Are submissions dead in the UFC?
No, submissions are alive and well, in fact.
I recall hearing a surprising fact back at the time when Rashad Evans was the UFC Light Heavyweight champion. Evans was UFC champ without even having attempted a single submission in any of his UFC fights. How was that even possible?
To old school BJJ guys who got their start by watching Royce Gracie submit everyone in the early UFC’s, this seemed like a sacrilege! But like all things, MMA has evolved and now everyone knows jiu-jitsu, and how to defend the most common submissions.
In 2017 the UFC featured 457 fights with 81 total submissions. This means 18% — or nearly one out of five — fights were decided by a submission. The percentages of finishes versus decisions varied by weight class.
There is a direct relationship between heavier weight classes and a greater number of fights being decided by KO or submission. The lighter the weights of the fighters, the lower the percentage of fights that are decided by finish.
Historically, the average is about 50% of the fights go to decision across all weight classes and the proportion of stoppages by KO or TKO is roughly double that of submission rate.
In 2017, for example, approximately 50% of heavyweight fights were finishes with approximately 13% of the fights ending in submission. At the bantamweight end, the knockouts and submissions were nearly equal in percentage.
In 2017, the percentages of matches decided by submission in the UFC are broken down by weight class:
Light Heavyweight 15%
When we examine the submissions that are successful we see a small subset of the potentially hundreds of submissions in BJJ that actually get taps at the highest levels of professional MMA.
A quick glance at the graph will show the “Lion Killer”—aka the rear naked choke— as accounting for the “lion’s share” (pun intended) of the submissions. Arm triangles, guillotines, arm bars, Von Flue chokes (thanks to Ovince St, Preux!), D’arce chokes, anaconda chokes, and triangles make up the majority of finishes. There are a few rare submissions that account for a handful of results.
The takeway is clear for the BJJ enthusiast: if you want to train submissions that work at the highest levels of MMA competition, you should concentrate on those main techniques. Listening to the awesome Joe Rogan podcast with jiu-jitsu mastermind John Danher, Danaher asked “What do all of the top submissions have in common?”
They all come from positions (like rear mount) that offer a high degree of positional control over the opponent. A key factor in the success of any submission attempt.
What is your favorite submission in the UFC?