The top 10 most shocking upsets in UFC history
T.J. Dillashaw was a massive underdog at UFC 173 on Saturday night. Renan Barao was a 9-to-1 favorite in most sports books. Yet, it was Dillashaw who not only beat him to win the UFC bantamweight title, but also dominated him.
Crazy stuff happens in MMA on the regular. But this really was one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
Was it the most shocking? Or does that distinction go to another fight?
Find out what we think below:
10. Keith Jardine def. Chuck Liddell by split decision at UFC 76 (Sept. 22, 2007)
Jardine was supposed to be nothing more than cannon fodder for one of the UFC’s biggest superstars. Liddell was coming off a knockout loss to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and a matchup with Jardine, who had just been knocked out by Houston Alexander, was perfect for him to get back on track. It sure didn’t turn out that way.
Jardine’s unorthodox striking and body kicks gave Liddell fits. It was a split decision, but Jardine was the clear winner. This is the first fight that really showed Liddell’s decline. Although he beat Wanderlei Silva in his next bout, "The Iceman" then dropped three in a row before retiring.
9. B.J. Penn def. Matt Hughes by submission at UFC 46 (Jan. 31, 2004)
The UFC basically abandoned the lightweight division after Penn and Caol Uno fought to a draw at UFC 41 on Feb. 28, 2003. That left Penn with little to no direction in his career. He left the UFC briefly to fight for K-1 and then returned to the UFC to challenge the much heavier and dominant Matt Hughes for the welterweight title.
At that point, Hughes had won a ridiculous 13 straight fights and defended the belt five times. He was supposed to roll over Penn. "The Prodigy" had other plans. He managed to submit Hughes with a rear-naked choke inside of the first round. That made Penn a massive star, but he ended up leaving again for K-1 for two years, never completely capitalizing on his momentum. The UFC stripped him of his title and there was a very public disagreement and lawsuit between the two parties.
8. Frankie Edgar def. B.J. Penn by unanimous decision at UFC 112 (April 10, 2010)
Coming in, Penn had lost exactly one lightweight fight in his career, eight years earlier to Jens Pulver. He was a dominant champion at 155 pounds and had also held the belt in the welterweight division. It wasn’t like "The Prodigy" was over the hill, either. He was considered to be in the prime of his career. For all those reasons, Edgar, coming off a win over Matt Veach of all people, had no chance against Penn, who seemed to have an advantage in every aspect of MMA.
But that night in Abu Dhabi ended up completely changing the course of history in the lightweight division. Edgar was reinvented, mixing in impeccable boxing and footwork with his wrestling pedigree to stun Penn by decision. The undersized kid from New Jersey ended up beating Penn a second time in a stretch that made him one of the toughest, most exciting fighters in the UFC as well as one of the biggest fan favorites.
7. Forrest Griffin def. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua by submission at UFC 76 (Sept. 22, 2007)
On paper, this was a frightening mismatch. Rua was a killer making his UFC debut after an incredible PRIDE run that saw him win the 2005 middleweight grand prix and earn finishes of guys like Alistair Overeem and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Griffin? He was that goofy kid from the "Ultimate Fighter" reality show whose biggest win was still over Stephan Bonnar.
Griffin was supposed to be the well-known name "Shogun" could crush to make himself a huge star in the UFC. It ended up that Griffin would cement his own status as a future Hall of Famer with a rear-naked choke victory in the third round. The clip of Griffin, face covered in blood, celebrating like he thought he had no chance to win is still played regularly on UFC broadcasts.
6. Gabriel Gonzaga def. Mirko Cro Cop by KO at UFC 70 (April 21, 2007)
If Gonzaga never does another thing in MMA, he’ll always be remembered for earning one of the biggest upsets and most incredible knockouts in one fell swoop. Cro Cop was coming off finishes of guys like Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett in PRIDE and he knocked out Eddie Sanchez in his UFC debut, setting up this encounter with gatekeeper Gonzaga.
Cro Cop was known for his incredible kicks and his catchphrase: "right leg hospital, left leg cemetery." So wouldn’t you know it, Gonzaga ended up putting Cro Cop to sleep with one of the most incredible head kick KOs you will ever see. Cro Cop injured his leg when it bent under him as he fell unconscious. He was never the same guy he was in PRIDE afterward. A win over Gonzaga would have earned him a UFC heavyweight title shot against Randy Couture, too. That would have been one of the biggest matchups in UFC history.
5. Jens Pulver def. B.J. Penn by majority decision at UFC 46 (Jan. 11, 2002)
Pulver was the lightweight champion, but Penn was coming off an obliteration of three straight men, including an 11-second knockout of Caol Uno, and it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would win here and go on to become one of the big stars in the UFC. Pulver said "not so fast."
Penn would later become one of the best pound-for-pound fighters ever and a future Hall of Famer, but this would be Pulver’s fight, a nearly flawless five-round performance that derailed Penn’s path to the top. It would be the biggest victory of Pulver’s career and one of the first fights that really showed that smaller athletes could get fans’ attention.
4. Randy Couture def. Tim Sylvia by unanimous decision at UFC 68 (March 3, 2007)
Couture was coming off a devastating knockout loss to Chuck Liddell. He was 43 years old. He had not fought in more than a year. So, when he announced that he would be coming out of retirement to move up to heavyweight and fight champion Tim Sylvia, a 6-foot-8 monster, most people thought he was insane. Sylvia had won six straight over much larger men, including a pair over Andrei Arlovski. Couture was giving up seven inches in height.
"The Natural," though, was never one to count out. Not only did he outwrestle Sylvia, he actually outboxed the striker standing up, beginning with a huge right hand in the first round. The Cincinnati crowd went bananas and Couture won by decision to earn the UFC heavyweight title for a third time. His legacy was already basically written, but the great Couture managed to add a few more chapters with this victory.
3. Royce Gracie winning UFC 1 (Nov. 12, 1993)
There were some serious bad asses in the UFC 1 tournament. Art Jimmerson was a legit championship boxer. Gerard Gordeau was a world champion karateka. Ken Shamrock looked like a damn super hero with bulging muscles. So who was this 170-pound guy running around in his pajamas? Gracie was the least intimidating looking guy on the card and ended up winning the whole thing.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu had its coming-out party on this night and has now become one of the most popular martial arts in the United States, not to mention a very important style to compete in MMA. It was all because the smallish, weak-appearing Gracie made it look easy, beating Jimmerson, Shamrock and Gordeau en route to winning the first Ultimate Fighting Championship. He was the originator, the pioneer, before the letters "MMA" were ever even coined.
2. T.J. Dillashaw def. Renan Barao by TKO at UFC 173 (May 24, 2014)
There is no such thing as an unbeatable fighter, but Barao seemed to be the closest thing to that, at least in the bantamweight division. The Brazilian had not lost in nine years coming in. And that lone defeat was his first pro fight when he was 18 years old. With one no contest mixed in there, Barao had gone unbeaten in 33 straight fights. If not the best streak ever in UFC history, it had to be right up there.
Dillashaw wasn’t even supposed to get the title shot. No. 1 contender Raphael Assuncao got injured, so the inexperienced kid from California got the nod. And he ended up dominating Barao for five rounds before finishing him inside the distance via TKO. It was one of the most stunning performances ever seen in MMA, because it came out of nowhere. No one gave Dillashaw a chance. Barao was a 9-to-1 favorite. Yet, Dillashaw rocked him in the first round and never let him get back into the fight in a nearly perfect performance.
1. Matt Serra def. Georges St-Pierre by knockout at UFC 69 (April 7, 2007)
Was Dillashaw’s win over Barao a "bigger" upset than Serra over St-Pierre? Maybe. But there’s no doubt that Serra’s victory was more shocking. It was a one-punch knockout in the very first round against a guy, like Barao, who many felt was unbeatable. St-Pierre had way more impressive wins before losing to Serra than Barao did. He had beaten B.J. Penn, Matt Hughes and Sean Sherk, all past or future champions.
Serra was a journeyman, a scrapper from Long Island who had won The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback, the only season which hasn’t featured debuting fighters, but ones who were already in the UFC gunning for a title shot. Serra had losses in his career to Din Thomas and Shonie Carter before. Unlike the 28-year-old Dillashaw, Serra was 32 and a proven commodity. He was a gatekeeper and then he beat the biggest star in the sport with one punch. That’s why this is still the most shocking upset ever.