1997: Chris Haseman and Mark Kerr’s Chin-in-Eye Submissions
vs. Hiriwa Te Rangi and Elvis Sinosic @ Caged Combat 1, 3/22/97 (Haseman)
vs. Don Bobish @ UFC 14, 7/27/97 (Kerr)
(Kerr vs. Bobish starts at the 7:01 mark of the above video.)
Look, eye-gouging is dangerous and underhanded, and when the Unified Rules banned all forms of it in 2000, we were all better off. But you have to respect the brutal ingenuity of locking down your opponent from the top, inserting your chin into his eye-socket, and squeezing. Gross but effective, and not something that you’d think to prepare for. Responsible for three separate finishes that year — two of which came in the same night from the same guy — 1997 was the Year of Chinjitsu.
In his prime, Vitor Belfort was MMA’s answer to Mike Tyson — a prodigious talent whose mix of hand-speed and power left most of his opponents staring at the lights in short order. Wanderlei Silva was building his own reputation as a hyper-aggressive brawler at the time, but against the Phenom he was woefully outgunned. Belfort blasted Silva from one end of the cage to the other, landing about a dozen punches in three seconds, most of which were thrown at a dead run. That night, Belfort foreshadowed the next generation of MMA fighters, whose athleticism gave them a stunning capacity to cause damage.
1999: Rumina Sato’s Flying Armbar
vs. Charles Diaz @ Shooto: Devilock Fighters, 1/15/99
Well, speaking of athleticism — turning yourself upside-down in mid-air to snatch an armbar requires a good amount of gymnastic ability, as well as absolute confidence and a touch of insanity. This submission is legendary not just for it’s novelty, but also for its unexpected quickness. Who else would have the balls to try this so early in a fight?
2000: Genki Sudo’s Giant Swing
vs. Craig Oxley @ Pancrase: Trans 6, 10/31/00
MMA fans are funny — we look down our noses at that fake shit, and yet we mark out so damn hard for pro-wrestling-style antics whenever they creep into the sport. Whether it’s a silver-tongued heel, a dramatic entrance, or a high-flying body-slam (see: 2002, 2005), there are some things that just hit an audience on a visceral level. Genki Sudo understood that as much as anybody else in MMA’s history. Swinging your opponent 720 degrees might not be the most practical setup for a leglock, but it’s a sure way to make the crowd go “ohhhhhhh!” Honorable Mention: Kazushi Sakuraba‘s kimura against Renzo Gracie @ PRIDE 10, for sheer historic value.