2016 has been a fantastic year for those with an appreciation for the grappling components of mixed martial arts. We witnessed the sophomore MMA effort of ADCC champion MacKenzie Dern, who dropped jaws with a modified Imanari choke against Montana Stewart. We saw dozens of dazzling submissions in the cages of Bellator MMA, One Championship, and World Series of Fighting. And of course, we were treated to a long procession of unforgettable submissions on the sport’s biggest stage: the Octagon of the UFC.
Without further ado, here are our 10 favorite UFC submissions of the year 2016.
10. Amanda Nunes submits Miesha Tate
In a few short days, Brazil’s Amanda Nunes will attempt to defend the UFC women’s bantamweight title against Ronda Rousey. She won that title with a lopsided submission win over Miesha Tate in the main event of July’s landmark UFC 200.
Nunes set up her title-winning destruction of Tate with her hands, pummelling her back-peddling foe with a diet of power punches until she shot for an ill-advised takedown. From there, the Brazilian dove into position to lock up the rear-naked choke, and Tate’s tap followed soon thereafter. With this first-round win, Nunes set herself up for the big fight of all big fights in women’s MMA: her looming UFC 207 battle with Ronda Rousey.
9. Teemu Packalen submits Thibault Gouti
While it’s going to be difficult for anyone to beat Oleg Taktarov’s 9-second guillotine choke over Anthony Macias for the fastest submission in UFC history, Finland’s Teemu Packalen came pretty close this February when he scored a lightning-quick submission over France’s Thibault Gouti.
After rocking his foe with a right uppercut, Packalen chased him down to the mat and jumped onto his back. From there, he effortlessly got his arm under the chin of his dazed foe, and locked up the rear-naked choke for the win. The tap occurred at the 24-second mark of round one. It was the first win of Packalen’s UFC career.
8. Michael McDonald submits Masanori Kanehara
When former bantamweight title challenger Michael McDonald stepped onto the canvas with Japan’s Masanori Kanehara in early January of this year, it marked his first fight in almost three years.
Whether it was due to ring rust or not, McDonald had a rough time in the early going of this fight, as he was handily out-grappled by his Japanese foe. In the end, however, McDonald was able to explode out of a deep arm-triangle attempt from Kanehara, lunge onto his back, and coax out a tap with a come-from-behind rear-naked choke. Regrettably, McDonald’s comeback run would be thwarted by the stone fists of John Lineker in his next fight.
7. Brian Ortega submits Diego Brandao
The first non rear-naked choke submission on this list came courtesy of Gracie jiu jitsu blackbelt Brian “T-City” Ortega. This win, which occurred on the same night that Michael McDonald submitted Masanori Kanehara (see number 8 on this list), saw him tap out a fellow blackbelt in TUF 14 winner Diego Brandao.
Ortega’s sweet submission win occurred in the third, after two exciting rounds of action. When Brandao tried to circle out of a body lock, Ortega pulled him to the mat, first threatening with a head and arm choke from north-south position, then a guillotine, and finally, an arm-triangle choke, which is where he earned the tap. With this win, Ortega continued his emergence as one of the featherweight division’s brightest prospects.
6. Francis Ngannou submits Anthony Hamilton
Legitimate prospects are an undeniably rare thing in the UFC heavyweight division, yet that’s precisely what France’s Francis Ngannou is. This December, when the UFC touched down in Albany, New York, the hulking Frenchman reminded the world of this fact when he tapped out a talented opponent in Anthony Hamilton.
The fight began with Hamilton attempting to get to work with his wrestling. Ultimately, however, it was Ngannou that was able to muscle Hamilton to the mat, where he rolled into position to lock up a first-round kimura and force out the tap. The heavyweight prospect would leave Albany with the biggest win of his career, but not before insinuating that he had only learned how to apply a kimura in the moments before the fight.
“Just before the fight, they trained and they showed him a few techniques that he could use when he’s attacked like that,” his translator told Octagon commentator Jon Anik. Sounds like Ngannou is a quick learner.
5. Khabib Nurmagomedov taps Michael Johnson
For a time, it looked like Dagestan’s Khabib Nurmagomedov would receive a lightweight title shot against Eddie Alvarez in the main event of November’s UFC 205. In the end, however, that honor would go to Conor McGregor, and Nurmagomedov would be forced to shift his focus to an undercard bout with Michael Johnson.
Nurmagomedov did not let this change of plans discourage him. Though he was out-struck in the bout’s opening exchanges, he quickly got to work with his world-class grappling, where he pummelled Johnson into applesauce with his ground-and-pound for two and a half rounds. Then, just past the half-way point of the third, he locked up a kimura, bending Johnson’s arm like a pipe cleaner until he tapped. With the win, he all but guaranteed himself the next crack at McGregor – though a bout with Tony Ferguson also seems likely.
4. Ben Rothwell submits Josh Barnett
People don’t submit Josh Barnett. That’s just not something that happens. At least, that was the accepted truth until Barnett stepped into the cage with Big Ben Rothwell, who evidently didn’t get the memo.
Fresh off stoppage wins over Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem and Matt Mitrione, Rothwell was able to stick a real feather in his cap against Barnett. After a competitive first round, the monstrous heavyweight was able to lock up a Gogo choke for the win – though it might look more like a guillotine choke to the untrained eye. Regrettably, Rothwell followed this career-defining win with a lopsided decision loss to former champion Junior Dos Santos.
3. Demian Maia submits Carlos Condit
When we talk about the best grapplers in mixed martial arts, we inevitably end up talking about current welterweight contender Demian Maia. The Brazilian is simply a wizard on the mat.
If there was any lingering doubt as to Maia’s status as one of MMA’s greatest grapplers, he erased it in August, when he submitted former interim champion Carlos Condit in the main event of the UFC’s latest trip to Vancouver. Not only did he submit the former champ, but he did it in the first round, easing into position for a rear-naked choke win less than two minutes into the fight.
Really, whether it was for his August submission of Condit, or his May submission of Matt Brown, you had to know Maia would earn a place on this list.
2. Miesha Tate submits Holly Holm
Having shocked the world with a title-winning destruction of Ronda Rousey in November of 2015, Holly Holm entered her March, 2016 title fight with Miesha Tate with a massive amount of hype behind her. She very nearly made good on that hype, as she soundly out-struck Tate for the majority of the first four rounds of their fight.
Unfortunately for Holm, Tate flaunted all the heart and grappling skill for which she’s become known in the fight’s final round. As that final round wore down, the veteran locked in a rear-naked choke from standing position. From there, she squeezed until a bewildered Holm stumbled to the mat, and continued to apply pressure till she lost consciousness. Just like that, Tate was the UFC women’s bantamweight champion – an outcome that had previously seemed nearly impossible thanks to her two decisive losses to Ronda Rousey.
1. Nate Diaz submits Conor McGregor
When deciding which of 2016’s many fantastic submissions deserved a spot on this list, I considered a few things: the rarity of the submission, the technique with which it was applied, the drama that preceded the submission, the quality of the opponent that was submitted, and the overall significance of the win. It’s this latter item that earned Nate Diaz’s March submission of Conor McGregor the top spot on this list. Though many claimed to have confidently picked Diaz to beat McGregor, his victory was an undeniable upset, and it dumped the fight game on its head.
Diaz’s win, of course, didn’t come easy, as he was soundly out-struck for most of the first round. When McGregor began to fade in the second, however, he began to light him up and ultimately rang his bell. This drove McGregor to shoot for an extremely sloppy takedown. It was in the fallout of this failed takedown attempt that he wound up on his back, bloodied and bewildered, tapping to a Diaz rear-naked choke.
McGregor would go on to even the score with Diaz in a fight of the year contender in August. Given that the pair is now 1-1, a lucrative trilogy fight between them seems inevitable. It’s just a question of when it happens, and the size of the fortune they’ll each be paid to duke it out again.