Ten Greatest MMA Upsets of All-Time
It has been a long time since I have made a post on this blog. I thought I would return with a topic that sports fans in general can connect with: underdogs. Every sport has teams or athletes that are so good that they are expected to win. Whether it is the New York Yankees or the LA Lakers, fans at times become bored of watching the same people win time after time. But every once in great time, there comes an opponent that is expected to lose only to shock the entire world and beat their "superior" counterpart. Mixed Martial Arts is a sport that thrives on the underdog story. As this list will prove, even the greatest fighters of all time can have a bad night or simply have an opponent that has yet to prove their self worthy. My criteria for this list is not only a shocking win, but a win that was either extremely dominate or a finish that is so shocking, nobody could have seen it coming.
Rameau Sokoudjou vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Rameau Sokoudjou was only three fights into his career and making his Pride FC debut when he fought Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Lil Nog). Nogueira had proven himself a viable asset to the company with notable wins over Sakuraba, Nakamura (x2), Alistair Overeem (x2), and Dan Henderson. He had also recently been in one of the most exciting fights in the promotion's history against Mauricio Rua. It was very clear on paper who would win considering Nogueira's experience, wins over notable competition, and the fact that he was a Brazilian national boxing champion. It only took Sokoudjou 23 seconds to prove everyone in the world wrong. The reason this only receives an honorable mention is the fact that despite this win and Sokoudjou's next win (a knockout of another Pride star Ricardo Arona), the African failed to gain anymore big wins throughout his career, showing that his biggest win was simple luck.
Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen I
Ahh the upset that almost was. Anderson Silva was undefeated in his first 11 UFC fights (7 of them title fights) and seemed completely unstoppable. He had dominated every opponent convincingly up until his fight against Sonnen. The level of intensity going into the fight was high due to Sonnen's impeccable trash-talking and threats to shock the world.
And shock the world he did.
Not only was Sonnen beating Silva, but he was dominating the champion. It seemed that there would finally be a new Middleweight champion for the first time in nearly four years. Had it not been for Silva's extreme heart and jiu-jitsu skills, Sonnen would have succeeded. As history goes however, this was not the case. Silva threw a hail-mary triangle choke and finished the would-be champion. The fight, in this fan's mind, is the best example of the unpredictability that MMA brings to its fans. Had Sonnen won the fight, this would have easily been the number one pick.
Ryo Chonan vs. Anderson Silva
Where Chael Sonnen failed, Ryo Chonan succeeded years before. Before Silva fought and dominated in the UFC, he fought for various organizations, including Pride. Silva was showing some of the dominance that he would later show in the UFC in the Japanese organization. He knocked out former UFC champion Carlos Newton with a flying knee and beat journeyman Jeremy Horn by a hard fought decision. Silva picked Chonan apart for most of the fight. Chonan, who had not been in the fight at all, went for a flying scissor heel hook, a move that very few have actually succeeded in. He caught Silva by surprise and submitted him. Like Sokoudjou, Chonan missed the list due to his lack of other big wins and the fact that Silva was still young into his career when the submission occurred, indicating that Chonan got lucky.
10. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Bob Sapp
This entry is not to imply that Nogueira is a lesser fighter. The man is an absolute legend and was even the Pride Heavyweight champion going into his fight against Sapp. The thing that made him an underdog was the pure size and strength of his opponent. Sapp, although only a couple of fights into his career, ran through the competition with his gigantic 350 pound frame. Compared to Nogueira's 235 pound frame, it seemed that the Brazilian did not have a chance. Only seven seconds into the fight, it seemed that everyone's fears for the champion were confirmed.
Nogueira was spiked onto his head by the behemoth and seemed as though he could have been dead. Past the first seven seconds did not seem much better for the decorated champion. Sapp used his size advantage to control the champion. However, never one to be out of a fight, Nogueira fought his way back from adversity and eventually locked in an armbar, submitting the Goliath to his David. This fight continues to show that even when faced with adversity, the smaller underdog can always prevail.
9. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia
This fits into the same category as the latter entry. Randy Couture is a legend of the sport, being the only person to hold the UFC Light-Heavyweight and Heavyweight championship. After a hard streak in the Light-Heavyweight division that involved him being knocked out twice by Chuck Liddell, Couture retired from the sport for over a year. However, he decided to return to the sport and return to the weight class that initially made him famous: the Heavyweight division. He was given an immediate title shot against the 6'8" Tim Sylvia. We as fans obviously view Sylvia as a joke by today's terms but Sylvia was the UFC champion, on a six fight win streak, and had beaten notable names such as Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson. Combine this with the fact that Couture was a natural Light-Heavyweight, had not competed at Heavyweight in nearly five years, and the fact that he was going into the fight at the age of 43, it seemed as though it would be a bad day for the Hall of Fame fighter.
Then Couture threw the first punch, dropping the champion.
It seemed as though Couture got lucky and knocked the champion out, but Sylvia refused to be finished. Instead, Couture showed that it was more than luck that had him drop the champion. He used his immaculate skill set to control Sylvia in the stand-up and controlled him on the ground. At no point was the massive champion in the fight. Couture showed that age is simply a number and won the UFC Heavyweight championship at the age of 43, making him the oldest champion to date. Not only did he win the championship, which he would defend before losing it to the ultra-massive Brock Lesnar, Couture went on to have some of the best fights of his career when he was even older, showing that it is never too late to get a second chance.
8. Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn I
Although the fight had a controversial decision, with many feeling that Penn slightly edged out the challenger, the level that Edgar pushed the champion was something that nobody saw coming. Penn received an immediate rematch to quiet the skeptics, only to be met with an unquestionable decision with for Edgar. While we today realize the talent that Edgar has, his heart truly showed when facing arguably the greatest Lightweight champion of all time.
7. Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko Cro Cop
Right leg hospital, left leg cemetery. That is the story of Mirko Cro Cop. The Pride legend was arguably the biggest asset when the Japanese organization merged with the UFC roster, considering he had recently won their Open-weight Grand Prix and beat three different former UFC champions while with the organization (Kevin Randleman, Mark Coleman, and Josh Barnett a total of three times). His devastating head-kicks dominated the likes of Igor Vovchanchyn, Alexander Emelianenko, and the ultra-tough Wanderlei Silva. Cro Cop dominated Eddie Sanchez in his initial UFC fight, showing that he was a viable asset to the company. His fight against Gonzaga would yield the next challenger for the UFC Heavyweight title. Experts and fans saw Gonzaga as a sacrifice for Cro Cop to receive his highly anticipated title fight against Randy Couture. Gonzaga, who was primarily a Jiu-Jitsu fighter, had only fought one big name before when he was knocked out by Fabricio Werdum. There was almost guaranteed to be a vicious knockout. And there was.
The fight started out tentatively, with both fighters picking their shots carefully. When Cro Cop went for a high kick, Gonzaga took advantage and took him down. On the ground, Gonzaga surprised people by beating the Croatian down with elbows. The referee eventually stood them up, a huge disadvantage for Gonzaga in the eyes of the fans. Then, with nine seconds left in the first round, Gonzaga threw a head kick, one that will be burned in the minds of fans for years to come. Gonzaga Cro Cop'ed Cro Cop. The knockout was so brutal that Cro Cop's foot twisted under his leg. Not only did nobody see Gonzaga winning the fight in any form, nobody could have possibly seen him take out the kickboxer with his own signature move. Gonzaga went on to fight for the title, for which he was unsuccessful, and fought some other bigger names. Because of the Cro Cop fight, he was catapulted into a whole different level in the Heavyweight division. Cro Cop never again achieved the momentum he had going into this fight. It seemed that this underdog destroyed Cro Cop's psyche.
6. Forrest Griffin vs. Shogun Rua I
This is almost the same story as the previous entry. Shogun destroyed all the competition that he faced in Pride, only losing to Mark Coleman because of an injury he suffered during a takedown. In his reign, he dispatched of Rampage Jackson, Alistair Overeem (x2), and Ricardo Arona, all by knockout. He also had a fight of the year against Lil Nog. His knockout of Arona earned him the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix title. A rematch against Jackson seemed to be in Shogun's future. The only thing in his path was Forrest Griffin. Griffin was a fan favorite that was famous for winning The Ultimate Fighter against Stephan Bonnar in a fight that most consider to be the greatest fight of all time. Besides this and two losses to higher level competition (Tito Ortiz and Keith Jardine), Griffin had no experience that could compare to Shogun's accomplishments. According to Dana White, he actually received messages from fans asking why they would put Griffin against Shogun.
Griffin shocked the world not just by getting lucky with a knockout or submission (as some people thought Gonzaga had against Cro Cop) but rather by genuinely beating the Brazilian over the course of the entire fight. With only 30 seconds left in the fight, Griffin had Rua controlled on the ground and could have easily waited the clock out to earn a decision win. Instead, Griffin showed extreme heart by sinking in a rear-naked choke and submitting Rua with only 15 seconds left in the fight. Griffin earned his title fight and, in another upset, beat Jackson to become the champion. This fight shows that even a fighter who most people count out right away can make a career with enough heart.
5. Rafael dos Anjos vs Anthony Pettis
This one is still very recent but I think it will leave a lasting impression on the fans. Critics believed that Pettis was well on his way to being the best Lightweight champion of all time. He had won the championship by being the first person in the UFC to finish Benson Henderson and being the first person ever to finish Gilbert Melendez. He is also the only person to finish Donald Cerrone, delivering a body kick that floored the notoriously tough kickboxer. I even had my doubts about the legitimacy of Pettis, but after his finish of Melendez, he had me convinced. Dos Anjos' UFC career has had high points and low points. The man who was previously finished by Clay Guida and Jeremy Stephens was riding a wave of success. He had beaten fellow Lightweight contender Donald Cerrone (although not convincingly), knocked out Benson Henderson (in a somewhat controversial referee call), and had only been beaten by Russian superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov. Dos Anjos went into his fight against Pettis with a dominate win over Nate Diaz. Having been the underdog in four in his past five fights, it seemed that dos Anjos would be going in as a sacrifice to a man Dana White called the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
When I heard about the fight, I was very sure that Pettis would win. He had superior striking to the Brazilian and had a slight edge in submissions, having submitted two people who are notoriously difficult to submit. I wanted dos Anjos to win and succeed his career comeback, but it did not seem possible. The variable I did not consider was pressure. Pettis' lone UFC loss was to Clay Guida, a man known for pressuring fighters with a barrage of of strikes and takedowns. As soon as the fight against dos Anjos started, it was clear that it would not be an easy night for Pettis, as many people predicted. The Brazilian challenger pressured the champion in every way possible. He controlled the stand-up. He dominated the champion on the ground. He looked for submissions. I remember texting my friend during the 5th round and told him Pettis' only way to win would be to pull an Anderson Silva and finish dos Anjos in the 5th. The champion could not muster the Brazilian's heart and by the end of the night, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that there was a new champion. This fight holds a special place in my heart. Everyone loves an underdog story, with many simply being fighters who have yet to prove themselves, but this one was different. Dos Anjos had attempted to prove himself throughout his career and had previously failed. He had lost his first two UFC fights, a streak that could send other fighters to different organizations. But he stuck with his career and improved himself with every fight. Sure, it is great to see a fighter finally prove their self worthy early in their career, but seeing a career make a massive comeback is a heart-warming experience.
4. Fabricio Werdum vs Fedor Emelianenko
If you are not familiar with Fedor Emelianenko, then I am not sure why you are reading this blog. Fedor is a legend in the sport of MMA, having accomplished things that other fighters could only dream about. Some of these accomplishments include winning the Pride Heavyweight belt, the 2004 Pride Heavyweight Grand Prix, beating some of the best fighters of all time that includes Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Mirko Cro Cop, and going nearly a decade without a loss. After the closing of the Affliction organization, it was announced that Fedor was coming to Strikeforce, an organization that was famous for having a list of famous Heavyweight fighters. His first fight for the organization was against Brett Rodgers, a fight that saw the Russian knockout the powerhouse. His next fight was against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu champion Fabricio Werdum. Werdum was a decent Heavyweight, having picked up wins against big names like Alistair Overeem and Fedor's brother Alexander while with Pride, but was nowhere near the level that Fedor was at during his reign. Emelianenko's lone loss in his career was due to a doctor's stoppage due to an illegal elbow, which was almost a decade before his fight against Werdum.
The fight started and Fedor showed the fans why his aura was on Chuck Norris level by dropping Werdum with a punch. Werdum was rushed by the Russian with a flurry of ground-and-pound. However, the Brazilian stayed calm and looked for a hole he could exploit, which he found by locking in a triangle choke. Fans were shocked but still thought Fedor would pull through the adversity, as he did when he was slammed on his head by Kevin Randleman and still pulled off a submission win. The more Fedor fought, the tighter Werdum locked in the hold. Then the unthinkable happened: FedUFCor tapped. Werdum had accomplished what some of the greatest of all time could not do in just over a minute. This was the MMA equivalent of Superman being beaten by one of the reporters he worked with, it just didn't seem like something that could happen. Werdum set up a path for Fedor that had him losing three fights in a row. The Brazilian lost his next fight, but transitioned back to the UFC, where he is the current Interim Heavyweight champion, showing that it takes one big win from a "lesser" fighter to catapult them into being the best.
3. TJ Dillashaw vs Renan Barao
UFC 173 was set to be one of the biggest cards of the year. The card was set to have Chris Weidman vs Vitor Belfort (and later Lyoto Machida after Belfort withdrew), Chael Sonnen vs Wanderlei Silva in a grudge match, and Junior Dos Santos vs Stipe Miocic. However, the pay-per-view had it's share of problems and many of the fights were cancelled or rescheduled. The event was left with Robbie Lawler vs Jake Ellenberger, Daniel Cormier vs an undersized Dan Henderson, and a title fight between Renan Barao and TJ Dillashaw. The first two fights peaked some interest but the title fight left people scratching their heads. Barao, like Fedor before him, had been unbeaten in almost a decade, only losing his first fight and undefeated in his next 33 fights, including the domination of the UFC Bantamweight divsion such as Urijah Faber twice, Michael Mcdonald, and Eddie Wineland. Dillawshaw lost the Ultimate Fighter, was one for two in his previous two fights, and his biggest win came against Mike Easton. The perception was that Barao had cleaned out the division and was just keeping himself busy until the former champion Dominick Cruz came back from his injury. Some sources gave Dillashaw only a 6% chance of winning his fight against the Brazilian.
Dillashaw went on to prove to everyone what the heart of a champion is truly made of. He dominated the previously dominate champion over the course of five rounds, securing a guaranteed decision win over the champion by dropping him with multiple strikes and dominating the fight in every aspect. Then, in the 5th and final round, Dillashaw hit Barao with a head kick that dropped the champion again, allowing Dillashaw to finish the champion with strikes. This fight was special because not only was Dillashaw given no chance of winning only to dominate and finish the champion, but he also saved the card from fading into obscurity. He took a boring concept of a fight and turned it into something that people will remember for years to come.
2. Chris Weidman vs Anderson Silva I
This was the fight that made my neighbors hate me due to the screaming that ensured. Anderson Silva is easily the greatest fighter that ever lived, having dominated the Middleweight division for years, beating the best of the best. His striking and Jiu-Jitsu skills stumped even the best fighters in the world to the point of obscurity. With every fight came a new contender who claimed that they would be the next to beat the unstoppable champion, but each one failed to keep their promise. When Chris Weidman came up as the next contender, he made a similar promise. He did have the tools to beat the champion, but it did not seem like he would be able to. His only way to win would be to take the Chael Sonnen route and out wrestle Silva. His last fight saw him brutally knock out Mark Munoz, but Silva's chin has been tested by some of the best strikers in the world.
The fight was rather strange. The first round saw Weidman taking the previously mentioned route to success, taking the champion down and landing several hard punches on the ground. It seemed like he could shock the world by taking the champion to a dominate decision. In the second round however, the champion stuffed the challenger's takedowns, preferring to keep the fight standing. He then began to toy with the challenger, taunting him by dropping his hands and inviting the challenger to attempt to punch him. When Weidman did make a connection, Silva toyed with him more, pretending to be stunned by the punch, while dodging the challenger's incoming punches. Then Weidman connected...hard. Silva dropped to the ground in a heap, only to be pounced upon by Weidman in an attempt to finish the fight. But the fight was already finished. The arena erupted with a collective gasp. And just like that, we had a new Middleweight champion for the first time in nearly seven years. Weidman is obviously a great fighter, but the likelihood that he would defeat the greatest fighter of all time, especially by knockout, seemed unlikely. We were very very wrong.
1. Matt Serra vs Georges St-Pierre I
When the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter was announced, it was an interesting concept. The show brought back former UFC fighters to give them another shot at the world's most famous MMA organization. Not only would they receive a contract with the UFC, they would also receive an immediate title shot. This was a cheap gimmick as most of the fighters on the show were mediocre fighters that didn't fare well in the early days of the UFC and would likely not fare well against the two champions at the time: Anderson Silva at Middleweight and Georges St-Pierre at Welterweight. The Middleweight winner, Travis Lutter, did not even receive a title shot against Silva as he did not make weight for their fight, one he eventually lost. The Welterweight winner was Matt Serra. Serra was a stepping stone of sorts for up-and-coming fighters to go through before making it big, such as BJ Penn and Karo Parisyan. His most famous fight was against Shonie Carter, where Serra was knocked out with the first spinning-back fist that was seen in the UFC. When you are most famous for being knocked out by a fellow mediocre fighter and you are fighting Georges St-Pierre, things are not looking good for you. The betting odds agreed, giving St-Pierre a -1100 to Serra's +700.
The fight started out as a decent back and forth between the two, with St-Pierre using his reach well against the shorter, stockier Serra. Then Serra connected with a strong punch that rocked the champion slightly. Serra smelled the blood and went in for the kill. He overwhelmed the champion with strong punches that dropped St-Pierre multiple times. Before St-Pierre could recover, the referee called the fight. Jaws hit the floor worldwide. The man who was literally given a title shot rather than earning it had just knocked out the greatest Welterweight of all time. Serra would only gain one more win before retiring from MMA, but one win cemented his legacy in the sport. With the other fighters on this list, their legacy started with their underdog win, but with Matt Serra, his legacy is his win in the biggest upset of all time.