
Ankalaev went on to obliterate Marcin Prachnio and looks to continue his rise up the ranks. Craig suffered a submission loss to Jim Crute earlier this month. Even if their trajectories continue, though, their meeting will be hard to forget.
What was your Submission of the Year for 2018?
This poll is closed
Claudio Puelles’ kneebar
Adam Wieczorek’s omoplata
Alexey Oleinik’s Ezekiel choke
Aljamain Sterling’s/Zabit Magomedsharipov’s kneebars
Paul Craig’s triangle