As all-important as victory is, it’s not always about if you win the fight in MMA, but also about how you win. Even if you’ve been undefeated throughout your entire career, no one’s going to be hailing your dominance if you win every fight by judge’s decision. No, the best way to undisputedly assure your place amongst the elite is to finish fights. Finishing a fight in MMA can come in one of two ways, knockout or submission. As impressive as knockouts are, there’s definitely such a thing as a lucky knockout. For whatever reason, fighters can get clipped and go down to punches or kicks that they would normally withstand. I’ve never heard anyone accuse his or her opponent of getting a ‘lucky submission’. Forcing someone to tap out because you’ve meticulously followed the steps to trapping them into a perfect choke, kimura, armbar, or any other maneuver, is a thought-out process that demonstrates intelligent fighting.
The history of the UFC is steeped in submissions. Royce Gracie, the first truly dominant figure in the sport of MMA, won virtually all of his fights by submission using the martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that his family developed. Since then Brazilian jiu-jitsu has become a staple of MMA. Every single fighter in the UFC today has some level of BJJ experience, because stepping into the octagon without even knowing how to defend against it will leave you helpless and defeated in very little time. Obviously each fighter has their own unique style, so while some prefer to rely on boxing and muay thai striking, others will rely more on their submission abilities. After every UFC event there are various awards (with cash bonuses) that are handed out and one of them is the ‘Submission of the Night’ for the best victory by submission, which this list will tally to find out who the deadliest grapplers in modern MMA are.
12 T4. Dustin Hazelett – 3 SOTN Awards
Just a heads up, the first 7 entries on the list are all tied at 3 SOTN awards. It’s very rare to win one so there isn’t as much variance between fighters compared to another stat like total victories. Dustin Hazelett made his UFC debut at UFC Fight Night 6.5 – ‘Ortiz vs Shamrock III: The Final Chapter’, in a loss to Tony DeSouza. He would amass a 5-5 record in the UFC, with 4 of those victories coming by way of submission and 3 of them granting him the SOTN bonus. He was let go after 3 consecutive losses in 2010 and subsequently retired from MMA.
11 T4. Jason MacDonald – 3 SOTN Awards
Canadian Jason MacDonald also made his big league debut at UFC Fight Night 6.5 – ‘Ortiz vs. Shamrock III: The Final Chapter’, in a victory over Ed Herman that saw him earn his first SOTN bonus in his very first fight with the company. MacDonald amassed 2 more them for a total of 3 throughout his tenure with the UFC. After a long career, he formally retired from MMA in February 2013 at the age of 37.
10 T4. Stefan Struve – 3 SOTN Awards
Stefan ‘Skyscraper’ Struve is massive, even for a heavyweight. The 7-foot-tall Dutchman made his UFC debut at UFC 95 in a loss to future heavyweight champ Junior Dos Santos. Despite initially being written off as a freak fighter due to his size, he demonstrated technical skill with his various submission victories. The 25-year-old is still with the UFC and has already won 3 SOTN bonuses. He came close to retirement in fall of 2013 because of a newly diagnosed heart condition, but Struve insists that he has returned to a full training schedule and will make his return to the octagon very soon.
9 T4. Clay Guida – 3 SOTN Awards
With 8 years in the company under his belt, Clay Guida can safely be considered a UFC veteran. He earned his first SOTN award on his debut at UFC 64, and over the years has earned 2 more for a total of 3. In addition he’s also been involved in the 2007 & 2009 ‘Fight of the Year’ against Roger Huerta and Diego Sanchez, respectively. The 32-year-old is an exciting fighter who will be looking to add to his already long career in 2014.
8 T4. Chris Lytle – 3 SOTN Awards
Chris Lytle had a long and turbulent history with the UFC. He first fought for the promotion at UFC 20 in 2000, but lost to Ben Earwood. He would return in 2003 to more success, and won 3 SOTN awards throughout his career. He retired in 2011, at the age of 39, after a victory against Dan Harty in which he won his last SOTN and also ‘Fight of the Night’ honors.
7 T4. Charles Oliveira – 3 SOTN Awards
At 24 years old, Charles Oliveira has already fought in the UFC 9 times. His 4-4(1) record, while seemingly unimpressive on paper, becomes more respectable when tallying his post-fight bonuses. All of his victories have come by way of submission, and 75% of them have won him the SOTN bonus. In addition, although his last fight against Frankie Edgar at UFC 162 left him with a loss, both men won the ‘Fight of the Night’ bonus. Oliveira is coming off 2 straight losses and will be in action at UFC Fight Night 36 on February 15th. Given the UFC’s tendency to release fighters after 3 consecutive losses, this fight is a must-win for the Brazilian.
6 T4. Jim Miller – 3 SOTN Awards
30-year-old American Jim Miller made his UFC debut at UFC 89 in a victory against David Baron that earned him his first SOTN bonus. Throughout his career he’s amassed a total of 3 SOTN bonuses, 3 ‘Fight of the Night’ bonuses, and has consistently been an exciting fighter who puts pressure on his opponents. Miller is coming off a victory over Fabricio Camoes at UFC 168 and is currently ranked #9 in the official lightweight rankings.
5 T3. Cole Miller – 4 SOTN Awards
29-year-old Cole Miller has been fighting in the UFC since 2007, when he made his debut at The Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale in a performance that earned him ‘Knockout of the Night’. Miller would go on to become more of a grappler than a brawler, winning ‘Submission of the Night’ 4 times with a total record of 10-6 in the UFC. His latest submission victory occurred in January of this year, when he defeated Sam Sicilia at UFC Fight Night: Rockhold vs. Philippou.
4 T3. Terry Etim – 4 SOTN Awards
Terry Etim made his UFC debut at UFC 70 in his native England with a submission victory over Matt Grice, winning his first SOTN bonus in his very first fight with the promotion. Most of Etim’s victories in the UFC came by submission, with 4 of those being ‘Submission of the Night’. Etim was released by the UFC in early 2013 after two consecutive losses. He immediately signed a contract with Bellator MMA and is currently 1-0 with his new employers.
3 T3. Demian Maia – 4 SOTN Awards
Brazilian Demian Maia has a reputation as a fearsome grappler with various martial arts experience in Judo, Karate, Kung Fu, and particularly Brazilian jiu-jitsu, in which he holds a black belt. It’s only fitting that the majority of his wins come by way of submission, 4 of which have won him the SOTN bonus. Maia is coming off of a loss against Jake Shields and will be looking to build his reputation in the welterweight division when he faces Rory MacDonald at UFC 170.
2 Nate Diaz – 5 SOTN Awards
Nate Diaz and his brother Nick have become infamous in the MMA world for their brashness, trash talking, and aggressive style of fighting. Nate, the younger Diaz, is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Although he’s also known for his boxing, his submission skills are when he truly shines. He’s earned 5 SOTN bonuses throughout his career with the UFC, 5 ‘Fights of the Night’, 1 ‘Knockout of the Night’, and is the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 5. Diaz came close to UFC gold against Benson Henderson, and will be looking to put together an impressive run to justify another shot against current UFC Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
1 Joe Lauzon – 6 SOTN Awards
Massachusetts native Joe Lauzon entered the UFC as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 5, and although he failed to win the competition he established himself as a future contender. Since then he’s gone 10-6 in the UFC, with 6 of those victories earning him a SOTN bonus. He also has 5 ‘Fight of the Nights’ and 1 ‘Knockout of the Night’, bringing his total post-fight bonus tally to 12. Lauzon is tied with Anderson Silva for the most post-fight bonuses in UFC history, all at the relatively young age of 29. There is plenty of room for Lauzon to grow in the future, and he’ll be searching for his first opportunity at UFC gold in 2014.