Everyone loves to see the underdog win, especially because they never expect it. In MMA, unpredictability is a constant variable that truly makes it one of the most exciting sports out there. Sometimes, it’s not even the underdog, but rather the fighter that most thought had zero chance at all to win, let alone survive the fight.
As this year wraps up, it’s time to look back and see who were the biggest underdogs that shattered expectations and, even if just for one night, made a name for themselves and proved everyone wrong. This is not a list of amazing comebacks in a fight, rather the matches that should have gone one way, and ended up entirely different. So, let’s jump into the top ten biggest MMA upsets from 2011!
10. Dustin Poirier VS Josh Grispi
With a record of 9-1 coming into UFC 125, Poirier was the heavy underdog against Grispi, especially considering his only loss came during his two-fight stint with the WEC. When Poirier was upgraded to the UFC to face off against Grispi, most expected a one-sided fight, courtesy of the man on the ten-fight winning streak.
Instead, it was Poirier who dominated Grispi for all three rounds of the fight, never losing a single round to his opponent, nor relenting with his attacks. Whether it was on the ground or on their feet, this was Poirier’s time to shine, and snatch a victory that no one expected him to take from the hands of Grispi. “The Diamond” has continued his winning ways this year by winning all two of his fights in the UFC this year as well, and looks to make a statement next year as to where he stands in the featherweight division.
Hit the jump to check out the rest of the top ten biggest MMA upsets in 2011!
9. Travis Wiuff VS Christian M’Pumbu
While Bellator has outdone the UFC in terms of creating actual contenders for their titles and sticking to those fighters when it comes time for a championship fight, they are notorious for their over-use of non-title bouts. Luckily, all of the champs came out unscathed and victorious… that is, until Bellator 55.
The newly crowned light-heavyweight champion Christian M’Pumbu seemed unstoppable when he met veteran Travis Wiuff in a non-title affair, but Wiuff showed what having 100 fights on his record does for a fellow. The journey-man dominated all three rounds of their match, winning a unanimous decision and breaking the trend of Bellator champs winning their non-title matches. I hope Bellator has learned their lesson with those matches. Imagine if they had, and Travis Wiuff was their new LHW champion? Not even the magic of the YAMMA could have foreseen that turn of events!
8. Jake Ellenberger VS Jake Shields
In the battle of Jakes at UFC Fight Night 25 in September, Shields was coming off of a loss to Georges St. Pierre in his first shot at his welterweight title. Ellenberger was the dark horse in this fight, despite winning four bouts in a row after his disappointing debut.
Ellenberger was extremely successful in his tenure with Bellator FC, but many UFC fans were unimpressed by his exploits with Bjorn Rebney’s crew, and were not 100% sure if he was ready to handle a challenge like Shields. Ellenberger shut all the critics up when he blasted Shields into slumberland at just 53 seconds into the first round. Ellenberger was awarded “Knockout of the Night,” and will face another huge step-up in competition when he meets Diego Sanchez in February.
7. Patricky “Pitbull” Freire VS “Razor” Rob McCullough
We already covered this fight in our Top 10 Best Fights of Bellator FC in 2011 list, so here is a reprise of that:
It’s never easy doing anything in the shadow of your brother, take it from Patricky Pitbull. His brother, Patricio Pitbull, made a name for himself in season four of Bellator, and paved the way for Patricky to rock the boat. Leave it to Bellator to not make it easy for the dude, as his first fight in the company was at Bellator 36 against former WEC lightweight champion, “Razor” Rob McCullough.
The two fighters battled for three rounds, until the middle of the third when Patricky landed a demolishing knockout punch that crumbled McCullough, and cemented his place in the list of serious contenders in the lightweight division. Patricky continued on in the tournament, knocking out Toby Imada with a picture-perfect flying knee, and losing to Michael Chandler in the finals. Since then, he has rebounded with another KO, this time at Bellator 59 against UFC veteran Kurt Pellegrino.
6. Daniel Cormier VS Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
A skilled wrestler, Cormier has never really received the credit he deserved from many fans. Luck was on his side, as Cormier found himself replacing Alistair Overeem in Strikeforce’s Heavyweight tournament when “The Reem” and Strikeforce parted ways. The man standing between Cormier and advancing into the finals — Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, fresh off his win over Fedor Emelianenko.
Critics assumed that Cormier would try to take down Silva, and that Silva would use his height and reach advantage to avoid the takedowns and strike from the pocket. Disregarding all of that, Cormier went toe-to-toe with Silva, and landed a solid punch that dropped Silva to the ground at 3:56 of the first round, advancing himself to the finals to meet Josh Barnett in 2012 to determine who the GP champ will be, and adding some serious credibility to Cormier.
5. Chris Leben VS Wanderlei Silva
Leben has been on a rampage since 2010, reinventing himself and truly maturing as both a fighter and a person (until testing positive for steroids in November, but that is a story for another article). It began in 2010 when Leben replaced Wanderlei Silva on two weeks notice to fight Yoshihiro Akiyama. “The Crippler” had just fought two weeks prior against Aaron Simpson, and no one expected Leben to last long against Akiyama coming back that quickly to fight again.
Leben defied the odds and submitted Akiyama after three grueling rounds in the second biggest upset of MMA in 2010 (the first being Fedor VS Werdum). Leben followed this up with a loss to Brian Stann, with that road leading to a match against Wanderlei Silva.
I don’t need to talk about Silva’s reputation as a knockout fighter, even at this phase of his career, so few people expected this bout to go deep into the first. Those people were right, but wrong about who would be still standing by the end of it. At just 27 seconds into the first round, Leben unloaded a series of uppercuts that collapsed Silva, earning Leben the win and the quickest knockout in his history of combat.
4. Jon Jones VS Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
The stock of Jon Jones has been rising astronomically this year, cemented in February at UFC 128 when he quieted all the critics and proved that he truly belonged at the top of the food chain in the UFC.
After earning a shot at the belt when Rashad Evans was unable to compete, Jones was brought in to take on Shogun, whose last fight was the destruction of Lyoto Machida. While many supporters of Jones were behind him and expected a win, no one expected the complete and utter dismantling of Shogun, as Jones picked Rua apart for three dominant rounds (which is what helped this fight earn its spot in this list).
Half-way into the third round, Jones TKO’ed the champ and became the new UFC light-heavyweight champion, a belt he continues to hold today and will most likely wear for many more title defenses to come.
EDIT: Not going to lie, I totally forgot about Tito Ortiz VS Ryan Bader while writing this list – no idea how, but I did. So, if you are one of the many irate readers who want to ask where that fight is on this list, cut this fight out and replace it with Ortiz VS Bader. It should be on the list, I just plum forgot about it while trying to work on many other things at once.
3. Dan Henderson VS Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante
At 41 years old, not many people expected much from Dan Henderson in what would normally be the twilight of most athlete’s careers… most. Despite winning three fights in a row, Hendo was cast out of the UFC and soon found himself in Strikeforce. Losing his first bout in the company, Henderson returned to the cage as a light-heavyweight, and earned a shot at their title against newly crowned champ, Rafael Cavalcante.
Cavalcante had done the unthinkable in August, 2010, when he beat King Mo for the title, and few thought the grizzled veteran would be able to compete with the younger champ. The two duked it out for two rounds, until lightning struck, or rather Henderson dropped “The H-Bomb” on “Feijao” and put him away early in the third round to add the first belt around his waist since 2007 in Pride FC.
2. Michael Chandler VS Eddie Alvarez
Eddie Alvarez was the Ace card up Bellator’s sleeve. The Philadelphia-native had not tasted defeat since he was submitted by Shinya Aoki way back in 2008, and he seemed invincible once he won the Bellator lightweight championship. Unfortunately for him, someone forgot to tell season four tournament winner, Michael Chandler.
Chandler quickly took control of the fight right out of the gate, chasing Alvarez around the cage and dropping him early with a grazing blow. The challenged dominated the champion for the first two rounds, until the light switch turned on for Alvarez who turned the tides in the third round. However, all that effort seemed to make Chandler try harder, who took the reins back from Alvarez, and finished him at 3:06 in the fourth round with a dramatic rear-naked choke finish. Bellator had a new lightweight champion, and the the second-best upset of the year in the sport.
1. Fedor Emelianenko VS Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva
Fedor had tasted defeat for the first time in a decade against Fabricio Werdum in 2010, and looked to get back to his winning ways as he entered Strikeforce’s first (and probably last) Heavyweight Grand Prix tournament. His opponent in the first round would be the enormous Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Everyone in the MMA world considered this an easy fight for Fedor, who they presumed would quickly thrash the humongous Brazilian with his loopy punches. No one expected Silva to get past the first round, let alone predict what would actually happen when it came time to fight.
On a cold February night in New Jersey, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva had his way with Fedor for two rounds, taking him to the floor with ease and keeping him there with barely a fight. Silva battered Fedor with strikes and searched for submission attempts, with Fedor just holding on for dear life. Before the third round of the fight, the doctors stopped the fight, giving Fedor his second loss in a row and advancing “Bigfoot” in the tournament.
That night, Fedor would announce his intent to retire, which was recanted days later by his management. Since then, Fedor lost to Dan Henderson and recently returned to his winning ways against Jeff Monson, while Silva was knocked out by Cormier and also eliminated from the tournament. Is a rematch between “Bigfoot” and “The Last Emperor” in the cards for Strikeforce? The calendar for 2012 is wide open, so no reason why it couldn’t.
Don’t forget to check out our Top 10 Best Fights of Bellator FC in 2011, and stay tuned for more Top 10 lists coming soon!