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Submissions are hard to come by in the UFC

The rarest of UFC wins: armbar
The rarest of UFC wins: armbar
Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

As most UFC fans know, Royce Gracie was the original champion. He won most of his fights with a variety of submissions, from armbars to triangles to rear naked chokes. However, the fighters that Gracie fought had little to no experience with submission fighting and were no match for the ground fighting skills that he possessed. Today’s UFC, however, is a very different sport. The training and awareness of the various arts involved in MMA lead to a tougher environment for fighters to win by way of submission. This article from 14 June discusses why this is so.

As the article discusses, only 15 percent of fights in the UFC in 2014 have ended by way of submission, and the vast majority of those are chokes. In fact, only one fight (of 211) included an armbar finish. To take it even further, many of the chokes come through the rear naked variety after a fighter has been stunned and is less able to defend himself. Two notable examples of this are the recent Benson Henderson and Donald Cerrone fights, both of whom won by landing punches that resulted in knockdowns, quickly taking their opponents’ backs and landing the finishing move.

There are a number of reasons why submissions are down, as the article discusses. Most of them simply come down to fighters getting better at the submission game. Fighters are simply more capable on the ground than ever before. Just as there are few knockouts in boxing at the highest levels, there are few submissions among highly skilled MMA fighters. The rules set also makes it more difficult. As any grappler knows, five minute rounds make it tough to get a submission even in a straight grappling match.

Another factor is the UFC itself. Fans tend to favor striking over grappling. The fighters are urged to finish their opponents, both to advance in the rankings and to earn bonuses, and the quickest way to a finish is a knockout. Fighters who take their opponents down and dominate the fight on the ground but are unable to get the submission are deemed as boring and have a hard time furthering their careers.

What does all this mean? As the article suggests, the answer may lie in sports jiu jitsu tournaments, where new moves, like the Berimbolo back take, and guard types, like the De La Riva, are always being introduced. These new moves and methods of attacking may lead to more submissions. It will take fighters some time to figure out how to adapt them to MMA, but when they do, watch out.

The simple fact is that MMA is a constantly evolving sport, and fighters need to grow in their games to be successful. A good example of this is Brendan Schaub, who fights at UFC 174. He came into the sport as a striker and good athlete but has developed his grappling game well enough to earn a submission win over Matt Mitrione in his last fight. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for him.