Shana Dobson had her back against the wall in more ways than one this past Saturday night.
“Danger” took on surging flyweight prospect Mariya Agapova at UFC on ESPN 15 and picked up a second-round TKO victory in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history according to the oddsmakers.
Dobson entered the fight losing her last three and knew that she was fighting for a lot more than a win bonus as she picked up the biggest victory of her career.
“Yeah, it felt really good, man,’ Dobson told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “We didn’t really feel the pressure of what was going on. We try not to focus on the outcome; just the journey and the process. I knew that if I trusted myself, trust my training and my body, it would turn out the way that it did. I’m definitely excited about that.”
Prior to Saturday night, Dobson made the decision several months ago to move to Colorado and join Elevation Fight Team. In her first fight with her new team, Dobson faced Priscila Cachoeira at February’s UFC Auckland event and was knocked out in just 40 seconds.
Dobson, 31, wasn’t sure another opportunity to compete in the hallowed octagon would come but she was certainly glad that it did.
“I think that was a pretty fair thing to say after that fight,” Dobson said about the thoughts she’s be released after her loss to Cachoeira. “I didn’t think I’d get another shot and that was disappointing because, in that fight, I didn’t get the chance to show all the growth that I had made with Team Elevation.
“I believe in fate. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I’m glad I got the chance to show that I’m in here grinding and growing. It’s just continuous growth that’s happening.”
After losing a decision to Tracy Cortez on the Contender Series, Agapova picked up back-to-back first round finishes under the Invicta FC banner to earn her shot with the UFC. In her octagon debut, Agapova, 23, finished Hannah Cifers in the first round in a performance that opened up a lot of eyes.
Agapova called out Dobson after the win, which wasn’t surprising as, according to Dobson, the UFC had tried to book the pair for a short-notice fight “at the beginning of COVID” before events were cancelled.
Once the fight was booked, a lot of attention was sent in Agapova’s direction. Dobson didn’t let that concern her and was fully prepared to take some of that shine for herself.
“I try not to pay attention too much,” Dobson explained. “I try to stay off social media, I didn’t look at any of her social media or interviews. I respect her, she’s a fellow martial artist, but I wasn’t about to give that whole Mariya hype train gas. As far as I was concerned, it was the Shana show. I was ready to shock the world.
“As we were walking out, my head coach Sean Madden said, ‘Are you ready to shock the world?’ I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ and that’s what we did. We were only concerned about my mission and what I had to do.”
According to some betting lines, Dobson’s victory was the biggest upset in promotional history. At the least, it was the biggest since Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 in November 2015.
The plan was for Dobson to not pay attention to the outside noise until she went to place her bets on the UFC 252 event and caught a glimpse of where people saw her heading into this past weekend.
“There was a brief moment where I was betting on the previous card, Stipe and ‘DC’ 3 (where I saw it),” Dobson said. “I was betting on that card and stumbled across my odds and I was like, ‘Oh, my god. This is ridiculous.’ I had no idea until the week before.
“I just hoped that everybody would be tuning in because we about to put on. That’s all I could say. They were hyping her up, she was the next prospect. I was like, ‘Come on, man. Give me some respect. I’ve been doing this for a minute. I’ve fought a lot of tough fights, tough opponents.’ The fact that they doubted me, I wasn’t upset about it. I was just excited to see everybody’s face, everybody that bet against me, everybody that thought I was gonna lose. I just wanted to see their faces.”
Agapova came out super aggressive and looked to overwhelm Dobson in the opening seconds. Dobson was able to secure a takedown and tried to slow down her opponent. Agapova continued her activity and landed big shots while on the ground, even taking Dobson’s back to hunt for a rear-naked choke as the round ended.
The second round saw Dobson open with a high kick before Agapova took the fight back down. Dobson reversed the position before mounting and taking Agapova’s back, which led to the beginning of the end as she reigned down repeated punches until the fight was stopped.
“We had a pretty good idea she would start very quickly,” Dobson said. “The idea was just see the shots coming, block the shots, and when I fired back with my shots, make sure that they stick. Make sure that they made a statement to her to slow her ass down. That’s what we prepared for and drilled that so many times throughout the camp that it was almost robotic and completely natural.”
After the win, Dobson screamed “underdog” and celebrated her win by embracing the role of spoiler. Agapova was taken out on a stretcher after the fight.
The narrative that surrounded the aftermath of the bout was that Agapova was so aggressive that she gassed herself out, with some even taking credit away from Dobson’s victory because of that. In Dobson’s eyes, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I’m gonna be honest: I guess that works for her sometimes, but she’s 9-2 now,” Dobson said. “She’s fought. She’s been in there, she’s experienced. That ‘I gassed’ bull sh*t, I ain’t buying it. I had an adrenaline dump one time in my fighting career and that was my very first exhibition fight in the basement of some kickboxing gym.
“At this level, as a pro, you don’t have an adrenaline dump. I was in there, she was in there. We both know what happened. I landed good shots. She might have tired herself out a little bit but not enough to be out of there like that. I landed good shots and that was my intention. My intention was to make sure that those shots counted.
“I’m only saying this because I wish her well. I heard she had to go to the hospital after the fight, so I wish her a speedy recovery. But we have to give credit where credit is due. If she got tired, the main outcome of the fight is because what I did. We can’t take away from all the hard work I put in and all the sacrifices I’ve made over these last eight months to make sure I’m doing what I need to do.
“After hearing stuff on social media, I’m gonna go ahead and clear the air. You don’t have adrenaline dumps in your 10th, 11th pro fight. You might’ve got rocked a few times and it is what it is. Like I said, all respect. I reached out to her, thanked her for the fight and asked if she was okay. But at the same time, let’s not make excuses. Let’s call it what it was and that’s why we got it done Saturday night.”
After picking up the biggest win of her career, snapping a three-fight losing streak, keeping her spot on the roster, and earning the first performance bonus of her career, Dobson is excited for what the future holds.
“Saturday night felt like years in the making,” Dobson said. “Everything came together like it was supposed to and I knew that I had a lot of doubters out there. I know people watching at home were waiting for me to get finished, or for her to get the decision.
“But I was kind of like, ‘What’s up, now? Y’all saw that? That’s your prospect?’ That’s what it was for me. It was a huge relief. Like me and my coaches said, we’re excited but we’re not surprised. The only way we were going to leave that arena is with our hands raised.”