The sport of mixed martial arts has evolved greatly since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event was held more than 26 years ago. No longer about one style versus another, MMA has forced its competitors to cross train in all the various disciplines. Brazilian jiu-jitsu has maintained its place of prominence in the grappling arts, and the submission remains a popular method to end fights.
As we reflect on the last 12 months in MMA, it has once again given us a number of contenders for “Submission of the Year.” A few of the nominees who fell short included gogoplatas from former Bellator MMA champion Brent Primus and Legacy Fighting Alliance standout Andrew Tenneson; Misha Cirkunov’s Peruvian necktie on Jim Crute; Patrick Mix’s Suloev stretch kneebar on Isaiah Chapman; and Ciryl Gane’s heel hook on Don'Tale Mayes. All deserve their fair share of attention, but another reigned supreme: Bryce Mitchell’s twister on Matt Sayles, a submission so rare it has only been successfully executed twice in the UFC.
It went down at UFC on ESPN 7 on Dec. 7 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. Relegated to the prelims, the Mitchell-Sayles fight was not expected to make headlines. Mitchell entered the cage with a perfect 11-0 record, though he failed in his attempt to win Season 27 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” After his stint on the reality series, “Thug Nasty” posted back-to-back victories over Tyler Diamond and Bobby Moffett to kick off his run in the UFC. Sayles, meanwhile, received his callup after winning a fight on Dana White’s Contender Series. He went on to split his first two appearances, losing a decision to Sheymon Moraes in his debut before scoring a third-round submission against Kyle Nelson in his sophomore outing.
Despite being a slight underdog when betting lines closed, Mitchell did not have much trouble with his Alliance MMA-trained adversary. The Arkansas native executed a single-leg takedown inside the first minute, quickly advanced to side control and eventually achieved full mount. After smothering Sayles and landing some punches from top position, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt managed to advance to the back. During the transition, he slid in his right hook. From there, the magic began to unfold. Sayles attempted to scramble, inevitably leading to both men winding up on their backs. With his hook still in, Mitchell grabbed Sayles’ right arm and placed it behind his own head. He then proceeded to grab Sayles’ head with both arms and pull it inward while pushing the captured leg away from the body. The move completely torqued Sayles spine and resulted in excruciating pain. Sayles succumbed to the maneuver 4:20 into the first round.
The submission is so rare—Chan Sung Jung was responsible for the only other twister in UFC competition in March 2011—that color commentator Paul Felder repeatedly said “no way” when Mitchell was moving into position.
“It is something I do in practice a lot,” Mitchell said afterward. “I [have] seen Eddie Bravo do it on YouTube, and I practiced it, practiced it, practiced it. I remember every step that he told me. I even know the Peruvian twister; it is the even tighter version. I really paid attention to that video, so shout out Eddie Bravo. That’s where I got it from. Me and my teammates are always working on it.”