Miesha Tate had quite an eventful 2016.
“Cupcake,” one of the biggest names in women’s MMA, became a UFC world champion, headlined the UFC 200 landmark pay-per-view event, and retired from the sport all in one calendar year. Yet, despite an extremely busy 12 months, Tate’s most memorable moment of the year, and probably of her entire illustrious career, came March 5 in Las Vegas.
That night, Tate was set to challenge bantamweight champion Holly Holm in the co-main event of UFC 196, one of the most anticipated events of the year, as it also hosted a fight between MMA superstar Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz in the headliner. Holm came into the fight undefeated with a perfect record of 10-0 and was a star after shaking the sports world just months before by dethroning longtime queen Ronda Rousey in a dominant performance that ended with a ruthless knockout. Many believed it was the start of a new dynasty in the women’s bantamweight division, as Holm had done the impossible, destroying the most destructive fighter in the division.
Holm entered UFC 196 as a heavy favorite, and Tate as a big underdog. Many wondered how Tate, who built almost her entire career off her strong grappling and submission game, was going to get the bigger Holm down to the mat. This was a fair question, as Rousey had failed to find success grappling against Holm, and she had arguably the most dangerous and effective submission game around. But that didn’t faze Tate.
When referee “Big” John McCarthy signaled the start of the their championship bout, it didn’t take long for Holm to prove why she was the favorite, outclassing Tate on the feet, and shutting down her strongest ability – the ground game. However, in round two, Tate gave her fans a glimmer of hope, scoring a takedown early and controlling the champion for most of the round.
But that gleam seemed to die down for the next two rounds, as Holm defended every takedown attempted and battered Tate on the feet. Round five seemed no different, but with two minutes remaining in the fight, Tate scored a takedown and immediately secured back mount on Holm.
With little time to work with, the challenger quickly sneaked her right arm under Holm’s chin, then grabbed her left bicep while sliding her left arm to the back of the champion’s neck. Tate bit down on her mouth piece, and squeezed the choke with everything she had until Holm was unconscious.
This submission not only established Tate as the UFC women’s bantamweight champion and one of the most decorated female fighters in MMA, but also MMA Fighting’s Submission of the Year winner.
2. Ben Rothwell submits Josh Barnett via gogo choke (UFC on FOX 18, Jan. 30): In second place is Ben Rothwell’s peculiar second-round gogo choke win over Josh Barnett. This victory might not be nearly as dramatic as Tate’s submission win over Holm, but it was certainly impressive. What makes this one of the most remarkable submissions of 2016 is who Rothwell forced to tap. See, Barnett is a catch wrestling specialist who holds 21 submission victories in MMA, and prior to fighting Rothwell, had never tapped out to a submission since starting his fighting career in 1997. This submission is something to admire and one of the most impressive finishes of 2016.
3. Demian Maia submits Carlos Condit via rear-naked choke (UFC on FOX 21, Aug. 27): We all know Demian Maia is a man with magical powers when it comes to grappling, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were to submit anyone in any given weight class. However, over time we’ve failed to properly appreciate his skills, probably as a result of overfamiliarity. At UFC on FOX 21, Maia reminded everyone that he’s the best grappler in MMA. His first-round rear-naked choke win over Carlos Condit was a masterpiece. Maia took down Condit, passed his guard, got his back, and choked out one of the best welterweights in the world within two minutes of the fight beginning. Maia didn’t break a sweat in the fight and made Condit, who has a very advanced ground game, look like an amateur.
4. Nate Diaz submits Conor McGregor via rear-naked choke (UFC 196, March 5): Nate Diaz is probably not surprised his submission win over current UFC lightweight champ Conor McGregor would make MMA Fighting’s top five submissions of the year. This one might not be as impressive as others, since it was well known that Diaz possessed a solid ground game and McGregor’s weakness was in the grappling department — his only two loses prior to fighting Diaz had come via submission. But Diaz’s choke was arguably the most memorable submission of 2016. This strangulation turned Diaz into one of the biggest stars in MMA, it revealed a lot about McGregor’s character, created the most popular rivalry in the sport, and gave everyone a memorable line that still resonates today.
5. Mackenzie Dern submits Montana Stewart via Imanari choke (Legacy FC 61, Oct. 14): Since starting her MMA career in the summer of 2016, it was expected that grappling phenomenon Mackenzie Dern would deliver some high-level submission wins. But her ability to turn her opponent, Montana Stewart, into a human pretzel at Legacy 61 was enough to earn a spot in MMA Fighting’s top submissions of the year. Dern attempted a omoplata lock on Montana, but didn’t finish the fight there, as she would keep the lock with her legs and use her arms to transition and sink in a choke from behind. This is confusing — and cool-looking submission — is called an Imanari choke.
Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2016 Submission of the Year played out:
Alexis Dufresne submits Marloes Coenen via triangle choke
Amanda Nunes submits Miesha Tate via rear-naked choke (UFC 200, July 9)
Gunnar Nelson submits Albert Tumenov via neck crank (UFN 87, May 6)
Michael Chiesa submits Beneil Dariush via rear-naked choke (UFC on FOX 18, April 16)
Sara McMann submits Alexis Davis via arm triangle (TUF 24 Finale, Dec. 3)