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2014 Submission of the Year: Ben Saunders pulls off first omoplata in UFC history

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

It's difficult to choose Submission of the Year. Do you go with the submission finish in a high-stakes matchup? Or, for Brazilian jiu-jitsu purists, do you reward the best technique?

In this particular fight, there was very little on the line. Ben Saunders was making his UFC return. It was Chris Heatherly's debut in the organization. The fight occurred on the prelims of UFC Fight Night: Henderson vs. Dos Anjos, a FOX Sports 1 card that didn't exactly move the needle when it came to ratings.

But how do you not properly recognize history? Until Saunders did it at 2:18 of the first round against Heatherly, no one had ever pulled off an omoplata submission in the UFC.

That's almost hard to believe since omoplata positions are regularly achieved in MMA fights. Usually, though, they are used to sweep, because, frankly, omoplatas are damn difficult to finish. Saunders, not known for his grappling prowess during his first run with the UFC, accomplished that. And it will be appreciated in this space.

How did he do it? With some techniques that surely made his coach and 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu founder Eddie Bravo smile.

Heatherly, a wrestler, quickly got Saunders to the canvas with a takedown, which Saunders didn't seem to mind one bit. "Killer B" recovered full guard and then got to work. Saunders used rubber guard and then transitioned to what those in the 10th Planet system call Crackhead Control, which kept Heatherly's posture down while trapping both arms with his legs. Saunders, in complete control, used some elbows to soften Heatherly up.

Heatherly, wary of an armbar, popped his head and right arm out, sliding to the right. There was just one problem: Saunders still had his left shoulder trapped and the wherewithal to transition. While Heatherly rotated on his knees clockwise, Saunders grabbed Heatherly's hip and went the other way, all while keeping control of Heatherly's left shoulder between his legs.

Saunders kept the right side of his body against Heatherly's hip and his arm around his body to prevent a front roll escape. Listening to Bravo in his corner the entire time, Saunders leaned forward and to the right, cranking forward on Heatherly's arm with his left hand. That puts tremendous pressure on the shoulder, arm and elbow. Heatherly could do nothing but tap.

Saunders had the dexterity, preparation and technique to complete a submission that had never been finished before in the biggest MMA organization in the world. Not bad for a guy who was known for his Muay Thai striking when he was with the UFC from 2007 to 2010.

2. Luke Rockhold def. Tim Boetsch -- UFC 172

The official result of this fight was Rockhold winning by inverted triangle kimura. All that means is Rockhold really could have beaten Boetsch on the ground any which way he desired. Boetsch shot for a double leg in the first round, which Rockhold rather efficiently turned into a rare inverted triangle, locking up Boetsch's left arm. Rockhold probably could have finished Boetsch with a choke from that position, but instead, as Boetsch attempted to get to his feet, Rockhold caught his right arm and torqued a nifty kimura.

Boetsch had nowhere to go -- he had no choice but to tap. It was a clever bit of technical mastery for Rockhold against a hard-nosed, strong wrestler. And perhaps it was even foreshadowing, too, for his slick, one-arm guillotine finish of rival Michael Bisping in November.

3. Pat Curran def. Daniel Straus -- Bellator 112

In basketball, a team can't win if it's down 15 points with a few seconds to go. In baseball, there's no such thing as a seven-run homer to win a game. But in MMA, even if you've gotten beaten up for the better part of five rounds, you can still somehow steal victory from the jaws of defeat. And, in this case, win a championship, too.

Curran submitted Straus with a rear-naked choke at 4:46 of the fifth round on March 14 in Hammond, Ind., to win back the Bellator lightweight title he had lost to Straus last year. Straus had won at least three of the four rounds heading into the fifth and busted up Curran's right eye pretty badly. But "Paddy Mike" found Straus' back in a scramble, got his hooks in and cinched in the choke. Straus couldn't hang on for the final 14 seconds, having to tap instead. It was quite the "Hail Mary" in a situation where the stakes were extremely high.

4. Charles Oliveira def. Hatsu Hioki -- UFC Fight Night 43

What makes Oliveira's submission so impressive is who he did it against. Hioki is an extremely accomplished grappler and the two put on quite the skillful performance on the ground until Oliveira caught him with a modified anaconda choke in the second round. There was nothing overly moving about the stakes of this fight, but in terms of sheer technical precision against a fellow master, this might have been the best submission all year.

Oliveira attempted umpteen submissions leading up to the choke -- from leglocks to guillotines. It actually took Hioki gaining Oliveira's back for him to seize the opportunity heading into the finish. Oliveira escaped an armbar attempt and then defended a takedown by locking in a figure-four anaconda grip, which resembles a d'arce. However, instead of rolling and finishing the submission on his side. Oliveira pulled Hioki into his guard and brought his legs up over Hioki's arms. Hioki was completely trapped and was forced to tap. Beautifully done.

5. Eduardo Dantas def. Anthony Leone -- Bellator 111

To the naked eye, it appears that Dantas just fell into this rear-naked choke submission, like it happened by accident. Not quite. Dantas isn't lucky; he's an opportunist. With Leone looking for a takedown in the second round, Dantas defended by pushing down on Leone's head with his left hand while he tried to spin away. Dantas ended up facing away from Leone with Leone still holding on to the single leg. Leone continued the takedown, trying to get more leverage by standing up while shooting between Dantas' legs.

Instead of getting tripped up, Dantas fell straight back with his leg trapping Leone's left arm. As the Brazilian crashed to the canvas, he grabbed onto Leone's neck with his arms, brought Leone down with him and cinched in a choke. Leone could not defend, not only because it happened so quickly, but because he couldn't get his arm free. Dantas won by submission to retain his Bellator bantamweight title. That's as slick as you're going to get. And to make it more impressive, it came after Leone won the first round and was en route to winning the second with his wrestling.

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