A Redditer recently posted the graph below showing the number of submissions in the UFC in the last 25 years. The graph shows a steep decline in finishes by submission the late 90’s but also shows that the rate of submissions has maintained at roughly the same rate since the early 2000’s.
These figures are what one would expect if you have followed the sport of the last 20 years. There a number of reasons for the initial decline and the recent steady level of submission victories.
Reason for decline
In the 90’s the UFC was a bit more wild. MMA was still a very young sport and practitioners came from all sorts of backgrounds. Basically, there were more mismatches. While there is still many grappler vs striker matches today, the difference is that today’s striker is nearly always somewhat proficient on the ground. In the early 90’s this was not the case, and explains why there were so many subs.
As the sport has developed, fighters have become more well rounded and know the correct defense when their opponent attacks with submissions.
As MMA fight IQ increased it became more difficult to get submissions. Even a little bit of knowledge on submission defense can be enough to nullify an attack (especially as fighters become sweatier and harder to control as the fight develops).
One part of the puzzle
Submissions will always be a part of the sport and I am sure will they will continue to be part of every fighters training and preparation.
Often the question comes up “whether Jiu-Jitsu is still as relevant today in top level MMA?” People often point to stats like the one above or the lack of pure BJJ champions as a sign of the declining influence of Jiu-Jitsu on MMA as a sport. However this view is a simplified explanation for why Jiu-Jitsu does not dominate like it did in the time of Royce Gracie.
The best fighters in the sport such as Demetrius Johnson, Jon Jones, Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier, Khabib, Dillawshaw, etc all have a strong grappling background and all have submission wins on their record. The fact is that their Jiu-Jitsu game is very strong, as is their wrestling, and all elements of their striking game. To be successful in MMA today you have got to have it all, and Jiu-Jitsu is just one piece of the puzzle. In many ways it is more relevant as ever and you will never reach the top without it.