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MMA Fighting’s 2016 Upset of the Year: Michael Bisping knocks out Luke Rockhold

Michael Bisping
Michael Bisping’s knockout over Luke Rockhold in June was voted the MMA Fighting Upset of the Year.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

When former middleweight champion Chris Weidman pulled out of the main event of UFC 199, where he was to challenge the man who beat him, Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping quickly answered the call to be a replacement.

Few gave Bisping a chance. And there were all kinds of logical reasons for that. Rockhold was considered among the most talented fighters in the sport, while Bisping was a solid veteran, with a long UFC tenure, but had usually faltered against the biggest names. Rockhold had a full camp. Bisping was coming directly off a movie set and had 10 days to prepare. Rockhold was coming off devastating finishes on Weidman and Lyoto Machida, and only one loss in his previous 15 fights. He was a devastating kicker, and considered a monster from top position on the ground.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The feeling is that Bisping at his best and most prepared had little chance against Rockhold.

Bisping was 37, and had a career of being a top-10 fighter and well-known name, but he was always considered at the level below a champion. On a few occasions he was one fight away from a title shot, but never won when it counted. With his career winding down, he looked destined to never get a championship opportunity. When he lost to Tim Kennedy in 2014, coming off an eye injury, it was felt that his days as a top fighter were over. When he lost to Rockhold later that year, a fight few expected him to win, he was just considered a big name to build Rockhold's name on the way up. When he defeated Anderson Silva earlier in the year, the feeling was that would be his career climax. It was a tough fight, the win surprised many but Silva was also clearly past his prime.

Rockhold picked Bisping to be his opponent, more because Bisping's greatest talent was his ability to market a fight, which was important with so little time before the show and the match people anticipated was gone.

People had already seen what Bisping, with a full camp, could do with Rockhold. It wasn't much. In that one on Nov. 7, 2014, Rockhold dominated Bisping standing, and then on the ground, finished him quickly in the second round, handing "The Count" the only submission loss of his career. It was probably the least competitive Bisping had ever looked in a fight. Rockhold was seemingly getting better since that fight. Bisping was two years older.

When the second fight was announced, the odds started at -345 for Rockhold. People, seeing the first fight, thought that was a bargain--easy money. By fight time those odds had increased to -900.

There were extenuating circumstances that the public for the most part didn't know. In pre-fight hype on television, Bisping noted that Rockhold had a significant knee injury. Rockhold had first claimed he had done no wrestling training, acting as if he was that confident he's beat Bisping on his feet. While verbally sparring at the press conference before the fight, Rockhold admitted the injury, a torn MCL. The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) was forced to investigate. But after doing so, they OK’d the fight. Still, with the difference in size and age, not to mention the result of the first fight, Bisping was still a huge underdog.

The fight started and it didn't appear to be the Rockhold that destroyed Machida, but he was throwing his body kicks, which were the key to his first win over Bisping. Then, suddenly, he was dropped by a left hook. Bisping later said he had prepared for Rockhold dropping his hands after throwing the kick and his shot landed perfectly. Rockhold, woozy, tried to get up, was clocked with another hard shot, and never recovered.

Nobody ever expected Bisping to be a world champion But there it was. Watching Rockhold go down to the first punch was one of the most shocking moments of the year. Bisping getting his hand raised was considered one of the biggest championship upsets in history, and the easy pick for MMA Fighting's Upset of the Year award.

Bellator MMA

2. Joe Taimanglo over Darrion Caldwell (Bellator 159, July 22): In second place, and the major fight with the longest actual odds of the major upsets this year, was Taimanglo's submission win over Darrion Caldwell. Caldwell, the 2009 NCAA wrestling champion and Most Outstanding Wrestler of the NCAA tournament, was one of Bellator's rising stars. With Caldwell’s 9-0 record and his coming off a submission win over former featherweight and bantamweight champion Joe Warren in his previous fight, Taimanglo was considered a tune-up fight. Caldwell was a -1375 favorite. But he ended up caught in a third-round guillotine choke. Caldwell did gain retribution, winning a decision in their Dec. 3 rematch in Thackerville, Okla.

UFC 196 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

3. Miesha Tate over Holly Holm (UFC 196, March 5): Holm had just come off her win over Ronda Rousey. A -350 favorite against the former Strikeforce champion, Holm's stand-up appeared to be a puzzle Tate couldn't solve. But in the second round, Tate got Holm to the ground and hurt her, giving her fans a ray of hope. That hope seemed smoldered over next two rounds. Holm blocked Tate's takedowns and continued to outbox her. Things were getting desperate for Tate with less than two minutes left, but she dragged Holm to the ground and sunk in the choke in one of the most emotional fights of the year. The victory earned Tate the UFC women’s bantamweight belt.

UFC Fight Night 96 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

4. Brandon Moreno over Louis Smolka (UFC Fight Night 96, Oct. 1): Smolka, with an 11-1 record, was a ranked 25-year-old flyweight who had picked up two performance bonuses in his previous four fights. He was a -625 favorite over Moreno, an unknown late replacement for Sergio Pettis and the former low seed on The Ultimate Fighter 24. Moreno made an instant name for himself picking up a submission win in 2:23 via guillotine choke in Portland, Ore.

UFC 196 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

5. (tie) Nate Diaz over Conor McGregor (UFC 196, March 5): The second fight from UFC 196 on the list. Diaz stunned the huge, pro-Irish crowd at MGM Grand Las Vegas when he submitted McGregor via rear-naked choke in the second round. Diaz had only taken the fight 11 days out when Rafael dos Anjos pulled out with a broken foot. McGregor had looked nary invincible after knocking out Jose Aldo in 13 seconds just three months earlier.

UFC 206 Photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

5. (tie) Emil Meek over Rousimar Palhares (Venator FC 3, May 21): Coming in, Palhares, a former World Series of Fighting champion, was known as one of the most fearsome welterweights in the world, jettisoned from the UFC and suspended by the Nevada Athletic Commission (NAC) for holding onto submissions too long. Meek was an unknown. It took 45 seconds and a Meek knockout for that to change. The Norway native was then quickly signed by the UFC.

Here is how the voting for MMA Fighting’s 2016 Upset of the Year played out:

Honorable mentions

Alexis Dufresne over Marloes Coenen (Bellator 155, May 20)

Bryan Barberena over Sage Northcutt (UFC on FOX 18, Jan. 30)

Bryan Barberena over Warlley Alves (UFC 198, May 14)

Cody Garbrandt over Dominick Cruz (UFC 207, Dec. 30)

Dan Henderson over Hector Lombard (UFC 199, June 4)

Eric Spicely over Thiago Santos (UFC Fight Night 95, Sept. 24)

Evangelista Santos over Brennan Ward (Bellator 153, April 22)

Stephen Thompson over Johny Hendricks (UFC Fight Night 82, Feb. 6)

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