2021 Others Receiving Votes Awards: Submissions of the Year
Just like everything else this year, the podium spots feel locked in, but there were still plenty of other slick and nasty finishes inside the Octagon that deserve attention.
It’s wild to me that Andre Muniz is probably going to take home top honors for Submission of the Year (as he should) and yet a whole lot of people were still sleeping on him heading into his fight earlier this month.
How does that happen?
Muniz becoming the first fighter to submit Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in MMA competition and breaking his arm in the process, which effectively led to Souza’s retirement, was hands-down the best submission finish inside the Octagon this year — a combination of technique and trauma from a guy that used this year as a breakout campaign.
Anthony “Fluffy” Hernandez submitting Rodolfo Vieira feels like a lock for the silver medal, in large part because of Vieira’s pedigree as a jiu jitsu player. That’s not to take anything away from Hernandez, who weathered a storm early and chased the finish down, but much like with Muniz, it’s the magnitude of the moment that takes it over the top.
Everything else feels kind of wide open depending on whether you favor technique, circumstances, or just like something slick that gets laced up quick.
Here’s the rest of the submission finishes that really stood out for me in 2021.
Islam Makhachev’s Hat Trick
Drew Dober got caught in an arm-triangle choke in the third round at UFC 259.
Thiago Moises succumbed to a rear-naked choke midway through the fourth round of their July main event clash.
Dan Hooker tapped to a kimura midway through the opening frame at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi.
Three fights, three wins, three different submissions — Makhachev was a menace on the canvas in 2021, cementing his standing as a legitimate title contender in the lightweight division and giving a little more credence to those “Next Khabib” talks that had been percolating for the past couple years.
Vicente Luque’s Brace
Not to be outdone, Luque locked up a pair of first-round submission finishes and Performance of the Night bonuses to claim a chair at the title conversation table this Christmas.
In March, “The Silent Assassin” navigated some rough waters against Tyron Woodley to sinking his favorite finish, the D’Arce choke, on the former champion, and he hit the same choke in transition during his clash with Michael Chiesa at UFC 265 in September.
What makes Luque so dangerous — and such an intriguing contender heading into 2022 — is that he’s so fluid with his finishes, so precise in locking them up that if you give him the inch he needs, it’s game over. And, oh by the way, he can sling’em too and isn’t afraid to stand in the pocket and eat a couple to land one of his own that changes the course of the fight.
Sean Brady (vs. Jake Matthews)
While Brady’s win over Michael Chiesa later in the year signalled his ascent into the Top 10, it was this finish of Matthews in March that convinced me that he had the potential to get there.
Brady worked methodically to create the opportunity to secure this third-round finish, grinding down the Australian over the first two rounds before attacking and finishing the choke in the third. Matthews is a very good athlete, a strong kid, and a legit Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt in his own right, and the unbeaten Philly welterweight made him look completely out-matched on the canvas.
This was a great finish from one of this year’s big winners.
Mackenzie Dern (vs. Nina Nunes)
If you ever wanted to know why Dern is such a threat and such a dangerous opponent for anyone in the strawweight division, pop in this tape and let it play.
She’s got some Demian Maia to her in the sense that if she gets you down, all you can do is defend and hope to survive because her transitions and attacks are quick and dangerous, and she’s often two steps ahead without you knowing.
Dern hit a step-through trip just under 90 seconds into the opening round and Nunes never got back to her feet. Dern dropped back looking at a leg lock to escape Nunes’ attempt to tie her up, creating the opportunity to pass. She started looking at a key lock to get Nunes thinking and create an opportunity to climb into mount, and then threw punches to get Nunes’ arms up in a defensive position in order to snatch one up and sink in the finishing armbar.
It’s a beautiful couple minutes of grappling and one of the best technical, step-by-step finishes of the year.
Randy Brown (vs. Alex Oliveira)
We see lots of rear-naked choke finishes each year, but the one-armed version is a lot more rare.
Midway through the first round, Brown worked into the clinch and sunk one hook in on Oliveira while the two were battling along the fence. From that waist lock position, Brown managed to scoot around to the Brazilian’s back, and while Oliveira was trying to keep Brown’s right arm out of play, the Lookin’ for a Fight alum just laced his left arm under Oliveira’s neck and started squeezing.
“Cowboy” tried to defend, tried to fight the urge to tap, but before Brown could even get his right hand into play, the veteran tapped, giving us one of the more unique finishes of the year.
Andrea Lee (vs. Antonina Shevchenko)
Andrea Lee had a nice little bounce-back year in 2021, collecting a pair of wins to steady herself in the flyweight ranks and heading into 2022 with more momentum than she’s had since first arriving in the UFC. Her win over Shevchenko is what got things started, and feels like one of those finishes that has gotten lost in the wash of a long year with plenty of highlight reel moments.
Shevchenko actually initiated the clinch off a missing spinning back fist attempt by Lee to start the second, but the former Invicta standout immediately turned it into an advantageous position for her, tossing Shevchenko back to the canvas after they scrambled to their feet connected, and never let her up.
Lee went from side control to the crucifix position to attacking a mounted triangle in quick succession, attacking with elbows once she had the lock cinched up. Shevchenko hung tough as Lee struggled to secure the finish with the choke, but late in the frame, “KGB” tucked Shevchenko’s right arm behind her back and torqued her hips, drawing out the tap.
There were some technical mistakes along the way, but Lee still got the job done in impressive fashion to get back into the win column in her home state of Texas.
Zhalgas Zhumagulov (vs. Jerome Rivera)
I love the ninja choke.
I loved it the first time I saw Dan Miller hit it in the UFC and I have loved it ever since.
If you connect on a ninja choke, I’m going to remember it and shout it out at the end of the year, no matter what. When you do it in a little over two minutes in a transition situation and turn your opponent perpendicular along the fence in order to secure the tap, you make this list.
Zhumagulov locked this up and wrapped up the win in a flash, twisting Rivera into a pretzel against the cage in the process.
Mateusz Gamrot (vs. Jeremy Stephens)
The middle win of Gamrot’s trio of 2021 victories came against Jeremy Stephens and it was sick, wicked, and nasty as former TORONTO RAPTORS play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky used to say.
“Gamer” dove on an ankle almost immediately, dragging Stephens to the canvas, where the veteran started working for a kimura, looking to set up a sweep. Gamrot was hip to the setup, defended correctly, and snatched up a shoulder lock of his own, stepping over and wrenching Stephens’ arm behind his body with swiftness to secure the finish.
The former KSW double-champ forced his way into the Top 15 this year and looks like a dark horse contender heading into 2022.
Pat Sabatini (vs. Jamall Emmers)
Sabatini also collected three wins this past year and he too locked up a first-round finish in the middle victory.
Emmers caught the former CFFC champ less than a minute in, putting him on shaky legs and chasing him to the canvas before climbing into mount and taking his back. Sabatini was in trouble, but he worked to recover and worked towards a leg as Emmers looked to maintain top position. He toppled Emmers by straightening his knee and dove on a heel hook, missing the catch initially, allowing Emmers to try and counter with a toe hold, but what he should have been doing was trying to extricate his leg.
Sabatini adjusted, twisted, and Emmers screamed for him to stop, writhing in agony when he did.
This was a nasty finish after being in a bad spot early, and one of the three impressive victories that put Sabatini on the map in his rookie campaign.
Alejandro Perez (vs. Johnny Eduardo)
Just as with the ninja choke, if you hit anything from the scarf hold position, I’m shouting you out.
Perez returned after more than two years on the sidelines and turned in an impressive finish against the Brazilian veteran, taking Eduardo down with two minutes remaining in the round, transitioning to side control, and locking up a scarf hold armlock in the waning moments of the frame.
This is one of those finishes and positions that you don’t see a lot, but it’s just so slick. I honestly don’t know why we don’t see more fighters utilize this position and search for attacks from here, but I’m guessing it’s an experience and comfort thing.
Whatever it may be, Perez rocked it and it was dope.
The 2021 Others Receiving Votes Awards will return on December 27 with a look at the best fights of 2021. Merry Christmas, y’all!
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