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The 10 Best Submission Fighters In UFC History | Opinion

Fabricio Werdum posing with fans cageside in 2011.

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With such a depth and breadth of elite fighters being signed down through the years. There can be little doubting the calibre of the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion the Ultimate Fighting championships

Let’s take a walk down memory lane as we analyse who are the very best submission fighters to have ever competed in the UFC. In no particular order we will flesh out our top ten submission specialists to have ever stepped inside the octagon.

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1: Frank Mir – Heavyweight

The former two-time UFC heavyweight champion is amongst the most highly regarded and decorated fighters to have ever graced the octagon. Having been involved in the sport since 2001, the Las Vegas native is amongst an elite group that has been around the sport for almost two decades.

A high-level blackbelt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he was among one of the most feared ground submission fighters in all MMA. And with a record that has more submissions victories than any other wins, his resume screams dangerous grappler.

The former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir.
UFC heavyweight submission specialist Frank Mir.

Throughout the year Mir would be involved in some of the biggest heavyweight clashes the sport has seen. Taking on Brock Lesnar two times, slowing down his title run.

While also facing off against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira who was widely considered the greatest heavyweight BJJ player in the sport. A fight which Frank Mir won, badly breaking the arm of the former Pride champion in the process.

Having suffered a catastrophic motorcycle injury in 2004. Many thought he would never return, even his own doctor! But in true championship pedigree, he not only returned but captured the UFC title for a second time. Truly one of the best the sport of MMA has known.

2: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – Heavyweight

The Brazilian native Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is not to be confused with his identical twin Rogerio. Was once regarded as the greatest heavyweight on the planet outside of the UFC.

Big Nog ruled the roost in Pride fighting championship from 2001 to 2003, defending his title a total of five times. Partaking in some of the most iconic fights in the sport against Bob Sapp. And the man who would eventually take his title Emelianenko Fedor.

Nogueira would eventually join the ranks of the UFC, going on to win the Interim heavyweight title. But with his best days behind him, the submission fighter we saw in the UFC did not quite live up to the man who dominated and was one of the most feared men in Pride.

Nonetheless, his place in the annals of MMA history is assured. As the UFC Hall Of Famer still holds a special place in the hearts of MMA fans worldwide. Today he works directly with the UFC as a representative in Brazil where he lives.

3: Matt Hughes – Welterweight

At one time the Illinois native Matt Hughes dominated the welterweight division of the UFC. The two-time NCAA Division I All-American brought a wrestling pedigree to the sport which went unmatched for several years.

He won the 170 lb belt in 2001 and would defend it five times. Before losing to fellow UFC Hall of Fame fighter BJ Penn at UFC 46 in 2004. He would later recapture the title the very same year against pound-for-pound great Georges St Pierre.

Matt Hughes prepares to defend his UFC welterweight title.
Former welterweight champion Matt Hughes.

Holding the belt for a further two years, before succumbing to St Pierre in 2006. Hughes is widely regarded as one of the greatest submission fighters to ever have competed in MMA.

A product of Miletich fighting systems, Hughes blazed the trail for others to follow. And his fights against St Pierre, Carlos Newton and Frank Trigg, one and two. Are amongst some of the most memorable in MMA history.

Today Matt is steadily recovering from an accident where a train hit his vehicle, badly injuring and almost killing the former champion. One of the most beloved figures in the sport, Hughes is yet another fighter who played a huge role in helping grow the UFC we today know.

4: Jeremy Horn – Middleweight

While never a UFC champion, Jeremy Horn is considered one of the very best grapplers to have ever competed. With an astonishing record of 91 – 22, he was one of the most active fighters in the sport from 1996 – 2015.

But it was his striking where Horn would often falter, falling prey to better standup fighters. While his ground game was unquestionable, he was unlucky to be in the same era as UFC legend Chuck Liddell.

And while losing in his quest for the UFC light heavyweight championship. Horn would go on to win multiple titles with other organisations at both middleweight and light heavyweight.

A pioneer in the sport, he may never have reached the top of the UFC mountain. He was still however revered amongst his peers as one of the best submission fighters to have ever competed.

5: BJ Penn – Lightweight

The Prodigy, BJ Penn was one of the earliest superstars in the UFC. Blasting onto the scene, his very first professional MMA fight would be with the Ultimate Fighting Championships at UFC 31.

Quickly making a name for himself, he won his first three fights in the very first round, stopping Carl Uno in eleven seconds at UFC 34. Before losing at UFC 35 to future nemesis Jens Pulver in his first lightweight title bid.

The former two-time UFC champion BJ Penn inside the UFC octagon.
Two-division UFC champion BJ Penn.

The son of Irish-American and Korean-American parents. B.J. would be the first American to win a world title in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A sport where he had earned his blackbelt in a record three years.

Inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame on July 11, 2015. Penn was a true phenom in the sport, with his name often thrown in the mix as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time. Guaranteeing his place amongst the greats. But after a failed attempt to reignite his career, he would officially retire in 2019.

6: Demian Maia – Welterweight

Demian Augusto Maia Baptista is a Brazilian-born BJJ competitor who made the move into MMA in 2001. Maia is in an elite group of submission fighters known to have the best Jiu-jitsu in the sport.

With titles in every world-level BJJ competition of note, his pedigree on the mats is unquestioned. And while he has fallen short in his quest for a UFC championship. Maia has still maintained his rank in the top ten of the division for over a decade.

With two failed attempts at the title, it was again another case of a phenomenal ground fighter falling prey to superior strikers. And while he may not get a third opportunity, Maia will always be remembered as one of the very best submission fighters to have ever competed. Not just at the 170 lb limit, but across all weight divisions in the sport.

7: Royce Gracie – Middleweight

The original Godfather of modern-day Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the UFC. Exploding onto the scene at UFC 1, Royce Gracie was the vehicle that introduced martial art to the wider world.

Winning his first eleven fights via submission in the very first round. He would set the stage for an explosion in the popularity of BJJ. And would be the reason many of the great submission fighters we know today turned to mixed martial arts.

Royce Gracie poses on a beach in Brazil wearing his BJJ Gi.
The original BJJ ambassador Royce Gracie.

His influence on combat sports affected the generations who came after. And his fights with arch-rival Kazushi Sakuraba are amongst the most pivotal in the history of the sport.

Royce Gracie is yet another legend in modern combat sports history who helped pave the way. Not just for fighters, but for mixed martial arts itself. And without him having arrived when he did, who knows where MMA, BJJ and the UFC might be today.

8: Josh Barnett – Heavyweight

The Baby Faced Assasin, Josh Barnett was amongst the very first heavyweight champions in the UFC. A product of the Catch wrestling style, he also holds a black belt in Brazilan Jiu-jitsu. Winning at the World No-Gi championships in 2009.

Barnett would win the UFC title against Randy Couture at UFC 36. But would later be stripped after failing an in-fight drugs test. A pattern that would reoccur throughout his later career calling into question some of his wins.

Nonetheless, the massive heavyweight would compete at the very highest levels across multiple organisations. Reaching several championship finals only just to fall short.

Barnett is still widely regarded as one of the best heavyweight submission fighters in all MMA. And while his chequered history with performance-enhancing drugs has somewhat soiled his record. There’s little doubting his calibre as an elite-level grappler.

9: Fabricio Werdum – Heavyweight

Like a fine wine, the former UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum seemed to get better with age. An elite-level BJJ player, the Brazilian fighter was yet another grappler who made the move to MMA with great success.

Having won gold across the major jiu-jitsu world championships. Werdum was seen as perhaps the most high-level ground fighter to have ever competed at heavyweight in the UFC.

UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum walks to the octagon.
UFC heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum.

But it was his submission victory over MMA legend Emelianenko Fedor at Strikeforce in 2010 which really put him on the map. Then returning to the UFC in 2012, Werdum would go on a five-fight win streak. Before taking the heavyweight title from Cain Velasquez at UFC 188.

The addition of better striking to an already elite-level ground game made Fabricio one of the most well-rounded heavyweights on the planet. And most definitely one of the most accomplished submission fighters to have ever competed.

10: Ronaldo Souza – Middleweight

Since his move from Strikeforce, Jacare has been the Boogeyman of the UFC middleweight division. Feared for his elite-level ground game, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion has not quite reached the same levels of success in the UFC.

Always threatening a run at the 185 lb strap, Souza has just fallen short at the last hurdle. However, it did not stop him from being a constant threat and amongst the most feared submission fighters at middleweight.

A world champion in BJJ from 2001 through to 2009. His prowess on the ground led him to believe he was being passed up for a title shot. However unfounded, his ranking as one of the best middleweights of the past decade is secured.

In Conclusion

Choosing who are the best submission fighters to grace the UFC is not an easy task. Over the years, the sport has progressed in leaps and bounds. Meaning a fighter who was once considered the best at their craft can now be seen as somewhat old hat. Where once their style reigned supreme, in today’s sport it is now simply a cog in the MMA machine.