Unless you’re on the wrong side of the result, everybody loves a good upset. As the old saying goes, “It’s why they fight the fights,” and with four-ounce gloves and so many ways to win and lose, it’s inevitable that on any given night, the underdog will bite back and get the win. Here are the 10 biggest UFC upsets of 2017.
No surprise here, only in the outcome. 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!!!”
Josh Emmett said before his short notice December bout against top five featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas that all he needed was one punch to finish the fight. He was right, as the Californian went from relative unknown to legit contender in the time it took for him to land the left hook that ended Lamas’ night and put Emmett’s name on the list of fighters to watch in 2018.
3 - Daniel Kelly-Rashad Evans
It’s very possible that in nine UFC fights, Daniel Kelly has been the underdog for the most of them. So it was no surprise that the four-time Australian Olympian found himself in that role again when former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans made his middleweight debut against him in March. What was surprising, though, is that Kelly kept Evans off-balance all night en route to a split decision win that kept the General of Dad’s Army going strong in the Octagon.
Former Alabama college football star Eryk Anders got his MMA career off to a nice start, but despite his upside, taking a short notice fight against a seasoned vet like Rafael Natal wasn’t seen as the proper path to a successful UFC debut. Then the fight started, and in less than three minutes, Anders’ 8-0 record turned to 9-0 as he knocked Natal out. One more win followed and now he’s fighting Lyoto Machida next month. Guess the kid was for real after all.
5 - Darren Elkins-Mirsad Bektic
For two rounds, unbeaten Mirsad Bektic was doing exactly what fans expected from him as he built a nice lead over gritty veteran Darren Elkins. Then came round three, and in the clear comeback of 2017, the bloodied Elkins roared back to knock Bectic out and send the internet into a frenzy. There are certain things in this sport that can’t be taught, and Elkins has all of those intangibles.
6 - Gabriel Benitez-Jason Knight
With a 3-2 UFC record, Gabriel Benitez was seen by many as the perfect foil for Jason Knight’s comeback fight in December after the Mississippi native saw his four-fight winning streak snapped by Ricardo Lamas five months earlier. Benitez wasn’t informed of Knight’s plans though, and with a disciplined, skillful effort, he dominated Knight for three rounds en route to a near-shutout decision win.
7 - Brian Kelleher-Iuri Alcantara
Brazilian veteran Iuri Alcantara is not the guy you want to make your UFC debut against, especially on short notice, and especially not in Brazil. But New York’s Brian Kelleher took all those things into consideration and still said yes, and in June, he earned a Performance of the Night bonus for his efforts as he silenced the Rio de Janeiro crowd with a submission victory that took less than two minutes. Now that’s how you make a debut.
At 2-1 in the UFC and with a wealth of experience behind her, Felice Herrig shouldn’t have been seen as the gatekeeper heading into her bout with unbeaten Mexican prospect Alexa Grasso. But she was, and in response, “The Lil’ Bulldog” bit back at the doubters and Grasso, winning a three-round unanimous decision that marked the second victory of the resurgent Herrig’s current four-fight winning streak.
Despite being the UFC’s first strawweight champion, Carla Esparza has been placed on the underdog list since losing her belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2015. Maybe that changes after her UFC 219 win over previously unbeaten Cynthia Calvillo in a fight where she showed off her experience and grit against a rising star who was favored to use Esparza as a stepping stone to a title shot. But “The Cookie Monster” said no.
10 - Georges St-Pierre-Michael Bisping
Why not? Yes, Georges St-Pierre is one of the greatest fighters of all-time – maybe the greatest – but when the former welterweight champion returned from a 1449 day layoff to move up in weight to challenge Michael Bisping for the 185-pound title, there were too many questions about what he was about to do. Yet despite having the second longest span between two UFC fights (Tank Abbott holds that record at 1596 days), GSP shocked the MMA world with a submission win that was one for the ages. Five years ago, not an upset. In 2017, it earns a spot here.