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5 of the most skilled grapplers in the UFC today

UFC 262: Charles Oliveira v Michael Chandler
UFC 262: Charles Oliveira v Michael Chandler
Chaitanya Inamdar

Given that fighting in the UFC requires a substantial amount of knowledge in the art of grappling, the top MMA promotion houses some of the most skillful grapplers in the world.

Fighters in the UFC need to have a balanced knowledge of striking and grappling to win their fights.

However, some fighters in the UFC have a lop-sided knowledge of grappling. And yet, these fighters have constantly used it successfully in their fights.

While making honorable mentions of Jim Miller, Chan Sung Jung and Beneil Dariush, here are five of the most skilled grapplers in the UFC:

5) Ryan Hall (UFC featherweight)

The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs Team Fabre Finale winner Ryan Hall holds a 3rd-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The fighter hailing from Falls Church, Virginia, has victories in the World Jiu-jitsu Championships, the ADCC Submission Fighting World Championships, and several Grapplers Quest Championships.

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Hall has appeared in several grappling-related instructional videos.

Hall is also known for being in a viral video where he used his grappling skills to defend himself against a larger and aggressive man who provoked him while dining with his friends at a Pizza Parlor.

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Although Hall became part of the UFC in 2015, he has had just four fights in the top MMA promotion, of which he has won all. However, he only has one submission victory. Hall has not fought in the UFC since his last fight against Darren Elkins in 2019.

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It could be said that Hall is one of the most feared grapplers in the UFC. In an interview conducted by Ariel Helwani for ESPN MMA in February last year, the journalist asked Hall why he was not on any of the then-recent fight cards, to which Hall responded:

"Its (sic) been a little bit of a struggle to find an opponent, I've been directly turned down or been told that they're(ranked fighters) unavailable from 12 all the way down to 6, I guess that would be Burgos, Aldo, Emmett, Stephens, (*inaudible*), Frankie, Cattar, pretty much everyone down to Korean Zombie or Yair Rodriguez has been unavailable. So its been a little tough to find an opponent."

Hall finally got a fight at the upcoming UFC 264 against Ilia Topuria.

4) Nate Diaz (UFC welterweight)

Known particularly for handing Conor McGregor his first submission loss in the UFC, Nate Diaz is a 2nd-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Diaz was the winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 5. The Stockton, California native is also known for standing fourth on the list of most submission wins in the UFC (9).

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Although Diaz has a background in BJJ, it is rare to see him taking fights to the ground. But in those rare cases, he almost always finishes with a submission attempt.

Diaz was recently challenged by his successor on this list, Demian Maia. The Brazilian wanted his last opponent to represent BJJ in the UFC like himself, and Nate Diaz is a perfect choice.

3) Tony Ferguson (UFC lightweight)

Winner of The Ultimate Fighter season 13, 'El Cucuy' is the only fighter on this list who is an accomplished wrestler. Apart from having a grappling background in wrestling, Tony Ferguson is also a black belt in the controversial off-shoot of BJJ called 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu.

Eddie Bravo founded 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu with a focus on training without the traditional gi. Thus, making it one of the first jiu-jitsu schools focused entirely on its use in MMA. Ferguson is one of Bravo's top students.

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Due to his background in 10th Planet Jiu-jitsu, Ferguson's approach to grappling is naturally more creative than most other grapplers. He prefers to use a lot of rolls and tumbles when the fight goes to the ground. This opens horizons to the grappling aspect of his fights that many of his opponents struggle to prepare for.

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Another notable thing about Ferguson is that he just refuses to tap out when held in submission locks. In his last two fights, he found himself on the receiving end of the armbar and ankle lock submissions by Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush, respectively. 'El Cucuy' did not tap on either occasion, even though he was held in both locks for a substantial amount of time.

Ferguson has successfully used his grappling skills by winning eight fights in his professional MMA career by submission. Hence, it is not surprising that several fight experts touted 'El Cucuy' as the only fighter in the UFC who could out-grapple and defeat the legendary, undefeated, and former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

2) Demian Maia (UFC welterweight)

Demian Maia is a UFC veteran who holds the record for second-most submission wins in the UFC at 11 and the second-most number of wins in the UFC by an active fighter at 22.

Maia is a 5th-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His more frequent and meticulous use of his grappling skills makes him one of the most feared grapplers in the UFC. While he does not have an outstanding stand-up game compared to other UFC fighters, the lack of it is more than made up for by his expertise on the ground.

Most of his submission wins in the UFC have come by way of a rear-naked choke. Maia is extremely good at passing guard from top position and almost always gets a rear-naked chokehold of his opponents as they eventually give away their backs to avoid his ground-and-pound.

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On occasions when Maia is in the bottom position during a scramble, it's safe to assume it's because he wants to be there. The Brazilian wants his opponents to think that they are getting the better of him. However, Maia's proficiency in sweeps allows him to assume a dominant position right after luring his opponents into half-guard. If at all he is faced with the rare instance of his opponents forcing him to stay at the bottom, Maia pulls off triangle chokes successfully.

1) Charles Oliveira (UFC lightweight)

Charles 'Do Bronx' Oliveira is the only fighter on this list who is in the prime age of his career. And yet, he holds the record for the highest number of submission wins in UFC history at 14, along with the record for the most finishes in UFC history at 17. His submission victories have come by way of various chokes, joint locks, and a rare compression lock called the calf slicer.

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Oliveira's proficiency in grappling is on display, starting right from stand-up. He holds a high guard in his stance that prevents opponents from securing underhooks on him in the clinch. Although that leaves room for his opponents to use his legs to take him down, he does not mind it since he almost always ends up reversing the move.

In cases where he is forced to stay on his back, he loves to threaten his opponents with an armbar or a triangle choke. Regardless of whether they're successful, it slows down his opponents' offense on the ground.

Unlike most guard fighters, he is likely to be more successful when attempting submission holds from a back position when he is close to the fence. Oliveira uses the cage to maneuver his way into a submission hold. 'Do Bronx' also uses overhooks from a back position to set up sweeps that allow him to gain the dominant position in a scramble.

If his opponents successfully pass his guard, he makes his way to another guard or goes back to the feet.

Although Oliveira is a 3rd-degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his wrestling skills are something to behold. He has an incredible sense of timing when it comes to landing takedowns. Unlike many wrestlers, he has landed his takedowns in the center instead of pushing his opponents against the fence. He also has snap-downs and hip throws in his takedown arsenal.

Oliveira makes opportunistic use of ground-and-pound as part of a setup towards submissions. When his opponents make triangle chokes and armbar attempts on him when he's on top, his knowledge of setups allows him to shove the attempts off.

Charles Oliveira is undoubtedly the best grappler in the UFC today.

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Edited by Utathya Ghosh

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