2018 is nearly done, and jiu-jitsu’s competitive circuit is officially over for the year. Continuing a tradition started 4 years ago (find previous rankings of 2015, 2016, 2017), BJJ Heroes turns back to the past 12 months to discern who are the top submission artists in our sport. Competitors who have successfully placed the submission as the mission, ahead of or at least in parallel with their podium objectives in this sport’s international competitive circuit.
The rules of this little exercise are simple: Every black belt athlete who achieved victory in a minimum of 10 grappling matches at a professional/high-level event was counted. This means a tournament/GP/super fight promotion with talent depth similar to an IBJJF adult black belt style tournament. Please note that EBI overtime style submissions were not accounted as subs for this exercise as these are obtained outside the flow of the match, starting from pre-set advantageous positions.
A quick assessment of this list and you will find a few find very interesting trends. The most relevant here would be that out of this top 10, only Josh Hinger and Tex Johnson are above the 30-year-old mark. This had also been observed in our 2017 ranking, where Hinger had been the only Masters eligible competitor on the list. Another interesting fact encompassing this Atos representative is that himself and Gordon Ryan are the only two athletes who’ve consistently been on this ranking since 2016.
Full list below.
#10 CRAIG JONES [AUS] 64% sub. Rate
Last year’s number one submission artist faced some scary competition this year. Rousimar Palhares, Matheus Diniz, Keenan Cornelius and many more went head to head against the Aussie star, and although Jones came out on top by decision, this did affect his overall submission ratio.
Sub-rate aside, Jones had an outstanding year by anyone’s account, continuing to cement his claim as one of submission grappling’s finest athletes.
#9 RUDSON MATEUS [BRA] 66% sub. Rate
Closed guard master and arm collector, Rudson Mateus is today one of Caio Terra’s most impressive representatives.
In 2018 Rudson had more armbars from closed guard than any other black belt on the international circuit. We wait with great anticipation to see how the medium heavyweight division deals with the unsolvable puzzle that is Mateus guard, next year.
#8 ESPEN MATHIESEN [NOR] 67% sub. Rate
Norway is once again represented on this list after Mathiesen’s teammate Tommy Langaker made the cut last year.
Espen is without a doubt one of BJJ Heroes’ favorite guard players to watch, a style often studied by lovers of the bottom game – including ourselves. Mathiesen’s creativity shined through in 2018, and so did his submission hunting game, being so far one of Europe’s biggest hopes for a 2019 IBJJF World title.
#7 BRANDON WALENSKY [USA] 70% sub. Rate
One of Clark Gracie’s most distinguished black belts and truly a submission hunter, Walensky is known for his gung-ho approach to BJJ regardless of who he faces. This characteristic of his game has earned him spots in plenty of submission-only and EBI rules based tournaments throughout the years.
#7 TEX JOHNSON [USA] 70% sub. Rate
A powerful guard player and former professional MMA fighter, Aaron ‘Tex’ Johnson shocked plenty of our sport’s followers with his performance at the ADCC trials earlier this year, where he dominated his opponents with lightning-quick submissions. For those who have been following Johnson’s career, this may have not been such a surprise.
Among Tex’s 14 submission victims this year we can count illustrious names such as Tanner Rice, Jackson Sousa, Satoshi Ishii, Inacio Neto and more.
#6 KEENAN CORNELIUS [USA] 71% sub. Rate
Although regarded as a veteran of the game, Cornelius is still in his mid-twenties and likely has the best years ahead of him. A scary thought to those in the heavy and super-heavyweight divisions for sure.
Among Cornelius’s countless refreshing takes on old maneuvers and tactics, we can probably say (for the moment) that his biggest contribution to the sport has been his creative lapel game, something we now see spreading across to many other top-end athletes, including the Miyao brothers and Marcio André – to name a few. None of those, however, has been able to combine the lapel game with an outstanding submission ratio, and this is where Keenan has remained on a league of his own.
#5 FELLIPE ANDREW [BRA] 71.5% sub. Rate
The footlock master of the gi, and a triangle machine, Andrew arrived on the black belt division a year ago and has already made a name for himself as one of the quickest and sharpest guard players in the game.
#4 DANTE LEON [CAN] 78.5% sub. Rate
An outstanding young grappler, Dante is widely regarded as one of Canada’s finest BJJ imports and a valuable member of GF Team. Willing to test his skill under any ruleset, during 2018 alone Leon competed in IBJJF, sub-only, UAEJJF, Kasai, UAEJJF, Gi, No-Gi, etc. you name it, he did it. An important attribute to see in an athlete who still has a few years to go before reaching peak physical maturity.
A top player who can play guard like the best in the business and has a ferocious back take, we expect to see Dante as a repeat offender on these “Top Finishers” rankings for years to come.
#4 JOSH HINGER [USA] 78.5% sub. Rate
What can we say of Hinger that hasn’t been said? The man defies all odds, and in a game that is being ruled by the younger generations, Hinger continues to impose a forward moving, accurate and submission oriented style both with the gi and without it.
We hope to see Hinger’s unique approach to BJJ on the mats for many years to come, but regardless of how long that may be, Josh will forever be remembered as one of the most entertaining grapplers to ever grace our sport.
#3 GORDON RYAN [USA] 81% sub. Rate
King Ryan continues his reign of submissions, being the only athlete included on the list of best finishers in the game since reaching his black belt status (2016). Gordon started 2018 with the wrong foot, losing in an uneventful match to Vinny Magalhães, but bounced back during the last 6 months of the year to dominate the IBJJF No-Gi circuit, conquering the Pan and World titles in both his weight class and the absolute.
Unable to use his heel hook game under the IBJJF ruleset (and Quintet), Gordon showcased yet another impressive area of expertise, the back control, from which he applied the RNC in droves, his most common submission throughout the year.
#2 ALEXANDRE VIEIRA [BRA] 90% sub. Rate
Arguably the two most impressive athletes on this list were Alexandre Vieira and #1 ranked Meregali. Both battled for best submission player until the very end as Vieira had a perfect record coming into the 2nd half of the year. The final match at the IBJJF Brazilian No-Gi Nationals gave him the only “blemish” on his 2018 record, a victory over the tremendously tough Tiago Barros by referee decision was his only win of the year that didn’t end with a tap.
#1 NICHOLAS MEREGALI [BRA] 100% sub. Rate
Known for his lasso guard, Meregali made the choke from the back his favored weapon when going for the submission, and interestingly the majority of those was conquered while playing from a top position. Meregali is also the first competitor to win this Top Finishers ranking with a 100% submission win ratio.