The Top 9 Greatest UFC Upsets

July 27, 2009

In a sport that prides itself on extreme unpredictability, it shouldn't come as a huge surprise when an underdog unseats a great champion, but somehow fighters have continued to shock and inspire us with unlikely wins since the very first tournament at UFC 1. Let's take a look back and honor them by counting down the greatest of all time.

9. Frank Mir vs. Antonia Rodrigo Nogueira


It was the unstoppable man vs. the questionable comeback. Frank Mir had traveled a long and bumpy road to get where he was and he was facing one of the most war-torn veterans in mixed martial arts. Both are among the world's best Jiu-Jitsu black belts and, in 36 fights, Nogueira had never been knocked out. This was a fight that should have been settled on the mat, but Frank Mir was out to prove that he was more than a wasted talent with a useless black belt. He had no intension of taking this fight to the mat and simply overwhelmed Nogueira on the feet. He was faster, cleaner, and just better than "Minotauro" that night, handing out the legend's very first KO for a truly amazing upset.

8. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia


You can pretty much look at Couture's entire career as a long series of upsets. From his very beginnings as an unknown wrestler, Couture was billed as an underdog and, no matter how many times he fooled the onlookers, we never learned. Luckily for him, he seems to thrive on the pressure. So many times he was counted out: "He's too old," they said. "He's too small" -- such a stubborn group, they were.

Couture was coming back after a year layoff as a 43-year old man to take on the younger, taller, trickier Tim Sylvia. The fight didn't even make sense to most. We thought he'd need help climbing the steps to the Octagon and people were just hoping he could escape the cage without getting killed, but Couture had other plans. He was there to fight and he grinded out a decisive five-round victory. He was always a fan favorite but that night he set in stone his legacy as one of the greatest and most inspiring champions the UFC would ever see.

7. Royce Gracie vs. Ken Shamrock

This fight may not fit all your traditional definitions of a great upset since no one in the States had ever heard of, well, anyone when the UFC debuted in 1993, but when the gangly Gracie locked himself inside the cage with a hulking Shamrock, it seemed just as lopsided a match-up as there ever was. Of course, the truth couldn't be farther away. It only took Gracie 57 seconds to submit the God-like creature. As history tells it, Gracie would go on to submit Gerard Gordeau and thus winning the first-ever UFC Tournament.

But more importantly, if it wasn't for Gracie's ferocious submissions that day there's a good chance the UFC would have never taken off the way it did. The project would have turned a few heads, but ultimately fizzled out after creator Bob Meyrowitz and his partners burned through enough dough. For that reason, this fight will live as one of the greatest -- and most important -- upsets the UFC has ever seen.

6. Jens Pulver vs. Joe Lauzon


Perhaps a more fitting title would have been Jens Pulver vs. Who? One of the pioneers and first true legends, Pulver was making his long-awaited return to the Octagon against an unknown scrapper from Boston. It was supposed to a warm-up match to get Pulver ready for his run at the title, but Joe Lauzon is no man's punk and wasn't ready to fall back into the shadows. Lauzon took pure anger into the cage with him that night and it was enough to shock the cocky favorite. It took only one round for Lauzon to finish off Pulver with a brutal KO and with it, warned all the UFC's lightweights to remember his name.

Source: UFC

5. Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort

Typically, Randy Couture walks into this fight as a huge underdog, but little did anyone know that Couture was about to set the tone for the rest of his illustrious career. Vitor Belfort was supposed to be the next big star, but Randy doesn't read headlines, he fights...and fresh off the World Championships in wrestling, Couture was in shape and ready for a war.

In the days that preceded time limits, Randy and Vitor traded blows for almost ten straight minutes -- it proved to be too much for Belfort. Couture broke his will and chopped him down. Belfort was unable to answer Couture's relentless attack and called it a day at 8:16 into the fight.

4. B.J. Penn vs. Matt Hughes I


Matt Hughes was the kingpin and B.J. Penn was a struggling lightweight taking an ill-advised fight against the unstoppable welterweight. Hughes admitted to have taken the fight lightly, and it was a mistake that he paid dearly for. Penn broke his hand with a monstrous blow to the face and Hughes was rocked. Penn went to work from there, getting the mount and taking Hughes' back. The champion was so stunned he couldn't even feel the choke slipping in, but B.J. knew exactly what to do and squeezed his way to an unbelievable upset.

3. Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio Rua


More than just another page in the sad and savage story of countless Pride veterans crumbling under the lights of the Octagon, this was Forrest Griffin's coming out party. He was already the fighter that fans loved to love, but most people doubted he had the firepower to make a serious impression on the light heavyweight division. This was the fight that changed everything and solidified Forrest as a force to be reckoned with.

Dana White loves to tell the story that people were literally angry at this matchup. They thought it was unfair to put Griffin in the cage against the Pride legend, but we learned that day that Forrest Griffin can never be counted out. He took his unique, humble confidence into the cage and introduced Rua to a brand of stubborn determination he'd never seen. After almost three full rounds of grueling MMA, Forrest sunk in the rear naked choke and tapped out the unbeatable opponent.

2. Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko Cro Cop


The story has been told many times. Any win for Gonzaga would have been a huge upset, but to beat him at his own game with one of the most vicious head kick knockouts in all of mixed martial arts marks one of the most unbelievable upsets ever.

Early on Gonzaga was able to get the fight to the ground, which seemed to be the black belt's only chance, but then Referee Herb Dean stepped in to stand them up and Gonzaga's odds dropped dramatically lower. It seemed to the be over for "Napao," but staring at his own imminent demise, he launched the head kick that rocked the world and nearly decapitated the Croatian. "Shocking" does not describe the feeling as you watched Cro Cop crumble to the mat, but Gonzaga knew he belonged in that fight and instantly sealed his legacy as the guy who Cro Coped Cro Cop.

1. Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre


He shocked the world. No one gave Serra a chance in this fight -- they weren't even in the same class. GSP was too big, too fast, too smart, too complete for Serra to have a chance. There was just no way he could pull it off.


Serra walked into the arena that night with a mission. If you looked at his face before the bell, he had an almost eerie calm about him. He was loose and even cracked a little Mona Lisa smile. As the seconds burned off the clock in the opening round, Serra was comfortable in the exchanges and posting a formidable offense, making it clear that he would not be bullied. It was barely halfway through the first round when he landed the blow that would begin a disastrous spiral for GSP.

Serra immediately smelled the blood and with the steely resolve of a weathered veteran, he stalked his drowning victim, pressuring him, and pounding him into the mat. At 3:25 into the first round, GSP had had enough and Big John McCarthy stepped in to declare Matt Serra the new Welterweight Champion of the World, shocking us all and exacting the greatest upset in the history of the UFC.

Source: UFC