10. Tom Lawlor sings CB Dollaway a lullaby
(UFC 100, 7/11/09)
Tom Lawlor was a 2-1 underdog in his bout with C.B. Dollaway at UFC 100. Conventional wisdom said that he’d be an entertaining guy to have on the card prior to the opening horn, but wouldn’t stand much of a chance against Dollaway’s dominant wrestling and smirking self-assurance. The entertaining part turned out to be true. Lawlor painted himself in homage to the infamous Just Bleed Guy for the weigh-in, and then used man-dog Seth Petruzelli as a prop in his entrance. That’s where the fun was supposed to stop, but just seconds into the first round he locked up an arm-in guillotine choke off a Dollaway takedown attempt and held on to it until his opponent’s lip uncurled and his eyes rolled back in his head. Maybe it wasn’t the most technically brilliant move, but he did choke C.B. Dollaway unconscious, which meant we didn’t have to listen to him talk for a little while. That ought to be worth something.
9. Jake Rosholt ruins Chris Leben’s hometown party
(UFC 102, 8/29/09)
UFC 102 in Portland, Oregon was supposed to be Chris Leben’s homecoming. Coming off a long steroid suspension following his loss against Michael Bisping, he drew the relatively inexperienced Jake Rosholt in his return. But early on in the fight it became apparent that Leben came to throw wild, looping bombs, while Rosholt came to fight a mixed martial arts bout. After trading on the feet for a little while Rosholt finally got smart and put Leben on his back long enough to lock up an arm-triangle choke. Leben considered tapping, but didn’t get around to it before his brain called it quits. Somehow, Rosholt got cut after losing his next bout, while Leben still has a job with the UFC. This crazy world.
8. Jake Shields pulls a rabbit out of his hat
(Strikeforce: Lawler vs. Shields, 6/6/09)
We were expecting an old-fashioned war of attrition in this one, punctuated by some patented Robbie Lawler decapitation punches. Jake Shields made it clear early on that he didn’t want to let this one be decided by who had the better stand-and-bang credentials, only he wasn’t able to keep Lawler down even when he did get him there and it began looking like it might be a rough night for the outsized Shields. But just as easy as if he were demonstrating it to a class of white belts, Shields slipped a guillotine on a standing Lawler and held on even as Lawler got to his feet to try and relieve the pressure. Eventually Lawler was forced to tap and Shields had his twelfth consecutive victory.
7. Rick Story subs Brian Foster from inside his guard
(UFC 103, 9/19/09)
When these two guys met at UFC 103 they both came out like fighters desperate to prove that they belonged. Within seconds they’d bloodied one another up and it was hard not to feel like someone might be going to sleep soon. Rick Story must have sensed that it might be him, because he got the action to the mat and soon found that more to his liking. Early on in the second he locked up an arm-triangle from half-guard, though Brian Foster seemed like he should be out of trouble once he recovered the full guard. Not so, as Story kept right on squeezing until a purple-faced Foster was forced to tap. As unconventional finishes go, it was an impressive one. It also likely saved Story’s hopes of a modeling career, since trading punches with Foster wasn’t doing much for his facial symmetry.
We weren’t at all surprised to see Frank Mir finish Cheick Kongo on the mat. After all, he had the distinct advantage in the submissions game, and he would have been an idiot not to put that to work. What did surprise us was that Mir dropped Kongo with a left and then choked him unconscious from the bottom position in half-guard, all within about a minute. That kind of thorough domination is how you get your name on our year-end list, and perhaps how you get an interim title around your waist. Again.
5. Sakuraba pays a heavy price for a kneebar submission of Zelg Galesic
Japanese MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba appeared to be headed for yet another demoralizing, possibly brain-damaging beating at the hands of Zelg Galesic at Dream.12. As expected, Sakuraba tried to work his wily submissions game at the expense of defending his head, and Galesic took full advantage of the chance to pound on it like a crazed hippie in a drum circle – also as expected. But you can never count Sakuraba out, even when it would be better for his long-term health if you could. He kept searching for a leg lock or toehold and eventually found a kneebar, forcing a surprised Galesic to tap out and virtually guaranteeing that the orange trunks won’t be getting hung up just yet.
4. Shinya Aoki pulls off an armbar with seconds left on the clock
If we’ve learned anything watching Shinya Aoki over the years, it’s that as long as he’s still conscious and there’s so much as a second left on the clock there is always a chance that he’ll pull out a submission. It was no different when Aoki met Joachim Hansen for the third time at Dream.11. It was a highly tactical affair at first, with neither man able to find much of an advantage. But with just seconds left in the second round Aoki rolled Hansen over and extended his arm for the submission. As it said on “Hellboy’s” shorts that night, Jesus didn’t tap. That’s just one of the many differences between Jesus and Joachim Hansen.
3. Demian Maia proves that Chael Sonnen was right to be worried
(UFC 95, 2/21/09)
Going into this bout with BJJ genius Demian Maia, even Chael Sonnen acknowledged that there was probably no way he could avoid ending up on the ground eventually. What he didn’t plan on was getting tossed on to his back, mounted, and then finished just halfway into round one. It was Maia’s most dominant performance yet, and against a top middleweight with a wealth of grappling experience. It’s just too bad he never got a chance to try the same routine against Nate Marquardt a few months later.
2. Seth Dikun flies into a triangle choke against Rolando Perez
(WEC 41, 6/7/09)
What do you do when you want to get your opponent to the ground but can’t be troubled to shoot for a takedown? If you’re as ballsy as Seth Dikun you just press him against the cage in a clinch and then jump into a triangle choke. Rolando Perez fought hard to keep from ending up on Dikun’s highlight reel, but the choke was too tight from the very start and he couldn’t find any way out. After more than a minute-and-a-half of being squeezed by Dikun’s triangle, Perez gave in and tapped out. For the sheer guts it takes to try such a move, Dikun has more than earned his place on this list.
1. Tody Imada shocks the internet with his inverted triangle choke
(Bellator V, 5/1/09)
It was the submission that made Bellator a viral video sensation overnight and had MMA newbs and grizzled veterans alike asking, ‘What the hell was that?’ The answer is, a totally awesome inverted triangle choke. Jorge Masvidal either didn’t recognize it, or just didn’t think it was really possible, because he failed to tap out in time and wound collapsing in a heap to give Toby Imada the victory. The inventive finish upped Bellator’s profile as well as Imada’s and earned a spot as the undisputed submission of the year.