One reason so many people love MMA is because of its pure unpredictability. When you take away that aspect of a sport, it ceases to be a sport. That’s why professional wrestling is now classifi ed as “sports entertainment.” Only a drunken hayseed would be impressed with professional wrestling’s unpredictability. But I digress.
Upsets happen on almost every fi ght card. Some are so shocking that they leave you speechless. Some may even make you rich. Some just make you sick. But for every blind squirrel that fi nds a nut, so too does a true underdog fi nd a way to win. Here are the 10 that left me speechless (and one that left me rich enough to pay everyone’s bar tab at my table. See #6).
10. ELVIS SINOSIC DEFEATS JEREMY HORN UFC 30, 2001
Jeremy Horn’s MMA resume rivals that of any badass in the history of the sport. In his more than 100 professional fi ghts, Horn has posted victories over notables such as Forrest Griffi n, Chuck Liddell, Vernon White, David Loiseau, Chael Sonnen, and Gilbert Yvel. Elvis Sinosic’s resume reads as follows: “Hi, I’m Elvis Sinosic, and I like to fi ght. I’ve been beaten by Michael Bisping, Forrest Griffi n, Renato Sobral, Alessio Sakara, Evan Tanner, Tito Ortiz, and Frank Shamrock, to name a few. However, I once beat Jeremy Horn via a triangle choke.” Sinosic can go to bed every night and remind himself of this mind-boggling upset. If I were Sinosic, I would make sure this fact ended up on my tombstone.
09. RANDY COUTURE DEFEATS VITOR BELFORT UFC 15, 1997
Before Randy Couture upset the likes of Gabriel Gonzaga, Tim Sylvia, Chuck Liddell, and Jeremy Horn, he upset Vitor Belfort—a man who was annihilating his opponents up until this point. In Belfort’s four previous fi ghts in the UFC, none had gone past 1:17.
Utilizing his dirty boxing and wrestling skills, Couture overwhelmed Belfort and left him in a bloody mess smushed against the Octagon cage. The funny thing is, Couture was considered old back then, and this was in 1997.
08. FORREST GRIFFIN DEFEATS MAURICIO RUA UFC 76, 2007
At the time of this barnburner, Mauricio Rua was the numberone- ranked 205-pound fi ghter in the world, and Forrest Griffi n was the number-one-ranked 205-pound lunatic in the world. Griffi n’s lunacy transformed to genius as he bashed his way to a rear-naked choke victory in the third round. Everyone knows what happened next: Griffi n went on to capture the UFC light heavyweight championship less than a year later with his victory over Quinton Jackson.
07. GABRIEL GONZAGA DEFEATS MIRKO “CRO COP” FILIPOVIC UFC 70, 2007
The winner of this fi ght was guaranteed a title shot with newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture. Ironically, the only person who gave Gonzaga a chance to win was Couture, who was commentating that night.
The reason this fi ght is such an upset is not the fact that Gonzaga won—it’s how he won. Although Gonzaga had somewhat of a low profi le to casual MMA fans, it was no secret that he possessed amazing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. Now, you can imagine why a high kick to the head is the last thing Cro Cop was expecting. It was also the last thing he didn’t see that night as Gonzaga knocked out the former PRIDE open weight grand prix champion in the fi rst round.
06. NICK DIAZ DEFEATS TAKANORI GOMI PRIDE 33, 2007
How do you beat Takanori Gomi? Only a handful of people, including BJ Penn and Marcus Aurelio, know the answer. Nick Diaz came up with his own way: smoke some marijuana, slug it out, and then put Gomi in a gogoplata. OK, maybe that wasn’t his game plan, but that’s basically what happened.
The victory was later ruled a “no contest” by the Nevada State Athletic Commission when Diaz tested positive for THC. The most amazing fact about this upset: It wasn’t even the best one at PRIDE 33. Keep reading.
05. MAURICE SMITH DEFEATS MARK COLEMAN UFC 14, 1997
In 1997, Mark Coleman was one of the baddest dudes on the planet. He was the fi rst UFC heavyweight champion titleholder, and he was beating people into oblivion with his wrestling pedigree.
Maurice Smith was a kickboxer with a losing MMA record. Somehow, Smith was able to keep the fi ght standing up and punish Coleman with punches and kicks. Smith’s unanimous-decision victory was one of the fi rst great upsets in the early days of MMA.
04. BJ PENN DEFEATS MATT HUGHES UFC 46, 2004
Matt Hughes was running through his competition at this time like no other UFC champion in the history of MMA—to the point where there were no welterweights left for Hughes to beat up. The 155-pound BJ Penn was eating burgers, mastering BJJ, surfi ng, and fi ghting when he felt like it. On January 31, 2004, Penn felt like fi ghting. For a lack of a better phrase, Penn beat the crap out of Hughes, winning the UFC title with a rear-naked choke at the end of the fi rst round.
03. DAN HENDERSON DEFEATS WANDERLEI SILVA PRIDE 33, 2007
Wanderlei Silva knocks out people for fun. Of his 32 MMA victories, 22 were by KO or TKO. So, when PRIDE welterweight champion Dan Henderson moved up a weight class and delivered a left hook to Silva’s head in the third round, MMA fans all over the world were stunned . Silva was fl oored, and Henderson became the new PRIDE middleweight champion. Henderson also became the fi rst fi ghter to simultaneously hold titles in two different weight classes in a major MMA organization. Even if Henderson never gets another KO, no one should ever call him “Decision Dan” after this performance.
02. RANDY COUTURE DEFEATS TIM SYLVIA UFC 68, 2007
Couture had been retired for more than a year. But for some reason, he felt he needed to fi ght heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, a man on a six-fi ght win streak. Not only was Couture moving up to the heavyweight class, he was freaking old.
However, in his normal fashion, Couture utilized the perfect game plan, and beat the Maniac to a pulp to earn a unanimous-decision victory. By this time, you would think Vegas would stop making Couture the underdog. Some people never learn.
01. MATT SERRA DEFEATS GEORGES ST. PIERRE UFC 69, 2007
Georges St. Pierre just won the UFC welterweight title by crushing Matt Hughes. Matt Serra just won The Ultimate Fighter television show by defeating a bunch of antiques. This fi ght should have been a no-brainer—I’ll bet $10,000 on GSP. If you made that bet, there is a good chance a bookie came by your house the next day and threatened to cut off your pinkie fi nger if you didn’t have the money by the end of the week.
In the most stunning upset in the history of MMA, Serra connected with punch after punch and put GSP out of commission at 3:25 in the fi rst round. The BJJ black belt truly did shock the world—not with world-class grappling, but with KO power. Of Serra’s nine MMA victories, this fi ght is his only KO.