clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Top 20 Upsets in MMA History

With all of the big upsets recently it seemed appropriate to put together a list of the most spectacular and unexpected outcomes in the history of mixed martial arts. Some of these fights launched the careers of new superstars, while others made invincible champions look human. These are the moments that many MMA fans love to remember, but some wish they could forget.

20. Nick Diaz vs. Robbie Lawler

UFC 47: It's on! - April 2, 2004

With athleticism and raw power, Robbie Lawler was 8-1 and the next big thing in the UFC Welterweight division. In April 2004 he went up against jiu-jitsu guy and relative UFC newcomer Nick Diaz. The result was a very entertaining slugfest with both guys hurting each other in the first round. The surprise came early in the second when during an exchange, Diaz landed a jab that put Lawler in dreamland and out of the fight. This upset shook up the welterweight division and put Diaz on the map.

19. Joe Lauzon vs. Jens Pulver

UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn - September 23, 2006

It was supposed to be the return of the lightweight champ. Jens Pulver was returning after a four-year absence in the UFC and many thought that he would step right back into his role as the only lightweight champ in the organization's history. First he had to get through the tough 13-3 Joe Lauzon. Lauzon made sure Pulver's UFC comeback fight did not last long as he knocked Pulver out at only 48 seconds of the first round.

18. Nick Diaz vs. Takanori Gomi

PRIDE 33: Second Coming - February 24, 2007

Gomi was considered by most to be the best lightweight in the world and this fight was supposed to be his introduction to the mainstream American public. Diaz was a scrappy fighter who had struggled in most of his big fights and was now moving down a weight class. The fight did not disappoint and and turned out to be a possible fight of the year in 2007. Gomi came out strong and knocked Diaz down ?and even broke his orbital bone, but Diaz would not go away. Diaz used his long reach and accurate punches to wear out Gomi and almost finished the fight in the first round. In the second round Diaz started where he left off and finished the fight by the rare and elusive gogoplata. This fight hurtled Diaz into the lightweight rankings and had fans screaming for a rematch.

17. Pete Williams vs. Mark Coleman

UFC 17: Redemption - May 5, 1998

Mark Coleman was one of the first monsters of the UFC. The ground and pound expert was coming off his first loss against Maurice Smith and he was facing a UFC newcomer in Pete Williams. Most expected an angry Coleman to rip through this rookie and re-establish his dominance, but Williams had other ideas. At 12:38 of the fight, Williams landed a kick to the face of Coleman that put his lights out and created a memorable moment that is still used in highlight videos today.

16. Kazuyuki Fujita vs. Mark Kerr

PRIDE 2000 Grand Prix Quarter Finals - May 1, 2000

At this point in time, Mark Kerr was undefeated and truly was "The Smashing Machine." He had smashed and beaten some of the sports best and had to be considered one of the favorites in PRIDE's inaugural grand prix. Fujita had only three fights and was still relatively new to the sport. Fujita proved he was no joke as he won a decision that stunned many in the MMA community and began a successful career for the Japanese wrestler.

15. Joachim Hansen vs. Takanori Gomi

Shooto - August 10, 2004

Takanori Gomi was 14-0 and the Shooto welterweight champion. He had dispatched great Japanese fighters of the era such as Rumina Sato and Dokonjonosuke Mishima. Gomi seemed to be on his way to establishing himself as the premier 155-pound fighter in the world, that is, until he ran into Joachim "Hellboy" Hansen. Hansen was an up and comer who, although clearly good, nobody gave much of a shot at derailing Gomi. Hansen used his length and great ground skills to steal a majority decision and the welterweight title from Gomi. That night Hansen cemented himself as one of the top guys in the world at that weight class and pulled an upset that is still talked about and debated till this day.

14. Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort

UFC 15 - October 17, 1997

In 1997, "The Phenom" looked like just that, a phenom. Vitor Belfort burst onto the UFC by knocking out his first three opponents all with a combined time of three minutes and fifty-two seconds. With his fast hands and spectacular knockouts, Belfort was expected to be the next great champion in MMA. Enter Randy Couture, a former D-1 All-American wrestler turned mixed martial artist. Belfort had no answer for Couture's takedowns and dirty boxing as Couture went on to TKO the Brazilian star at 8:16 of the fight.

13. Mark Coleman vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

PRIDE 31: Unbreakable - February 26, 2006

In 2005, Shogun Rua embarked on a meteoric rise in PRIDE's 205-pound. division. He won what many have called the most talent packed MMA tournament in history by capturing the 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Even better, he did so by defeating four of world's elite 205-pound fighters in succession: Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem, and Ricardo Arona. After the tournament, Shogun was considered to be top three in the world if not number one. Mark Coleman was an aging superstar who had lost two out of his last three fights and was expected to be another big name added to the list of Shogun's victims. Jaws dropped when in just 49 seconds of the first round, Coleman got the win after Shogun suffered a broken arm trying to post up from a Coleman takedown.

12. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira I

PRIDE 25: Body Blow - March 16, 2003

When we look back it is hard imagine any fight with Fedor winning an upset, as he is probably the greatest fighter in the history of the sport; however, in this period Nogueira was the champion and the man to beat in the heavyweight division. Nogueira had not lost in over three years and was submitting almost anyone who stood in his way of heavyweight glory. Fedor was coming off impressive wins over Heath Herring and Semmy Schilt, but most fans and experts alike thought that the Brazilian champion would be too much for the up and coming Russian. Fedor proved everybody wrong when he forcefully took the PRIDE heavyweight title away from Nogueira by employing vicious ground and pound and amazing submission defense.

11. Nino Schembri vs. Kazushi Sakuraba I

PRIDE 25: Body Blow - March 16, 2003

Kazushi Sakuraba made a name for himself in the sport as one of the legends by showing the world that the Gracies were beatable and by never backing away from a challenge. Up until this point, the only people who were able to beat the Japanese wizard were fighters who were great strikers and much larger than him. The match up between Sakuraba and Schembri was built as a submission war as Schembri was a very respected BJJ black belt. Sakuraba started the fight very strong with his unorthodox striking techniques and seemed to have the fight well in hand, but Schembri turned the tide at about the half way mark in the first round by catching Sakuraba with some knees that ended the fight and left the Japanese crowd silent.

10. Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell I- UFC 43 - 6/6/2003

UFC 43: Meltdown - June 6, 2003

This was supposed to be Chuck Liddell's time to shine. He had won ten straight and looked to be on his way to Light-Heavyweight gold, but once again everybody made the mistake of counting out Randy Couture. Couture had lost two straight in the heavyweight division and was moving down for his first fight at Light Heavyweight. Couture tired Liddell out for three rounds and actually out struck the striker. Couture secured the TKO victory over Liddell at 2:39 of the third round.

9. Dave Terrell vs. Matt Lindland

UFC 49: Unfinished Business - August 21, 2004

In 2004, Matt Lindland looked as if he finally would get the UFC middleweight title. The former Olympic silver medalist had an impressive 11-2 record with wins over some very good fighters such as Ivan Salaverry and Phil Baroni. His title hunt was halted; however, when Lindland ran into "The Soul Assassin" Dave Terrell. Terrell proved to be more than just a BJJ specialist, as he knocked out Lindland in spectacular fashion at 24 seconds of the very first round.

8. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia

UFC 68: The Uprising - March 3, 2007

Tim Sylvia was at the height of his career. In the last year he had regained the UFC heavyweight championship and successfully defended it against very tough opponents in Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson. Randy Couture was retired and spending his UFC events in the announcers booth trying to find his new place in the sport. When people heard that Couture was coming back to fight Tim Sylvia at heavyweight the most common response was, "Oh I hope Randy doesn't get hurt" or "I hope Randy can at least make a fight of it". Little did most people know "The Natural" wasn't coming back for a pay check or nostalgia: he was coming back to win. Couture came right out of the gate and landed a massive punch that put Sylvia on his back. This seemed to predict the rest of the fight as Couture dominated all five rounds and earned himself a fifth UFC championship.

7. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

PRIDE 33: Second Coming - February 24, 2007

Before this fight, many fans were asking themselves who is this Sokoudjou and why is Nogueira fighting him. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira or Lil' Nog as he is called seemed to be next in line for a shot at Wanderlei Silva's PRIDE middleweight championship. After PRIDE passed him up for a title shot in favor of Dan Henderson, he was matched up with a judo guy with a 2-1 record. The general consensus for this fight is that Nogueira will submit this guy in the first round and fight for the title later in the year, but somebody forgot to tell Sokoudjou. Sokoudjou did what no man had ever been able to do: knock out a Nogueira ? and he did so in only 23 seconds of the fight. This fight marked one of the biggest upsets in PRIDE history and made Sokoudjou the talk of the MMA world.

6. Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Mirko Crocop

UFC 70: Nations Collide - April 21, 2007

Mirko Crocop was the most devastating striker in the sport and had left high kicked his way to super stardom. The Croatian was coming off of the best year of his career where he won the PRIDE Open-Weight Grand Prix Championship and while doing so defeated some of the sport's best such as Wanderlei Silva and Josh Barnett. Crocop made his move to the UFC from PRIDE and many expected him to cruise his way to the UFC heavyweight championship and leave a trail of bodies in his wake. All started out as planned when Crocop handily defeated Eddie Sanchez in his UFC debut, but nobody was prepared for what happened in the number one contenders match when he faced Brazilian Gabriel Gonzaga. Gonzaga dictated the pace early and even got Crocop down and landed some elbows, but the real shocker came when, with just nine seconds left in the round, Gonzaga unleashed a Crocop-like head kick that cemented one of the biggest and brutal upsets in recent memory.

5. Maurice Smith vs. Mark Coleman

UFC 14: Showdown - July 27, 1997

Mark Coleman was the undefeated UFC heavyweight champion and had been pounding and choking all of his opponents into submission. Maurice Smith was a kickboxer with a 3-4 MMA record and had never fought in the UFC before. It seemed almost a no brainer that Coleman would take Smith down and pound him out, but Coleman and everyone else was surprised by the great takedown defense and will to win displayed by Smith. Smith won a decision and the UFC heavyweight championship in one of the very first major upsets in MMA history.

4. BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes I

UFC 46 Super Natural - January 31, 2006

Matt Hughes was the most dominate champion the UFC had ever seen. He had steamrolled through the UFC welterweight division and did so by slamming and pounding his opponents into dust. BJ Penn was a prodigy that was unable to win the UFC lightweight championship on two occasions. Many dismissed Penn's decision to move up in weight and challenge for the welterweight crown as wishful thinking and unrealistic. Penn proved that he was one of the pound-for-pound best when he choked out the welterweight king and took his title at 4:39 of the first round.

3. Marcus Aurelio vs. Takanori Gomi

PRIDE Bushido 10 - April 2, 2006

In late 2005- early 2006, Takanori Gomi seemed unbeatable. He had just torn through the PRIDE Lightweight Grand Prix by destroying top lightweights such as Luiz Azeredo, Tatsuya Kawajiri, and Hayato Sakurai. Gomi was 10-0 in PRIDE and looked to continue his dominance of the lightweight division when he took on American Top Team fighter Marcus Aurelio. Aurelio had a respectable record of 2-1 in PRIDE, but seemed to be destined to become another notch on the belt of Gomi. Aurelio showed his determination and hunger to take advantage of the huge opportunity presented to him by putting Gomi on his back and choking him out with a side choke at 4:34 of the first round. This fight threw the PRIDE lightweight division into chaos and sent Aurelio shooting up the lightweight rankings.

2. Kevin Randleman vs. Mirko Crocop

PRIDE Total Elimination 2004 - April 25, 2004

In 2004, Mirko Crocop was probably the most dangerous fighter on the planet. Except for his submission loss to Rodrigo Nogueira, he had destroyed everyone he had fought. His left high kick was quickly becoming the stuff of legend and he was a favorite in the 2004 PRIDE Heavyweight Grand Prix. In the opening round of the grand prix he was to meet Kevin Randleman, a former UFC champion that was very inconsistent and a loser of two straight fights. Randleman was primarily a wrestler and it seemed that Crocop had nothing to fear from any other part of his game. In a fight that had everyone feeling like they were in bizarro world, Randleman knocked out the Croatian in under two minutes with a vicious hook to the head.

1. Matt Serra vs. Georges St.Pierre

UFC 69: Shootout- April 7, 2007

Georges St.Pierre was on top of the world. He had just won the UFC Welterweight Championship by knocking out Matt Hughes, becoming one of the most popular fighters in the sport. Fans and experts alike predicted that he would be the champ for a long, long time and some were already speculating that one day he might move up in weight and win championships in other divisions. Matt Serra was coming off winning the Ultimate Fighter 4, where veteran fighters, who were no longer considered contenders, were given the opportunity to revive their careers and the grand prize was a title shot. No one gave Serra a snowballs chance of winning and the title shot itself was considered a death sentence. Serra shocked the world and recorded the biggest upset in MMA history when he knocked out the Canadian in the first round to claim the UFC welterweight championship. Perhaps the most shocking fact of all is that prior to this fight, Matt Serra had never in his career win by knock out.