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Ten Best - The Upsets of 2009

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, respectively. 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 year.

By Thomas Gerbasi

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, respectively. 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 year.


10 – UFC 105 – November 14 – Michael Bisping halts Denis Kang

After Bisping’s devastating knockout loss to Dan Henderson at UFC 100, some wondered whether “The Count” would ever be the same fighter. If he wasn’t, his UFC 105 truth machine – hard-hitting perennial contender Denis Kang – would be the one to find out. And though Bisping had to survive some shaky first round moments, in the second he tore out of his corner and proceeded to ground and pound his way to a TKO victory, resurrecting his career in the process. Watch video



9 – TUF10 Finale – December 5 – Kimbo Slice outpoints Houston Alexander

Considering that Kimbo Slice got knocked out in his last pre-UFC fight against Seth Petruzelli and that he was facing a legitimate KO threat in Houston Alexander (who had KO victories over Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara), the odds were certainly in the Nebraska native’s corner in Las Vegas. But then Slice not only won the fight, he did it by going three rounds and even showing off some of the ground techniques he picked up at the American Top Team gym in Florida. Sure, the fight will never get placed on any ‘Best of’ compilations, but a win’s a win, and like renowned boxing trainer George Benton once said, “win today, look good next time.” Watch video



8 – UFC Fight Night – September 16 – Brian Stann outlasts Steve Cantwell

The first two fights between former WEC champions Brian Stann and Steve Cantwell were ‘bombs away’ affairs, Stann halting Cantwell in 41 seconds in 2007, and ‘The Robot’ returning the favor via second round TKO in 2008. Since those bouts, Cantwell picked up a UFC win over Razak Al-Hassan and gained even more fans in a gutsy, but losing, effort against Luiz Cane. Meanwhile, Stann lost his Octagon debut to Krzysztof Soszynski and seemed to be stagnating. But in the rubber match, Stann – now working with Greg Jackson – fought a brilliant tactical fight that befuddled Cantwell for three rounds. When it was over, Stann had not only gained the upper hand in the trilogy, but he injected new life into his career. Watch post-fight interview


7 – UFC 101 – August 8 – Alessio Sakara surprises Thales Leites

If you thought the Kimbo Slice-Houston Alexander fight was bizarre in terms of tactics and action, this bout was definitely a close second. Leites, fresh off an uninspired five round challenge for Anderson Silva’s middleweight belt, needed to make a statement in his bout against Sakara, and the world expected him to follow through. He didn’t, and while Sakara didn’t exactly set the world on fire in getting the split decision victory, he did surprise quite a few observers by handing the former title challenger only his third professional defeat. Watch video



6 – UFC 100 – July 11 – Mark Coleman mauls 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 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? Watch video


5 – UFC 97 – April 18 - TJ Grant steps up to 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. Watch video

4 – UFC 94 – January 31 – Jon Jones shocks Stephan Bonnar

Considering Jones’ prodigious talent and his spectacular win over Jake O’Brien at UFC 100 and equally impressive performance in a DQ loss against Matt Hamill, 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, this fight will be the one people point to as one of the key starting blocks. Watch video

3 – UFC 96 – March 7 – Shane Nelson takes out Aaron Riley

I pondered leaving this fight off the list simply because Aaron Riley was victim of one of the worst stoppages in UFC history courtesy of referee Rick Fike, but the quick hook wasn’t the fault of Shane Nelson, who landed the blow that stunned and dropped Riley. And perhaps if Fike let the fight go on, Nelson might have gotten a more definitive victory, but as it stands, a win’s a win, and for the Hawaiian prospect to not only beat, but stop, the granite chinned veteran is a big accomplishment and an even bigger upset. Watch their face-off at the weigh-in




2 – UFC Fight Night – September 16 – Mike Pierce muscles through Brock Larson

Welterweight prospect Mike Pierce had solid credentials entering his UFC debut against Brock Larson, but I don’t think anyone expected Pierce to dominate the Minnesotan for three rounds, and do it by outmuscling and outwrestling him. Larson brought a five fight winning streak into the bout that included two first round UFC wins, and a victory over Pierce probably would have catapulted him to the next level in the division. Pierce put an end to that with a win that may not have been the most exciting of the year, but it was definitely one of the most dominating. Watch post-fight interview



1 – UFC 95 – February 21 – Paulo Thiago knocks out Josh Koscheck

This is definitely the easiest pick of this year’s awards series. It was assumed that the unbeaten but unknown Thiago would 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 will be seared into the memories of fight fans for some time. Watch video

Honorable mention – Jason Brilz –Tim Boetsch, Johny Hendricks-Amir Sadollah, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira-Randy Couture, Jake Rosholt-Chris Leben, Paul Daley-Martin Kampmann, Chael Sonnen-Yushin Okami, Randy Couture-Brandon Vera, Dan Hardy-Mike Swick, John Howard-Chris Wilson

Read more 2009 best-of lists