Have you ever wondered what the most effective MMA submissions are? We reviewed over a thousand fights in Bamma, Bellator, Strikeforce, the UFC and WSOF to find the top 10 moves to tap or snap your opponent.
Since the early days of mixed martial arts (MMA), submissions have proved an integral and important part of the sport. Early MMA fights were dominated by fighters with grappling backgrounds – either submission grappling (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Sambo, catch wrestling etc) or wrestling (Freestyle, Greco-Roman), and the moves used then remain equally valid today.
Despite this long history, submissions remain under appreciated by many MMA fans.
To remedy this, we reviewed 1126 fights in the UFC, Bellator, BAMMA, the World Series of Fighting (WSOF) and Strikeforce to highlight the top 10 most effective MMA submission moves.
In 1127 fights, 307 ended with some form of submission (including 7 submissions to strikes). Although there were a large number of submissions, most cluster around some very common and effective submission techniques.
King of Submissions
By far the king of MMA submissions is the rear naked choke. It finishes more fights than any other technique- including KO strikes – and alone accounts for over a third of all submissions recorded.
Known as Mata leão (“Lion killer”) in Portuguese and Hadaka-jime (“rear-naked-choke”) in Japanese, it is a blood choke applied from behind an opponent to restrict the blood flow to the brain by applying pressure to the carotid arteries. Applied correctly, the rear naked choke can finish a fight in a matter of seconds; causing an opponent to tap or go unconscious.
This history of rear naked chokes (RNC) dates back as far as UFC 1 when Royce Gracie submitted both Ken Shamrock and Gerard Gordeau by way of RNC on his way to becoming the very first UFC champion.
Despite this long history, the RNC continues to dominate all MMA events as the most effective submission by some way. In all events (except Strikeforce where only 29 fights were reviewed) the rear naked choke accounted for more victories than any other submission hold. In fact, the number of guillotine and armbar submissions combined would still have been less than the overall number of rear naked chokes recorded.
Top 10 MMA Submissions
Of the remaining submissions that won MMA fights, 91.5 percent occurred by applying one of the following ten techniques. In order of frequency they were:
- Rear naked choke
- Triangle choke
- Arm-triangle choke
- Darce/brabo choke
- Front choke
These 10 techniques were alone responsible for finishing between 0.3 percent (front choke) to 9 percent (RNC) of all MMA fights.
Chokes vs Joint Locks vs Compressions
Although each technique has its own unique manner (or manners) of application, submissions fall into three main categories: Chokes (and strangles), Joint Locks and Compression Locks.
Chokes are submissions applied to the neck of an opponent to either restrict blood flow (RNC, guillotine, triangle choke and armtriangle) or air flow (front choke, North South choke). Joint locks work by hyperextending or hyperrotating a joint and compression locks work by causing intense pain through compressing a muscle or tendon against bone
Blood chokes are normally regarded as more effective than air chokes – due to their speed of inducing unconsciousness. They are a form of strangulation and work by restricting the carotid arteries or the jugular veins. The decreased cerebral blood flow caused by a blood choke can cause a person to become unconscious in less than 10 seconds.
An air choke, by contrast, works by restricting the upper airways (trachea, larynx or laryngopharynx), hence interfering with breathing and leading to asphyxia. Although much slower in inducing unconsciousness than a blood choke, air chokes can cause excruciating pain and can result in fractures of the larynx. They are generally much slower to take effect than blood chokes, however, requiring around 30 seconds to cause unconsciousness.
A joint lock works by hyperextending or hyperrotating one or more of the body’s joints. For example, an armbar hyperextends an opponent’s arm at the elbow, ultimately causing dislocation or other damage to the elbow joint. Finally, compression locks are a form of pain submission that work by.
By grouping our 307 submissions into these three groups we can compare the overall effectiveness of each type of submission. Excluding the 7 fights that ended by submission as a result of strikes, we can see that chokes are more effective than joint manipulations and compression locks combined.
Blood and air chokes account for almost 74 percent of all submissions, pushing joint manipulations into a distant second. For every 4 submissions that occurred, only one was a joint manipulation with the rest coming overwhelming by way of choke. That means that for every 100 fights only around 7 are likely to be finished by joint manipulation, as compared to 19.5 for chokes.
By far the least effective, however, appears to be compression locks. Compression locks only managed to end one fight in 1127 bouts. This single submission was a straight foot lock or “Achilles lock”, applied by Mark Holata to Abe Wagner in the first round of their Bellator 69 fight. Not a single compression lock was successful in either the UFC, Bamma, Strikeforce or WSOF in the fights reviewed.
Blood vs Air Chokes
Breaking down chokes into blood and air chokes, we can also see that the success rate of chokes is almost entirely down to the efficiency blood chokes. Of 221 chokes, almost 97 percent of them were achieved by restricting an opponent’s blood flow to the brain.
RNCs, Triangles, Arm-Triangles, Darces, Anaconda Chokes and Inverted Triangles finished 213 fights. Whereas, Frontchokes, North South Chokes and Peruvian Neck Ties finished just 8 fights.
The dominance of blood chokes reflects the fact that of the top 5 submissions, 1, 2, 4 and 5 are blood chokes. Only the arm bar (a joint manipulation), managed to stop the top 5 MMA submissions from being dominated entirely by blood chokes, and even then it only reached 3rd place.
- Rear naked choke
- Triangle choke
- Armtriangle choke
Our analysis suggests that if you want to train for submission success, then you might be better off spending you time focussing on blood chokes than any other type of submission. In particular, the continued and long serving success of the RNC suggests that this should be first in a fighters submission arsenal.