MMA: 25 of the Greatest Upsets in MMA History
For as long as there have been people willing to pay money to watch grown men beat each other senseless, there has been a kind of unspoken, universal appreciation for the upset.
At those times when a fighter decides that he will not go quietly into that goodnight, but will instead rage against the idea that the sum total of his being, when he is at his most dangerous, is of no consequence in the face of an opponent assumed (rightly or wrongly) to be just that superior; those are the times that keep us on the edge of our seats.
They serve as a kind of admonition, “Don’t get cocky. Remember Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas!” while at the same time proving the indomitable will of the human spirit when faced against long odds and little faith from the masses.
It takes a rare person to be a fighter and a person rarer still to be a fighter who pulls off the victory against long odds, proving the naysayers wrong while reaffirming the fact that ours is a sport that, as fans, we can never take for granted.
In that spirit, here are 25 of the greatest upsets in MMA history.
No. 25: Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski II
In their first fight, Andrei Arlovski made short work of Tim Sylvia, catching him with a hard punch, following him to the ground and securing an ankle lock to end the bout early in the first round at UFC 51, claiming the interim heavyweight title while Frank Mir sat on the sidelines, mending his broken leg.
Since then, Arlovski had ruled atop the then-shallow UFC heavyweight division as Sylvia worked his way back to the front of the line, knocking out Tra Telligman with a stunning head kick and then defeating Assuerio Silva via decision.
When the rematch came about, it looked like history was going to repeat itself as Arlovski dropped Sylvia with another hard punch early in Round 1.
But then Sylvia worked back to his feet, hung tough and managed to catch Arlovski flush on the chin with a short right hand that caught him coming in. Arlovski dropped face-first to the floor and Sylvia swarmed, prompting the referee to jump in and rightfully stop the fight.
No. 24: Houston Alexander vs. Keith Jardine
They say the punch that hurts you the most is the one you don’t see coming; in examining Houston Alexander vs. Keith Jardine, we find that translates to the opponent you don’t see coming, as well.
Jardine was coming off a big wins over Wilson Gouveia and Forrest Griffin, and his aim was to continue upward toward a title shot, not moving horizontally, or perhaps even downward, and a fight with a newcomer to the UFC was not what most considered “forward progress.”
Alexander was, quite simply, a speed-bump in the road—which quickly turned into a steam roller.
Jardine clipped Alexander with a looping shot in the beginning of the bout, but then Alexander tied him up, pushed him against the cage and unloaded on him.
The amount of damage Alexander delivered was shocking; he attacked with multiple uppercuts and hooks, dropping Jardine countless times. Jardine would struggle to rise, only to be dropped again, over and over.
The end saw him drilled by a hard shot that sent his mouthpiece tumbling across the mat as he dropped face first to the floor.
It was a violent reminder that in the UFC, everyone is dangerous.
No. 23: Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler
Before Nick Diaz came to be known as an exciting slugger, believe it or not, he was really just known as a submission fighter.
Back then, his realm was thought to be the ground and the ground alone. His opponent of the night, Robbie Lawler, was the man many thought would own the advantage in an all-out fist fight.
Lawler was a serious puncher who brawled with attitude. He was young, bombastic and loved to brawl; a fact that endeared him to many fans.
And then Nick Diaz came in and changed everything.
Diaz came out confident, hands wide and talking trash. Now, that is common place for Diaz these days, but back then it was kind of a shocker for those watching it happen. Diaz didn’t just seem confident, he seemed furious in a way.
Lawler did what he does, and he had Diaz retreating at some points of the fight. But in truth, he never made Diaz fearful; a fact that was clear as Diaz would circle out of danger then come right back into Lawler, totally unfazed by the notion of getting caught with those heavy hands.
And then, in the middle of the ring, Diaz did the unthinkable; he caught Lawler coming in, landing a straight shot that froze “Ruthless” in his tracks before he toppled forward like an ironing board falling out of a closet.
After the bout, Diaz went over to Lawler and apologized for the smack talk, but we knew that there was a new Nick Diaz on the block, and he was coming to throw down.
No. 22: Joe Lauzon vs. Jens Pulver
There’s something hard about watching one of your favorite fighters make a triumphant return only to see it totally turned upside down by a fighter you’ve never seen or heard of.
When Jens Pulver was stepping into the cage at UFC 63, it was to be a homecoming of sorts; Pulver hadn’t fought in the UFC cage since he defeated BJ Penn over four years earlier.
Instead, Pulver got caught early by Joe Lauzon and knocked out; his return serving as a harsh reminder of just how much the division had changed and that the sport is more often than not a young man's game. This bout was Pulver’s first ever loss in the UFC.
No. 21: Brian Bowles vs. Miguel Torres
Coming into his WEC fight with Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres was the reigning Bantamweight champion with three title defenses and a staggering record of 37-1 with 31 wins via stoppage.
Bowles, on the other hand, was 7-0 with all his wins via stoppage; it didn’t take long for even casual fans to see that this, at least on paper, looked to be a massacre in favor of the champion—especially when you consider that two of those victories on Bowles record saw him fighting under the auspicious “Wild Bill’s Fight Night” banner.
And yet Bowles came out and stunned those fans in “the know,” as they say, defeating the champion via KO around the four-minute mark of the first round.
Had Torres been more consistent and victorious in the later stages of his career, this would be sitting much higher up on the list than it does right now. But in retrospect, this upset was big enough to bring it in out of the cold at No. 21.
Torres seemed to have Bowles on the run, chasing the challenger across the cage. Then Bowles planted his feet and threw out a hard right hand that the champion ran into, face first, falling to the floor upon impact.
Bowles followed him down and finished the fight in what still remains as one of the top “don’t blink” moments in the sport.
No. 20: Frank Shamrock vs. Kevin Jackson
Way back when, the future of MMA (and by proxy the UFC) looked to be determined by those fighters who were so masterful in their singular discipline that they could almost use it like a bulldozer to run over anyone in their path.
Such was the case with Kevin Jackson back in 1997.
Jackson was a gold medal winner in freestyle wrestling in the 1992 Olympics and managed to use that as a bridge to break into MMA, winning his first three bouts via stoppage, as if the competition wasn’t even there.
The UFC was beginning to open up a bit, moving from a “one man to rule them all” mindset into an appreciation for divisions, and Kevin Jackson was the heir apparent for the middleweight division. His mentor in MMA (but not wrestling!) was former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman (who had ironically just lost his title to Maurice Smith, who was the striking coach for Frank Shamrock), so a middleweight division ruled by Jackson just seemed right.
Shamrock seemed to get his chance in the UFC thanks to the dominance of his older adopted big brother, Ken Shamrock. But would the little bother prove to be as capable as his elder sibling, who had warred with Royce Gracie and who had defeated Dan Severn for the Superfight title?
Most thought no.
Jackson simply looked unstoppable in the cage; his wrestling was just so fluid and precise that most thought Shamrock would take the role as an opponent only in name, meant only to give Jackson a fuller resume.
And within the first 10 seconds, it looked like that would be the case. Jackson came out poised and ready, backing Shamrock against the cage with a rush and then ripping the legs out from under him with a brutal double-leg grab.
Jackson went down to finish the job, and then, seconds later, Shamrock isolated his arm and exploded into an armbar that left him tapping in short order.
And just like that, it was over.
Sometimes, great beginnings happen in a single moment of advantage. When Jackson got that takedown, he employed great position for wrestling, but not for MMA. Thus, Shamrock seized the opportunity and finished the fight.
We got to see the birth of one of the greatest champions in UFC history on that night in Japan, not to mention the introduction of the prototypical fighter of the next century.
Frank Shamrock honestly stands as the first version of the next wave of MMA fighter. Men like Georges St-Pierre and others emerged from that point of genesis, fully confident that they, too, could see success in a sport that is not limited by the lesser points of one's nadir, but that strives to recognize fighters by their desire to see the greatest aspects of their ambitions born as a cohesive whole.
No. 19: BJ Penn vs. Din Thomas
In 2001, the reigning lightweight champion in the UFC was Jens Pulver—a fact was like an irritant to Din Thomas, who had defeated Pulver less than a year earlier in a WEF show.
Thomas was on the fast track to a title shot, and at UFC 32, he was thrown in against the mostly untested, unproven yet highly heralded BJJ wizard, BJ Penn, who had only been in the cage one other time when he defeated Joey Gilbert at UFC 31.
But Din took the fight like true fighters are want to do, fully believing he would defeat Penn and be one step closer to a title shot.
And then Penn hit him with a free-flowing high-knee that dropped him to his back, stunned. Penn flurried with some serious punches and the fight was over.
So one-sided were the finishing moments (and how easily and fluidly they came about) that in many ways it looked like Penn was the veteran and Thomas the rookie.
But back in those days, Penn had a way of making damn near everyone look silly.
No. 18: Mike Brown vs. Urijah Faber I
Sometimes, if you possess a powerful punch, there is no better place to come from than out of the corner of your opponent’s eye.
The role of underdog has served many a spoiler well; such was the case when Mike Brown faced off against reigning WEC champion Urijah Faber in November of 2008.
Brown was a newcomer to the WEC, having only fought with the organization one previous time, but he was a veteran to the MMA game.
Faber was considered the best fighter of the lower weight divisions, and for good reason. Heading into the bout, he boasted a record of 21-1, dividing his time between defending the King of the Cage Bantamweight crown and the WEC Featherweight title. He had won nine of his past 10 bouts via stoppage and was showing no signs of slowing down.
Then, it all unraveled before the midway point of Round 1.
Faber, ever the dynamic and daring fighter, tried a risky move; he threw a kind of back elbow toward Brown, only to get decked by a right hook from Brown.
From there, Brown followed him down, swarmed and the fight was over.
It was a violent ending to a great championship run, proving nothing is ever as easy as it seems.
No. 17: Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader
In the early 2000’s, if you had told Tito Ortiz that not only would he lose his title and never regain it, but that he would enter into a four-fight losing skid that stretched from 2007 to 2010, to say he wouldn’t have believed you would be an understatement.
But when he was stepping into the ring to face Ryan Bader, he knew just as keenly as everyone else what was at stake: his job in the UFC.
Bader was not only expected to run over Ortiz, but to be the first man to finish him since Chuck Liddell at UFC 66. Bader was younger, arguably a better wrestler, had proven knockout power and seemed the stronger man.
Before the fight, Dana White fielded many questions about the possibility of dismissing Ortiz if he lost to Bader. He in turn reminded everyone that Ortiz fights best when his back is against the wall.
And fight he did.
Ortiz came out strong and confident, marching forward like the old days as Bader did what he does: look for an opening.
Then, Ortiz leveled him with a right hand, followed him to the ground, manipulated a scramble and locked up a guillotine choke. Then, perhaps remembering his loss to Guy Mezger at UFC 13, Ortiz went to his back and squeezed for all he was worth.
Bader tapped out and Ortiz won his first fight in over three years; and his last victory in the UFC to date.
No. 16: Keith Jardean vs. Chuck Liddell
Coming off a devastating knockout loss in his last bout against Houston Alexander, Keith Jardine was paired against former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell in a fight few thought he could win.
Liddell was coming off the loss of his title at the hands of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, his first defeat in three years. He was still rightly considered one of the top light heavyweights in the division, and it seemed like a given that he was going to be dispatching Jardine in short order, much like Alexander had.
Yet the opening frame saw Jardine doing a lot of kicking and a lot of moving, making Liddell into the aggressor. Liddell seemed to be waiting for that one opening, while Jardine was making the most of any time his feet were still under him to score points, including landing some surprising punches. He survived a few dangerous moments and, despite being the bloodier fighter going back to his corner at the end of the round, Jardine’s kick-and-run strategy won him the round.
In the second frame, Jardine continued to lull Liddell into complacency, constantly circling around him and kicking, only to suddenly step in and drop Liddell with a strong right hand. For the rest of the fight, Jardine simply outscored Liddell, finding a home for his right hand while attacking the body with hard leg kicks, pulling off a shocking upset and handing Liddell his second loss in a row.
It was also hard to reconcile due to the fact that Jardine looked like he’d been in a horror movie and Liddell looked as if he’d just had a rough sparring session—an interesting side-note that speaks to the fact that blood and bruises are not the be-all and end-all.
No. 15: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko 'Cro-Cop' Filipovic
In another fine example of momentus interruptus, Gabriel Gonzaga stepped into his fight with Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic as “the opponent” and really nothing more.
Most thought that Filipovic was going to come out, stuff a few takedown attempts, land a head-kick knockout and walk away with his second successful UFC victory en route to an inevitable title fight with Randy Couture.
Filipovic was considered one of the top fighters in the world after winning the Pride FC 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix championship, and his addition to the company was seen as the next of many signings of former Pride champions.
In short, the future looked bright for Pride-to-UFC crossover fighters, and Filipovic figured to be the next of that ilk to claim a UFC title.
And then Gonzaga took him down, elbowed him in the face, and then shocked the world with a brutal head-kick knockout that saw Filipovic drop like a corpse, his foot twisted nearly all the way around under him.
No. 14: Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort I
Back in 1997, Vitor Belfort was thought to be the heir apparent for the throne of “King of the UFC.” He was young, faster than hell, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (and said to be one of the best submission fighters out there by many “in the know”) and had decimated all previous opponents.
The fact that he was facing Randy Couture looked like nothing more than another chance for Belfort to prove his quality against an older fighter of some note.
But Couture was all smiles as he waited in the cage for Belfort to emerge, rousing the crowd into chanting “USA! USA!” as Belfort took his time getting into the cage.
Reports are varied as to why Belfort took so long to arrive. He says he was sick, which is certainly possible. Others say he was just trying to make Couture restless.
But he finally arrived, and we got the fight we were waiting for, but not the result nearly all of us expected.
Belfort looked good early but was unable to do any damage, nor do anything other that put Couture on his heels for a few moments. Couture refused to be cowed, implementing his game plan to put pressure on Belfort, plain and simple.
“The Natural” managed to avoid being submitted when he had Belfort on his back, and as the fight wore on, he found his rhythm and battered Belfort on their feet in the clinch with uppercuts and hooks.
Finally, Belfort fell and Couture poured it on, winning the fight via stoppage and proving that the position of underdog isn’t always a bad place to be.
No. 13: Randy Couture vs. Tito Ortiz
After watching Tito Ortiz dominate a 39-year-old Ken Shamrock, nearly everyone thought the same fate would befall Randy Couture as the two men met at UFC 44.
It didn’t matter that Couture had pulled off a surprising upset against Chuck Liddell at UFC 43; all that seemed to mean to most fans was that Ortiz was better than Liddell, or that Liddell was just overrated. Ortiz was just too big, too strong and just too good to be challenged by another old man that was sent packing from the heavyweight division after back-to-back stoppage losses at the hands of Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez.
Ortiz was near the height of his popularity back then; a fan favorite if there ever was one, and should he beat Couture, he would own his sixth straight title defense.
Yes, it was a great time to be a Tito-maniac, or so it seemed…
Then, Couture began to do things that no one had ever managed to do.
Ortiz had never been taken down in all of his fighting career up to that point. Then Couture took him down, over, and over and over.
Ortiz had never really lost a round, let alone two rounds in a row; yet there he was, losing the first round, then the second, then the third…
It was supposed to be so different; nearly everyone interviewed before the fight was predicting an Ortiz domination or outright stoppage. Very few seemed to be in possession of the facts—that Couture was on another level when it came to wrestling, and that the drop down to 205 had invigorated him—or daring to proclaim that it was going to be a much closer fight than anyone expected.
Joe Rogan did, of course, but even he was wrong; it wasn’t a close fight, at all. It was all Couture, damn near all the time.
In the fifth and final round, Couture snatched up yet another easy takedown, then remained on top of Ortiz for nearly the entire round. Near the end, Couture loomed above Ortiz, who in turn was doing his best to make a bona fide leg submission out of improper position. Couture showed his utter lack of concern by playfully spanking Ortiz, before spinning around and landing on top again, attacking with strikes until the bell sounded.
Randy Couture was the new, undisputed light heavyweight champion.
Ortiz was left in tears and the crowd left stunned at what they had seen: a 40-year-old man who dared to be great in the face of so many detractors who said he was too old, too small and too weak to be a threat anymore.
No. 12: Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell I
While Tito Ortiz was holding the light heavyweight title hostage after his victory over Ken Shamrock at UFC 40, the powers that be at Zuffa decided to make the first-ever interim title in the history of the company.
Liddell had been the clear No. 1 contender for a little while, and White rightfully decided that the sport should continue on, no matter how Ortiz or anyone else felt on the matter.
Opposite him was Randy Couture, who was making his first foray into the lands south of heavyweight. Couture had just lost back-to-back title contests to Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez, but he was a former champion who was happy to jump at the opportunity.
And so, we were getting a title fight that, in the minds of most, would finally see the hard work and dominance of Liddell recognized after a noteworthy scrap where the outcome was never really in doubt.
People expected Liddell to win because that’s what he did, just as people expected Couture to lose because that is what he had done in his last few outings.
But as usual, Couture proved that you can never really assume anything as a given in the combative sports, especially when “the opponent” is of a mind to spoil the party.
Couture came out strong, established a shockingly effective striking game and began to work his takedowns. As great as Liddell was, he’d never really been pressured like we saw at UFC 43.
Granted, Couture was a better wrestler than anyone Liddell had ever faced, but much of Couture's success that night came from just how clean and accurate his striking was. He was beating Liddell to the punch, time after time, sending “The Iceman” reeling backwards and trying to find enough room to mount a comeback.
Sadly for Liddell, it was Couture who did the mounting, in Round 3, after he took Liddell down. From the mount, Couture reigned down hard punches until the fight was called.
Couture was the first ever interim champion in the history of the company, all at the age of 39.
No. 11: Forrest Griffin vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson
At UFC 86, there were more than a few people who thought Forrest Griffin simply didn’t belong in the cage with a killer like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
Griffin was just one of those TUF fighters; yeah, he had a good showing against Tito Ortiz, but even a broken watch is right twice a day. Jackson was the man who had finished Chuck Liddell twice, for crying out loud.
Yet there the champion was, sneering across the octagon at the perpetual underdog, the happy-go-lucky, too-goofy-to-be-worried Griffin.
And then the fight started and we all learned just how serious Griffin was. This was his shot at the title, and he wasn’t about to go quietly into that goodnight; he was not going to be a mere slave to fashion.
Griffin, quite simply, had the courage of his convictions. He had come to fight, and fight he did.
Over five rounds, he took damage and dished more damage out, and along the way outwrestled and outworked the champion en route to a decision victory that put the belt around the waist of the man who had proven he wanted it more.
And that’s the way it should be.
No. 10: Jens Pulver vs. BJ Penn I
At UFC 35, way back when, there was a challenger to the lightweight title that had been perhaps more impressive in his rise and domination of his division than Jon Jones had been at light heavyweight before he claimed the title with a victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Jens Pulver, a perpetual underdog, was stepping into the cage to defend his title for the second straight time against a man who looked unstoppable: BJ Penn.
Penn had only been on the scene for a short period of time, but during those months he had wrecked fighters who, at least on paper, seemed so far beyond him that to see the fights take place seemed silly and maybe even a bit offensive.
But none of that stopped Penn from destroying two Top 4 contenders in his second and third fights in the division. His domination over them was so total that there was no doubt as to who the real top contender was.
And if you asked many fans, there was no doubt as to who was going to be the next champion.
None of them bothered to ask Pulver, and as it turns out, they should have.
Pulver fought Penn round-by-round, putting on his hardhat each round and grinding it out with the challenger. Penn had never even seen Round 2 in his entire career; let alone Round 3 and beyond.
Pulver stayed tight, never panicked and put the final stamp on his victory with sharp, straight punches that snapped Penn’s head back and set him on his heels.
It was a masterful performance by a man undervalued and unappreciated in his time.
No. 9: Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia
When it was announced that Randy Couture was coming out of retirement to face then-reigning UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, many were left scratching their head.
One of the main reasons why Couture had left the heavyweight division in the first place was because he didn’t seem capable of beating the new breed of heavyweights who seemed to have a distinct size and weight advantage over him.
His last loss was to Ricco Rodriguez at UFC 39. What made him think he was going to have any success against a fighter much bigger than Rodriguez; Sylvia’s reach advantage alone looked like it would keep Couture at bay all night long.
But Couture knew what he wanted, campaigned for the fight and got the chance.
No one really expected Couture to win—but to thoroughly dominate the champion all night long? That was just crazy.
Well, truth proved to once again be stranger than fiction as Couture did the unthinkable. Inside of the first 30 seconds of Round 1, he dropped Sylvia on his butt with a hard overhand right, and from there on out, he beat up the big man for the entire fight.
Over and over Couture found a home for his overhand right, knocking the sweat of Sylvia’s head on the feet and dominating him on the ground in a display of dominance that once again made it look like Couture had found the fabled Fountain of Youth and was drinking from it heavily.
Some things just can’t be predicted on paper.
No. 8: Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
When it was announced the Mauricio “Shogun” Rua had finally signed with the UFC, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before he claimed the light heavyweight belt.
To welcome the Pride FC wrecking machine, the UFC scheduled his first bout against Forrest Griffin.
And the catcalls began instantly.
Griffin was just a TUF guy, not on par with the man who had conquered Pride in such spectacular fashion. Most proclaimed this would be one of the biggest one-sided beatings in the history of the sport.
Griffin came out, hung tough, never stopped fighting, suffered a wicked cut across his brow, kept on fighting some more and eventually wore Shogun down.
Then, he took Shogun's back, sank in a rear-naked choke and secured the victory. In doing so, he became the first man to ever submit Shogun and proved that the fighters from TUF had substance.
No. 7: Kevin Randleman vs. Mirko Cro-Cop Filipovic
Sometimes fighters are booked because they are on the rise, while other times they are simply available and bring a name to obfuscate the fact that they are really being put into the slot of “the opponent” for some other hungry fighter on the rise.
Such seemed to be the case when Kevin Randleman entered the Pride FC Heavyweight Grand Prix in 2004.
Randleman was entering the tournament on a two-fight losing streak in the middleweight division, and his opponent was none other than Mirko "Cro-Cop" Filipovic; the man many thought would win the entire tournament.
Filipovic was a wrecking machine who had only lost one bout in Pride FC competition when Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira scored a come-from-behind submission victory during the Pride FC Middleweight Grand Prix in 2003. Of his seven victories, six had come by way of stoppage, and his paring with Randleman in the opening round was about as close to an assured victory as possible.
Or so it seemed.
But as usual, Randleman came out on fire, hungry for victory. What was not so usual is that he had pulled in some help from a previous opponent: Chuck Liddell.
After a bit of back-and-forth by both men, Filipovic looked to be close to nailing down the range needed to unleash one of his devastating kicks. It was then that Randleman shocked everyone in one of the truest examples of perfect timing.
Just as Filipovic opened up his hips to unleash one of his kicks, Randleman exploded with a vicious preemptive left hook that landed like a cannon ball across Filipovic’s jaw, seeing him collapse like an accordion.
Randleman followed him down and unleashed a series of heavy hammer-fists that had Filipovic’s head bouncing off the canvas like a basketball, and the fight was called at just under two minutes of Round 1.
Randleman advanced to the next round, and Filipovic suffered a loss that was voted both Knockout of the Year for 2004 and Upset of the Year.
No. 6: Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva
Before UFC 162, it seemed if there was anything certain in the world of MMA, it was that Anderson Silva was simply unbeatable, at least according to the fans.
Heading into the cage to face the next victim in line, Silva owned 10 straight defenses of his title, a record for the UFC that spoke to his dominance of the sport like nothing else. Silva was a proven king who had twice disposed of Chael Sonnen and Rich Franklin, in addition to a score of other fighters.
And Weidman? Well, Silva had already solved that puzzle in the rematch of Sonnen, or so “they” said.
Then, Weidman came out and won the first round, then KO’d Silva in the second and walked out of the cage as the new middleweight champion, just like he and so many other fighters predicted.
No. 5: Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn I
While some still say that BJ Penn won his first fight against Frankie Edgar back at UFC 112, it still remains as a win for Edgar, not to mention a shocking upset.
Penn was stepping into the fight as the greatest lightweight fighter in the history of the UFC. His previous two title defenses had seen him choke out Kenny Florian and beat Diego Sanchez to a bloody pulp with an ease that made it seem as if no one at 155 could contend with him.
Penn had the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the division, not to mention severe knockout power in his strikes and a ferocity that simply would not be denied.
For his part, Edgar was a small lightweight who seemed woefully out of his depth; he had defeated some good fighters, but it just seemed that Penn was on a different level.
No matter who you think won the fight, one thing that is not really debatable is that Penn saw many of his natural advantages nullified by the constant movement and crisp striking of Edgar.
Throughout the fight, it seemed as if Penn was a beat behind the music, just waiting for the moment when he could level Edgar with a punch and go home.
While Penn was stalking and waiting, Edgar was sticking and moving for all five rounds. It may not have been a dominant display for either fighter, but it was enough to see Edgar win and score a shocking upset.
Edgar would go on to face Penn in a rematch, winning another decision and retaining his title.
No. 4: Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman
After Mark Coleman had ripped through all comers to claim the UFC 10, UFC 11 and the UFC Superfight titles, he was sitting atop the heavyweight division like a lion awaiting his next meal.
He looked simply unbeatable. Some thought the only man that might be able to take him was teammate, Mark Kerr.
At UFC 14, the next victim was supposed to be Maurice Smith, who was coming over from the Extreme Fighting organization, where he had claimed their heavyweight title by defeating Marcus “Conan” Silveira.
Smith was a striker with knockout power, but Coleman was a monster wrestler who was expected to take Smith down and pound him through the mat in short order.
And as soon as the fight started, Coleman did take Smith down, attacking him with hammer-fists and head-butts. But Smith didn’t wilt as many expected. Instead, he remained calm, defended himself and eventually worked his way back to his feet.
Coleman spent himself in the early part of the fight, and Smith spent the last half battering Coleman’s face with punches and his legs with biting kicks. By the end of the fight, Coleman was nothing more than a stationary target just waiting to fall.
He made it to the final bell and saw his title pass to Smith in one of the biggest upsets of that era.
No. 3: BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes I
In a fight that was supposed to be another domination for the then-juggernaut Matt Hughes, BJ Penn turned convention on its ear and showed why he was one of the most dangerous and capable fighters in the sport.
Hughes had every advantage you could think of heading into UFC 46, at least on paper. He was bigger, much stronger and riding a tidal wave of success; after his last victory over Frank Trigg at UFC 45, Hughes was the longest reigning welterweight champion in UFC history.
And Penn was just a highly talented lightweight who was going to up welterweight because he couldn’t win the lightweight title.
At least that was the conventional wisdom at the time.
Everyone knew Penn was good, especially back then. But Hughes was simply a monster and many thought (back then) that he was the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet.
So everyone tuned in to watch Hughes grab Penn, throw him down and pound him out.
Less than one round later, Penn was walking around with his fist raised, Hughes was sitting on his heels, stunned and bloodied, and the belt was heading toward Hawaii.
Penn was flawless at UFC 46, tossing Hughes down, maintaining a patient yet controlling top position and blasting Hughes with a big punch.
From there, Penn crossed the bridge, locked up the rear naked choke and pulled off a huge upset.
To date, Penn is the only lightweight in UFC history to win a belt in another weight class, and his victory over Hughes at 170 makes that even more impressive.
This fight proved that you can never really count out BJ Penn.
No. 2: Fabricio Werdum vs. Fedor Emelianenko
When you’ve been ruling a division—especially a marquee division like heavyweight—for nearly a decade, certain things are taken as gospel when you step into the ring to ply your trade; namely, that you are going to win.
Such was the sermon expected by fans when Fedor Emelianenko stepped into his church on June 26, 2010.
Standing across the cage from him was heavy underdog Fabricio Werdum; a dangerous fighter to be sure, but so were many, many other fighters before him.
The fight actually didn’t last long.
As soon as it tumbled to the floor, Werdum locked up a tight triangle leg choke. That in of itself is nothing new; the fact that it was sticking to Emelianenko so well—that was not what we expected.
We watched and waited for “The Last Emperor” to shrug off the choke and go to work from the top, as he had done in so many fights before.
Instead we saw him tap out.
In some ways, I am still a little shocked.
No. 1: Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre I
When it comes to upsets, there are none above the first bout between Georges St-Pierre and Matt Serra.
Many thought Serra, as winner of Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, was gifted a title shot he really didn’t deserve. The champion was GSP—a man who had run through the competition and made the best of them look like second-class citizens in the division.
And then, at UFC 69, Serra went out and blasted St-Pierre all over the octagon, staying calm, skipping from one spot to the next and hammering the champ senseless with hard punches.
St-Pierre fell, Serra stood above him and continued to throw, and just like that, there was a new welterweight champion.
It stands in the minds of many as the greatest upset ever.