(Ah, 2007. A very fine year for gogoplatas. / Photo via Sherdog)
By Ben Goldstein
Over the last two decades, MMA has evolved so consistently that fighters are still finding new and unexpected ways to destroy their opponents — while causing fans to spit their beers in shock. We decided to take a lil’ spin through MMA history and identify the single most awe-inspiring technique from each year since the sport’s modern inception. We expect you to disagree with us; there’s a comments section just for that purpose. And away we go…
You have to remember that in the early ’90s, a well-placed roundhouse kick to the head was considered the pinnacle of martial arts. What Royce Gracie introduced to fight fans in his early UFC run was something much more practical, less flashy, and a little bit scary. Gracie’s submission of Ken Shamrock — and the similar hold he used to stop Gerard Gordeau in the finals — proved that skill beat size, and pajamas beat man-panties.
1994: Dan Severn‘s Suplexes
vs. Anthony Macias @ UFC 4, 12/16/94
(Fight starts at the 1:53 mark)
Of course, the UFC’s formative years weren’t all about subtlety. The arrival of Dan Severn, followed by his ground-and-pounding spiritual descendants Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr, showed that a hulking wrestler could do just as well as a skinny grappling whiz. The suplexes that Severn pulled off in his UFC debut were straight out of a pro-wrestling match, but my God, they were real. As commentator Jim Brown sums up the performance, “what I’m looking at is a wrestler with a lot of strength, but not the true technique of the jiu-jitso man.” And sure enough, the UFC’s original “jiu-jitso man” Royce Gracie caught Severn in the Octagon’s first-ever triangle choke later that night.
1995: Marco Ruas’s Leg Kicks
vs. Paul Varelans @ UFC 7, 3/10/95
It’s not like Marco Ruas was the first guy to throw leg kicks in a vale tudo match, but the technique became part of his legacy due to how he used them — as a savage fight-finisher, perfect for chopping down bigger opponents. During his 13-minute UFC 7 finals match against Paul “The Polar Bear” Varelans, Ruas executed a leg-kick based strategy that hobbled the American behemoth. Varleans became so aggravated that he started kicking back, and seemed to learn how to check the incoming kicks mid-fight. But in the end, the King of the Streets pulverized Varelans’s lead thigh until he collapsed to the mat, unable to defend himself. Of course, if the UFC outlawed fence-grabbing at the time, the fight wouldn’t have lasted half as long. Honorable mention: Ken Shamrock’s kneebar against Bas Rutten @ Pancrase: Eyes of Beast 2.
1996: Gary Goodridge’s “Goose Neck” Crucifix
vs. Paul Herrera @ UFC 8, 2/16/96
Let’s just say that Big Daddy didn’t earn his 4th-degree black belt in Kuk Sool Won the old-fashioned way. But when the former arm-wrestling champ and all-around tough guy made his UFC debut, he at least knew how to pull off a rather nasty grappling maneuver that would leave his opponent’s head wide-open for elbow strikes. As Goodridge told us in his final “Ask Gary” column, “I was shocked like everybody. Since I practiced my counter-move the night before I was ready, but surprised it worked that easily.” Though Jon Jones pulled off a variation of this finish against Vladimir Matyushenko in 2010, the Goodridge Goose-Neck hasn’t been duplicated in the Octagon since, which is probably a good thing. Honorable mention: Bas Rutten’s liver shots against Jason Delucia @ Pancrase: Truth 6.