In honor of the UFC's 30th Anniversary, look ahead as we rank the top 10 nastiest submissions in UFC history. Check out our UFC news for more fight announcements and breaking content!
The very origins of the UFC began in 1993 when the world of mixed martial arts felt it was time to see which particular skill set would reign supreme in a no-rules, no-gloves, straight-up fight tournament. Experts in arts like karate, boxing, and wrestling came from all over the world to compete in the UFC's first event. In the end, it was the smallest fighter, a man by the name of Royce Gracie from Brazil, that won the competition by strangling everyone with chokes and arm locks. The style was made known as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Gracie's performance established the martial art as the very best skill to have in a fight. The basis of jiu-jitsu is rooted in technique and is meant to level the playing field between someone small and a much larger opponent. Gracie demonstrated the efficacy of the skill better than anyone had at the time.
Fast forward 30 years later as the UFC celebrates three decades of unprecedented growth with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu still being one of the most prevalent parts of the game today. In fact, it's almost essential for an up-and-coming fighter in the UFC to display some kind of competency on the ground. While experts may debate on which martial art is best to have as a base, we are reminded time and time again of the lasting powers of having a strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background. Here are some of the nastiest submissions we've ever seen inside of the Octagon.
10. Anthony Hernandez def. Rodolfo Vieira – UFC 258
Fluffy Hernandez is BACK this week in the co main vs Edmen Shahbazyan #UFCVegas73
remember when he subbed Rodolfo Vieira? pic.twitter.com/3Lh74eRnQ7
— Spinnin Backfist (@SpinninBackfist) May 16, 2023
What makes this submission so great was the improbability of it happening in the first place. Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez took this fight on a week's notice and was the +400 betting underdog coming into the fight. His opponent, Rodolfo Vieira, is one of the most decorated Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners in history, so naturally no one gave Hernandez a chance. However, midway through the fight, Vieira's gas tank completely emptied and Hernandez caught him with a nasty shot. On the ground, Hernandez submitted Vieira from his back and cashed the +3300 ticket on the betting lines. To this day, it's one of the more improbable upsets we've seen.
9. BJ Penn def. Matt Hughes – UFC 46: Supernatural
BJ Penn vs Matt Hughes pic.twitter.com/mrz9elQfon
— MMA Gone Wild🥋 (@mmagonewild) September 22, 2019
BJ “The Prodigy Penn was aptly given his nickname after achieving the level of black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in just three short years. Training the sport every day, Penn went on a terrorizing run in the UFC, notching three back-to-back knockouts in the first round and defeating veterans like Din Thomas, Matt Serra, and Takanori Gomi. Matt Hughes was the defending champion and on an incredible winning streak. Penn came into the matchup as a massive underdog but quickly showed his skills when he was able to stuff the takedowns of the All-American wrestler Hughes. Penn quickly knocked Hughes down with an overhand and the rest was wraps. Penn used his flexible legs and got one of the most iconic submissions over an all-time great.
8. Frank Mir def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – UFC 140
11 years ago today, Frank Mir broke Big Nog’s arm with a kimurapic.twitter.com/l9FRIOhJUI
— MMA Mania (@mmamania) December 10, 2022
Frank Mir was unusual in the fact that he's arguably the best heavyweight jiu-jitsu practitioner we've ever seen inside of the Octagon. He possessed a tremendous squeeze and would lock submissions up with a such force that it would often snap the limb of whatever he was holding onto. In fact, Mir had broken the bones of two opponents leading up to this fight with legendary jiu-jitsu practitioner Antonio Nogueira. The odds of Mir submitting Nogueira were highly unlikely, but after getting pummeled on the ground, Mir pulled off one of the nastiest subs we've ever seen, breaking Nogueira's arm with a kimura.
7. Ronda Rousey def. Cat Zingano – UFC 184
The fastest submission in UFC history 🤯#OnThisDay in 2015, Ronda Rousey only needed 14 SECONDS to get the tap from Cat Zingano
Watch all of her bouts back with @UFCFightPass! pic.twitter.com/jFztBA25U3
— UFC on This Day (@UFConThisDay) February 28, 2023
Ronda Rousey can be given most of the credit for Women's MMA being where it is today. She was the first woman in the UFC to attract the kind of star power than her male counterparts did. For the first time, a woman was the main attraction in the UFC, and Ronda Rousey made the most of her title opportunity. Facing an ultra-tough Cat Zingano at the time, Rousey came into the fight with a very limited mixed martial arts background aside from Judo. She was, however, able to win the fight just 14 seconds in with a signature judo throw into an armbar. The submission is still the fastest in UFC history and it's undoubtedly the most important submission of Rousey's career. Thousands of young women watched that performance and felt empowered to start training in MMA.
6. Frank Mir def. Brock Lesnar – UFC 81
14 years ago today Frank Mir welcomed Brock Lesnar to the UFC!pic.twitter.com/fSApr5ybTe
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) February 2, 2022
Frank Mir could hold a number of these tops spots with the gruesome submissions he's pulled off, but none had to be more satisfying than handing Brock Lesnar a loss during his UFC debut. Lesnar came into the UFC as one of the biggest crossover sports stars in history. The feeling around the UFC was that it'd only be a matter of time before Lesnar got his hands around UFC gold. It was all going according to plan during his debut when he took Mir down and pummeled him during the beginning sequence. Then, Mir rolled for a leg lock while on his back and caught the inexperienced Lesnar in a nasty knee bar. Lesnar began to tap immediately while Mir went the extra mile and held on to the lock for a few seconds after the referee's stoppage. Lesnar later got his revenge on Mir in their second meeting, but Mir's original submission over him was unmatched in its excitement.
5. Jon Jones def. Lyoto Machida – UFC 140
When Jon Jones murdered Lyoto Machida like it was nothing pic.twitter.com/atAUctwsqf
— 🌴ᴛʜᴇᴀʀᴛᴏꜰᴡᴀʀ🌴 (@TheArtOfWar6) April 2, 2022
To this day, Jon Jones is regarded as the MMA GOAT for being virtually undefeated inside of the Octagon and arguably having the toughest resume out of any champion. What's so special about Jones is that his submission and wrestling skills are up to par, if not better, with his striking arsenal. Jones has notched memorable submissions over the years, but none more visually stunning than his standing guillotine over UFC legend Lyoto Machida. Typically done on the ground, Jones' height helped him lock the standing choke in tight against the fence. The referee had no idea Machida was unconscious until Jon Jones dropped him, creating one of the most visceral submission wins we've ever seen.
4. Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Conor McGregor – UFC 229
2018.10.06 Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Conor McGregor via TKO/KO (Rear Naked Choke) at 3:03 of round 4 pic.twitter.com/XE5Ccgkq00
— The Fight Business (@ZeroContextMMA) May 20, 2023
UFC 229 is still one of the biggest events the UFC has ever put on. Their star at the time, Conor McGregor, was unlike any sensational the UFC had seen before and was putting MMA on the map. McGregor truly brought the entertainment of Pro Wrestling to the UFC and became the most recognizable figure in the sport's history. A much lesser-known fighter, Khabib Nurmagomedov, quickly showed the world that no matter how big the star, wrestling will always prevail. Nurmagomedov is on the right side of the greatest MMA rivalry of all time and his submission win over McGregor permanently changed the landscape of the UFC forever.
3. “The Korean Zombie” def. Leonard Garcia – UFC Fight Night 24
Korean Zombie becomes 1st person in UFC history to finish a fight with a twister submission woahpic.twitter.com/RqivBUPTFN
— Roots of Combat (@RootsOfCombat) April 29, 2023
Originally created by jiu-jitsu pioneer and 10th Planet owner Eddie Bravo, the “Twister” is a unique submission in which multiple parts of the body are isolated, resulting in a twisting torque that becomes unbearable for the opponent. The opponent's leg(s) gets trapped by the attacker. The attacker then locks the opponent's arm on the opposite side and twists it behind his own back. To complete the move, the attacker cranks the opponent's neck in the opposite direction, creating intense pressure on the neck and spine. Never thought to work in MMA, Chan Sung Jung became the first fighter in UFC history to pull off the move in a fight. Since, it's only been replicated one other time by current UFC star Bryce Mitchell.
2. Anderson Silva def. Chael Sonnen – UFC 117
#OnThisDay TEN years ago… 📆
🏆 Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen gave us a fight & comeback for the ages.
📺 Watch more on @UFCFightPass now! pic.twitter.com/YmdIrUNi1v
— UFC (@ufc) August 7, 2020
If we're not mentioning Jon Jones as the MMA GOAT, Anderson “Spider” Silva might as well be number one. He came into this highly anticipated and hyped fight riding a historical winning streak. No one had ever disrespected Silva in the lead-up to a fight quite like Chael Sonnen and evidently, some of it got to his head. Sonnen, who was the +235 betting underdog, came in and dominated Silva for all five rounds. It was looking like a sure loss for Silva. As Sonnen beat Silva from his guard during the last minute, Silva threw his legs up and locked in a triangle. Sonnen tapped shortly after and Silva completed one of the greatest comebacks we've ever seen in the cage. It's one of Silva's best finishes and lives in submission lore forever.
1. Demetrious Johnson def. Ray Borg – UFC 216
Demetrious Johnson armbars Ray Borg in mid-air whilst performing a suplex (2017) pic.twitter.com/fccbzwpNln
— Fight Videos That Go Hard (@hardfightvideos) September 11, 2022
To this day, it's probably the most athletic and simultaneously technical move we've seen inside the octagon. No one mixed martial arts as well as Demetrious Johnson does to this day and his submission win over Ray Borg is a perfect example. Johnson dominated Borg for five rounds during his 2017 title defense. With two minutes left in the fight, Johnson locks his hands and throws Borg with a suplex. On the way down, Johnson catches the arm, locks his leg around the head, and falls into a tight armbar all in one motion. It was only a matter of time before Johnson found his fulcrum and got the tap from Borg. Not only is it one of the nastiest submissions we've ever seen, but it's also of the cleanest and aesthetically-pleasing submissions to watch. It's just one highlight in a career full of them for Johnson, but it gets the top spot here on this list. I mean, we can watch this all day.