Entering his title fight against Benson Henderson at UFC 164, Anthony Pettis was a lowly blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who had not recorded a submission victory in a little more than three years. He was a man known for his ability to finish an opponent in the most spectacular fashion imaginable. Fans had become accustomed to witnessing his unorthodox style of striking as he threw everything from cartwheel kicks to powerful body shots to headkicks off the cage.
So if one were to predict Pettis’s best chance of securing victory that late August night, it would most certainly have to come in some jaw-dropping fashion.
His opponent, then-champion Benson Henderson, was not only a newly-minted black belt but also had eight submission victories in his MMA career and several medals from competing in grappling tournaments.
While Henderson was never labeled unbeatable, both fans and pundits were in agreement that Pettis submitting a fighter with Henderson’s skills was by far the most unlikely scenario.
But what made this victory even more amazing is the fact that Henderson entered the arena wearing his gi, his new black belt proudly wrapped around his waist and the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu logo emblazoned on his fight shorts. He looked very much the part of a grappling wizard as he entered the octagon and stared across the canvas at Pettis.
Right out of the gate, Henderson quickly secured the clinch and pressed Pettis into the cage while peppering him with knees and kicks to the thigh. In a suffocating manner, Henderson controlled almost the entire first round until Pettis finally broke free and landed several thunderous kicks to Henderson’s body.
But an ill-timed cartwheel landed him on the canvas as Henderson quickly countered and secured the takedown.
With Pettis out of his comfort and into a position in which Henderson has shined, it seemed “Showtime’s” best chances were to simply survive until the end of the round.
But with a quick swing of the hips, Pettis locked on a picture-perfect armbar and twisted his opponent’s arm with full force. Henderson tried in vain to defend the submission, but in the end he was forced to verbally submit as both arms were trapped against Pettis’ body.
Pettis leapt to his feet as the Milwaukee crowd erupted around him. Basking in the glow of his new belt, Pettis raised his hands in triumph in front of his hometown crowd as Henderson gingerly held his injured arm.
This first-round submission victory wasn’t anything special in terms of flash, it was whom he submitted and the platform he chose to display his skills that make this victory deserving of my 2013 Submission of the Year.
Honorable Mention: Ronda Rousey armbar over Liz Carmouche, Josh Burkman guillotine over Jon Fitch, Kenny Robertson’s Ham Ripper over Brock Jardine, Rose Namajunas flying arm bar over Kathina Catron