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Revisiting the Best UFC Submissions of 2021 – How Did Nunes Pull Hers Off?

| December 27, 2021 1:05 pm PDT

We’ve covered the top UFC knockouts of 2021. So it’s only fair to get the best submissions in the UFC of the year in the books, too.

I’ve mentioned it a few times over the past few weeks, but what a year this has been for the promotion. From some incredible matchups to major shocks, the quality and spectatorship over the last twelve months have been up there with anything I have seen before.

One of the key ingredients to the promotion’s success has been the submission artists on the roster. With that in mind, here are the best submissions in the UFC in 2021.

Khamzat Chimaev vs. Li Jingliang

  • Event: UFC 267
  • Date: October 10
  • Division: Welterweight

Khamzat Chimaev proved his doubters wrong with a superb finish of Jingliang to take him to a perfect 10-0 in the MMA. 

This was one of the best UFC submissions of 2021, hands down. Having pretty much owned every second of their bout at UFC 267, “Borz” pushed for the finish at the end of Round 1, much to the delight of fans.

The unbeaten sensation was a steady favorite to get the job done but faced a worthy opponent in Li. The Korean was one win away from cracking the top ten and pushing himself into contender status, but would ultimately be dominated by one of the promotion’s hottest properties.

Chimaev blasted through Li and had him where he wanted to at the midway point of the opening round. He dropped a succession of hits on his downed opponent before locking in for the rear-naked choke to earn his second sub in four fights.

One of the best submissions of 2021 in the UFC, and one that “Borz” will undoubtedly be proud of.

Julian Marquez vs. Maki Pitolo

  • Event: UFC 258
  • Date: February 23
  • Division: Middleweight

Julian Marquez could have found himself on this list of the top UFC submissions of 2021 more than once. 

From two fights in 2021, “The Cuban Missile Crisis” bagged himself two submission wins. The victory over Maki Pitolo, however, was the more impressive of the two. 

Pitolo shook off over 30 months of inactivity in that fight at UFC 258 in February. Having scored just the one previous career win via submission, he would end the year with three. That was some achievement, especially with the extensive layoff. 

Doubts over the potential effects of cage rust on Pitolo’s performance began to subside early in Round 1. Marquez began to land at will on Pitolo to find an opening for a submission. His opponent survived the onslaught, almost encouraging his man to expend as much energy as possible. 

Pitolo was aiming to get the better of his man on the mat, but Marquez avoided the danger and got himself back into a more dominant position.

The fight was developing into a power struggle before Marquez took the reins once more. Having blasted Pitolo with some powerful strikes against the cage, he took his man down and locked in for the anaconda choke with less than a minute left of the fight.

Islam Makhachev vs. Drew Dober

  • Event: UFC 259
  • Date: March 6
  • Division: Lightweight

When rating the top submissions of 2021 in the UFC, it’s hard to look past Islam Makhachev’s impressive finish of Drew Dober. 

The impressive Russian started the bout as he meant to go on, taking the American to the mat after just one minute of the fight. From there, he worked his way through the phases, finding himself inside control with one minute plus change left in the opening stanza.

Final Stats for Makhachev vs. Dober
Fighter Significant Strikes Total Strikes Takedowns Sub Attempts Control Time
Islam Makhachev 15 of 25 102 of 119 3 of 4 2 9:26
Drew Dober 10 of 20 14 of 24 0 of 0 0 0:12

Makhachev went for the cheeky armbar only to have the horn sound for the end of the first round. He laid out his cards, however, and made it clear that he would be looking to get the fight done and dusted inside the distance. 

In Round 2, Makhachev brought things up a notch with another imperial display of grappling. He took Dober back down to the mat, overwhelming the Nebraskan, much to the admiration of onlookers. He finished the round on top, but still had work to do. 

It was clear that Makhachev was en route to yet another victory. A decision win looked the most likely scenario until the Russian dropped his man before finding that elusive arm-triangle with the clock stopped at 1:37 of Round 3.

Vicente Luque vs. Michael Chiesa

  • Event: UFC 265
  • Date: August 7
  • Division: Welterweight

Before 2021, the average fan would have described Vicente Luque as a powerful hitter that likes to keep things on the feet.

As we approach a new year, Luque earns the first of two spots on this list of the best UFC submissions of the year in 2021. Now, that’s some doing, especially with the level of quality and competition. Bravo, Vicente. 

Luque’s submission of Michael Chiesa was simply incredible. Unexpected? Sure. But technically, it was sublime and worth the entrance fee or pay-per-view alone.

The list of the top UFC submissions of 2021 is not in any particular order. If it was, I would have probably put it above his other D’Arce choke finish of the year. 

More on that later.

Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson

  • Event: UFC 259
  • Date: March 6
  • Division: Bantamweight

The greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all time got off to a flying start in the year, landing one of the best submissions of 2021 against Australia’s Megan Anderson.

Anderson was hoping to pull off the upset in the women’s featherweight title scrap at UFC 259. Unfortunately, Nunes was on form.

A belter of a right-hand landed flush on Anderson, allowing the Brazilian to take things to the ground. From here, the champ worked her way into a clamping armbar which left the contender with no choice but to tap.

Nunes maintained her spot at the top of the 2021 rankings for UFC fighters at women’s featherweight. Unfortunately, it would be the better result from her two fights this year. 

Back in November, I rated all fighters on the women’s roster. That was before Nunes fought Julianna Pena for the bantamweight strap in December, of course.

Feel free to check that piece out, below.

Top UFC Fighter Rankings for 2021 – Rating the Best Women in Every Division

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Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos

  • Event: UFC Vegas 44
  • Date: December 4
  • Division: Lightweight

If we’re talking about 2021’s best UFC submissions, Clay Guida is in the conversation. 

The veteran lightweight pulled off a phenomenal finish against Leonardo Santos at a time when it appeared that the fight was getting away from him. As indicated by the last gasp win for “The Carpenter,” there is still life in the old dog yet.

More impressively for Guida was the fact that Santos was a 4th degree BJJ blackbelt that had never been submitted inside the cage. The oddsmakers on the best apps for betting on MMA fights were certainly not expecting this result, and no one in their right minds would have put a sizeable wager on the result. 

With all things considered, this has to be up there with one of the least expected submissions in UFC history.

The fight started with Guida on the backfoot having absorbed a series of blistering shots from the Brazilian. At one point, it looked as though the fan-favorite would be stopped, but he got back to his feet and started to prey on a tired Santos.

Guida continued to chip away at his man, who was now desperately trying to keep a grip on the fight. A slam took him down to the mat, with The Carpenter now fully confident of working through the 41-year-old’s guard with heavy shots. 

The first round was an absolute dogfight. Round 2, however, was firmly one-sided with Guida taking the blackbelt to the floor and butchering him before pulling one of the top of submissions of 2021 out of the bag. 

Vicente Luque vs. Tyron Woodley

  • Event: UFC 260
  • Date: March 27
  • Division: Welterweight

As promised, we revisit another top-drawer finish from Luque that makes my list of the UFC’s leading submissions of 2021.

Woodley, the former welterweight champion, promised to do something special in what would end up being his last fight in the promotion. He stuck to his promise to let his hands go and started the fight off against the rampaging KO artist with a statement of intent.

Having wobbled Luque with a strong right hand, the tables turned quickly in favor of the Brazilian who successfully head-hunted “The Chosen One.” Rather than try to recover, Woodley hit back but would eventually find himself deep into a D’Arce choke that forced a tap in the first round. 

It was an impressive finish for Luque but the end of the former champion’s career in MMA. Woodley recently suffered a knockout at the hands of Jake Paul, which doesn’t bode well for any further aspirations in the fight game. 

You can read more about that stoppage, and the rest of the top boxing KOs of 2021, below.

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Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo

  • Event: UFC 263
  • Date: June 12
  • Division: Flyweight

Following their draw in December 2020, fans were keen to see how the rematch between Figueiredo and Moreno would go. 

Although the oddsmakers favored Figueiredo on the night, it was Moreno that would come through with the victory. The title contender came into the bout with the confidence to take it to many pundits’ 2020 fighter of the year and pulled it off in style.

The emotional response to the victory showed just how much it meant to “The Assassin Baby.” The former LFA flyweight king completed the crowning achievement of his career to date, but the work doesn’t stop there.

Moreno vs. Figueiredo 3 is set to go down at UFC 270 in January. It promises to be one of the best fights of the year, so make sure not to let it pass you. 

Bookmark our UFC betting blog to stay on top of things.

Andre Muniz vs. Jacare Souza

  • Event: UFC 262
  • Date: May 15
  • Division: Middleweight

One of the top UFC submissions of 2021 could also be counted among the most gnarly finishes of any fight in recent memory.

When Muniz took on “Jacare” Souza, fans were expecting a grappling masterclass. The former is a renowned submission artist while Jacare is one of the most decorated BJJ guys in MMA history.

When Muniz snapped his man’s arm with an armbar in the first round, it left many of us feeling as though we had bitten off more than we could chew.

All respect to Souza, of course, but Muniz’s stock shot right up after the win. According to the man himself, he had expected that one of the pair would go out on their sword.

“Since I know him very well, I knew that it had to go like this. If I had a choke or a submission, he was going to go unconscious, or I would have to break his arm.

I forced the armbar, and I didn’t think his arm was going to break, but it happened. I wish him the best, and I hope he comes back fast. Best wishes to him in his recovery.”

Muniz went on to finish the year with another submission win. Although his victory over Eryk Anders was impressive, 2021 will be remembered for the sub over Jacare. 

Here’s the finish in all its, erm, glory.

Anthony Hernandez vs. Rodolfo Vieira

  • Event: UFC 258
  • Date: February 13
  • Division: Middleweight

It was one and done for Anthony Hernandez this year. But what a win it was.

Hernandez’s incredible rear-naked choke is up there with the very best of the UFC’s top submissions of 2021. Not only did it rival any other sub on this list for the technical nous involved but it was who the finish came against that makes it so special.

Rodolfo Vieira was unbeaten in MMA before this fight. But that’s not even the most impressive part of this tale. You see, Vieira is one of the most decorated BJJ specialists to have ever stepped foot inside the Octagon. 

Just look at some of his achievements. 

Year World Cup World Championship Pan Americans
2011 Gold Medal – 94kg Gold Medal – 94kg Gold Medal – 94kg
Gold Medal – Absolute Gold Medal – Absolute Gold Medal – Absolute
2012 Gold Medal – 94kg Gold Medal – Absolute
2013 Gold Medal – 94kg Gold Medal – 94kg
Silver Medal – Absolute Silver Medal – Absolute
2014 Gold Medal – 100kg Gold Medal – 100kg
Silver Medal – Absolute Silver Medal – Absolute

These are just scratching the surface when it comes to just how good Vieira is on the mat. So, when he was submitted by BJJ purple belt, Hernandez, you can understand that there were quite a few eyebrows raised. 

Looking back at the top UFC submissions of 2021, it’s difficult not to put this one up there as the best of them all. 

Bonus – Julianna Pena vs. Amanda Nunes

  • Event: UFC 269
  • Date: December 11
  • Division: Women’s Bantamweight

While hardly the crowning sub of the year, how could any list of the best submissions in the UFC in 2021 be complete without a mention of this one?

Julianna Pena shook up the world with her victory over Amanda Nunes at UFC 269, coming in at odds as high as +1000 with UFC betting sites to get the win.


Top Submissions in the UFC in 2021 – Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that 2021 had it all. Including an array of quality submissions.

Given the absolute quality at my disposal, I purposefully rejected the idea of ranking these finishes. It would be disrespectful to do so, as every single one of them deserves better than that.

Will the best UFC submissions of 2021 be rivaled by next year’s great tap-outs? We’ll have to wait and see.

While I’m enjoying the task of looking back at one of the greatest years the UFC has enjoyed, it’s tough not to play around with a few predictions for 2022. One of the most interesting games of them all is to see whether I can accurately nail who will be the champion of every division by the close of next year. 

You can read all about those, below.

Predicting Every UFC Champion at the End of 2022 – Can Nunes Regain Her Title?

Who will be the UFC champion in every weight class in 2022? That’s as tough a question to wrap your head around as any. Mixed martial arts is such a volatile sport, with even the best of the best prone to having their greatness negated by one well-timed...

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Adam Haynes

Adam is a sports writer and tipster with a strong background in MMA, boxing, and combat sports.

When Adam isn't writing about those, as well as politics, rugby, and Gaelic Games, he can be found working on methods and strategies to beat the bookies.

For his troubles, Adam is a fan of Leinster Rugby, Glasgow Celtic, and trusting the process.

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