Common UFC Submissions: A Study By Numbers
"Whats the most common submission used in the UFC?" This is a fairly common question thats asked, yet one that seems to be lacking in definative answers. People have their opinions, usually armbar or RNC, and there are sometimes numbers that are cited. Yet I've never seen a card by card breakdown of submission victories, to see which submissions are used and how frequently. So I decided to do it myself.
Here are my results, I'll get into more detail below.
The total submissions from all UFC events, including fight nights and ultimate fighter finales, from 1-99.
A year by year breakdown can be found below.
Numbers posted on Google Docs
Note that this is not the original spreadsheet. I don't currently have a way of sharing a document like that, but this should suffice for now.
I have no special access to UFC data, so I used what was freely available online. I mostly used Wikipedia articles and Sherdog pages for events. For the most part, I simply looked up the given event, copied down the submissions and their types, and moved on.
Originally I had intended to use the Sherdog listings verbatim; that is copy them down however they appeared, and so putting the responsibility on them for having their info be correct. This quickly proved to be a poor choice. Early UFC events in particular are quite the jumble of records. Submissions listed as "Choke", "Armlock" or simply "Submission" are common. Using these would be useless, as they do not actually increase our understanding of which submissions are common. As such I did my own detective work to find out what the submission "really" was. This, however, makes my chart a fundamentally subjective study. If someone else were to count, they'd likely arrive at a different result. These numbers are simply my interpertation, and should not be taken to be definative.
To determine the submission that occured, I generally followed these steps. First I looked up the card on Wikipedia and Sherdog. If these results were normal sounding (armbar, kimura, etc) I copied them down directly. If the results were abmigious (armlock), curious (forearm choke) or otherwise strange then I tried to find a closer look. Usually I would compare Wikipedia with Sherdog. If Sherdog listed a victory as a "Choke" and Wikipedia listed it as "Triangle Choke", then I would take the more specific entry and assume it to be the correct one. If both these sources failed then I would attempt to find a text review online and use the result described in the article. If I had access to the fight itself, I would watch it. If all these avenues failed, I simply copied the result as I found it.
For the sake of this study I favor simplicity. I could easily count a kimura from guard as being different from a kimura from side control. Armbar being different from a flying armbar and so on. So as to not have dozens of different kinds of submissions, I always take more common submission and list it as such. My listing is trying to be as basic and concise as possible.
What is a submision?
For this study, a submission is a commonly known grapplers submission, namely those used in Brazillian JuJitsu. Tapping out due to strikes, injury, fatigue, or frustration are not submissions. Tapping out due to pain is also not a submission. Armbars, Triangles, Heel Hooks are all submissions. I do my best to fit ambigious results into one of these known catagories. Submissions classed as "other" means that I was unable to determine what the submission actually was, or otherwise how to classify it. These include things like "armlocks" "chokes" and "gi chokes". "Assorted" submissions are simply those that are less common than the 6 most used ones.
Examples of methodology:
Keith Hackney vs Joe Son at UFC 4. Sherdog lists the victory as a "Choke". I read a review of the card here: 411mania.com: MMA - History of the UFC: UFC IV - Revenge of the Warriors which said that Son tapped to repeated groin strikes. I trust the reviewer more than Sherdog, so I don't count this as a submission.
edit: its been pointed out by a few people now, and I've seen footage myself on Son tapping to a choke, rather than the ball shots. I've noted the change in my spreadsheet here, but I wont be updating graphs. Good example though of how imperfect my results are.
Tank Abbott vs Steve Jennum at Ultimate Ultimate 95. sherdog lists this as a Neck Crank for Abbot. The review (same site as above) said that Jennum tapped because his neck was pinned against the cage in an uncomfortable position. Not a "real" submission, so not listed here.
Pete Williams vs Frank Mir at UFC 36. Mir gets Williams in a sort of straight armed shoulder lock. The victory is listed as a shoulder lock, and as I have never seen this submission used elsewhere, nor do I know of any commonly known name for it, I list it as a "shoulder locK" which falls into "other".
Anderson Silva vs Travis Lutter at UFC 67. The fight ended with Lutter caught in a triangle, eating elbows to the head, he tapped. Was this a triangle, or TKO victory? Only Lutter himself knew which he tapped to, but since I'm counting submissions here and not TKOs, I counted this as a triangle.
Chris Lytle vs Jason Gilliam at UFC 73. The fight ended with Lytle in a reverse triangle position going for a straight armbar. The triangle looked fairly tight, however the second Lytle locked in the straight armbar, Gilliam tapped. I took this to be an armbar victory.
Problems, Mistakes, etc
There is no way I copied down several hundred numbers manually without making mistakes. I'd encourage people here to look through my spread sheet and see if there are any errors. It will just look like a block of numbers, but if you know for a fact that so-and-so beat whats-his-face by flying gogoplata at UFC 12 and not armbar like I have listed, tell me so I can fix it. Its also possible I made a larger mistake in the spreadsheet-ing, say where the total number of armbars also accidentally counts the number of triangles, or something of that nature. Sorry for the formatting of the spread sheet, I've never done this before so its probably not that user-friendly to someone who didn't write it. Same goes with the inconsistant sizes of the charts; it bugs the hell out of me, but I didn't find a quick way to re-size the elements the same way. The next version will be better now that I've learned from (some of) my mistakes. This took quite a bit longer than expected.