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Ranking the 5 Best Signature Submissions in UFC History

(Farm Boy Strength: No can defense. Photo via Getty.)

In the brief history of the UFC, there have been a handful of submissions so unique, so brilliant, so positively Raven that they became synonymous with the fighters who dared attempt them in the octagon. That a sport as old as jiu-jitsu is still capable of evolving and expanding its techniques is a credit to the dedication and inventiveness of the modern mixed martial artist, and a fact that has led to many a thrilling moment inside the cage.

Recently, UGer Tycho made the painstaking effort of cataloging and graphing every single submission ever executed in the octagon by frequency. Not wanting to let such a thorough and digestible work simply come and go, we decided to focus on the rarest of rarities, the aforementioned “signature” submissions, and rank them according to brutality, ingenuity, and of course, brutality. Enjoy.

#5 – The Hughes Headlock (a.k.a “Dave Schultz Front Headlock”)

(Photo via Getty. Full fight video here. Technical breakdown here via BloodyElbow.)

Coming off a lackluster decision over Matt Serra at UFC 98 and a TKO over the…let’s just say outmatched Renzo Gracie at UFC 112, the common conception was that Matt Hughes had entered the “fun fights” phase of his career. The former welterweight kingpin was nearing 40, a relic of the “olden age” of MMA, and had eaten a couple of tough losses to champion Georges St. Pierre, all but closing the door on his hopes for another title run. Although Hughes’ grappling credentials could never be called into question, he was simply being left in the dust by the younger generation of more “complete” MMA fighters taking over the welterweight division.

That was, of course, until Hughes was paired up against Ricardo Almeida at UFC 117. While “Big Dog” was no spring chicken himself, he was a younger, faster fighter riding a three fight win streak over the likes of Matt Brown, Kendall Grove, and Charlie Manson-impersonator Matt Horwich. He was also a highly-touted third degree BJJ black belt and ADCC bronze medalist, which made it all the more impressive/improbable when Hughes managed to choke him unconscious with a front headlock in just over 3 minutes.

The technique, which Josh Barnett would immediately confirm as “The Dave Shultz Front Headlock,” was popularized by, you guessed it, 1984 Olympic gold medalist Dave Shultz, as well as his brother Mark. The Shultz brothers became so notorious for the headlock that during the Los Angeles Games, Shultz was warned by referees each time he even dared to wrap him arms around an opponent’s neck. Here’s a video of Shultz being penalized for the move at the ’84 Games.

In his post-fight interview at UFC 117, Hughes told Ariel Helwani that the move was “something he used to use all the time in college wrestling” as well as “something Ricardo had probably never seen.” While Hughes would drop his next two bouts via KO and retire from the sport, his shocking win over Almeida proved that you can never count Country Breakfast out.

#4 – The Mr. Wonderful (a.k.a “The Philmura”)

Phil Davis may catch flack for his grappling-heavy, decision-prone style, but one of the benefits of being a four-time NCAA All American who’s built like a Greek statue is the ability to (occasionally) finish fights based on his size and strength advantage alone. Case in point: Davis’ inverted hammerlock of Tim Boetsch at UFC 123.

Dubbed “The Mr. Wonderful” by an astounded Joe Rogan in the post fight interview, the submission is best explained by BloodyElbow’s S.C. Michaelson:

It’s clear that Davis realizes he won’t be able to get a traditional kimura on Boestch for all of the obvious reasons.because at one point Davis pulls his trapped leg out of half-guard and mounts Boestch (which barring massive upper body strength from Davis, won’t finish the sub). He chicken wings the “kimura” arm with one hand (a la BobBacklund) which shows incredible strength as he is doing a bicep contraction against Boestch’s tricep contraction in trying to control the arm and we all know the tricep is the stronger muscle. While doing this, he snakes his right arm in-between Tim’s legs and just rolls him off his back and makes him perpendicular to the ground. This allows Davis the chance to wretch around there and grab his other arm (still controlling Boestch’s arm) in the proper kimura grip and pull. PISTOL GRIP.

With one arm over Boetsch’s shoulder holding the Hammerlock, Davis snakes his other arm under Boetsch’s waist and shuffles to get a second grip. Based on his position it’s too akward for Davis to get a figure-4 frame up so he would have to double grip and pull the arm up and away to get the tap.

For his effort, Phil Davis would not only walk away with an incredible victory, but an $80k “Submission of the Night” bonus and a placement on many fans Top Submissions lists for 2010. Not bad for a so-called “lay-n-prayer.”

#3 – The Pace Choke (a.k.a “The No Arm Triangle”)

(Photo via Getty. Gif of the finish here. Technique breakdown here.)

Probably one of the more overlooked washouts in MMA is that of Nick Pace, a once-promising bantamweight who was booted from the UFC back in 2011 after failing to make weight in 2 of his 3 octagon appearances. One of his weigh-in snafus resulted in an uninspired decision loss to Miguel Torres at UFC 139 and his release from the promotion. The other resulted in one of the trickiest submissions ever pulled off inside the octagon.

In his first UFC appearance at the TUF 12 Finale, Pace was matched up against fellow WEC vet Will Campuzano, who is no stranger to weigh-in mishaps himself. In the third round of a fight that the New Yorker had been steadily controlling, Campuzano dove into Pace’s guard looking to deliver some punishment. Pace immediately took advantage of this fatal error, locking in what at first appeared to be a triangle choke. However, a quick adjustment of the arm would leave MMA livebloggers, as well as Joe Rogan, grasping at straws to name the technique that cause Campuzano to suddenly tap. Was it some arm/leg triangle combination? A bastardized omoplata attempt gone wrong, then right?

Actually, it was a “pillory choke,” or at least a variation of it. But if you’re wondering why the technique has been credited to Pace, well, allow former CP weekend warrior Chris Coleman to explain:

Some people will insist that they’d seen the “pillory choke” in a BJJ tournament prior to The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale. They’ll tell you it had a slightly different grip, or included an arm, or they’ll point to a video so grainy it could double as a sasquatch sighting. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter because no one pulled it off in MMA, especially not on its biggest stage, until Nick Pace tapped Will Campuzano.

#2 – The Von Flue Choke (a.k.a “The Shoulder Choke”)

(Brent Weedman hits a picture perfect Von Flue Choke on J.J. Ambrose at Bellator 62. Technique breakdown here.)

Jason Von Flue was never what you’d call a “top tier” fighter, going 1-2 in the octagon and 14-12 overall before retiring from the sport in 2009. Of course, that didn’t stop the TUF 2 alum from immortalizing his place in MMA History with genius submission of Alex Karalexis at Fight Night 3 back in 2006.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the Von Flue Choke is its setup. Equal parts defensive and offensive maneuver, the choke is meant to counter a common grappling mistake among inexperienced MMA fighters: Holding onto a guillotine choke for too long. The Von Flue Choke at its primarily level serves as a counter/escape from a guillotine, requiring the guillotined fighter to obtain side control before applying a ridiculous amount of shoulder pressure to his opponent’s throat. Should his opponent still hang onto the guillotine, it’s goodnight Irene.

That the choke requires your opponent to make such a mistake is the main reason why the Von Flue choke is such a rarity in MMA. Even after getting choked out in the third round of their Fight Night 3 battle, Karalexis had to ask the referee “what happened?” before accepting how quickly the momentum had shifted in Von Flue’s favor. In fact, the only other occasion we can recall a Von Flue Choke actually working was at Bellator 62, when welterweight Brent Weedman tapped J.J. Ambrose using the technique (gif above).

Von Flue would never be able to recapture the glory of his UFC debut, unfortunately, dropping his next two contests before reemerging on Cung Le’s highlight reel under the Strikeforce banner later that year. A follow-up loss to Luke Stewart would see him exit Strikeforce and Von Flue would go 2-4 in his next 6 fights before retiring. Karalexis wouldn’t have a much better run of things, either.

#1 – The Mir Lock (a.k.a “The Modified Shoulder Lock”)

(Technique breakdown here.)

“Oh my!” indeed, Goldy.

Of the five “signature” submissions achieved in the UFC, it would be hard to claim that any of them looked more painful than Frank Mir‘s shoulder lock, a.k.a The Mir Lock, a.k.a the modified shoulder lock. Executed on poor, poor Pete Williams at UFC 36, the Mir Lock is essentially what would happen if you were to get your arm caught in a conveyer belt at a factory that produces bear traps.

Set up from the full guard, the Mir Lock is actually a judo move (according to Mir himself) that starts by securing an overhook on your opponent’s arm and taking advantage of their instinct to pull said arm out of said hook. Once the sap attempts to do so, the bottom fighter shifts their hips, secures the gable grip, and contrary to common belief, pulls (not twists) away, forcing his opponent to tap or have their lat shredded into tissue paper.

The submission stands as the fastest in the heavyweight division to this day (no, Oleg Taktarov’s work at UFC 6 does *not* count). Mir would win four out of his next five fights, and go on to secure the record for most diverse submission wins in UFC History (with 6 different holds). Williams would announce his retirement immediately after the loss, and though the fight would mostly be forgotten by the new wave of MMA fans, his eternal slice on the golf course would serve as a constant reminder of the Mir Lock and all of its destructive glory.

-J. Jones

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