Upsets have become a part of sports lore and whether it happens
in the Super Bowl or the World Series, fans always jump up and pay
attention when a huge underdog rises from the depths to defeat a
From rookie fighters being thrown to the wolves against far more
experienced competition, to salty veterans of the sport, considered
to be past their prime and on their last legs, the upset can happen
to any fighter, at any time and against all odds.
It’s part of the reason why the upset is such a revered moment
in sports and so with that we will begin our countdown of the 20
greatest upsets in UFC history.
#20: Junior Dos Santos def. Fabricio Werdum at UFC
Following a successful career in Pride, Fabricio Werdum came to
the UFC hoping to make his mark in the heavyweight division. He
admittedly had a horrible debut when he lost to former champion
Andrei Arlovski, but he quickly rectified that with wins over
Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera. It was then that Werdum was
matched up with a relative unknown by the name of Junior Dos
Nobody knew much about Dos Santos except he was 6-1 at the time
with all of his fights taking place in Brazil. A minute and 20
seconds later, Dos Santos made his name. He punished Werdum the
moment the fight started and he didn’t let up until he landed the
knockout blow. Dos Santos made one of the most impressive debuts in
UFC history while also pulling off a major upset over a legit
#19: Pete Williams def. Mark Coleman at UFC 17
From UFC 10 through UFC 12, Mark Coleman was considered to be
the best fighter in all of mixed martial arts. A bruising wrestler
with unmatched power, Coleman was the kind of fighter all other
competitors dreaded facing. If he got an opponent down, chances are
they weren’t getting up until the fight was over and Coleman’s hand
Then in walked Lion’s Den fighter Pete Williams. An unremarkable
fighter by all accounts, Williams was mostly touted in his debut
because he happened to be a training partner of UFC legend Ken
Shamrock. Williams decided to make people remember him for a
different reason. Williams was able to counter and evade Coleman’s
attacks all night during their fight and with time moving past the
12th minute it was clear the former UFC heavyweight champion was
With his arms down at his knees as his lungs begged for oxygen,
Coleman slumped over and Williams met him with a sickening kick
straight to the face. Coleman dropped like a sack of potatoes as
Williams became the first fighter ever to finish the former Ohio
State All-American in the UFC.
#18: Houston Alexander def. Keith Jardine at UFC
If you knew the name Houston Alexander prior to UFC 71 you were
probably related to him at the time. Alexander took a fight against
former Ultimate Fighter competitor Keith Jardine just one fight
after he knocked out Forrest Griffin inside the Octagon. It wasn’t
even a question of who would win, more about how did Alexander land
this fight in the first place?
Well it turns out he was a bomb just waiting to go off because
after a few heavy exchanges in the opening moments of the fight,
Alexander got the upper hand and unloaded on Jardine with a series
of strikes that buckled the New Mexico fighter’s legs as he
collapsed to the ground. It took Alexander just 48 seconds to beat
Jardine and enter the record books as one of the most severe
underdogs to ever come away victorious in the UFC.
#17: Joe Lauzon def. Jens Pulver at UFC 63
Jens Pulver returned to the UFC in 2006 after four long years
away from the promotion. He was coming back with the premise being
he would fight one bout and then face off against old rival BJ Penn
to settle their long standing grudge.
Facing Pulver in his ‘warm up bout’ was a little known grappler
from Massachusetts named Joe Lauzon. Of course Lauzon knew about
Pulver’s power and prowess, but none of it mattered in the fight.
Lauzon battered Pulver the second the fight started until it came
to an end just 47 seconds later. As it turns out, Pulver was headed
to coach on the new season of the Ultimate Fighter opposite Penn
and strangely enough Lauzon ended up on the show as well. He did
get drafted to Penn’s team, however, so at least Pulver didn’t have
to coach the man who just beat him in his return to the UFC.
#16: Rashad Evans def. Chuck Liddell at UFC 88
Chuck Liddell stepped into UFC 88 after the fight of his life
when he finally faced and defeated Pride legend Wanderlei Silva in
one of the greatest slugfests in UFC history. It was the kind of
moment that define careers, and Liddell came out the victor. Now he
had to face former Ultimate Fighter winner Rashad Evans with the
winner getting the next crack at the light heavyweight title.
Liddell was on top of the world after the win over Silva, but it
only took one punch for Evans to bring him back to Earth. Liddell
controlled the first round and it looked like he was going to do
the same in the second until Evans unloaded a right hand over the
top that crushed the former champion’s jaw as he dropped to the mat
in emphatic fashion. A stunned crowd in Atlanta just sat shocked as
Liddell was knocked out and Evans stood tall as the winner and new
contender in the division. As it turns out, Liddell’s win over
Silva would actually stand as the last of his career before
retiring in 2010.
#15: Carlos Newton def. Pat Miletich at UFC 31
In the dark days of the UFC when even pay-per-view stopped being
a televised option, the promotion pushed forward while also adding
some seriously talented fighters. One of them was very talented
competitor named Pat Miletich, who won and defended the UFC
welterweight title on four occasions when he was matched up with a
Canadian grappler named Carlos Newton.
Newton was a medical student who was on his way to becoming a
doctor, and Miletich beating this kid wasn’t supposed to be
anything challenging. Newton wasn’t going away easy, however, and
midway through the third round the slick grappler grabbed hold of a
headlock squeezing and pulling at Miletich’s neck. The pressure was
too much and Miletich had to tap out. Newton was the new UFC
welterweight champion and Miletich would only fight in the UFC two
more times before exiting the promotion for good.
#14: Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva at UFC
The odds said that Chris Weidman was a real, legitimate threat
to take Anderson Silva’s title away from him after seven years atop
the middleweight division. There were dozens of fighters who were
picking Weidman to win, saying he had the perfect combination of
standup and ground game to finally bring Silva down. Then again,
maybe it was just wishful thinking on the part of a group of
middleweight who just wanted no part of ever having to face Silva
with the belt on the line.
Regardless of odds or predictions, Weidman was facing the
greatest champion the UFC has ever known and it was a tall order to
tackle. Still, Weidman wasn’t backing down one bit in the face of
Silva’s typical in fight antics and during the second round when
the champion was bobbing and weaving his head, inviting trouble,
the former college wrestler gave it to him. Weidman clipped Silva’s
chin and sent him crashing to the mat. A few more strikes followed
and Weidman had done the impossible — he finished Anderson
Silva by strikes.
#13: Forrest Griffin def. Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson at UFC
Despite a win over Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua in his last fight,
Forrest Griffin entered his bout against Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson
like a dead man walking. Sure, he beat the former Pride Grand Prix
champion but that was just a lucky performance. No way he could do
that two times in a row, much less against the man who not only
knocked out Chuck Liddell but just put on the fight of his career
against Dan Henderson to become the first ever unified champion in
Maybe it was motivation, or lack there of, or maybe it was just
the wrong night to be off his game, but Jackson failed to get his
motor running against Griffin over the course of five rounds.
Griffin targeted Jackson’s lead leg with kicks, and ended up using
his thighs and calves like a soccer ball just destroying any chance
‘Rampage’ had of stepping forward with any real momentum. The
champion kept it close but when it was over Griffin’s hand was
raised in victory as he became the first Ultimate Fighter winner to
take home UFC gold.
#12: Keith Jardine def. Chuck Liddell at UFC
Chuck Liddell needed to get a win after being knocked out by
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson for a second time while losing his UFC
light heavyweight title along the way. If the UFC was ever going to
try and pit Liddell against Rampage again, he needed to get a few
dominant wins to step back into the title picture. So he was
matched up with former Ultimate Fighter season 2 competitor Keith
Jardine. At the time, Jardine was just off of another huge upset
loss to Houston Alexander, and never seemed like a major threat to
If anything he was going to give Liddell the highlight reel
knockout he needed so people could forget what happened in the
Rampage fight. Somebody forgot to tell Jardine that he was supposed
to just roll over and die, and he ended up butchering Liddell’s
legs and midsection with kicks over the course of three rounds
leaving ‘The Iceman’ battered and bruised. The judges returned a
split decision when it was over, but anybody watching the fight
knew that Jardine was the clear winner, and he sent Liddell packing
back to the end of the line trying to figure out what went
#11: Frankie Edgar def BJ Penn at UFC 112
BJ Penn was the lightweight champion the UFC had always been
waiting for since reintroducing the division in 2006. He was
charismatic, talented and a hurricane inside the Octagon that drew
in fans from all over the world to buy any pay-per-view he was
taking part in. So when he faced off against quiet New Jersey boy
Frankie Edgar, this was supposed to be just another day at the
office for Penn, who had already blown through top contenders like
Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez.
Once he got in the Octagon with Edgar though he found out what a
real challenge felt like. Edgar’s boxing was crisp and fast, and
when he mixed in his wrestling Penn had to keep guessing at which
attack would come next. When it was over, the judges awarded a
unanimous decision victory to Edgar and that would be the last time
Penn would see a title in his UFC career (up until now
#10: Randy Couture def. Chuck Liddell at UFC
Randy Couture is a name you’ll get used to seeing on this list.
No matter how good Couture was during his career, he seemed to keep
popping up in impossible situations with the odds stacked firmly
Thus was the case when Couture moved down to 205 pounds after
suffering losses to both Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez that
forced him out of the heavyweight division. Couture was matched up
with knockout artist Chuck Liddell, and it was assumed the moment
the fight was made that the old man was about to get a very rude
welcome to the division courtesy of ‘The Iceman’.
Couture had other ideas and decided to out box, out wrestle and
just out fight Liddell at every moment they were in the cage
together. Finally after a dominant first 10 minutes, Couture put a
stop to the fight by TKO in the third round capping off one of the
most incredible upsets ever witnessed in the UFC.
#9: Tito Ortiz def. Ryan Bader at UFC 152
Despite a long, successful career that saw him win and defend
the UFC light heavyweight title more than any fighter in UFC
history (at the time), Tito Ortiz’s run came to a dramatic halt
starting in 2006 when he was knocked out for a second time by his
old friend Chuck Liddell. From that point on, Ortiz wallowed in a
sea of misery going 0-3-1 during that time and with losses
mounting, it appeared his UFC career was almost at its end.
Before he left, however, the UFC gave Ortiz one last shot at
redemption against former Ultimate Fighter winner Ryan Bader. On
paper the matchup was horrible for Ortiz. Here was a young, hungry
wrestler who did everything Ortiz did except better. Still the
former champion was determined to save his career for another day,
and after stunning Bader with a short punch early in the fight,
Ortiz jumped up and grabbed a guillotine choke, pulling the fight
to the ground.
Bader had no where to go and was forced to tap out at 1:56 in
the first round. Ortiz celebrated and felt renewed after not only
saving his job but reminded everyone why they shouldn’t count
out ‘The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’ ever again.
#8: Randy Couture def. Vitor Belfort at UFC 15
Through the first few fights of his UFC career, Vitor Belfort
looked like an unstoppable killing machine. He crushed four
opponents in a row — the last of which happened to be
legendary street fighter and UFC fixture Tank Abbott in just 52
seconds. Belfort was the closest thing the UFC had seen to Mike
Tyson at that point, but just like the boxing champion eventually
someone like Buster Douglas had to come along and in this promotion
his name was Randy Couture.
A former wrestler who didn’t start fighting until he was almost
in his mid-30’s, Couture was supposed to be just another notch on
Belfort’s hit list until they actually fought against each other in
the cage. Couture beat Belfort and exposed him in ways no one had
come close to doing before.
At just over eight minutes into the fight, Couture put Belfort
down once and for all and walked out a winner that night but unlike
Douglas in boxing, he became a legend and one of the greatest
fighters of all time throughout his storied career.
#7: Forrest Griffin def. Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua at UFC
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua came into the UFC from Pride Fighting
Championships with as much hype as any fighter had ever felt in
their Octagon debut. He was long thought to be the uncrowned
champion of his former promotion in Japan, and the talent he
showcased when blasting through fighters like Quinton ‘Rampage’
Jackson and Ricardo Arona made him a very popular person on day one
in the UFC.
The unfortunate soul who was sent to greet the grim reaper as he
arrived at the Octagon door was former Ultimate Fighter winner
Forrest Griffin. He was the unlucky soul that the UFC offered as a
sacrifice to the alter of Shogun. Except, Griffin wasn’t ready to
unlock the door and hand over the keys to the kingdom and after
wearing out Shogun in a bloody battle through the first 10 minutes,
he finally seized his moment in the final round.
With Shogun’s gas tank nearly depleted, Griffin sunk in a rear
naked choke and got the tap out from the Brazilian. An elated
Griffin did laps around the cage as he celebrated a huge moment in
his career, and one of the biggest victories he’d ever experience
as a fighter.
#6: Randy Couture def. Tim Sylvia at UFC 68
When Randy Couture lost to Chuck Liddell for a second time and
announced his retirement that was supposed to be it on what was
already a historic career. The moment Couture announced he was
coming back less than a year later wasn’t necessarily shocking, but
when we learned that it was going to be at heavyweight where he
would face 6’8″ champion Tim Sylvia, we all believed he had gone
Couture knew exactly what he was doing an in front of 19,000
plus fans at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH, the legend rose
again. Couture beat Sylvia to the punch on the feet and then
wrestled the giant to the ground time after time until the fight
ended. Couture was proclaimed the victor by lopsided decision while
he took home yet another UFC title to add to his collection.
#5: Jens Pulver def. BJ Penn at UFC 35
This selection could easily be flipped with No. 4 and ironically
both involve UFC legend BJ Penn. In 2002 when the UFC was just
getting adjusted to life under new owners Lorenzo and Frank
Fertitta along with president Dana White, the lightweight division
was an open weight class with no defined No. 1 fighter.
One person stood above the crowd, however, and that was a
lightning fast and devastating fighter named BJ Penn, who debuted a
year earlier and absolutely decimated three fighters in a row
before being matched up for a title shot against Jens Pulver. The
fight was a formality — Penn would win and hold the
lightweight title for years to come and Pulver would just be a
speedbump in the road. The only problem is no one bothered to tell
Pulver that news, and he proceeded to put on a masterful five round
performance to beat Penn, win the UFC lightweight title and hand
the Hawaiian his first professional loss. The win still stands as
the biggest of Pulver’s career and one of the most memorable upsets
to ever happen in the UFC.
#4: BJ Penn def. Matt Hughes at UFC 46
There was no denying BJ Penn’s talent from the first day he
stepped foot in the UFC, but no matter how close he got the
Hawaiian prodigy just couldn’t capture lightweight gold. Time after
time whenever Penn got close, the belt got snatched away from
So when Penn decided to move up to welterweight to challenge
incumbent champion Matt Hughes for the belt, just about everyone
thought the much smaller fighter was about to get a rude welcome to
170 pounds. Instead, Penn came out blazing and caught Hughes early
before wrapping him up for a rear naked choke to end the fight in
the first round. Penn ended Hughes’ reign as champion in emphatic
fashion once again proving that it’s not always the size of the man
in the fight, but the size of the fight in the man.
#3: Royce Gracie winning UFC 1
Now we can all look back and talk about how the UFC was founded
by the Gracie family as an exhibition to show what Brazilian
Jiu-Jitsu was all about, and Royce Gracie was their ringer to go in
and destroy the competition and win all the money and tournament
But at the time, nobody was looking at tall, lanky Royce Gracie
as a threat to some of the physical monsters that stepped foot in
the Octagon that cold night in Denver in November 1993. It was an
incredible sight to watch Gracie, time and again, pull his
opponents to the ground, wrap them up like an anaconda does to its
prey, and second later land the fight finishing submission hold. It
took Gracie all of four minutes, 59 seconds to dispatch of three
separate fighters including future UFC Hall of Famer Ken Shamrock
among them to win the first ever UFC tournament.
He went on to win two more UFC tournaments and is still widely
regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all time but the first
time he stepped in that cage there certainly weren’t many people on
the outside looking in that expected him to win.
#2: Gabriel Gonzaga def. Mirko Cro Cop at UFC
When Mirko Cro Cop came to the UFC by way of Pride Fighting
Championships, he was supposed to be the heavyweight champion
inside of approximately three fights. He needed one warm up bout to
get introduced to the American crowd, a second to become the No. 1
contender and then a third to finally get the gold.
The problem was for his second bout he was matched up against
tough Brazilian fighter Gabriel Gonzaga, who had no intention of
laying out the red carpet for Cro Cop on his path to the belt.
Gonzaga was undefeated in the UFC at the time, and he showed
absolutely no fear facing Cro Cop in the heavyweight showdown.
In fact, when the opportunity presented itself, Gonzaga launched
a high kick at Cro Cop’s head, which just so happened to be his
signature move. Gonzaga’s foot crushed the Croatian’s head, and as
he flopped to the floor and the entire world sat there with mouths
gaped open and eyes as wide as the moon, the legend of Cro Cop died
while witnessing one of the biggest upsets to ever happen inside
#1: Matt Serra knocks out Georges St-Pierre at UFC
For the biggest part of Matt Serra’s career he was MMA’s
equivalent of a’ knockaround guy’. He was part of the gang, but
never ascended to the top levels of the organization. Serra came
close to lightweight glory when he lost a controversial decision to
BJ Penn at UFC 39 in 2002, but outside of that he was always a
middle of the road fighter that never quite captured greatness.
Serra was even released from the UFC at one point and had to
earn his way back during a stint on The Ultimate Fighter season 4
dubbed ‘The Comeback’. Serra had to go through a group of fellow
welterweights all hoping to earn a title shot as the reward for
making it through the show and getting another crack at the UFC.
Serra won the show by defeating former housemate Chris Lytle in the
finals, but he was then pitting against Georges St-Pierre for the
UFC welterweight title.
St-Pierre was everything right about MMA — he was young,
good looking athletic and a freak of nature that absorbed every
facet of the sport like a sponge, getting better and better with
each fight. He was supposed to be the next great champion —
that was until April 7, 2007 when he met a scrappy kid from New
York named Matt Serra.
Following a few sloppy exchanges between the two fighters, Serra
uncorked a huge punch that wobbled St-Pierre and immediately the 10
to 1 underdog pounced on his prey. Serra unloaded shot after shot
after shot until St-Pierre wilted and eventually tapped out due to
strikes. Serra jumped up with a huge smile on his face as he pulled
off the impossible and knocked out St-Pierre to win the UFC
welterweight title in undoubtedly the biggest upset in UFC