2020 MMA Awards: Submission of the Year

Submissions UFC Background

Sometimes it feels like mixed martial arts has turned into a wrestling competition sometimes, and as much as I hated that part about it, I quickly learned that as a bettor, this phenomenon was a great thing.

Of the 6 fights we are going to talk about today, we won 3 of them and lost on 3. The three we lost were definitely a shock, though. Could the submission be making a comeback?

The more that coaches and cornermen tell their fighters to get up instead of possibly working off their back, the less cool triangles and armbars we will see. They are both very low percentage moves, though.

Men have strong upper bodies, many times stronger than their lower bodies because, in MMA, they want to stay at a higher weight class. This means it is easier for them to stack their way out of an armbar or even pick up their guy and slam him.

Women, though, they have stronger lower bodies than upper and wider hips than men, and that is a triple whammy for the female MMA armbar. There will always be a lot of those, and I think the coaches that let their ladies work a little bit off of their back in the guard position should be commended.

We do have one submission from the women’s side, and it was a shock to the entire MMA, which might count for something when we pick the winner.

What is a submission, really?

It is saying, hey, you just killed me. That is intense stuff, but somehow almost everyone who starts BJJ ends up loving it. Tapping is just learning, and one advantage of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is you’re not learning by receiving brain damage, which is always nice.

Surprise opportunistic submissions are really rad because they happen so fast and seemingly out of nowhere. You also have to love the subs that are set up for a minute or more by the artist. The best BJJ players are 5 moves ahead.

It’s like chess but with your body. That is one of the reasons a submission really counts, at least in the fan world.

What we were able to have a lot of success with towards the end of the year was method of victory betting plays. I think just in December alone, and we were up 15 units on those types of bets alone.

Picking a fighter to win by submission, though, is very difficult but also with fair, high paying betting lines.

Let’s look at some of the best submissions from 2020 and preview some of these fighters’ chances of wrapping up another neck or limb in 2021.

Thiago Moises on Michael Johnson

Now this one was a heartbreaker for me and the boost of confidence Thiago Moises so desperately needed coming off of losing 2 of his first 3 fights inside the Octagon, albeit to Damir Ismagulov and Beneil Dariush, two of the division’s best.

This fight did not get off to the best start for Thiago Moises. I think the significant strike count was 26-1 headed into the second round, and that’s when the animal came out. Watching this guy fight before this second round when he immediately submitted the veteran Michael Johnson was frustrating because I knew he was better than what he was showing.

I first taped him when he fought Ismagulov, and he looked good in that fight, but I felt that Damir was just a better wrestler and striker. Well, I didn’t know a lot about Damir’s wrestling other than the fact that his last name ended in V. 97% of the time, that is good enough. We picked against him there and succeeded, but I still thought he could win against an opponent with a lower level than Damir. When he drew the Michael Johnson card, I thought, well, I do want to get behind Moises, but I don’t think this is the time.

Michael is a very good wrestler with a lightning-fast sprawl almost as fast as his division leading hands, in speed that is. We picked Johnson, and he lit Moises up early on! Going into the second round, I was pretty confident we were going to cash.

Until Thiago gets the advice of a lifetime from his corner. I don’t know if they told him what to try to do technically or it was more rah rah, but whatever was said, it worked. The formerly passive Moises literally ran at Johnson to start the third, and well, here are the highlights from his Octagon interview with DC.

When the betting odds came out for Thiago’s next fight, I wanted to back him because although it was just a feeling I had, I felt it was correct that he came into his own as a UFC fighter that night and put some fighters on notice.

Please Note:
He wasn’t going to sit back there like Thales Leites to reference a fellow countryman of his and passively let the fight pass him by. His next opponent was Bobby Green on Halloween. Thiago opened at (+145) and I was tempted.

Then, the Bobby Green fandom money came in even from the sharps because we are all fans and can’t always shut that off. Betting Green at (-200) all the way up past the (-300) mark is nothing short of ridiculous against a fighter the caliber of Thiago Moises.

The Brazilian looked as if his striking and power had improved like he had been in the lab for a couple of years. That, of course, wasn’t the case. He got his confidence back after a shaky start to his UFC career and paid well for anyone who bet on him against Bobby Green.

The sub on MJ, though, was so nice.

You don’t see many veteran fighters like Michael Johnson, who has something like 20 UFC fights or more tapping to a leg lock.

Thiago Moises is definitely not eliminated from the ranks of the nominees just yet.

Aljamain Sterling on Cory Sandhagen

I lost this one too! I didn’t bet against the Funkmaster Aljamain Sterling. I took the over 2.5 rounds. I thought we had a great shot to go the distance as durable and evenly matched as I thought these two were.

I guess if they ran it back 9 more times, we could still come out on the good end with that bet. We may get to see the two run it back once more because Aljo will be fighting for the world title against Petr Yan in a couple of months and Cory Sandhagen is coming off the biggest win of his career when he knocked out former world champion in the UFC at bantamweight, Marlon Moraes, with a spinning heel kick.

I was pulling for Aljamain to win this fight because I have been lucky enough to spar with him a few times. It was a lot of fun, but I will spare the details out of respect. At the same time, it is hard from a technical standpoint, especially as a striker, to not be a fan of Cory Sandhagen.

His footwork, jab, and range are some of the best I’ve seen. Aljo just walked him down, took his back, and well, here you go.

That’s a bad man! Can he do the same to Petr Yan? I don’t think so, but he does present some length problems for the Russian. Cory Sandhagen is a highly touted fighter and was expected to rise directly to the top of the UFC’s bantamweight division, and he did just that.

Sterling caught him early, though, before he could get settled into the fight, and Sandhagen had to pick up his mouthpiece and get back to the lab. When you hear him talk about the loss, though, he is still unshaken about it.

It isn’t a good look, though, to get tapped by a guy with a wrestling base, and even though he had his back taken, he wasn’t getting hit, and he wasn’t tired. He wasn’t even face down on the mat.

Sandhagen wasn’t in a great position to get Aljo off his back yet, but it surely didn’t seem like he would get caught when he did. The level of the two men and the fact that the submission wasn’t aided by slippery sweat and/or blood. It wasn’t aided by exhaustion, a highly dominant position, or the opponent being rocked by a punch.

It was straight grappling all the way. Sterling is currently a (+115) underdog to Petr Yan. I love Aljo, but I was expecting to see the Russian up at (-150) or so.

Khabib Nurmagomedov on Justin Gaethje

You really didn’t have the chance to blink once in this fight. I know it went past the first round. Still, the pressure Khabib was able to put on Justin Gaethje, a pressure fighter himself and one of the best at it, was almost falling back off his heels trying to get some space in between himself and his opponent, Khabib the bear wrestler Nurmagomedov.

I feel good talking about this fight because I had it pegged perfectly. Khabib said he was going to follow his late “Father’s plan,” as he would say. From interviews, we knew what said plan entailed, exactly.

Take down opponent.

Make tired and then choke him. It is very simple, actually. I don’t think Justin had gotten tired yet, but I promise you he was surely frustrated. The calmest strongest minds always tend to get that thousand yard stare on their faces when they feel the strength of Khabib.

Khabib’s favorite submission is actually the triangle, and he hit it from a beautiful set up. Justin Gaethje, though, if I can play devil’s advocate here for a minute, does NOT have the best Jiu Jitsu.

He is a striker and a wrestler who uses his wrestling to stay on his feet. This is one of the first times ever we saw his grappling game tested, and he failed. Well, either that or Khabib The Eagle Nurmagomedov soared into retirement with a triangle choke victory early in the second round.

Check it out for yourself.

He set up the leg triangle with the arm triangle. That is high level stuff. I am a huge fan of triangles but have never seen that setup. I love how he switched to the armbar long enough to get Justin to take top position and essentially hang himself as Khabib went back to the triangle for the finish.

The next opponent for Khabib is, well, GSP, maybe. I don’t know. Dana White says he would love to make the fight with Conor McGregor again, and I get it. It was the highest-grossing pay-per-view of all time for the UFC, and Khabib is a much bigger star today than he was then.

Not a lot of people want to see that, though. A fight with Charles Oliviera would be much more interesting, but money talks, so that may never happen.

Who will Justin Gaethje get a hold of next?

Maybe he is the backup to fight the Conor vs. Dustin winner of Khabib says no. It appears that the Russian may be waiting on the outcome of UFC 257 before he makes his decision to return to the Octagon or not.

Right now, though, he is still the world champion even though he retired after his fight with Justin Gaethje.

Germaine de Randamie on Juliana Pena

We hit the (+165) on Khabib following Father’s plan, but we fell short in this fight chasing a Juliana Pena win, albeit at (+150) betting odds.

This fight came down to the final round and it was clear that it would be very close whether or not Juliana Pena was going to be able to get Germain de Randamie to the mat. She had done it once earlier in the fight and was able to keep the world champion kickboxer on her back to win the round.

In the third, though, Juliana was down there on her legs, but G wasn’t budging. This is when Pena got a little impatient and thought-hey I’m just going to muscle the kickboxer down. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

A guillotine choke from Germaine de Randamie against one of the best takedown artists in the women’s bantamweight division! Gorgeous stuff and definitely the most shocking submission of the year.

Pardon Poseidon there, but you can see the submission well. This was after Pena spent over a minute in on the legs doing her best to get her hands clasped. She switched to the single instead and got too aggressive with it, and there went the neck.

Does that make it the best, though?

As for the next fight for each lady, I think Germaine will probably fight Holly Holm again, this time down at their natural weight of 135 pounds. De Randamie is the pick. I think she is the best striker in the division.

Amanda Nunes apparently thinks so as well because The Lioness wanted none of G on the feet and cruised to a win with her takedowns and top control.

Pena fights Sara McMann next, and I favor the Venezuelan Vixen in this matchup. I believe she is the better striker and also the younger woman by 9 whole years.

Antonio McKee Jr on Darrion Caldwell

If you aren’t a fan or follower of Bellator MMA, then you won’t know about either of these two fighters. They are two of the best Featherweight fighters in the world, though, and would be top 10 if not top 5 or champion in the UFC.

Please Note:
I put Darrion Caldwell up there because of his wrestling ability. He takes virtually everyone down that he fights and going into his matchup with Antonio McKee Jr, he was facing some long odds by the online sportsbooks. Caldwell, a former world champion at 135 pounds always seemed too strung out at that weight, just too skinny. I like him better at 145 and look to bet him in his next fight and try to get the line early because other sharp bettors will be on the same tip.

He is coming off of a loss, so he will be undervalued somewhat there, and he was submitted early on, which looks very bad, but it was against a fighter I believe could contend if not win the UFC Featherweight World Title right now.

Antonio McKee Jr is a second-generation MMA fighter who has, of course, grown up on the mat, and boy does it show. Just check out this filthy submission!

Fast forward to 3:00 for the main event highlights. Caldwell got him down, but AJ sure didn’t mind playing off of his back with a national champion wrestler on top of him. The neck crank was filthy.

It isn’t easy to neck crank a wrestler, much less a national champion, much less do it with absolute ease!

Honorable Mention

Maurice Greene over Gian Villante

I have run my mouth enough today, guys, but this one we won. I remember tipping a parlay on Facebook with Maurice Greene in it. It wasn’t something I tipped for you guys because I thought it was helter skelter matchup.

When I saw Gian Villante accompanying Gian Villante’s belly to the scale on weigh in day…

I knew I had to make a play against him.

Maurice Greene completely dropped the ball in this fight until Gian Villante said, hold my beer.

Apparently, Gian Villante’s people work diligently on Youtube to make sure the most embarrassing submission of all time isn’t on there anymore.

Villante truly tapped from exhaustion in this fight, but it was hilarious.

Submission of the Year: Germaine de Randamie over Juliana Pena

G de Randamie, stand up and receive your award! You really deserved it in this fight.

It was not only the most surprising but also the best submission of the year, considering it was from a striker who nobody thought could submit anyone, much less a strong grappler. Also, it was the fight.

If she didn’t get it and Juliana found a way to slip her head out, I think Pena stays on top just like she did earlier in the fight and almost certainly rides out a decision or gets the tapout win of her own.

This was such an awesome sub, I wish we could have been on the right side of it from a betting perspective, but next time!

In Conclusion

I really hope that the submission isn’t a technique that will be phased out of modern MMA, that is everything except for a rear naked choke and maybe an arm triangle. Those are offensive moves you can get from the top or, of course, the back.

I’m hoping that more fighters take note of what Antonio McKee was able to do to a former world champion top game player like Darrion Caldwell.

Darrion makes his money sitting in his opponent’s guard and not getting tapped out.That is his game and McKee beat him at that game in seconds. It was really difficult for me not to pick that one as the submission of the year. The reason I didn’t is that I don’t think it was something Caldwell has ever seen before. He didn’t once try to escape. It’s like he felt safe the whole time until he didn’t.

Pena knew darn well that the guillotine is a great counter to the single leg takedown and, as a takedown artist herself, has had to fight her way out of countless attempts in practice over the years.

But she still got caught and put out by a striker. Those things put together made this sub #1 for me in 2020.

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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.