The decade coming to a close next week may not hold upsets such as Serra-St-Pierre, Gonzaga-Cro Cop and Griffin-Rua, but there were plenty that dropped jaws and shocked the mixed martial arts world. Here are 12, as the Highly Unofficial Decade Awards get underway…
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 in 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.
Hot prospect Todd Duffee was on his way to another Octagon victory when he took on Mike Russow at UFC 114. But nothing’s guaranteed in this game until the fight is over, and Duffee learned that lesson the hard way, as Russow pulled out a right hand from nowhere in the final round that starched Duffee at the 2:35 mark, stunning all in attendance at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
If you picked 36-year-old Tito Ortiz to defeat Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in July 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.
It’s a daunting task to fight someone who hasn’t lost in more than seven years in the UFC, especially when that opponent has been deemed the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all-time. When undefeated Chris Weidman faced Anderson Silva for the 185-pound title in July 2013, the New Yorker was unmoved by the odds against him. He proved it on fight night, nearly submitting the Brazilian legend in the first round before scoring a stunning second-round knockout.
Many have called TJ Dillashaw’s May 2014 win over Renan Barao for the UFC bantamweight title the greatest upset in UFC history. Matt Serra’s win over Georges St-Pierre likely holds that top spot, but Dillashaw-Barao certainly belongs in the top five, especially when you look at Barao’s dominance at 135 pounds and his 35-fight unbeaten streak. But on this night in Las Vegas, it was all Dillashaw, as the Californian put on a master class before finishing the bout in the fifth round.
Anthony Pettis was riding high. On a five-fight winning streak AND a Wheaties box, “Showtime” was a legit superstar heading into his second lightweight title defense against Rafael Dos Anjos, a veteran who earned his shot at the belt but wasn’t seen as the guy to dethrone him. Dos Anjos had other ideas, and it wasn’t just that he beat Pettis in Dallas; he shut him out, leaving no doubt that on this March night in 2015, he was the best 155-pound fighter on the planet.
Clearly one of the best heavyweights in the game, Fabricio Werdum was confident going into his UFC 188 meeting with Cain Velasquez, but according to the fans and media, the Brazilian was facing a young man who was on his way to being the best ever. And while nearly two years had passed since Velasquez’ stoppage of Junior Dos Santos in their 2013 rubber match, most expected it to be business as usual for him against “Vai Cavalo.” But as Velasquez’ vaunted cardio failed him in the high altitude of Mexico City, Werdum took advantage and submitted him in the third round.
In a 2015 where Ronda Rousey was called the most dominant athlete in sports and was coming off title defense wins over Cat Zingano and Bethe Correia that took a combined 48 seconds, it was no surprise that the UFC women’s bantamweight champion was a prohibitive favorite over Holly Holm. But the former three-division women’s boxing champion was no slouch, and in front of a record crowd in Australia, she proved it, stunning the world with a second-round knockout win over “Rowdy” Ronda.
Nate Diaz is one of the top fighters in the world, and he proved it at UFC 196 in March 2016 by submitting Conor McGregor in the second round. But what made this one of the Octagon’s great upsets is McGregor’s standing in the MMA world heading into the bout. Unbeaten in seven UFC bouts, Dublin’s “Notorious” one was coming off a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo and was scheduled to challenge lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos before the Brazilian was forced from the bout due to injury. Add in Diaz taking the fight at 170 pounds on short notice, and the scene was set for another big McGregor win. But Stockton’s finest turned the tables on the Irishman.
Nearly ten years after his UFC debut, Michael Bisping had always come up just short of getting a title fight, and when he did get a crack at the belt at UFC 199, it was on two weeks’ notice against a champion in Luke Rockhold who had already submitted him in 2014. But never underestimate the power of will and as Bisping called it, “destiny,” and at 37, he shook up the MMA world by knocking Rockhold out in the first round to win the UFC middleweight title. From “Count” to “King,” all in the space of three minutes and 36 seconds.
No one thought Rose Namajunas was an unworthy challenger for the strawweight title at UFC 217 in New York City, but Joanna Jedrzejczyk was starting to enter the all-time great discussion, so while most believed Namajunas would give Jedrzejczyk some issues, in the end, it was going to be another successful title defense for the Poland native. Namajunas had other ideas, and with a stunning first-round TKO victory, she shook up the strawweight division and the MMA world. As Daniel Cormier would say, “Thug Rose, Thug Rose, Thug Rose!!!”
If we’re talking talent, Henry Cejudo vs Demetrious Johnson 2 was a pick’em fight. But when you throw in the intangibles, like Johnson’s dominant win over Cejudo in their first fight and his untouched reign atop the flyweight division, this rematch seemed like a done deal for “Mighty Mouse.” Cejudo had other plans, and after five tense rounds, he had a win over Johnson, the flyweight title, and a place in the history books. Not a bad trifecta.