Who are we kidding? Was there any real doubt? Demetrious Johnson is the undisputed winner of Sherdog.com’s Submission of the Year for 2017.
That’s no slight to the fine jiu-jitsu work on display over the year from some of the best in the world, as 2017 also brought us technical wizardry in the submission department as Brian Ortega displayed brilliance with his modified guillotine and Aleksei Oleinik turned the wrong side of a mount to the UFC’s only Ezekiel choke finish. However, Johnson was able to combine the incredible technique with the highest stakes at the top level.
The lead up to UFC 216 was anything but typical. Of course, the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas was the main story and added a dark cloud around the otherwise upbeat and celebratory fight week. In wake of the Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor boxing match, all eyes were on Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee as they took main event status to challenge for the interim lightweight championship. The fact that Johnson was defending his flyweight crown with a chance to break the all-time record for successful title defenses -- a record he tied with another impressive submission victory earlier in the year -- was barely on the radar outside of the hardcore fanbase. The fight was also rescheduled at the last minute when challenger Ray Borg became ill hours before the original UFC 215 booking. Couple that with the fallout after the failed attempts to put then former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw in against Johnson, and it appeared that the thrill was gone.
Johnson seemed determined to bring that thrill back. As the appropriately titled “Who Gon Stop Me?” by Jay-Z and Kanye West blared over the speakers at the T-Mobile Arena and Mighty Mouse made his walk to the Octagon, most expected the only flyweight champion the promotion has ever known to retain his title. However, Borg could look toward the example of his teammate John Dodson, who pressured Johnson and was able to force his agenda in moments of their first matchup. This formula was replicated by Tim Elliott, who gave the champion trouble in his lone shot at champion status.
To his credit, Borg was game. The challenger did not seem intimidated by the mystic of a dominant crownholder and did his best to seize the moment. As Dodson, Elliott, and 7 other men learned gameplans are much easier to create than they are to execute. As the contest started, Johnson immediately went to work. Inside leg kicks to set up strikes to the body, stance switches and seamless ground transitions were waiting for the Tazmexican Devil.
The pressure and takedown attempts were met with excellent takedown defense, hammerfists, and scrambles against the fence. When Borg was able to complete the takedown, he was rewarded with more punishment as Johnson found ways to continue the attack from multiple positions. Brief moments in, a crucifix led to elbows and half guard set up devastating knees to the body. The first two rounds saw the champion shut down the offense from the challenger.
Going into the third frame, it was clear that Johnson was intent on applying his pressure. No matter where the action took place, he was in complete control. Clinch strikes, including an improbable head kick from a back take, takedowns of his own, and ground-and-pound were on the menu. The next round found more of the same as the uphill battle for Borg continued to get steeper.
The fifth and final round began with the challenger attempting to reclaim the momentum. It was all for naught as Johnson continued his onslaught. Had it continued until the final bell, it would have gone down as a another dominant win by one of the greatest to ever do it; a record-breaking achievement and historic moment for mixed martial arts. We got all of that plus one of the greatest GIFs ever in combat sports. The champion tossed his opponent in the air with a suplex and before his body could touch the ground, an arm was isolated and attacked. Borg struggled for a few moments before finally relenting to the hold.
As to be expected, the crowd went insane while Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier did the same from the commentary booth. With Rogan hypothetically asking his colleagues “Who’s better?” before emphatically proclaiming “nobody!”
One of the few people who didn’t seem surprised by the result was Johnson’s longtime coach Matt Hume. Opting to simply celebrate the historic victory and not revel in the greatness of the method told an interesting story; this sort of mastery was commonplace within the walls of AMC Pankration, which Mighty Mouse calls home. The in-cage interview confirmed this assessment. Johnson admitted to toying with Borg until the finish presented itself. Not only did he make history, he played with his food while he did it.
Not only did Johnson easily win 2017’s Submission of the Year, he has made a compelling case for the greatest catch of all time. Inside the voting discussion to determine this year’s Sherdog awards, there was no debate to be had. Instead, we should have simply sent the king of 125 pounds a shiny trophy to sit on his mantle between his 11th UFC championship belt and his 2017 ESPY for Fighter of Year. As the champ said to Rogan: “I’m in the business of making you look like a fool.” On Oct. 7, business was booming.
Sherdog’s year-end awards were voted upon by a panel of Sherdog.com staff members and contributors: Jordan Breen, Tristen Critchfield, Chris Nelson, Mike Fridley, Brian Knapp, Eric Stinton, Todd Martin, Jordan Colbert, Josh Stillman, Jesse Denis, Edward Carbajal and Anthony Walker.