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Submission of the Year 2015: Ronda Rousey armbars Cat Zingano

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In 2013, this site named Anthony Pettis' armbar from the guard over Ben Henderson as its choice for Submission of the Year. The criteria used to name it as such is as follows:

There are five elements that are most notable: the creativity of the submission; the ability to pull it off in a high-stakes, high-pressure situation; the lethality of the particular submission; the quality of the opponent on which the submission is being applied and the point in the fight or match when the submission is secured.

In other words, the beauty or complexity of a submission is worth acknowledging, but any submission cannot be divorced from the circumstances in which it was applied. As was the case with Pettis, an armbar from the guard is deceptively simple and more importantly, using it to win a world title tells us all we need to know about the finishing maneuver, anyway.

With these criteria in mind, we are left with no other choice but to name Ronda Rousey's 14-second armbar victory over Cat Zingano at UFC 184 as the 2015 Submission of the Year. In every measurable way, Rousey's finish of Zingano qualifies as the clear winner.

First, the creativity. The juji gatame finish is something judo newaza players do not get enough credit for in terms of their mastery of the submission itself. Even more than the majority of jiu-jitsu players, judokas have entries, set-ups and more with an armbar such that there is an entire catalog of assorted attacks from positions many jiu-jitsu players haven't even seen. Rousey is a testament not merely to the breadth of treatment some judoka give this submission, but her mastery of its depth. As she later explained after the fight, Rousey had never even tried this submission variation used on Zingano in any previous fights. She attempted it in an impromptu manner, simply using her existing knowledge of what to do in the larger space to creatively form a solution in real time. For it to be so lethal so quickly is evidence of just how technically sophisticated Rousey inside the juji gatame universe.

Second, as with Pettis in 2013, Rousey was able to score this armbar victory in the main event of a UFC pay-per-view event with a UFC title on the line. Pettis' victory enabled him to assume the role of champion whereas Rousey was maintaining position. That distinction, while worth noting, in no way undercuts Rousey's achievement. She demonstrated greatness on the greatest possible stage up to that point in her career. For her to so flawlessly dispatch opposition in that context signals just how absurdly great her success was in this moment.

Third, the particular lethality of Rousey's armbar matters. There are a number of finer points to its application, but suffice to say, Rousey stuffing the wrist of Zingango behind her armpit, attaching Zingano's arm to her own hips and extending meant Rousey was starting from a position of Zingano's arm being hyperextended while she used the force of her hips and back to create confined pressure. It is a devastating variety of the armbar, one that is technically difficult to achieve without the element of speed or surprise. Fortunately for Rousey, she had both in addition to overall technical mastery. Add in the athletic cartwheel that allowed Rousey to hop to Zingano's back and snatch the arm in the first place and we are in peerless territory in terms of this year's award.

Fourth, the armbar victory by Rousey over Zingano matters given Zingano's strengths. Up until the Rousey fight, Zingano had not only never been submitted, she'd never lost at all. While Zingano lacks the elite grappling background Rousey possessed prior to entering MMA, it was not as if the ground was Zingano's unique Achilles heel. She was widely considered a competent operator on the canvas. Zingano had talent, but relative to Rousey, as it turned, not nearly enough.

Last, but certainly not least, the bout ended in a mere 14 seconds. There is a merit to how Demetrious Johnson retained his title against Kyoji Horiguchi, pushing at the very last instant of a five-round UFC title bout. The lack of willingness to ride out a decision that was all but official makes Johnson's performance praiseworthy, but it simply cannot match the kind of finishing ferocity Rousey can pack into the space of an Instagram video. Johnson's submission win proves faster doesn't necessarily equate to better, but the effortlessness with with Rousey dispatched Zingano cannot be matched with the other candidates this year.

2. Fabricio Werdum submits Cain Velasquez via guillotine choke, UFC 188

In retrospect, there were a number of red flags about Velasquez's return to competition. For starters, the fight with Werdum took place at high altitude in Mexico City. While the Brazilian took the time to have an extended stay in country to acclimatize, Velasquez essentially did not. Worse, Velasquez had been away from the game nearly two years battling a series of unending injuries.

In the interim, Werdum had began to put together a quietly impressive resume. He submitted Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, thrashed Travis Browne, and knocked out Mark Hunt to become interim champion. Against Velasquez, he didn't miss a beat. The AKA product didn't help his cause with his time away from the sport or by not taking the altitude challenge seriously, but one wonders if it would have mattered. Velasquez suffered at the end of Werdum's jab and was nullified in the clinch. By the time Velasquez sought to change the phase of the game, he did so by playing directly to Werdum's submission strengths. The Brazilian snatched an arm-in guillotine at 2:13 of the third round as Velasquez pushed for a double leg takedown, handing the Mexican-American only his second loss and first defeat by way of physical surrender. The victory said a number of things about both competitors, but more so for Werdum, as it pushed him into the debate about whether he belongs in consideration for the greatest heavyweight fighter in the history of mixed martial arts.

3. Demetrious Johnson armbars Kyoji Horiguchi, UFC 186

The battle between the flyweights was back and forth to an extent and certainly slow in terms of meaningful offense landed. As time wore on, however, Johnson's elite skill began to shine through. He was better able to secure the takedown, land at range and generally apply pressure in such a manner that by round five, the Japanese challenger could only respond to Johnson's offense. As the fifth and final frame was nearing an end, Horiguchi's stalwart defense and iron will was beginning to be compromised. Johnson had assumed dominant position on the ground while Horiguchi was hanging on just long enough to earn a moral victory by having gone the distance. It wasn't to be, however, as Johnson whipped around Horigchi's body, securing an arm and applying the submission successfully enough to defend his title with one second remaining in the bout.

4. Benson Henderson submits Brandon Thatch via rear naked choke, UFC Fight Night 60

The former lightweight king was in a tough position. He'd lost two in a row at 155 pounds, meaning if he was ever to get another title shot, it'd be quite some time, if ever. Still, he hadn't lost badly. He was also a big lightweight. Perhaps most importantly, he was an opportunist at a time when the UFC needed a replacement at welterweight for a fight card being battered with injuries. Henderson decided to take a short-notice fight at welterweight against the surging Thatch both to prove his own skill and because in the UFC, your most recent performance is often the most impactful.

Henderson wasn't just taking on another welterweight, but a giant one for the weight class. Despite the former lightweight champ clearly struggling with that size differential early, he was eventually able to wear down, take down and out position the larger man, snatching a finishing choke from the back at 3:58 of the fourth round as Thatch tried to sit up. The win instantly reinvigorated Henderson's career.

5. Joao Zeferino submits both Brian Foster and Jorge Patino, WSOF 26

A heel hook in and of itself is worth acknowledging, but not special per se. Two heel hooks in the same night, however, is something to behold if for no other reason than the opportunity to score as many does not exist with the decline of one-night tournaments in the sport. Both Foster and Patino - two long-time veterans and accomplished grapplers - knew Zeferino was the submission ace. Both knew he'd want the fight on the ground. While it's true Foster would go on to win the tournament and beat Zeferino in a rematch as a late replacement, it was the Brazilian who had all the success early, stopping both of his opponents with the same submission each of which in the first round.

Honorable mention: