In all sports and competitions; upsets happen, the team, person, or organization expected to come out on top doesn’t always get it done, but unlike other sports there is something absolutely magical when an upsets happens in the unpredictable and violent world of MMA.
Upsets in MMA inspire us and leave us in awe in a way that other sports just can’t match. These upsets cause us to completely reevaluate how we perceive the sport.
In MMA an upset doesn’t involve a bunch of people scoring more touchdowns, or accumulating more runs, it involves a human being imposing their physical and emotional will on another human being in the closest thing to pure no holds barred fighting.
That moment when the smaller, older or younger fighter gets their hand raised and we as fans and consumers realise that we just witnessed something that experts who dedicated their lives to this sport; said that it wasn’t going to happen, is special. It’s something that can make it feel as if time has stood still and the world as we know it may never be the same.
In this article I’m going to give you my top 5 upsets in MMA and walk you through why they made this list, so please, join me as we dive deep down this rabbit hole of pure fandom and intrigue.
5: Maurice Smith vs Mark Coleman (UFC 14)
The first entry on this list is one that took place over 21 years ago. Feel old yet?
At UFC 14 Mark “The Hammer” Coleman came in to this bout undefeated and as a heavy favourite (I wasn’t able to find betting odds for this fight) and he was on top of the relatively new MMA world. The Godfather of ground and pound quickly gained a reputation for absolutely hammering (pun definitely intended) his opponents into the mat. After winning the UFC 10 and 11 tournaments, Coleman won the inaugural UFC heavyweight championship by submitting Dan “The Beast” Severn and unifying the UFC Heavyweight and Superfight titles.
Then across the octagon from Coleman stood Smith who came into this bout with an MMA record of 5-7, and yes you read that right. It was universally believed that Coleman would come right in, take Smith down and pound his face in, but the former kickboxing champion had other ideas.
While Coleman did get Smith down early (and headbutted his face I must add) Smith did an exceptional job at defending strikes on the ground and gassing Coleman out. By the end of their 21 minute bout Coleman was exhausted, withered, defeated, and Maurice Smith was awarded the decision and became the promotions 2nd heavyweight champion.
What made this upset so special, wasn’t just Smith defying the betting odds (I’m assuming this because again I can’t find the betting odds for one of the most important fights in MMA history because the internet is an arse) It was that Smith had revolutionized the game and once again taught us the lesson that the bigger stronger fighter isn’t always going to win.
4: Sokoudju vs Little Nog (Pride 33)
This next entry took place in 2007 under the Pride FC banner, (*weeping* I miss Pride)
Coming into this fight as an MMA newcomer Sokoudju “The African Assassin” had an MMA record of 2-1 with his most recent fight being a KO loss to Glover Teixeira. Meanwhile Little Nog was coming off of a win against the real life version of a super mutant from Fallout Alistair Overeem. To further craft the image that I’m trying to paint in your violence loving mind, Little Nog was a -2500 betting favorite, yes you read that correctly, Sokoudju was a +1250 underdog. Bet you wish you put a few bucks on that one huh?
As I’m sure you figured out by the title of this article Sokoudju won, but he didn’t just win, he stepped into that ring that night in Vegas and KO’d a living legend of the sport in 23 seconds, and immediately launched himself into serious top contender discussions among the MMA community. Granted he achieved the lofty expectations in the sport that had been thrust upon him after such an earth shattering win, but this fight to my knowledge remains the biggest upset in terms of betting odds in MMA history.
3: Matt Serra vs GSP (UFC 69)
This entry is my favorite upset personally, but since my job is to be as objective as possible (FYI I’m not all that good at it) I can’t put this number 1.
Fresh off his TUF four victory over Chris Lytle which earned him a title shot against the newly crowned Welterweight Kingpin and at the time the man who was believed to be the future of the sport Georges St. Pierre.
Ahead of UFC 69 when the card was formally announced and after watching GSP beat the then most dominant champion in UFC history; Matt Hughes I became wholly uninterested in this fight and perceived this as mere formality and something Serra was going to use to sell monthly memberships to his BJJ gym in NYC. Well as you have probably deduced I was so wrong that I questioned if I could ever predict a fight again, (*Spoiler* still not very good at it).
On that night, in that Octagon in front of a capacity crowd in Houston with his dad bod and all (I say this as I stuff yet another cannoli in my face) Matt Serra KO’d GSP in the first round to capture the Welterweight crown, and with that emphatic win, Serra went from the guy best known as just another body on Shonie Carters highlight reel, to a world champion and upsetting who would become the greatest 170lb fighter of all time and someone who is a serious contender in the G.O.A.T. conversation.
Although Serra would lose the rematch to St. Pierre in convincing fashion, (I’m still calling for the trilogy, make it happen Sean Shelby!!) he left a lasting impression in the minds of many and remains the last man to defeat GSP.
2: Fedor Emelianenko vs Fabricio Werdum (Strikeforce)
Fedor as he is mononymously known is a long time fan favorite among the hardcore MMA community. With his wins over legends of the sport such as Cro Cop, Big Nog, Arlovski, Randleman, Mark Coleman, Babalu Sobral, and many others and when you couple that with his nearly decade long undefeated streak its easy to see why.
Meanwhile the future UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum was coming into this fight being viewed mostly as a journeyman fighter and not being labeled a credible threat to the long time reign of the Last Emperor. It only took him 69 (grow up) seconds to prove the masses wrong when he locked Fedor in a Triangle Armbar and made the Russian tap.
What makes this so special isn’t just the fact that Fedor’s impressive streak was over, or that it was ended by a journeyman like Werdum, but that it seemed to usher in a new era and shake up the hardcore base in a way that hadn’t been seen in a while.
Fedor would go on to lose his next two fights to Bigfoot Silva and Dan Henderson respectively, and as previously mentioned Werdum would go on to capture the UFC heavyweight crown, but regardless of what happened in the years after the fight, the events of that night will always be mentioned in the circles of MMA lore.
1: Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm (UFC 193)
Where do I even start? This upset was unlike any other.
Coming into UFC 193 Ronda Rousey had reached absolute mainstream superstardom to the likes that had never even remotely been seen before in MMA. The former Olympic judoka was the undefeated unstoppable world champion that armbarred everyone before you can blink, she was a charismatic personality and one year was even the 3rd most googled person (not just fighter, but person) on the planet. She is a pioneer of womans mma and even today as I write this remains one of the most popular people on the planet.
Then there is Holly Holm. The Preachers daughter came into that fight as a heavy underdog (Rousey was a -1600 favorite) and was a relative unknown to the casual fan, and honestly wasn’t given much of a chance by some hardcore fans. (I didn’t forget Kyle!)
In the promotion leading up to the fight the Rousey show was in full affect, with the champ throwing various verbal barbs at Holm and refusing to shake her hand at the weigh ins.
Once that octagon door closed and the fight began though, we saw something completely different. Holm immediately started tagging Rousey and effectively nullifying her clinch and takedown attempts. Oh and how can we forget when Holm did the disappearing act that made Rousey look like an amateur against the cage. In the 2nd rd Holm put Rousey to sleep with the headkick heard around the world.
As Holm walked around the cage celebrating her victory and as that capacity crowd screamed their collective heads off, the sport changed forever.
For the very first time, an untold amount of casual fans who might have only watched just to see Rousey flex her stardom got to see pure mixed martial arts. It was a moment that awoke the world to the reality of the pure excitement and entertainment of the sport we all love and reached more people than ever before.
Which fight would you say is the biggest MMA upset of all time?
Diaz vs McGregor 1, Royce Gracie UFC 1,3, and 4., Seth Petruzelli vs Kimbo Slice, Bisping vs Rockhold 2, Nick Diaz vs Robbie Lawler, Frankie Edgar vs Bj Penn 1.
Written by : Joshua Sloan