Every MMA fan remembers the legendary “Year of the Upset.”
It was all the way back in the ancient time known as 2007. George Bush was President. The housing market was booming. The war in Afghanistan was winding down and pretty much over. And nothing, it seemed, was safe in the world of MMA.
The GSP hype wagon ran right into a Matt Serra shaped roadblock. Gabriel Gonzaga gave Mirko “Cro Cop” a taste of his own Left High Kick medicine (and he’s never really recovered). Reality TV favorite Forrest Griffin welcomed Pride legend Maurico “Shogun” Rua to the cage by strangling him to within an inch of his life.
We weren’t in Kansas anymore—or Japan, right Joe Silva?
But as tumultuous as 2007 proved to be, the “Year of the Upset” it was not (though it certainly upset GSP and PRIDE fans). Only two thirds of the way through the year, and 2010 has already taken the crown and placed it firmly atop its baffling, utterly unpredictable head.
Yes folks, 2010 is the real “Year of the Upset” in mixed martial arts. Without fail (or even serious interruption), this year has served up one unbelievable outcome and shocking result after another. Not convinced? Get ready for a little history lesson, looking back at the year that was, starting with...
The Rise of Cain Velasquez
It may seem strange now, but a lot of people were picking PRIDE legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria to defeat Cain in Australia at the start of this year. Be it his stronger BJJ skills, better chin, or superior punching power (remember the "Cain has pillow hands" theory?), “Minotauro” was given good odds to halt the rise of the Latino heavyweight superstar.
Instead, Velasquez laid out the Brazilian Heavyweight in about the time it takes you to finish reading this sentence.
The Mir fight may have marked the “beginning of the end” for Big Nog, but it was this fight that may prove the true “end” to his storied run atop the 265 lbs rankings. Nogueria now faces the challenge of his own battle worn body, and Cain gets put on ice to await a fight with heavyweight’s Coors light drinking, bird flipping Ogre of a champion.
Jon Jones vs. Anyone
Remember how many times this year we heard that light heavyweight shooting star Jon Jones was facing “the toughest test of his career?” And remember how many times “Bones” made the odds makers (not to mention his opponents) look absolutely foolish?
Brandon Vera is one of the most versatile and accomplished veterans in the game with big wins at heavyweight and light heavyweight. Jones literally broke his face with an elbow, and he hasn’t been heard from since.
Vladamir Matyushenko is a 13-year veteran of the sport and a former IFL champion. Against Jones, “The Janitor” may as well have been “The Sparring Dummy.” He hasn’t been heard from since, either (though Jason Brilz may be facing him later on this year).
With every fight, Jon Jones showed us why fights are fought inside the cage, not in the odds makers books—and why everyone is afraid to get in the cage with him from here on out.
Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin
Remember when Frank Mir was a hulked up, concussion inducing heavyweight monster who was hunting for Brock Lesnar’s scalp with a Charles Bronson-esque determination?
The Machida Error
In front of a packed house in Montreal’s sold out Bell Centre, Maurico “Shogun” Rua did in just a few minutes what he couldn’t do in half an hour in 2009.
End the vaunted and much-anticipated “Lyoto Machida Era” one challenger in, with a hooking shot from hell.
After walking through the UFC’s light heavyweight division with ease and going undefeated in his MMA career, Machida was expected to have the kind of reign at 205 that made Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva legends. He even beat “Shogun” in their first encounter (controversial as it was) and was expected to have plenty of answers now for Rua’s chopping Muay Thai attack.
Instead, we all (re)learned a valuable lesson: there are no answers for an angry 200 pound Brazilian named “Shogun” using your head for a speedbag.
Todd Duffee vs. Mike Russow
Remember when Todd Duffee was an unstoppable, juggernaut heavyweight prospect who was going to knock everyone out on his way to a long title reign?
Me neither. Okay, that’s not really fair—Duffee still has all the tools, and the time to hone them into something great.
But when the unheralded Russow survived two and a half rounds of a near car accident-like beating to cold cock Duffee clean with one good shot—tell me your jaw didn’t hit the floor. No one, and I mean NO ONE, would have called that to happen before the fight went down.
Fedor Taps, World Explodes
What else can be said about this loss that hasn't already been said? Thirty seconds of breathing (or not breathing, as the case may be) Fabrico Werdum's jock strap, and the "Last Emperor" of MMA, undefeated in over a decade at the top of the sport, taps out and watches it all come crashing down.
This upset was the end of an era. The MMA landscape will never be the same again.
Chris Leben, MW’s Newest (Old) Prospect
I think it’s safe to say that two-week period from June 19 to July 3 was the best two weeks of Chris Leben’s life.
First, he derailed the hype train behind powerhouse wrestler Aaron “A-Train” in under two rounds at the “Ultimate Fighter” 11 Finale, righting his ship after a shaky (at best) 2009.
But it got better. Stepping in on short notice against Japanese/Korean sensation Yoshihiro Akiyama, Leben put on the fight of the night, as well as the fight of his career. For almost three rounds, he took the best that the Judoka could throw at him, while doing a whole lot to ugly the face of “Sexyama.”
And, seconds before the final bell, he caught him in a Trinalge choke for the shocking submission win. Leben beating Akiyama was viewed by most as unlikely. Leben SUBMITTING the Asian Games Judo champion on only two weeks notice was seen as beyond impossible.
Except it wasn’t, and Leben proved it.
And finally, the granddaddy of them all
Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn I and II
For most fans, Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Serra I is viewed as the most shocking upset in Mixed Martial Arts history. After Frankie Edgar shocked the world not once, but twice, I think we have to agree there’s a new sheriff in town.
After all, Serra caught GSP with a fluke shot and he never let up, An impressive win, no doubt—but not as impressive as dominating your opponent over 25 minutes (nearly an hour if you combine both fights). Getting “lucky” is one thing. Utterly outclassing your P4P great opponent at everything he’s supposed to be better then you at for five straight rounds is something else entirely.
In their first fight, Edgar just barely edged Penn to a decision that was nonetheless shocking to fans the world over. Yesterday in Boston, Edgar got to prove once and for all that he has “The Answer” to BJ Penn, dominating the champion over five rounds to secure that lightweight title firmly around his waist.
Coming into 2010, no one would have called the fighting pride of Toms River, New Jersey to defeat BJ Penn not once, but twice, with each passing round more dominant then the one before.
But that’s exactly what we saw. If only for these two fights alone, 2010 must be regarded as the “Year of the Upset” in MMA.
There are honorable mentions, of course—Hathaway over Sanchez, Kampmann over Thiago, any of Roy Nelson’s fights, and Chael Sonnen’s (almost) murder of Anderson Silva just to name a few.
All told, there can be no doubt that 2010 is when the MMA world really got turned over on it’s head—and the only winner you can predict is the fans, who are reminded (and who will be reminded) over and over again,
Anything can happen in MMA.
By Elton Hobson