Updated: Oct 25
Modern psychology would call preferring a sure outcome over a gamble “risk aversion.” Which makes complete sense, especially in a cage match in front of hundreds of people. This is rational. However, there are always a few chosen souls who are willing to roll the dice and at least attempt to defy statistics.
In this article, I’ll look at four of the most sought-after MMA submissions ever pulled off in the octagon. Keep in mind that this list is subjective, and it’s hard to find good UFC statistics, but these are the four submissions I found most interesting.
4 Inverted Triangle The inverted triangle is a submission that you can envision if you’ve watched much MMA. It’s just like the triangle you see all the time: Isolate the head and an arm. Figure-4 your legs around them. Pull down on the head and squeeze. (There’s much more complexity to this and the other moves on this list, but I’m being brief for the sake of brevity.) Instead of inverting the side the lock is on like you might have seen Vinny Magalhães do, you invert your orientation to your opponent. Your head goes toward his hips, similar to a north-south position. The technique is attempted most when someone is sliding off the back, but it’s rarely finished. Here are the four fighters who were able to make it happen. You’ll notice a theme with the first three examples — it’s definitely more about what they were doing with the arms that led to the tap and not the lock around the neck, but it’s what got them to the position to finish.
First was Chris Lytle in 2007. He pulled it off against Jason Gilliam at UFC 73. Second was Cole Miller in 2010 against Dan Lauzon. Same thing here. It was an impressive grappling display, but it was the arm work that led to the finish. Third, funnily enough, was from former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold, who was able to secure one against Tim Boetsh on his path to the middleweight strap. Great fight, and Luke Rockhold used the cage well to work his transitions to get the finish. The final and latest entry is the only one that achieved the submission wholly and purely. Jordan Leavitt locked one on in December 2021 and is the only one whose Wikipedia page reads “inverted triangle choke” as he did not need to manipulate an arm at all to achieve success.
3 Calf Slicer The calf slicer is a move that was brought back into modern jiu-jitsu by the recent romance with leg entanglements. It’s tricky to control, but it has a place in some of the most successful martial arts schools. Even if you don’t attend a prestigious school, there’s probably a dude in your gym who will go for this after a night of YouTube-ing grappling moves. So far, there have only been two men who can claim they got their hand raised because of a calf slicer. First was the champ Charles Oliveira during his featherweight debut. He was initially trying to work a kneebar when Eric Wisely rolled over and “Do Bronx” was able to pull on Eric Wisely’s hips after lacing up the leg. (Some would argue that this is technically a “calf crusher,” but the directed pressure is the same, so humor me.) Making the pressure even worse and with a winced expression on his face, Eric Wisely was forced to tap.
The second was from Brett Johns during the finale of The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion. What makes this sub so impressive is not only how fast he was able to snatch it up but also whom he got it on. Joe Soto was the inaugural Bellator featherweight champion and is a world-class black belt who was a state-champion wrestler in high school and a finalist at EBI 4, so Soto has a tough grappling pedigree.
2 Twister The twister is one of the more complex moves on this list. Instead of isolating an individual joint to control or chasing the neck, you have to control a single leg with both your legs and continue that control until you get a grip on the crown of the skull after getting past the arm on the opposite side. Even though entry is debatably easier than back chasing on account of just needing one hook, it’s rarely attempted in professional MMA. Only two men have pulled it off successfully: Jung Chang-sung and Bryce Mitchell. When “The Korean Zombie” first pulled it off in 2011 against Leonard Garcia, everyone was shocked and confused — including me. I never saw a submission like that before, let alone understood its nuance and difficulty. Everybody thought that it was going to be the next “thing” and that fighters would be chasing it from now on. Shows how much gossip is worth because it wouldn’t be until December 2019, almost nine years later, when a young Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell pulled off another one against Matt Sayles. Matt Sayles didn’t make it easy despite Bryce Mitchell dictating the positions until he got the tap late in round one.
1 Omoplata The omoplata is as risky as it is slick when done correctly. It is most frequently attempted off a failed kimura or triangle as the momentum leads into it. However, most of the time, the guy will just roll through and create a scramble if he can pull his arm free at the same time. But if you can keep complete control of the arm as you invert and sit up, you can really bear down on the shoulder and create immense pressure. Here are the two I’ve seen.
The UFC was around for a long time before one of these was seen in the octagon. The first man to get it was Ben Saunders in 2014 against Chris Heatherly at UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Don Anjos. Ben Saunders was taken down but began working off his back as soon as he hit the canvas. Pulling on Chris Heatherly’s head and climbing his legs up, Ben Saunders was threatening triangle and armbar variations when Chris Heatherly pulled his head out and Ben Saunders spun for the omoplata. Where most guys lose it when their opponent rolls forward or bucks backward, Ben Saunders managed to stay in control until Chris Heatherly was unable to stand it any longer.
The second and last omoplata to be completed in the UFC was by rising heavyweight Adam Wieczorek in April 2018. You might think the big boys lack the finesse to pull off such a complicated technique, but Adam Wieczorek begged to differ. He had to threaten arm locks and even a cheeky gogoplata to get Ajarn Singh Bhullar to turn. But once he did and tried to limp-arm out of it, Adam Wieczorek put all his pressure right into Ajarn Singh Bhullar’s shoulder until he had to submit. What a gorgeous display of control from a heavyweight!
All right, boys. Those are my top 4 rare submissions ever pulled off after a Zuffa walk, the ones that I almost always hope get finished when attempted. I’m sure there are plenty more out there, and I’m sure there are some awesome ones I missed — as well as a few one-time outliers I forgot to mention. You can reach me @ivory__shoulders on Instagram to tell me all about it. Hope you enjoyed the read. Hang out on BlackBeltMag.com for the next one.