One of the most exciting aspects in all of sporting competition is the upset. From March Madness to the biggest game in football, when the underdog wins, most everyone takes note. For the first time ever, Robert Whittaker was defeated by a man not named Israel Adesanya in the UFC’s Middleweight division at UFC 290. Dricus Du Plessis defeated the “Reaper” in a manner that next to nobody had predicted, with fans and pundits alike assuming Whittaker would collect another scalp at 185 lbs. and inevitably would end up fighting Israel Adesanya a third time. Yet, this is not what happened and Du Plessis has picked up a 2nd round victory via TKO and will now surely be granted a title shot. This is not the first time an upset such as this has happened in the organization. This article will look at five other times that the unexpected occurred throughout the long history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The Biggest Upsets in UFC History
Number 5: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Rose Namajunas
Perhaps a fight that is not as remembered historically as others, the UFC 217 clash between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas was a massive fight in the history of the strawweight division and a fight whose outcome nobody predicted. Heading into the fight, Namajunas was a 6-3 fighter who had gone 1-1 in her last two fights. She had looked decent in her UFC run so far yet she had been beaten by Karolina Kowalkiewicz in her last defeat, who herself had been utterly dominated by Jedrzejczyk in a previous title defence. Jedrzejczyk had looked unbeatable during her tenure in the UFC until that point. 14-0 as a professional she was one of the pioneers of the strawweight division and after winning the belt against Carla Esparza she would go on to defend the belt 5 times in the division, utterly dominating every competitor she came up against and never looking close to being beaten. In the lead-up to the fight, the champ made no secret of her disdain for “Thug” Rose and repeatedly insulted her fighting abilities and her mental toughness telling her that she was “mentally unstable”. Namajunas never rose to the bait of Jedrzejczyk and kept composure throughout the media build-up, yet her quiet demeanor and the posturing from Jedrzejczyk led many fans to believe that Namajunas was in for a tough night. Reality would tell a far different story. The fight would last less than a round as Namajunas would dominate early, cracking Jedrzejczyk with hard hands and picking up the TKO victory just over 3 minutes into the contest.
Number 4: Luke Rockhold vs Michael Bisping II
In what was perhaps the greatest underdog story in MMA finally reaching a climax, UFC 199 saw Middleweight champion Luke Rockhold take on Michael Bisping. Bisping was nearing the end of his career in the UFC at this time and had been in the organization since 2006. During this time he had been a stalwart in the UFC Middleweight division competing against the likes of Chael Sonnen, Anderson Silva, and Dan Henderson among others. Yet he would always come up short at the final hurdle, seemingly getting himself into number one contender fight after contender fight. Luke Rockhold was thought of in the exact opposite way, Rockhold had steamrolled through almost all competition during his MMA career and his skillset and attributes appeared to make him unbeatable, he had utterly demolished the divisions champion Chris Weidman to win the belt and many had tipped him to become the next incarnation of Anderson Silva, a long-reigning monarch of the Middleweight division.
His first title defense had been scheduled for UFC 199 against Chris Weidman, yet when Weidman was ultimately forced to bow out and Bisping was brought in as a replacement on 10 days’ notice the odds were even more stacked in Rockhold’s favor. Particularly since Rockhold had submitted Bisping 18 months previous in the first meeting when he had the addition of a full training camp. Of course, in the famous bout, it would be the UFC veteran Michael Bisping who would emerge victorious after catching Rockhold with a left hook in the very first round. Bisping would go on to hold the belt for over a year, retiring shortly after being defeated by GSP at UFC 217 while Rockhold’s career would falter and flounder. He never regained the same run of form and would fight only 4 more times over the next 6 years, losing three of these encounters.
Number 3 – Ronda Rousey vs Holly Holm
Ronda Rousey is a true pioneer of women’s mixed martial arts, as is Holly Holm. Yet Rousey reached a different level of mainstream fame in the mid-2010s that could only be rivaled by the likes of Conor McGregor. The first-ever women’s champion in the UFC and a former Olympian, Rousey had a CV that looked extremely impressive and her performances only backed this up. She would defend the UFC Bantamweight title 7 times and finish every single fight. Six of these finishes would come inside the first round. She utterly dominated the competition and it appeared that she was not only one but several steps ahead of all other women in MMA at the time. While Rousey’s expertise in Judo gave her a massive advantage in the grappling department, Holm’s extensive experience in both boxing and kickboxing meant that she was leagues ahead in terms of striking. Holm would utilize this advantage to the fullest extent during the fight and would keep out of the reach of Rousey who was unable to grab hold of her and inflict steady damage with both hands and feet. The fight would last into the second round when Holm would land the famous headkick that knocked out Rousey. The loss would send Rousey into a downward skid in her career and she would only compete once more in MMA before retiring for good almost a year later. Holm on the other hand is still thriving in the organisation with a main event fight against Mayra Silva scheduled for this weekend.
Number 2 – Anderson Silva vs Chris Weidman
Anderson Silva will do and has gone down as one of the most dominant champions in the history of the UFC. Winning the belt in 2006 Silva would hold the championship until 2013 setting what is still a divisional record in the UFC with 10 title defenses. During this time he defeated names such as Forest Griffin, Damian Maia, Chael Sonnen, and the late Stephan Bonnar. Silva would often defeat his opponents with such ease that it appeared as if he was simply toying with his adversaries, often taunting and mocking their attempts at hitting him as he effortlessly avoided their incoming strikes while firing his own back. Silva was among the first of the longtime champs in the UFC and is considered by a sizable portion of the fanbase as the greatest to ever do it in the octagon.
Heading into his 11th title defence against Chris Weidman it was not a question if Silva was going to win but more so a matter of when. Weidman was a talented up and coming young fighter at the time. Heaps of natural athleticism and an excellent wrestling background led him to an impressive 9-0 record and a shot at the great Anderson Silva. The events of the fight are some of the most watched clips in MMA’s history and have been seen by millions around the world. Silva was partaking in his usual antics the entirety of the fight, mocking his opponent and taunting. This went on throughout the first round into the second until Silva took it too far. Pretending to be hurt, Silva attempted to effortlessly glide out of the way of Weidman’s punches as he had done to 10 men before yet the last punch thrown caught him and switched off the lights. Pouncing on his prey Weidman delivered a few nasty follow-up shots to finish up the job and just like that the king had been dethroned. Silva would suffer a horrific leg break in the rematch which would impact him for the rest of his career. Weidman would go on to make three defenses of the belt before losing it to Rockhold and in a cruel twist of irony would later go on to break his leg the same way Silva had done against him.
Number 1 – GSP vs Matt Serra
Yes, it was obvious but it would be a disservice to not include this fight on a list of greatest upsets. Georges St-Pierre took on Matt Serra after the conclusion of season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter where the grand prize was a title shot at the divisions champion. Serra would get his title shot against GSP at UFC 69. At that point in his career, George St-Pierre was 13-1 as a professional and had just won the welterweight championship in his previous fight when he beat Matt Hughes. Serra was a veteran of the UFC who had gone 5-4 in his time with the promotion up to that point and while he had established himself as a solid fighter, was never thought to be close to any sort of championship level and certainly was not considered to be able to hang with the likes of Georges St-Pierre.
Only receiving a title shot due to winning The Ultimate Fighter, many considered the fight to be a gimmick of sorts and that GSP could start moving on to facing the real contenders once the business with Serra had been taken care of. Of course, this is not what happened. UFC 69 saw an intense first round with back-and-forth action between the two combatants. Serra maintained his composure while GSP utilized his range, attempting to work from the outside. The two traded until eventually Serra caught GSP with a shot that hurt. The fight lasted 30 seconds or so longer as Serra patiently waited for the finish and ultimately got into full mount position before executing some clean ground and pound to not only pick up the win but the UFC Welterweight Championship as well.