Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - We may never see another year like 2007 in the UFC, when Georges St-Pierre, Heath Herring, and Mirko Cro Cop all went down to defeat in crushing upsets to Matt Serra, Jake O’Brien, and Gabriel Gonzaga. But in a sport where anything can happen, there’s always the possibility of seeing favorites taken out by unheralded underdogs, and 2009 has been no exception. Read on for the biggest upsets of the half-year.
We may never see another year like 2007 in the UFC, when Georges St-Pierre, Heath Herring, and Mirko Cro Cop all went down to defeat in crushing upsets to Matt Serra, Jake O’Brien, and Gabriel Gonzaga. But in a sport where anything can happen, there’s always the possibility of seeing favorites get taken out by unheralded underdogs, and 2009 has been no exception. Read on for the biggest upsets of the half-year.
5 – UFC 94 – January 31 - John Howard W3 Chris Wilson
Boston’s John Howard came into the UFC in January with a reputation as a tough kid who didn’t mind taking a few licks before roaring back to win. Unfortunately, if you give precision striker Chris Wilson a few shots, that’s all he needs to take you out. Also consider that while the names Steve Bruno, Rory Markham, and Jay Hieron dot Wilson’s victims list, the biggest names on Howard’s pre-UFC resume – Nick Catone and Dan Miller – beat him. But all that doesn’t mean a thing when the bell rings, and when it did at UFC 94, Howard delivered everything he was expected to, but he also showed different aspects of his game on the feet and the ground as he pounded out a well-deserved split decision win.
4 – UFC 100 – July 11 – Mark Coleman W3 Stephan Bonnar
I know, it’s ‘The Hammer’, but despite the UFC Hall of Famer’s storied history, the fact remains that at 44, and following a loss to Shogun Rua earlier in the year that saw him gas out quickly, most believed that Mark Coleman’s better days were long behind him, especially when facing a younger, well-rounded Stephan Bonnar who was hungry for a win after his upset loss to Jon Jones in January. But Coleman, using the guile and determination that only comes with experience, turned back the clock for at least one night last Saturday as he mauled Bonnar for 15 minutes en route to a three round decision victory. And was there any more fitting setting for Coleman to win than on the night the world celebrated UFC 100?
3 – UFC 97 – April 18 - TJ Grant W3 Ryo Chonan
A purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the time of his UFC debut in April (he now sports a brown belt), TJ Grant was no joke, having built a solid record on the Canadian scene that included submissions of UFC vets Forrest Petz and Chad Reiner. Ryo Chonan was quite the step up though. A pro since 2001 with wins over Anderson Silva, Carlos Newton, and Joey Villasenor, the Japanese standout may have not set the UFC world on fire with losses in two of three Octagon bouts, but you could never say he was blown out in either of them. So on paper, this was going to be a tough fight for Grant to win, especially being that it was his debut in front of thousands of screaming home country fans. But Grant pulled it off, not only on the ground, but with some crisp standup, and though Chonan made it close again, the winner – Grant – was evident.
2 – UFC 94 – January 31 – Jon Jones W3 Stephan Bonnar
Considering Jones’ prodigious talent and his spectacular recent win over Jake O’Brien at UFC 100, it may be blasphemy to call this an upset, but the reason everyone is hyping up Jonny Bones now is mainly based on his one-sided decision win over Bonnar at UFC 94. For the then 7-0 New Yorker, Bonnar was going to be the litmus test as to whether he was ready for prime time. Bonnar had been in with the best in the game: Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Keith Jardine, and if Jones won, it would put him in with some very select company. Well, Jones didn’t just win, he dominated the fight from bell to bell, and did so while throwing in a host of unorthodox moves that got fans roaring. If Jones wins the world title one day, it will be this fight people will point to as one of the key starting blocks.
1 – UFC 95 – February 21 – Paulo Thiago KO1 Josh Koscheck
This will definitely be the easiest pick of the entire series of half-year awards. Paulo Thiago’s UFC 95 knockout of Josh Koscheck easily takes the number one spot when it comes to upsets, and it will be a hard act to follow in the rest of 2009. Unbeaten but unknown, Thiago was expected by most to be taken care of fairly easily by highly-regarded contender Koscheck. But then people whose opinion I respect started telling me that this fight was going to be tougher than most expected. Most would stop short of calling for the upset, but they did say that if Thiago, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, pulled it off, they wouldn’t be too surprised. Fair enough. But I’m guessing that not even Thiago’s biggest fans would have expected their man to score with a right uppercut followed by a clean-up left hand to win by knockout. This one stunned everyone, and even though Thiago fell short via decision in his second Octagon bout against Koscheck’s AKA teammate Jon Fitch last Saturday at UFC 100, there’s no taking away his first win, one that will be seared into the memories of fight fans for some time.
Honorable mention – Krzysztof Soszynski-Brian Stann, Jason Brilz-Tim Boetsch, Shane Nelson-Aaron Riley