This Saturday in Edmonton, the focus is on Demetrious Johnson’s quest to sit alone atop the leaderboard as the champion with the most successful title defenses in UFC history. But in mixed martial arts, there is no such thing as a sure thing, so as talented challenger Ray Borg prepares to keep Johnson from reaching this hallowed achievement, we will look back at the 25 greatest upsets to take place in the Octagon. These were the ones that shocked the world, and a strong reminder that despite what the oddsmakers may say, this is why they fight the fights.
UFC 1 – Royce Gracie-Ken Shamrock I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
All you needed to do was look at Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock side by side to wonder ‘how in the world is this skinny kid from Brazil’ going to beat this monster?’ Throw in the fact that Shamrock knew the “mysterious” submission game employed by Gracie as well, and the odds in his favor shot even higher. But on this night, Gracie was not to be denied as he put a new sport on the map with a brilliant three fight / three win performance that was epitomized by the win in the middle over Shamrock.
UFC 3 – Keith Hackney-Emmanuel Yarborough (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
In the early days of the UFC, it was hard to get a read on some of the competitors in this brand new fighting venue, so you usually judged fighters by their appearance. And when 200 pound Keith Hackney faced off against 600-pound Emmanuel Yarborough, you feared for Hackney’s safety. Well, at least you did until the fight started and Hackney dropped his opponent with the first strike he landed. From there, it was all Hackney as he halted Yarborough in less than two minutes.
UFC 4 – Royce Gracie-Dan Severn (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
With 10 wins and no losses in the UFC, Royce Gracie was the undisputed king of the early Octagon. But the man many believed to have his number was a former college wrestling star known as “The Beast”, Dan Severn. And as Severn romped over his first two opponents in the 1994 tournament, and then battered Gracie through the first 15 minutes of their final bout, it was no surprise to anyone. But then Gracie pulled off a triangle choke at the 15:49 mark, the crowd roared, and a legend’s legacy was cemented for All-Time.
UFC 14 – Maurice Smith-Mark Coleman (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Just as Jiu-Jitsu ruled the early days of the Octagon, wrestling had taken over in 1996, and as 1997 dawned, the man on the top of the heap was “The Godfather of Ground and Pound,” Mark Coleman. But kickboxing star Maurice Smith was about to turn the MMA world on its ear, and at UFC 14, he stunned observers with a style that was soon to be known as “Sprawl and Brawl,” as he tossed off Coleman’s takedown attempts and pounded out a decision win that earned him the UFC heavyweight title and handed “The Hammer” his first ever loss.
UFC 15 – Randy Couture-Vitor Belfort I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
As you can tell with a quick glance of this list, Randy Couture made a career out of beating the oddsmakers, and it all began with his October 1997 thrashing of then-unbeaten Vitor Belfort. At the time, the question wasn’t who would eventually beat “The Phenom,” but if he would lose at all. Couture took all of eight minutes and 17 seconds to answer both questions as he pounded out a TKO victory.
UFC 17 – Pete Williams-Mark Coleman (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Despite his loss to Maurice Smith 10 months earlier, Mark Coleman was still “The Hammer” and still a feared man in the Octagon. Originally scheduled to face fellow wrestler Randy Couture, Coleman was instead matched with young prospect Pete Williams, and the Lions Den product made an immediate name for himself with a highlight reel head kick knockout of an exhausted Coleman at the 12:38 mark of their 1998 bout.
UFC 35 – Jens Pulver-BJ Penn I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Despite his status as UFC lightweight champion and a veteran competitor of the sport, Jens Pulver was a prohibitive underdog when he took on “The Prodigy,” BJ Penn, at UFC 35 in 2002. And for two rounds, the oddsmakers were right, as Penn dominated and almost submitted the champion at the end of round two. But for the next three rounds, “Lil’ Evil” emerged, pounding out a five round majority decision that was the time capsule moment in the career of the UFC’s popular (and first) lightweight champion.
UFC 38 – Ian Freeman-Frank Mir (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
In 2002, Frank Mir was the UFC’s Golden Boy in waiting, a charismatic young heavyweight with off the charts talent. Ian Freeman, competing in front of his countrymen in the UFC’s first visit to England, was a grizzled veteran fighting with a heavy heart due to the illness of his father. Inspired, Freeman shocked Mir and the world with an emotional first round TKO win. But the celebration was tempered by the news that Freeman’s father had passed away shortly before the bout, with “The Machine” not being told until after the fight concluded.
UFC 43 – Randy Couture-Chuck Liddell I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
After taking back-to-back losses at heavyweight to the much bigger Ricco Rodriguez and Josh Barnett, Randy Couture’s drop to the 205 pound weight class was seen as a move of desperation to save a career on the downswing. Facing the feared Chuck Liddell in his first light heavyweight bout was just going to hasten Couture’s demise. But the one person not counting Couture out was the man himself, and he not only beat Liddell, he stopped him in the third round and began the second act of one of the fight game’s most amazing careers.
UFC 46 – BJ Penn-Matt Hughes I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
BJ Penn came up short in his two previous shots at UFC gold, losing to Jens Pulver and drawing with Caol Uno. What made him think that he could beat Matt Hughes, and 15 pounds north at welterweight to boot? It’s the confidence that made “The Prodigy” one of the greats, and he delivered a defining performance in submitting a stunned Hughes at 4:39 of the first round to win the UFC 170-pound title.
UFC 47 – Nick Diaz-Robbie Lawler (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
A no-nonsense knockout artist, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler was turning into the UFC’s version of Mike Tyson and the fans loved him for it. Even an injury-induced loss to Pete Spratt didn’t quiet the buzz around Lawler, but Jiu-Jitsu ace Nick Diaz certainly did the trick with his stunning one punch finish of Lawler. But Diaz was no Buster Douglas, as he went on to a successful career of his own in the ensuing years.
UFC 57 – Marcio Cruz-Frank Mir (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Less than two years removed from a serious motorcycle accident that took his UFC heavyweight title and almost his life, Frank Mir returned to the Octagon in February of 2006 to face Jiu-Jitsu specialist Marcio Cruz at UFC 57. But this wasn’t the same Mir that was on top of the world a couple years earlier, and Cruz proved it by bloodying and stopping the former champion in the first round. It wouldn’t be until 2007 that the “real” Mir once again made his presence known.
UFC 63 – Joe Lauzon-Jens Pulver (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
After more than four years away, Jens Pulver’s return to the UFC in 2006 was supposed to be a celebration. And it was – for opponent Joe Lauzon, who knocked “Lil’ Evil” out in less than a minute, derailing the former lightweight champion’s comeback momentarily. As for Lauzon, he was back in work on Monday morning as an IT professional.
UFC 68 – Randy Couture-Tim Sylvia (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Sure, it was Randy Couture, but after the former heavyweight and light heavyweight champion’s year long layoff (and knockout losses in two of his previous three fights), finding someone who was picking “The Natural” to beat the 6 foot 8 Sylvia was near impossible. But he pulled off yet another miracle in winning a shutout five round decision, delighting a packed house at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, in the process.
UFC 69 – Matt Serra-Georges St-Pierre I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
2007 was the year of the upset, but when it came to a fighter who was given virtually no chance to take down a champion expected to reign atop his division for as long as he chose to, Matt Serra’s stoppage of Georges St-Pierre was not only the biggest upset of that year, but of All-Time. And the Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt did it with his fists, not his ground game, as he clipped GSP early and kept punching until referee John McCarthy halted the bout and raised the hand of the new welterweight champion.
UFC 70 – Gabriel Gonzaga-Mirko Cro Cop (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Sure, Gabriel Gonzaga was an underdog against the feared Croatian striker, but there were more than a few people who figured the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt had the right stuff to beat Cro Cop – on the ground. Beating Cro Cop with a single kick to the head? Those are the kinds of odds that wouldn’t even show up in Vegas. But Gonzaga pulled it off, earning himself a shot at the heavyweight title and a permanent spot in UFC highlight reels.
UFC 76 – Forrest Griffin-Mauricio Rua (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
No one thought Forrest Griffin was going to lie down and take a beating from high-profile PRIDE import Mauricio Rua when they met in Anaheim in 2007. Griffin was going to show up, be competitive, swing for the fences, and eventually get put away by ‘Shogun’ – at least that’s what the Hollywood script called for. Griffin didn’t get the memo though, and he not only beat Rua, he dominated him, putting the icing on the cake with a submission in the final minute to cap the upset victory.
UFC 76 – Keith Jardine- Chuck Liddell (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Before UFC 71, Chuck Liddell was the most dominant light heavyweight in the world, and Keith Jardine was coming off a stoppage of Forrest Griffin and apparently a couple of wins away from a title shot. What a difference a night makes, but even after Liddell lost to Quinton Jackson, he was still expected to make short work of Jardine, who was annihilated on that same night by Houston Alexander. But with a disciplined game plan and some hellacious kicks, Jardine put Liddell’s career on ice for the moment with a three round split decision win.
UFC 90 – Junior Dos Santos-Fabricio Werdum (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
If you didn’t know who Junior Dos Santos was before October 25, 2008, you were not alone. But if you still didn’t know who this Brazilian bomber was after his 81 second demolition of Fabricio Werdum at UFC 90, where have you been? In a little over a minute, Dos Santos smashed his way into the rankings with a ferocious KO of the consensus top five Werdum, and suddenly, this young man had plenty of fans around the MMA world waiting to see what he was going to do next.
UFC 112 – Frankie Edgar-BJ Penn I (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
Few outside of his native New Jersey gave Frankie Edgar a shot at defeating BJ Penn for the UFC lightweight title in their April 2010 bout. But with crisp striking and effective movement, as well as a couple points-scoring takedowns, Edgar stunned fans at Abu Dhabi with a unanimous decision win. And if that wasn’t enough, Edgar repeated the feat in more dominant fashion four months later at UFC 118, proving that the first win was no fluke.
UFC 132 – Tito Ortiz-Ryan Bader (Watch on UFC FIGHT PASS)
If you picked 36-year-old Tito Ortiz to defeat Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in July of 2011, you probably did so just for sentimental reasons. Why? Because the former light heavyweight champion had shown nothing in his previous five fights (a 0-4-1 stretch) that would make you think he could turn the tide against young powerhouse Bader. But he did, shocking Bader with a flush punch to the jaw and then finishing matters with a guillotine choke that ignited the MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd and resurrected Ortiz’ career.