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Submission of the Half-Year: Josh Burkman does the impossible

Photo via WSOF

Is there a submission that's occurred in 2013 that caused more of a stir, provoked outrage and debate while also inspiring awe more than Josh Burkman's demolition of former top UFC welterweight contender Jon Fitch at WSOF 3?

The answer to that, of course, is no. There also isn't even a close second. Burkman's win is incredible in almost every conceivable way a submission victory can be:

- It was an upset. Look at the odds before the fight. Sure, there was some intrigue about whether Burkman really was having a career resurgence. A few people publicly backed his chances. The vast majority of folks did not. This was all the proof a fighter can muster that virtually everyone was wrong about him.

- He did something no one else had done before. Prior to that fateful evening, Fitch had never been submitted in the UFC, much less rendered unconscious by anything other than a strike. That's an impressive feat in and of itself. When you doubly consider world champion jiu-jitsu black belts like Demian Maia and Roan Carneiro were men who tried and failed, it becomes almost inconceivable Burkman could do what he did.

- The win provoked debate within the MMA community. This was largely a consequence of UFC President taking issue with the refereeing by Steve Mazzagatti in the bout, but the nature Burkman's win and how he released the choke are all part of the narrative.

- It was ruthless. Normally if someone is sitting to guard for a submission in MMA, there's a bit of desperation. Not this time. Burkman's grip on and around Fitch's neck was painful to simply look at. More to the point, the barbarism and efficiency he employed to end the bout was shocking to the point of almost having to suspend disbelief. The best submissions are often thought to be technical masterpieces and, generally speaking, that's true. But it can also be the case that a simple submission applied quickly and with extreme prejudice can be even better.

- It proved Burkman truly is having a resurgence. Very few fighters take time away from the spotlight and actually get better, but Burkman has done precisely that. His career in the UFC was basically unremarkable, but Burkman made use of his time outside of the Octagon to hone his craft under a more mature professional outlook. The win over Gerald Harris was nice. Beating Aaron Simpson raised a few eyebrows. Crushing Jon Fitch leaves no doubt in anyone's mind. Josh Burkman is the real deal.

- It was a moment of conquest. After putting Fitch to sleep, rolling him over and releasing the choke, Burkman stood above his unconscious opponent, stared menacingly into the crowd and raised his arm in the most alpha of all possible reactions to a moment that was as much revenge as it was reintroduction.

2. Kenny Robertson vs. Brock Jardine, UFC 157

The stakes of the bout were not particularly high. The fighters are talented, but not particularly famous. This was a bout destined to be all but forgotten and card filler were it not for the ingenious application of a stretch. Robertson, a decorated collegiate wrestler, realized somewhere along the way in wrestling that extending his opponents leg straight from a back ride was an extraordinarily painful tool he could use. By the time he made it to MMA, it become a full-on way to submit opposition.

From Jardine's back, Robertson extended Jardine's left leg. None the wiser to what was happening and mostly preoccupied with getting Robertson off of his back, Jardine didn't seem to fight it off. But like a frog in a pot of water unaware that he needs to hop out before the water comes to a full boil, Jardine was in too deep. Robertson fully extended Jardine's leg, forcing the submission.

Few in the audience understood what that was at the time. No one had ever seen it used in the Octagon before. But it was wicked and effective. It was also in keeping with the tradition of creativity makes submissions so entertaining and an essential component of MMA fighting.

3. Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche, UFC 157

Ronda Rousey was in trouble. After Carmouche used the cage to reverse Rousey's scarf hold, she then took the champion's back in transition. There Rousey was, the first women's fight in the UFC. The poster woman for the entire effort in front of huge press and fan turnout. She was facing a foe many believed to be badly outmatched and yet, Carmouche was on her back badly cranking Rousey's face to the side.

But that's why she's the champ. Rousey patiently waited to remove Carmouche's hook while accepting the pain of the face crank. She was able to dump Carmouche off to the side and on the ground quickly move to mount. Carmouche did her best to hang on with tight armbar defense, but Rousey is nowhere more in her element than in the juji gatame attack.

It all turned out to be a thrilling event that elevated the stock of both fighters while making Rousey as much human as superhero.

4. Michael Chandler vs. Rick Hawn, Bellator 85

Fewer fights in Bellator have produced greater interest from casual MMA fans than this did heading into the organization's Spike TV debut. Chandler had captured the attention of the MMA fanbase with his sensational victory over Eddie Alvarez that made him the Bellator lightweight champion. Hawn had also turned a few heads with the story of his Olympic judo pedigree and season 6 lightweight tournament victories. For a number-two organization in MMA, this was easily one of the better fights they were capable of producing.

A close battle between a tough but unrefined champion and surging contender with dramatic punching power and grappling skill was expected. What it turned out to be was ultimately a one-sided shellacking by the champion who proved his game was losing its impurities. Chandler easily took Hawn to the canvas and almost effortlessly transitioned to back where he locked in a rear naked choke so tight, it snatched Hawn off of his base as he grimaced in extreme agony.

In some ways, the fight was a bit of a let down given expectations of competitiveness. Yet, it was also a reminder that Michael Chandler was not just better than all of his Bellator peers, but that he had fully arrived as a fighter.

5. Michelle Waterson vs. Jessica Penne, Invicta FC 5

Few thought Waterson had any chance. Sure, up until the third round, the bout was reasonably competitive. But this was Penne she was facing. This was the atomweight champion and a champion who was putting people away, not coasting to decisions.

Which makes the third round beating so important. Despite holding her own for two rounds, things took a turn for the worse in the third frame. Waterson had more than met her match in the grappling department and under the sustained pressure of Penne's attack, was forced to give up her back several times. From there, Penne scored with hard elbows and punches. Even when Waterson was able to move with her back to the ground, Penne was working from knee on belly and side control. Penne also locked up what appeared to be a fight-ending armbar. Waterson miraculously escaped, but she was being dominated and it looked like the end for the struggling contender was imminent.

And yet, Waterson surprised everyone - including Penne - by using Penne's own attacks and aggression against her. Penne was back to controlling the tempo of the fight when she tried to grab a single leg takedown. In transition while defending the takedown, Waterson was able to turn her hips perpendicular while grabbing an arm. Sitting quickly to guard, she hoisted her hips and secured a quick armbar out of nowhere on the champion who seemed as much in disbelief as everyone else.

It was a testament not only to Waterson's grit and determination, but the power a submission has to alter the course of a bout and help anyone find a port in the storm.

Honorable mentions:

Fabricio Werdum def. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, UFC on FUEL TV 10
Jeremy Kimball def. Chidi Njokuani, RFA 7
Rose Namajunas def. Kathina Catron, Invicta FC 5
Urijah Faber def. Ivan Menjivar, UFC 157
Shinichi Kojima def. Rey Docyogen, ONE FC 9

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