Not all submissions are made equal – Measuring Submission Strength

All submissions have different strengths and weaknesses but some submission techniques are simply ‘better’ than others. There are some submissions that are so successful and so fundamental to success that no MMA competitor would be without them in their arsenal. There are other submissions that could quite comfortably be omitted from a competitors arsenal without too much impact. But how can we go about trying to quantify the relative strength of a submission technique?

Here are 3 useful measures to classify the strength of a submission:

Complexity – how difficult the submission is to perform under ideal conditions

Risk – how vulnerable the person applying the submission is if the submission fails

Success rate – on average, how often the submission is successful once it’s applied under competitive conditions

A combination of these three measures give us a basic indicator of how ‘good’ a submission is. This is obviously still quite subjective as the measures themselves may change from person to person depending on skill, bio mechanics, body type and a few other factors so this can only really be used as a guide. However, it is still very useful to bring some logic to the process of assessing the merits of a submission.

We can use this process to help decide when certain submissions should be introduced into a submission training regime. If a technique is relatively easy to perform, doesn’t leave you in a vulnerable position if it goes wrong and leads to a tap out a high percentage of the time then we bring it in early. If a submission is complex or difficult to perform, leaves you in a bad position if it’s unsuccessful and only leads to a tap out on a few occasions then it gets introduced at much more senior levels.

Classification of some common submission techniques

Submission Complexity Risk Success Rate
Figure Four Shoulder Lock from Side Control Low Low Medium
Triangle Choke from Guard Medium Medium Medium
Guillotine Choke from Guard Low Medium Medium
Rear Naked Choke from Back Mount Low Low High
Rolling Knee Bar High High Low

If you take the last two techniques on the list you can see the how they represent the opposite ends of the spectrum. The rolling knee bar is difficult, leaves you vulnerable if it goes wrong and has a relatively low percentage success rate compared to other submissions. The rear naked choke however is relatively easy to perform, doesn’t commit you into a poor position and very often leads to success. This means that it would be very wise to learn the rear naked choke (and get highly proficient at it) way before you learn to do a rolling knee bar.

So does this mean we shouldn’t bother with the submissions that populate this end of the spectrum? Absolutely not. despite the fact that around 80% of the submission finishes in all UFC matches can be attributed to one of the top 5 submissions there are still very good reasons to practice the submissions outside of this incredibly effective set.

Sometimes high risk is appropriate

Circumstances and opportunities may vary dramatically during a fight. A submission that may be ill advised at the start of a fight when the opponent is fresh and would have plenty of time and energy left to counter a failed submission might be absolutely the right thing to do when the opponent is fatigued or there are only a few seconds left in the round. If there are no other obvious opportunities to go at in this scenario then why go for something a little crazy our elaborate – entertain the crowd, score some points, show your opponent how much confidence you have and you might even get the submission too!

Less common techniques are likely to surprise opponents

The element of surprise created when you pull out some unorthodox MMA techniques should not be underestimated. There’s a good chance that even though the technique itself is a difficult one to pull off, your opponent may freeze like a rabbit in headlights when faced with something they’ve rarely or never seen in training and you can take advantage of this hesitation / anxiety.

Defences to these submissions may be less honed

Again, if you are forcing your opponent to deal with something that they’ve rarely practised then it stands to reason that they won’t have spent any time learning and perfecting defences for such a technique. If the defence is weak your submission will have a great advantage.

Our approach to our MMA training should involve bringing logic, reason and analysis into techniques and tactics and this measuring process is another tool that can be used to help you understand and simplify the complex world of Mixed Martial Arts. It’s a great way of informing and guiding your submission choices and decisions but it is only a guide.

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