The Most Shocking Submissions in MMA History
Many of the most timeless submissions in the history of MMA unfolded unexpectedly.
Anderson Silva's fifth-round triangle armbar of Chael Sonnen was a classic stunner simply because it spoiled a seemingly definite upset win for The American Gangster.
Others, such as Forrest Griffin's rear-naked choke of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, generated extraordinary attention due to the nature and the degree of the upset.
Regardless of their modus operandi, every fighter on this list secured a spot in MMA lore for his acumen to catch the masses off guard by executing submissions in the most unlikely instances.
Here are the most shocking submissions in MMA history.
Honorable Mention: Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
Few envisioned that Forrest Griffin could hang with former Pride FC champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in his promotional debut at UFC 76 in September 2011. Even fewer believed that Griffin had the grappling prowess to submit the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Griffin proved his doubters wrong, and after handling Shogun for the 14 minutes of the fight, the winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 took Rua's back along the cage and began peppering the Brazilian with punches.
Seconds later, a bloody Griffin flattened Rua out and sunk in a fight-ending rear-naked choke with just 15 seconds left in the fight.
Griffin pocketed a Submission of the Night bonus for his efforts. He also punched his ticket for a light heavyweight title fight with Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in his next bout at UFC 86, which he won via unanimous decision.
7. BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes I
For a man coming off six straight wins in UFC welterweight title bouts, it seemed inevitable that Matt Hughes would humble massive underdog BJ Penn in his debut at 170 pounds.
Hughes obviously thought the same and foolishly underestimated the explosive Hawaiian—a mistake that put Penn on the map for good and temporarily cost him his welterweight strap.
Penn spent the bulk of the first four minutes of the January 2004 fight on top of Hughes attempting to pass his guard. Then, with 54 seconds to go in the round, The Prodigy dropped a hard right hand that stunned Hughes and forced him to his hands and knees.
Penn momentarily floated into the mount before taking Hughes' back with 46 seconds to go. Trying to elude Penn's ground-and-pound, Hughes rolled and got caught in a fight-ending rear-naked choke with 21 seconds left in the opening round at UFC 46.
6. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Renzo Gracie
Just short of a year after becoming the first person to submit a member of the Gracie family (Royler) in a pro MMA bout, Kazushi Sakuraba struck again and finished the third Gracie of his career (Renzo) at Pride 10 in August 2000.
It was roughly nine minutes, 30 seconds into a slow-paced second round when Sakuraba went from a fetal position to a standing position with a kimura. The Gracie Killer then spun 360 degrees with the kimura locked in place, ending up on top of Gracie in a modified side control.
Sakuraba snapped Gracie's arm at the elbow before they even hit the mat, but just to ensure victory, The Gracie Killer wrenched on the lock devilishly until the referee stepped in to save the day.
The submission loss marked the first and only of Gracie's career. Sakuraba bested four members of the Gracie clan in his career, including Ryan and Royce.
5. Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock I
After watching the hulking Ken Shamrock easily dispose of Patrick Smith in his first bout at UFC 1, lanky Brazilian Royce Gracie looked like a sure victim in the semifinal round of the tournament in November 1993.
A stoic Gracie, however, enacted his family's game plan to perfection, swiftly taking Shamrock's back before eventually submitting the Lion's Den standout with a modified rear-naked choke.
A stunned and frustrated Shamrock, who blatantly tapped out several times to the choke, attempted to argue with the referee that the fight should go on.
Shamrock's claims were quickly dismissed, and a fired-up Gracie moved on to the finals.
Later in the night, Gracie used another rear-naked choke to finish Gerard Gordeau in the UFC 1 tournament finale. The Gracie family stormed the Octagon and erupted in celebration for their unofficial coming-out party.
4. Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira II
Frank Mir soared to the top of the heavyweight division when he became the first fighter to knock out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92.
Nearly three years later, the Las Vegas native stunned Nogueira in their rematch, slapping on a kimura in the midst of an enthralling scramble in the first round at UFC 140 in December 2011.
A fearless Nogueira attempted to roll out of the tight shoulder lock, only to get flattened and ultimately submitted for the first time in his storied career.
Mir's gruesome kimura broke Nogueira's right humerus. The injury required surgery and kept the former UFC champ sidelined for 10 months.
3. Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen I
But even in the process of getting roughed up for more than four rounds, The Spider never lost sight of Sonnen's lifelong Achilles' heel—submission defense from the top position.
Silva controlled Sonnen's wrists from the closed guard position before waiting for the perfect moment to throw his left leg around The American Gangster's neck to start a tight bite on a triangle choke.
The Spider tightened the triangle and then countered a Sonnen escape attempt by turning the submission into a triangle armbar.
Feeling his lights fading, Sonnen finally tapped with 1:50 left to surrender a fight that he primarily dominated.
Though few thought Sonnen would win before UFC 117, even less thought Silva would prevail after the first four rounds of the bout.
2. Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Royler Gracie
In a pivotal moment in the sport's history, Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba lifted the invincible label from the mantel of the Gracies by becoming the first fighter to submit a member of the famed family in a pro MMA bout.
Late in the second round of their scrap at Pride 8 in November 1999, Sakuraba caught Royler Gracie in a kimura from top-half guard.
Gracie put up an inspiring fight until his elbow got contorted at an ungodly angle, and the fight's referee intervened to call the match.
After TKO'ing Royler's younger brother, Royce, at the Pride Grand Prix 2000 Finals, Sakuraba strangely submitted Royler's younger cousin, Renzo, with a technical kimura. Like Royler, Renzo refused to tap to Sakuraba's patented shoulder lock.
1. Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko
Few experts predicted that Fabricio Werdum would end the colossal winning streak that former Pride FC heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko was riding heading into Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum in June 2010.
Fortunately for Werdum, pre-fight chatter didn't deter the two-time ADCC champ from swiftly cinching up a submission on Emelianenko, a highly skilled submission artist in his own right.
At just past the one-minute mark of the fight, it was clear that The Last Emperor had finally met his match on the ground.
Werdum locked up a picturesque triangle armbar that induced a gentle tap from Emelianenko at the 1:09 mark of Round 1.
The submission loss symbolized the first and only in Emelianenko's 39-fight career that spanned from 2000 to 2012. The Last Emperor racked up 16 submissions of his own in that time, including six by armbar.