1. BRYCE MITCHELL vs. MATT SAYLES, UFC on ESPN 7
The Twister is among the meanest submissions in MMA, so it’s only fitting that a man dubbed “Thug Nasty” is now only the second person to ever successfully pull one off in the UFC.
In the past year and a half, Bryce Mitchell has announced himself as one of the best young prospects in the UFC. Coming off of The Ultimate Fighter 27, the Arkansas native has impressed with wins over Tyler Diamond and Bobby Moffett but his bout against Matt Sayles at UFC Washington was supposed to be a big step up in competition for the young grappler. Instead, Mitchell turned in his best performance to date and gave the MMA world something they’ll be talking about for years to come: a bonafide Twister.
Mitchell came out of the gate and barnstormed Sayles from the jump, taking his opponent down quickly and dominating Sayles on the floor. Mitchell moved seamlessly between full mount and three-quarter mount, wearing on Sayles and looking for opportunities to take the back. On a number of occasions, Sayles gave up his back only to turtle and prevent Mitchell from inserting his hooks. Mitchell didn’t force the issue though, flowing through every transition with Sayles and waiting for his moment. Then, it finally came.
After Sayles gave up his back, Mitchell was finally able to lock in a body triangle. Sayles began twisting in it immediately and Mitchell bailed, rolling through and taking full mount. Sayles again rolled and was once again in turtle position but this time, Mitchell shot his far hook through instead of his nearside one, trying to drag Sayles over with him. Sayles rolled and defended but in so doing, left his torso exposed. Mitchell grabbed Sayles’s right arm for control, locked up Sayles’s left leg with both of his own and then pulled Sayles’s arm behind his own head and grabbed the neck crank on Sayles’s now pretzel-like form. It was all so unexpected that commentator Paul Felder began shouting “No way! No way!” as Mitchell cinched the submission up.
And of course, it shouldn’t be expected since the Twister is the rarest submission in MMA. Popularized by Eddie Bravo (who no doubt got a kick out of Mitchell’s Twister coming at 4:20 of the first round) in BJJ competition, there has only ever been one other Twister in UFC history, when Chan Sung Jung submitted Leonard Garcia with one almost nine years ago. That Twister won Submission of the Year in 2011 and so it’s fitting that Mitchell’s Twister follows in those illustrious footsteps.
Maybe now he can finally get those camo Reebok shorts he’s been asking for all this time.
2. DEMIAN MAIA vs. BEN ASKREN, UFC SINGAPORE
Heading into UFC Singapore, the talk centered around this fight potentially being the greatest grappling match in MMA history. After all, both Ben Askren and Demian Maia are world-class grapplers by pedigree and have proven over their storied in-cage careers that they are among the very best MMA grapplers as well. But when the matchup finally happened, what we saw was that one man was obviously superior in the ground fighting arts.
At first, the two grappling wizards engaged in a mostly standup affair; Maia recognized that attempting to take down the former Olympic wrestler was likely a fool’s errand and Askren was wary of Maia’s guard. With good reason it turned out because the few times Askren did shoot for takedowns, he was immediately threatened by sweep and submission attempts from Maia. In the second round, Askren was swept, resulting in Maia taking full mount and hammering Askren from the top. Askren managed to escape but at that point it seemed clear grappling with Maia was going to end in disaster for the former two-time D-I wrestling champion.
That disaster came in the third round when Askren went for a trip takedown on Maia that ended with Maia attacking a leg and then sweeping Askren, who turned and gave up his back. Giving up one’s back to Maia is an invitation to get submitted, and Maia obliged, locking in a rear-naked choke shortly after.
In the aftermath, Askren retired from MMA. Meanwhile, at 42 years old, Demian Maia is still going strong and, for at least a brief moment in 2019, reminded everyone why jiu-jitsu was the dominant form of martial arts for much of the UFC’s development.
3. BRENT PRIMUS vs. TIM WILDE, BELLATOR BIRMINGHAM
The last few years have been a roller coaster for Brent Primus.
In 2017, the then-unbeaten prospect improbably knocked off Michael Chandler via a controversial injury stoppage to claim the Bellator lightweight title. 18 months later, Primus and Chandler rematched, with Chandler dominating Primus. For some fighters, that could’ve been the end of it - a guy who caught the right breaks and held the belt for a short period. But instead, in 2019 Primus rebounded with the most exciting showing of his career, a gogoplata submission of Englishman Tim Wilde in Wilde’s own backyard.
The fight didn’t last long and showed just how dangerous of a grappler Primus can be. Wilde came out strong, dropping Primus with a hook and diving into the former champion’s guard. That proved a fatal error though as Primus quickly recovered and almost immediately began ensnaring Wilde’s right arm with his left leg. By the time Wilde recognized what was happening, it was too late - Primus slid his shin across Wilde’s neck and started pulling the head down. Wilde did his best to fight off the submission but eventually Primus was able to get his other leg involved and scoot his hips back, forcing the tap from Wilde at just 1:20 of the first round.
4. MISHA CIRKUNOV VS. JIMMY CRUTE, UFC VANCOUVER
Long regarded as a strong grappler, Cirkunov took control of the fight early, taking Crute down and dominating position with heavy pressure. The younger Crute eventually exploded out of bottom mount though, reversing the position and landing some good shots. What followed next was a torrid pace of positional exchanges, with Crute overextending, Cirkunov reversing position, and Crute exploding back to dominant position yet again.
Eventually, Crute started landing good shots in transition and it looked like the young prospect might get a first-round TKO, but just as things were at their most dire, Cirkunov swept Crute one more time and then latched onto the Peruvian necktie from turtle position, handing the previously unbeaten Australian his first loss.
For the hardcore MMA fan, Masakazu Imanari is a legend. Having gained notoriety as one of the premier leglock specialists in the game, Imanari’s favorite move, a standing roll into a heel hook, was affectionately dubbed “The Imanari Roll” and in fact, the 43-year-old grappling wizard used it to great effect earlier last year, submitting Kwon Won Il at ONE Championship early in 2019. It was his 17th leglock submission in his storied career, but at Bellator 225, Aviv Gozali did something even the great leglocking master himself never could: lock up a heel hook in just 11 seconds.
The 2-0 Israeli prospect looked like vintage Imanari when facing Eduard Muravitskiy, charging across the cage and leaping into an Imanari roll that tripped up the much more experienced fighter. With Muravitskiy down and his legs entangled, Gozali quickly worked his arms into a heel hook position and cranked, securing the fastest submission in Bellator history.
Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2019 Submission of the Year played out.
- Jack Hermansson def. David Branch - March 30, UFC on ESPN 2
- Paul Craig def. Kennedy Nzechukwu - March 30, UFC on ESPN 2
- Patchy Mix def. Ricky Bandejas - June 14, Bellator 222
- Ben Askren def. Robbie Lawler - March 2, UFC 235
- Charles Oliveira def. David Teymur - Feb. 2, Fortaleza
- Cory Sandhagen def. Mario Bautista - Jan. 19, UFC Brooklyn
- Alexander Shlemenko def. David Branch - Dec. 14, RCC 7
- Kanaki Murata def. Liana Pirosin - June 7, Invicta FC 35
- Marlon Moraes def. Raphael Assuncao - Feb. 2, UFC Fortaleza
- Rafael dos Anjos def. Kevin Lee - May 18, UFC Rochester
- Ovince Saint Preux def. Michal Oleksiejczuk - Sept. 28, UFC Copenhagen
- Anthony Smith def. Alexander Gustafsson - June 1, UFC Stockholm
- Kiril Gorobets def. Gasan Azizov - March 2, WWFC 14
- Mads Burnell def. Dean Trueman - June 29, Cage Warriors 106
- Makwan Amirkhani def. Chris Fishgold - June 1, UFC Stockholm
- Patchy Mix def. Isaiah Chapman - Oct. 26, Bellator 232
- Khabib Nurmagomedov def. Dustin Poirier - Sept. 7, UFC 242