What makes for a great submission victory?
While acknowledging the criteria for this award is subjective, there should be some sense of hierarchy. Parsing them is difficult, but not impossible and while quibbling with various placements in ranking the best submission victories of 2012 is fine, random order is not. There is, after all, a method to the madness.
I would argue a great submission should be expertly applied, be executed on a ranked and resisting opponent with defensive skills, happen in high-stakes bout, offer up or place exclamation point on moments of high drama, take place anywhere on the fight card and definitively answer the question of who is the better fighter.
There is perhaps another factor that should be weighed into any victory, submission or otherwise: ripple effect. In short: what, if anything, did the win bring about in the victor's career? This criterion isn't exclusive to submission victories. Yet, the winner of this year's submission award has made this form of victory such a trademark that the size of the 'ripple effect' is a direct consequence of the particular nature and frequency of the submission.
Given those considerations, I'm left with little choice but to award Submission of the Year to Ronda Rousey for her armbar victory over Miesha Tate.
Rousey's victory meets all of the aforementioned criteria (subjective, though it may be). While an initial attempt failed in the Tate fight, a second try worked. What was most impressive about it wasn't just the speed of the application, but the pressure game forced on Tate. Rousey was constantly transitioning position getting ever more capable and dangerous with each pass to cross body or mount. The final armbar, in fact, came Russian style (belly down) as Rousey had Tate rolling to her stomach after being mounted.
Tate defended as best should could and even had her moments in the fight where she took Rousey's back. She's proven to be the toughest test so far for the Olympic bronze medalist. But the toughest test nevertheless couldn't resist the inescapable grim reaper that is her finest finishing technique.
The submission itself was gruesome, which always adds a measure of grotesque pleasure. The too-tough-for-her-own-good Tate didn't tap within the normal time frame. That caused ligament damage and left her with an arm that dangled in anatomically impossible ways.
And as expertly or intensely as events unfolded in the Strikeforce cage, what preceded them heightened the entire experience. Rousey and Tate publicly squabbled at every opportunity, flaunted their respective achievements as superior to their foes, nearly came to blows at their weigh-ins and more. In short, they produced an entertaining and believable rivalry. Their clash carried a mostly organic narrative, too. The talented but unproven (and in Tate's mind, self-important and entitled) rising star vs. the proven if overlooked commodity.
It also was the moment that Rousey's ascension was shown to be no fluke. That victory served notice to every other woman in her division and those in close proximity that there was a new sheriff in town.
Perhaps most importantly, this bout was the moment that crystallized the return of women's MMA as main event headliners. Sure, it required Rousey at the helm for that to happen. But the force was so powerful that by the time the year was out, Rousey became the first women's UFC champion in a new UFC women's division.
Did the one armbar cause everything else to happen in a one-to-one relationship? No, but it was the high point for Rousey and mistakable proof there was no denying her ability, attraction and ascension.
1. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate, Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey, Columbus, Mar. 3
2. Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller, UFC on FOX 3, East Rutherford, May 5
In a beating from pillar to post, jiu-jitsu black belt Nate Diaz submitted fellow jiu-jitsu black belt Jim Miller with a power guillotine so tight it appeared as if Miller was on the verge of biting his own tongue off prior to tapping. It was the first time Miller had been stopped or submitted in professional competition. Of all the top submission victories this year, defeating Miller - particularly in the method it was exacted - represents the toughest accolade to earn.
3. Chan Sung Jung vs. Dustin Poirier, UFC on FUEL TV: Jung vs. Poirier, Fairfax, May 15
In what has to be considered the breakout performance in the career of the 'Korean Zombie', Jung and Poirier battered one another (although Jung did far more damage to Poirier than the opposite). The end came as Jung essentially beat Poirier into desperation, ultimately forcing him to quit in a thrilling bout on the campus of George Mason University.
4. Thiago Alves vs. Martin Kampmann, UFC on FX 2, Sydney, Australia, Mar. 3
There are few moments sweeter in sports than the come from behind victory. And that's exactly what Kampmann pulled off against Alves in the last minute of the third round in a bout he was handily losing.
5. Joe Lauzon vs. Jamie Varner, UFC on FOX 4, Los Angeles, Aug. 4
Another sensational back-and-forth battle where both fighters had their opponent badly rocked, hurt and to the edge of a stoppage. Yet, as the old age goes: skills win fights. Lauzon proved he had enough answers for Varner's offense with his nimble and aggressive guard despite a wild back and forth battle that clearly drained both competitors.
Honorable mentions (in chronological order):
Norifumi Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee, UFC 144, Saitama, Japan, Feb. 25
Lloyd Woodard vs. Patricky Freire, Bellator 62, Laredo, Mar. 23
Miesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzie, Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman, San Diego, Aug. 18
Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort, UFC 152, Toronto, Canada, Sept. 22
Demian Maia vs. Rick Story, UFC 153, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct. 13