Sherdog’s 2011 Submission of the Year

Horsepower and technique came together in award-winning fashion for Frank Mir at UFC 140. | Photo: Sherdog

When Frank Mir rematched Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 140, the fact alone that he got his hand raised didn’t shock anybody. After Mir’s December 2008 blowout of Nogueira, in which he became the first fighter in MMA history to stop the battle-hardened Brazilian, Mir deserved his status as a two-to-five favorite.

What nobody was banking on was that Mir’s luggage out of Toronto would include the legendary Nogueira’s right arm, taken violently in the first round, a feat which has earned him Sherdog.com’s 2011 “Submission of the Year.”


Mir had to battle back
from major adversity.
From the fight’s outset, it appeared to be a different sort of bout than their previous encounter. Nogueira pressed forward from the opening bell and got Mir’s back against the cage. It seemed like Nogueira was trying to control Mir and then explode with punches, much in the same fashion that the larger, more powerful Shane Carwin did in his bout with Mir.

Halfway through the first frame, a Nogueira right cross cracked Mir above the ear, temporarily dissolving his legs. It looked like Nogueira was about to seal the deal on one of the most impressive single-year comebacks in MMA history and earn another win that would fortify his legacy as a heavyweight icon. All five of Mir’s career losses had been by similar stoppages, and there was little reason to think he would make any kind of comeback.

Mir hit the mat looking for a desperate takedown. The Brazilian pounded away, nearing a stoppage, but when his former tormentor reached deep for Nogueira’s leg, “Big Nog” countered with an arm-in guillotine.

Mir, with whatever wits he had left, kept his neck safe and stopped Nogueira’s attempt to pass into full mount by gaining half-guard for a moment. When Nogueira tried to change course and roll into an anaconda choke, Mir came through on top, stopped Nogueira from locking his choking arm and cleared out to side-control.

Nogueira tried to show off some defensive wrestling by sitting out from the bottom, potentially escaping to back control. When Nogueira reached through to control Mir’s upper body and take the back, Mir managed to get nearside wrist control on his right arm and stop the advances. At this point, most would have been content with having escaped disaster and tried to stall out. It would have seemed that Mir, a fighter with little experience in escaping in-fight adversity, might be content to be conservative on top after such a brush with blowing it.

Nope. Even with a legendary grappler trying to scale his back, Mir was thinking offense. As soon as the Sin City resident got Nogueira’s wrist and then grabbed his own, he was gearing into fifth. Mir kicked back into side-control and nearly stepped clean over Nogueira’s head with the kimura, which would have ended the bout in mere seconds. Instead, “Minotauro” rolled through, trying to escape. Unfortunately for him, Frank Mir isn’t just a great grappler; he’s a great, 260-pound-plus grappler.

Then it happened, like a subliminal, single-frame message embedded in a TV commercial. It changed, just for a second. Did you see that? What happened? His arm, did you see it? Did it...?

Oh yes, it did. In the moments after the submission, there were questions all over the Air Canada Centre as to whether or not Nogueira’s arm had just been splintered by Mir. That notion seemed strengthened when the Brazilian stayed down, writhing in pain on the mat. However, replay after replay after replay confirmed the gruesome reality. As Joe Rogan did his best impression of Andrew Dice Clay’s emphatic “Oh!” with each rewind, the Torontonian crowd winced and grimaced in unison.

“Mr. Nogueira suffered a complex fracture to his humerus. The fracture began in the middle of the bone and extended to the elbow region,” wrote Dr. Tom R. Hackett, Nogueira’s orthopedic surgeon, on Nogueira’s official website on Dec. 18, following surgery. “Unfortunately, the radial nerve [one of the main nerves lending a feeling of power to the hands] was damaged. Before the operation, he had very little strength in his hand and no strength whatsoever in his thumb.”

Nogueira’s nerve had to be moved away from the broken bone, and his arm was repaired with 16 screws and a plate.

Minotauro didn’t get to enjoy a UFC 140 after-party, spending the night in local hospital after being stretchered out of the Octagon. However, Mir’s post-fight celebrations were not exactly full of extravagant revelry. Instead, a low-key, friends-and-family affair gathered in the Mir suite. Catering, so to speak, was provided by Alexandro’s Take-Out, a tiny gyro shack beside the UFC’s host hotel that serves as the late-night eats for most associated with UFC events in Toronto.


Nogueira couldn't roll out of
Mir's kimura.
The victorious Mir held court over the room of a dozen-and-a-half training partners, friends and family, lying on the floor in sweats with a chalice of Stella Artois, laughing and joking. Pajama-clad children scurried about the room as the former UFC heavyweight champ quietly iced his left temple, attempting to erase the still-lingering impact of Nogueira’s right cross.

As Mir regaled the room, discussing his penchant for sobbing at children’s movies, an iPhone began circulating from hand-to-hand. The UFC’s official Twitter account had posted an X-ray picture of Nogueira’s broken humerus. When the phone made its way to the reclined Mir, he sat up, squinting at the phone quietly for a moment. His gruesome handiwork
seemed to surprise even him.

“That’s the great thing about submissions. You build up your strength and your power in the gym, but it’s like having a lever,” Mir told Sherdog.com later that night. “You want to get the lever in the right spot and use proper technique, and then, when it’s in the right spot, you want to jump up and down on it to get as much force as you can into it. It’s a good combination of both strength and technique, so when I grabbed it and started cranking, it just crushed, like twisting a bag of potato chips.”

It’s a full-body, visceral image Mir that related, one that significantly intensifies subsequent viewings. But the fight’s secondary story was just as important for Mir. His career had been defined by the fact that he had shown an inability to recover from getting hurt, to conquer adversity.

“It showcased a few things people always draw into question, my ability to want to keep on pushing in a fight when it’s going bad. His warm-up and mindset was much better than mine. When I got in there, it was weird. I was looking around. I just did not feel activated, I didn’t feel sharp,” Mir recalled.

That extra oomph, that intriguing little twist, helps cement the status of that kimura as 2011’s finest. Really, 2011’s “Submission of the Year” competition was a two-dog race, with Mir’s kimura on Nogueira sharing lanes with MMA cult hero Chan Sung Jung’s first-in-UFC-history twister submission on Leonard Garcia in March. Side-by-side, a double wristlock seems technically and sensationally inferior to the twister, which back in days of catch-as-catch-can wrestling lore was known as “the guillotine,” and was one of the most treacherous holds any hooker could tie their foe up in. This is where context is so important.


Mir left Toronto with Nogueira's arm.
“The Korean Zombie” deserves all due praise for bringing Eddie Bravo’s signature submission to the Octagon. However, tapping out the questionably-employed Garcia doesn't quite stack up with tapping out MMA’s most celebrated heavyweight submission artist. It’s not that Mir beat Nogueira, just as it wasn’t in their first meeting. What made Mir’s submission special was that in addition to being the first man to knock out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he is now the first man to tap him out in MMA competition, too.

And, while gruesome injury doesn’t necessarily warrant bonus points, there is something poetic about the grisly finish. If there is a defining characteristic of Frank Mir, it is what UFC matchmaker Joe Silva refers to as “when technique meets horsepower.” It’s that jaw-dropping fusion that made Pete Williams scream, Tim Sylvia’s arm snap and Cheick Kongo’s consciousness disappear. Mir’s destroying Nogueira’s arm was a reminder that submissions are not necessarily the pacifist’s route in MMA, but bona fide weapons.

Given the choice between getting knocked out by Mir or joint-locked by the former UFC champion, an ever-increasing amount of MMA folks would likely opt for the former.

“That aspect of being able to devastatingly finish people, that’s something to be fearful of,” Mir said. “Trust me, the guys who got knocked out tonight, they’re at the after-party right now. People that are going to the hospital that are having rods put in their arm and get things casted up? Not so much.”

And that's Frank Mir’s A-game: awful and awesome, in their purest senses, not to mention absolutely award-winning.
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