Wed 29 December 2021 | 8:30

The best submission grapplers in MMA history

Although knockouts have been always popular, the art of submission grappling remains to be the key to MMA success and still is regarded as one of the most incredible finishing methods in combat sports. So here is a tribute list prepared for The best submission grapplers in MMA history.

Due to the efforts of Royce Gracie, and his family who made the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu go mainstream in the sport of MMA, every MMA fighter on the planet requires to learn grappling in some way.

While wrestling is somehow the single most crucial component of MMA, even if that was not the main style of fighter, they can not ignore it anyway. That is to say,  they inevitably have to learn how to avoid getting taken down and defend when they are on the ground.

Yet not all MMA fighters who have their background in the sports focusing on grappling competition, are good grapplers, in as much as their grappling skills have not been translated very well.

However, although some fighters could grab early success by benefitting from solely their grappling skills, they might fail to continue making their feats at the higher level of competition.

Having these in mind, we would dig deep to find out everything there is to know about The best submission grapplers in MMA history.

But it is notable to suggest that our focus of attention is on specifically submission artists who hunt for locks or chokes, not all brilliant wrestlers.

Thereby the likes of Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagamedov or Henry Cejudo would be excluded from our list of best grapplers of all time.

The best submission grapplers in MMA history

Here we would count down The best submission grapplers in MMA history.

Jake Shields

The American MMA fighter currently competes in the welterweight category of the PFL. While he is also included in our list of

The most overrated UFC fighters of all time

, he was honoured to be the last Rumble on the Rock Welterweight Champion, the only Elite XC Welterweight Champion, a former Shooto Welterweight Champion as well as the former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion.

Moreover, during his span with the UFC, he was provided with the opportunity to challenge Georges St. Pierre for the UFC Welterweight Championship.

He gained popularity for building his MMA career on the basis of a style that is heavily reliant on his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Wrestling skills.

In other words, he has blended the smooth transitions of BJJ with the explosiveness of wrestling to great effect, a style which he calls ’American Jiu-Jitsu,’ and has been carved as a form of a tattoo on his arm.

As a former wrestler, he began training with the Cesar Gracie Fight Team in 2001 so as to increase his BJJ game and became a Cesar Gracie black belt in BJJ.

He has even grabbed a number of medals in grappling before joining MMA, as he achieved a gold medal at the Pan American Championship as well as a bronze medal at the ADCC, beating the well-known Leonardo Santos for 3rd place.

Perhaps that is because he could earn a spot among the best submission grapplers in MMA history as well to the point that 12 of his 33 victories have been via submission, setting the record of one the most submissions in MMA history.

Fighting in two different weight categories of MMA, he has wins over some legends like Hayato Sakurai and Dan Henderson on his way to the Strikeforce middleweight title.

Shinya Aoki

The Japanese MMA fighter, professional wrestler and grappler currently competes in the Welterweight category of ONE Championship's and Rizin Fighting Federation's, as he is considered to be among

The best fighters to never fight in the UFC


With his masterful submission skills, he trained with the top submission artists in Japan and reached top levels in Judo, Jiu-Jitsu and catch wrestling.

That is to say, as an A-class Shoot wrestler, he has black belts in judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, while he has had excellent regional success in grappling competitions too.

Therefore it is of little surprise to see him grab various submission grappling accolades as the likes of two All Japan Jiu-Jitsu Championships, a Japan Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship, a Budo Open Championship, and an ADCC Japan Championship.

With these in mind, as a former DREAM lightweight champion and two-time ONE lightweight champion, he is also the best grappler in MMA history, while he is currently ranked as the #2 fighter in the ONE lightweight rankings.

In his gloriously notorious career, he has proven that with his grappling abilities, he can achieve success at the highest level, when he submitted MMA veteran Eddie Alvarez, who was the number 1 lightweight fighter at the time.

As one of the

best grapplers of all time

, most of his victories has been through submission, while armbars, arm triangles and neck cranks have been some of his favourite attacks.

Rickson Gracie

The Brazilian 9th-degree red belt in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and the MMA fighter, who came from the legendary Gracie family, was even more physically gifted than Royce Gracie, while both of them are considered as

Most influential fighters in MMA history


Being widely known as the best fighter the family had to offer, until now, many in the Jiu-Jitsu community still regard him as one of the best grapplers of all time.

As an MMA legend, Rickson holds the rank of a 9th-degree red belt which is the highest possible grade in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

While all 11 of his 11 fights were submission victories, it is of little surprise to see him being held in higher esteem by some experts than his half-brother Royce.

At the prime heyday of his career, many great grapplers could not get enough of his mastery in Jiu-Jitsu and his world-class grappling skills.

He is also grabbed great recognition and success when he fought for different promotions in Japan. To be specific, while he is famous for his rivalries with several exponents of luta liver, he competed in PRIDE promotion too.

As one of the true icons on the list of

the best submission grapplers in MMA history

, he became an inductee of the Legends of MMA Hall of Fame back in 2014, while his son Kron is now also a UFC fighter.

Kazushi Sakubura

The Japanese professional wrestler, MMA fighter and submission wrestler, who currently signed to Rizin Fighting Federation and Pro Wrestling Noah, has proved the effectiveness of catch wrestling through his success in MMA.

Being also included in our list of

The smartest MMA fighters of all time

, he became very popular when he beat multiple members of the well known Gracie family, earning the nickname of Gracie Hunter or Gracie Killer.

Just his fight against Royce Gracie that lasted for 90 minutes, in which he made the Brazilian unable to continue, speaks volumes about his grappling skills.

As a catch wrestler, he often implemented his double top wrist lock to submit some of the best grapplers of his era while a mixture of his playfulness in competition and unorthodox techniques saw him be considered as the best grappler in MMA history.

He tended to use creative ways to put on show his potential and skills, just, for instance, he passed his rival's open guard is a doing cartwheel passes in addition to simply jumping over their legs and stomping down from above.

Moreover, he exhibited an incredible level of technical grapplings skills such as his popular ability to exercise the kimura grip, not only for submissions but also for positional reversals. 

While his technical skill received the approbation of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mark Kerr, 19 of Sakubura’s 27 victories came via submission so as to lead him to cement his place as one of best grapplers of all time.

Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Being widely recognized with the nickname of Minotauro or Big Nog, the  Brazilian retired MMA fighter competed in the heavyweight category of the UFC, being a former Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion.

While he is included in our list of the

Best MMA fighters in each weight class ever

, he grabbed worldwide recognition when he became the Heavyweight Champion in the Japanese promotion Pride Fighting Championships from November 2001 to March 2003, and he was also a 2004 PRIDE FC Heavyweight Grand Prix Finalist.

As a 5th degree BJJ black belt, he is widely considered as one of the

greatest MMA fighters of all time

, being one of only three men to have held championship titles in both Pride Fighting Championships and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

While he is highly dubbed as a grappler, in the light of the strength of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, he has earned 21 of his 34 victories through submission, setting the record of the most submissions in MMA history.

At the prime heyday of his MMA career, it is to be said that his ground or submission game was tangibly on a different level in comparison to other heavyweight fighters.

While he had a well-rounded set of MMA abilities, that were heavily reliant on outstanding boxing and a competent takedown game, his signature moves of submissions like armbars, triangle chokes and variations of both were some of his favourite exotic techniques.

Moreover, he was particularly known for his tendency to fight from the bottom, as he used an offensive open guard with excellent skill.

Charles Oliveira

The Brazilian professional MMA fighter, currently fights in the Lightweight category of the UFC, being the current reigning UFC Lightweight Champion, who began fighting professionally in 2008, primarily competing in small Brazilian promotions.

With setting several UFC records, most importantly the most submission wins in the organization's history at 14, as well as the most finishes at 17, he has managed to anchor his name to some of the

Best UFC Records of All Time


Many hardcore fans of MMA are of the opinion that Charles Oliveira has never quite lived up to the immense potential he started to show when he burst into the UFC back in 2010.

That is to say, by the time he debuted in the UFC, he had a record of 12-0 in MMA and had already claimed 5 submission victories. Since then, he has submitted 15 different rivals over the course of his more than 10-year UFC career, ranging from 155lbs to 145lbs.

Had you known that as a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he began training in the grappling-based art just when he was 12 years old, and won his first title in the sport as a white belt around just two years later, you would never be surprised to see him get one of the

most submissions in MMA history

under his belt.

While he is the #8 fighter in the UFC men's pound-for-pound rankings as of November 9, 2021, he has mastery in a variety of submissions, utilizing everything from the more common rear-naked choke and guillotine choke to rarer holds like the anaconda choke and the ultra-rare calf slicer.

Ronaldo Souza

The retired Brazilian MMA fighter and submission grappler, despite competing in the UFC, never won a title in the promotion.

Yet, it does not mean that he is not the legend of the game, in as much as he is a highly regarded grappler on the world stage, who also won the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship, and had competed for DREAM, and Jungle Fight too.

The decorated Jiu-Jitsu practitioner was a grappling specialist with elite athleticism and remarkable takedown skills who went on to fully develop his MMA career by training with other great fighters like Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida.

Even when he managed to improve his striking skills, he did not put aside his true martial arts roots and went on to run through his rivals with submission finishes as his main pillar of victory.

With grabbing 14 of his 26 victories through submission, there is no way that Jacare can be left of

the best submission grapplers in MMA history


While the Brazilian submission artist is a 6th dan black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Henrique Machado who has also a black belt in Judo, he is an eight-time World Jiu-Jitsu champion and a former ADCC champion too.

With such great credentials, it is no wonder to see him have insane submission grappling skills, while one of his most influential techniques is the kimura submission.

In the BJJ community, he gained so much popularity when he grappled with Roger Gracie in a match where he rejected to tap to Roger’s armbar attempt so as to continue and win the match via points with a broken arm.

Royce Gracie

The Brazilian semi-retired professional MMA fighter, a UFC Hall of Famer, and a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu practitioner is widely regarded as one of

The Greatest MMA Fighters of All Time


Without his presence, modern MMA by no means would be how it look likes today, in as much as he revolutionised the sport by promoting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and normalizing grappling and ground fighting in MMA, while nowadays wrestling, grappling art, and BJJ are indispensable parts of MMA.

With a grappling background, he earned early success in the UFC as a 3-time tournament winner while he went on to grab 11 of his 15 victories through submission, over opponents who were unable to cope with his slick assaults and transitions.

As a natural 170lber, notwithstanding his massive size disadvantage, he encountered enormous heavyweights in Severn and Kimo and still succeeded to submit them.

That is to say, back in his old days, he fought in a full traditional martial arts uniform as he carefully came closer to his rivals with possessing only basic striking skills and then moved forward to quickly close the distance.

Although some has suggested that he was fighting at a time when just a few warriors were even aware of grappling, there is no denying the influence of Royce Gracie.

His achievements opened up the eyes of many fellow MMA fighters about the significance of having a solid ground game in a real fight.

If he did not revolutionize the sport, perhaps the fighters like Diaz and Oliveira were never able to use flashy submissions to win their fights today.

Hence, he managed to etch his name among the greatest MMA fighters of all time as he still is widely reverred as the

best grappler in MMA history

, even though that his last UFC submission victory was over two decades ago.

Fabricio Werdum

The Brazilian MMA fighter and former UFC Heavyweight Champion has currently signed with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), while he fights in their Heavyweight category.

While he is a four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, a two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Heavyweight Champion and European jiu-jitsu champion who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Judo, and Muay Thai, it is no wonder to see him among the best submission grapplers.

That is to say, with grabbing a number of gold medals with the ADCC and IBJFF for submission grappling, he has a slick ground game with one of the most perilous closed guard games in modern MMA.

Having victories over some of the MMA giants, he taped out even fighters with established submission abilities as well to the point that 11 of his 33 MMA victories have come via submission.

It is notable to suggest that he was Mirko Cro-Cop’s BJJ coach and succeeded to make the rear feat of taping Fedor Emelianenko out so as to hand in Emelianenko, his first and only submission defeat.

Moreover, he submitted Cain Velasquez with a guillotine choke to earn the UFC heavyweight title, while he has also taped out Alistair Overeem with a kimura and arm barred Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira too.

Demian Maia

The Brazilian professional MMA fighter and submission grappler fought under the banner of the UFC in their Welterweight category while he is considered to be among

Top UFC fighters to never win a title

since he conceded two title fights against Anderson Silva and Tyron Woodley in the Middleweight and Welterweight divisions respectively.

Being widely revered as one of the greatest grapplers in MMA history, his style heavily relies on his ability on the ground, whereas he is often known for his single leg takedowns.

While 14 of his 28 victories have come by submission, you might think that he have not earned a high number of submission victories in comparison to others on the list.

But he utterly deserves to take the first spot in our list of

the best submission grapplers in MMA history

in as much as his submission grappling skills is extremely effective with devastating outcomes.

Although Royce Gracie might have introduced BJJ to the UFC, the one who has used it in the most decent way in the best competition is Maia.

Moreover, being known as the “human backpack”, all of his opponents are totally aware that Demian has no real intention of striking and just tends to attempt a takedown to obtain back control and still they would fail to do anything about it.


Read More:

source: SportMob

DISCLAIMER! Sportmob does not claim ownership of any of the pictures posted on this website. Again, we do not host pictures or videos ourselves. Our authors merely link to the rightful owner. Lastly, Sportmob have carefully considered and reviewed all of its content. Despite that, it is possible that some information might be out-dated or incomplete.