The 10 Biggest Upsets in MMA History
Seeing greatness displayed in the cage is one of the most beautiful sights to see. Even better than watching a fighter display total domination is watching the underdog topple the heavy favourite.
The true underdog story has always been a favourite of sports fans and MMA is lucky enough to feature some of the greatest upsets in the history of competition.
With small gloves, devastating power, and amazing grappling ability, MMA fighters have all the skills necessary to dethrone anyone each time the cage door closes. The fights listed here were some of the biggest upsets due to a number of factors.
Historical importance, records, rankings, and weight class all figured into the equation for deciding which 10 fights are by far the greatest upsets in MMA history.
Honorable Mention: Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell I
The beginning of one of the greatest trilogies in UFC history, Randy Couture returned to the light heavyweight division against Chuck Liddell at UFC 43.
Liddell had established himself as the top dog (despite not wearing the belt) in the 205 pound division while amassing a 12-1 record. Couture was coming off back to back losses in the heavyweight division.
Many MMA fans expected Liddell to display his patented sprawl-and-brawl style to dominate the much older Couture. Instead, fans witnessed Couture not only survive on his feet but actually dominate the standup battle.
Couture was even able to take down Liddell with an explosive takedown in route to finishing the champion via TKO in the third round.
BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes I
BJ Penn was returning to the UFC for the first time since losing Jens Pulver in the lightweight division. But he wasn't returning to the 155 pound division.
Instead, Penn returned to face reigning welterweight powerhouse Matt Hughes, who had a record of 35-3. How was a 155 pound fighter supposed to handle Hughes' country-strong top game?
Penn surprised everyone by tapping out the champion in the first round. The Hawaiian proved that size isn't everything and dispelled the notions of Hughes being invincible in the UFC.
Penn would leave the UFC amid a contract dispute which would set the scene for Hughes to begin another rivalry with a young Georges St-Pierre.
Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia
When Tim Sylvia closed the door on his rivalry with Andrei Arlovski, the UFC was left looking for credible challengers. Sylvia, unpopular enough as it is, was the top fighter in a division that many fans considered one of the worst in MMA.
The UFC pulled a rabbit out of their behind by luring Randy Couture out of retirement to take on Sylvia at UFC 68. This fight had the makings of a total mismatch.
Couture was 6'1, Sylvia was 6'8 and enjoyed a five inch reach advantage to go with his height advantage. Couture was 43 years old while Sylvia was in his prime. Sylvia tipped the scales near the 265 pound limit while Couture probably took a shower prior to weighing in.
Knowing he had to set the tone early, Couture dropped the much larger opponent with a right hand. Through five rounds Couture dominated Sylvia en route to winning the UFC heavyweight crown.
Couture's victory took a relatively boring UFC heavyweight division and made it fun again. Not bad for an old man.
Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn I
The UFC was so desperate to build up Frankie Edgar as a credible challenger that they put him on a Ultimate Fighter Finale just to get him some exposure. Most MMA fans agreed Gray Maynard was the more worthy challenger but he was unimpressive with his performances.
Not only did fans feel Edgar didn't deserve his title shot, he was also much smaller than the reigning champion BJ Penn. The champion hadn't lost at 155 pounds in over eight years and had just finished cleaning the blood off his gloves from the destruction of Diego Sanchez.
In true underdog fashion, Edgar brought the fight to Penn and utilized his footwork to take the lightweight title away from Penn. Proving it was no fluke, Edgar did it again only a few months later.
With Penn's loss, the lightweight division became wide open for a laundry list of challengers who were either destroyed by Penn or simply didn't have the skills to warrant challenging the hall of fame fighter.
Edgar's lightweight title reign may have been short but there's no doubting his defeat of Penn was a huge upset.
Urijah Faber vs. Mike Brown
When Urijah Faber and Mike Brown met at WEC 36, many MMA pundits were expecting another vintage Faber performance.
"The California Kid" had ran his record to 21-1 which included wins over future/past champions like Jens Pulver, Bibiano Fernandes, and Dominick Cruz. Brown meanwhile, had only one fight in the WEC — an unanimous decision over Jeff Curran.
In the opening moments, Faber was giving us all what we expected, but then Brown caught the champion with a strong punch and dropped him.
This fight, along with Brown's victory in the rematch, put the featherweight division on its head and caused one of the greatest featherweight champions to leave the division entirely.
Brian Bowles vs. Miguel Angel Torres
While Urijah Faber was busy controlling the featherweight division, Miguel Torres was making it look easy as he continuously defended his WEC Bantamweight belt.
Brian Bowles came in to their match-up with only seven professional bouts and was also returning from an injury that prevented their initial fight.
For the first few minutes, fans witnessed exactly what was expected — Torres picking apart the young challenger with strikes. Confident, Torres rushed in and ate a powerful punch that sent the champion crashing to the mat.
The loss marked the first for Torres at 135 pounds and opened the door for new challengers.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko "Cro Cop"
Right leg, hospital. Left leg, cemetery.
Those were the words used to describe Mirko "Cro Cop's" kicks. When he met Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist Gabriel Gonzaga, fans were expecting a highlight reel finish.
Although fans got what they wanted, they were still unhappy. Gonzaga unloaded a left high kick to "Cro Cop" that provided MMA fans with one of the most violent KO's in the history of the sport.
Other than the irony of "Cro Cop" being knocked out by his own move, the fight signaled the end of the Pride era. Although many fighters from Pride have gone on to have successful careers, "Cro Cop" was the face of the organization within the UFC.
It also marked the last time we would see the old "Cro Cop" as he clearly was never the same after this bout.
Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua
Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was widely considered not only one of the best fighters transitioning from Pride to the UFC, but also one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
"Shogun" had gone undefeated through the Pride organization except for a loss due to injury against Mark Coleman. He held victories over the likes of Alistair Overeem, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and Quinton Jackson.
Forrest Griffin was coming off a decision win against Hector Ramirez and was supposed to be a big name for Rua to announce his arrival to UFC fans.
In one of the most ironic series of events in a MMA match, Griffin dominated the much heralded fighter and eventually submitted the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
Besides setting Griffin up for a very successful UFC career, the win solidified the place of The Ultimate Fighter contestants as credible competitors. Everyone wanted to knock the TUF contestants as many old-school fighters and fans saw it as a lesser way of making it to the big show.
By beating Rua in convincing fashion, Griffin validated the current and future TUF participants in much the same way as Benson Henderson's victory over Frankie Edgar did for the WEC lightweights.
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira had made quite a name for himself in the Pride organization. He seemed well on his way to making a name for his own and escaping the shadow of his big brother.
Victories over Kazushi Sakuraba, Alistair Overeem, and Dan Henderson were all great victories for the Brazilian.
Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou was making his Pride debut and had fought only three times as a professional. Many Pride officials were probably expecting a squash match by making the fight but were definitely disappointed in the result.
Sokoudjou, a heavy underdog, KO'ed Nogueira in just 23 seconds which sent shockwaves through the division.
Not as historically important as some of the other bouts on this list but the shock value is through the roof.
Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko
It was the triangle heard around the world.
Despite being a perennial top 10 heavyweight, Fabricio Werdum was given no chance in his bout against Fedor Emelianenko. Yet Werdum should have been given a lot more credit even though Emelianenko had defeated dangerous submission artists many times before.
Whether you believe Werdum was playing possum or was hurt, Emelianenko fell into the jiu-jitsu ace's trap. Making a rookie mistake, Emelianenko stayed in Werdum's guard long enough for the Brazilian to slap a triangle choke on.
Emelianenko fought the hold off for a long time but eventually tapped out.
The win effectively ended "The Fedor Era" as it was not only Emelianenko's first legitimate loss, but also sent the Russian fighter on a downward spiral. Werdum also used the win to cement his place among the heavyweight elite.
Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre
Claiming the title of The Ultimate Fighter 4 winner, Matt Serra earned himself a big payday along with a guaranteed title shot.
Georges St-Pierre was not the dominant force he is today but many MMA fans still believed he would never be defeated at 170 pounds. Serra, personifying the Rocky theme song he walked out to, came in with no fear.
Proving that every fighter has a punchers chance in every fight, Serra dropped the champion in the first round and sent the Houston crowd into both a frenzied shock.
St-Pierre would go on to utterly destroy Serra in the rematch but without this loss, GSP may have never been transformed into what we see today.