Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - Unless the world gets turned upside down in the second half of 2008, it is unlikely that we will ever see a year like 2007 when it comes to upsets in the UFC Octagon. But while there aren’t any fights on the level of Matt Serra-Georges St-Pierre I, Gabriel Gonzaga-Mirko Cro Cop, Houston Alexander-Keith Jardine, or Jake O’Brien-Heath Herring on the ledger thus far this year, there have been a handful of fights that confirm the old adage that on any given night, anything can happen, especially in the UFC.
Unless the world gets turned upside down in the second half of 2008, it is unlikely that we will ever see a year like 2007 when it comes to upsets in the UFC Octagon. But while there aren’t any fights on the level of Matt Serra-Georges St-Pierre I, Gabriel Gonzaga-Mirko Cro Cop, Houston Alexander-Keith Jardine, or Jake O’Brien-Heath Herring on the ledger thus far this year, there have been a handful of fights that confirm the old adage that on any given night, anything can happen, especially in the UFC.
2008 First-Half Upsets of The Year (including last weekend’s UFC 86 event)
5 (tie) – UFC 83 – April 19 – Jason Day TKO1 Alan Belcher
A veteran of the Canadian circuit who had fought UFC vets Victor Valimaki, Patrick Cote, Jonathan Goulet, Ron Faircloth, and David Loiseau, Jason Day was nonetheless a veritable unknown on the worldwide scene when he got the call to take on up and comer Alan Belcher at UFC 83. But in Montreal that night it was Day who looked like the star on the rise as he impressively dismantled Belcher and halted him at 3:58 of the first round. To many UFC fans who knew nothing of Day coming in, this was a huge upset and a severe dent in the rise of Belcher.
5 (tie) - UFC 80 – January 19 – Fabricio Werdum TKO2 Gabriel Gonzaga
Considering his reputation from Japan’s PRIDE organization, his obvious talent, and a 2003 stoppage win over Gonzaga, no one should have been surprised when Fabricio Werdum repeated the feat over ‘Napao’ at UFC 80. But consider Werdum’s previous performance – a listless decision loss to Andrei Arlovski - as well as Gonzaga’s growing reputation as an heir apparent to the heavyweight crown (a rep that only took a minor hit in his 2007 loss to champion Randy Couture), and in paper, this fight was designed as the perfect vehicle for Gonzaga to avenge his first loss and get back in the title picture immediately. Werdum had other ideas though, and after a slow first round, ‘Vai Cavalo’ warmed up and took Gonzaga out – with strikes no less – to throw a wrench in the works when it came to the heavyweight title mix.
4 – UFC 86 – July 5 – Forrest Griffin W5 Quinton Jackson
A tough call to make when it comes to upsets, since this was not on the level of Griffin beating Shogun Rua last September, and also considering that while most fans and pundits believed Jackson was going to win, few were willing to go out on a limb and totally write Griffin off. And that’s the type of fight we saw on July 5th, a back and forth battle that seemed on the verge of swinging in one man’s favor on numerous occasions, only to see the other roar back and get back in the fight. Could it have gone either way? Absolutely (this writer saw the bout as a draw 47-47, or 3-2 in rounds for Jackson), and that’s why it was a great bout, because both men can make a legitimate claim to winning the bout. Griffin got the nod though, and to those in the odds making business, it was definitely a major upset.
3 – UFC 82 – March 1 – Heath Herring W3 Cheick Kongo
Perennial contender Heath Herring returns to the list this year; only this time he’s on the positive end of things and not the negative, like when he was upset by Jake O’Brien in January of 2007. This year, Herring was seen as the foil for Cheick Kongo’s coming out party as a true heavyweight threat. Kongo was fresh from a win over Mirko Cro Cop, and a win over Herring probably would have earned him a title shot. But you can’t count a veteran out, and ‘The Texas Crazy Horse’ sent Kongo back to the gym for more seasoning with a hard-fought split decision win punctuated by a huge knockdown in the opening moments of the bout that set the tone for the rest of the fight. And if Herring does the same to Brock Lesnar at UFC 87 this August, you may see him in the top ten for Fighter of The Year and not just here on the upsets list.
2 – UFC 80 – January 19 – Jorge Rivera TKO1 Kendall Grove
When you’re a month away from your 36th birthday, coming off a 14 second knockout loss, and brought in to face a popular young gun trying to rebound from a KO loss of his own, let’s face it, you’re not expected to win. Unfortunately for Kendall Grove, Jorge Rivera wasn’t about to go away quietly in their UFC 80 bout though, and with the dynamite he packs in his fists, any fight can be a dangerous one. Or in Grove’s case, a losing one, as Rivera hurt Grove early and didn’t let him off the hook, stopping him in just 80 seconds.
1 – UFC 85 – June 7 – Kevin Burns Wsub2 Roan Carneiro
A lot of guys take fights on short notice in order to get their shot in the UFC. Some even do well. Few do it like Kevin Burns did it though, coming in on less than two weeks notice to not only win, but to win Submission of the Night honors over a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt in the process. Add in the fact that the man Burns beat – Roan Carneiro - had won two of his last three, with the only loss coming to Jon Fitch, and that Burns still works full-time for Wells Fargo, and this feat is even more impressive. Now, everyone knows who Burns is, and on July 19th, he will look to make it two in a row when he battles fellow prospect Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson. Only thing is, if Burns wins his second UFC fight, there won’t be anyone calling it an upset.
Tomorrow – The Knockouts of the Half-Year