There is perhaps no sport in history that’s as crazy, wild or unpredictable as MMA (mixed martial arts). Underdogs throughout the years have proven time and time again that odds simply don’t matter when all it takes is one punch, or one game-changing mistake, spotted and exploited to get the win.
So why are the odds so much more reliable in similar sports like boxing than they are in MMA? Well, one natural answer is that there are so many ways to lose in the latter, and many ways to get caught at any point of a fight. With takedowns, kicks, elbows and knees being only some of the main concerns going through the mind of a stand up fighter, there really isn’t any way to prepare for absolutely every eventuality, which is why it’s incredibly rare to see a mixed martial artist reach a high level without suffering a loss or two at some point in their career.
The point is that everybody is beatable, even when they seem invincible. We’ve seen everything from David vs Goliath shockers, to jaw-dropping, inspirational comebacks in all manner of promotions both large and small. Condensing the many unbelievable, most unexpected victories throughout history into just five is a tall order, (might make it a series) but we’ll give it a shot. So without further ado, let’s countdown 5 of the Biggest Upset Wins in MMA History!
- Rameau Sokoudjou vs Antônio Nogueira — Pride 33 (Feb. 24, 2007)
- Michael Bisping vs Luke Rockhold 2 — UFC 199 (June 5 , 2016)
- Fabricio Werdum vs Fedor Emelianenko — Strikeforce (June 26, 2010)
- Matt Serra vs Georges St-Pierre — UFC 69 (April 7, 2007)
- Holly Holm vs Ronda Rousey — UFC 193 (Nov. 14, 2015)
No one would’ve believed that a relatively inexperienced Sokoudjou aka ‘The African Assassin’ (2-1 at the time and +1250 underdog) would run right through one half of the already legendary Nogueira (Antônio being the -2500 favourite) brothers straight out of the gate in his Pride debut.
The odds were so far stacked in the favour of ‘Lil Nog’, (aka ‘Minotouro’) and it’s easy to see why. He’d been making a huge impact in Pride, with his previous win coming at the expense of Alistair Overeem, while Sokoudjou had been knocked out by Glover Teixeira in his last fight.
So in what would be assumed a mismatch, Nogueira wasn’t even given the opportunity to use his world class jiu-jitsu, with Sokoudjou catching him in a flurry of exchanges, putting the legend out cold in just 23 seconds of the first round.
Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping (+450 underdog) had at this point an illustrious 10-year UFC career to be proud of, beating the likes of Anderson Silva in the most inspiring performances. One thing missing from his record was a title fight, let alone the belt itself.
After years of struggle, he was at last given his opportunity. However, this was to be against the man that had ‘finished’ him two years prior, in a deal he would accept on just two weeks’ notice after original contender, Chris Weidman withdrew due to injury.
As The Count walked to the cage in Anaheim, California, few expected him to even last more than a couple of rounds. A confident Rockhold (-600 favourite) approached him with little respect, leaving his chin exposed most of the time, until one solid left hook knocked the champion down. Rockhold quickly bounced back up, but after another left hand floored him for the second time, it was (albeit unbelievably) clear, that this one was all over.
An ecstatic Bisping became the first Brit to capture UFC gold, and picked up a Performance of the Night Bonus. It rightfully ranks up there as one of the biggest upsets and knockouts of all time.
Fedor ‘The Last Emperor’ Emelianenko is still considered by many to be the greatest heavyweight to ever compete in MMA, but prior to June 2010, he was near immortal (and here the -490 favourite).
Fans had watched his legacy grow in Japan, but were eager to see how he’d fair in the big promotions of the US. This was finally made possible when he signed with Strikeforce and lived up to his reputation by winning his first bout.
Whilst known for his sambo, Fabricio Werdum’s advanced skill in jiu-jitsu shocked the world (here as +450 underdog) when the immortal Last Emperor tapped out to the Brazilian in the first round of their bout due to a triangle choke. It’s considered by many his first legitimate loss, with his only other coming as a result of a doctor stoppage.
Matt Serra (+850 underdog) earned his welterweight title shot through winning the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter, but Georges St-Pierre (-1300 favourite) was tearing through the welterweight division, and it was hard to see anything other than the latter’s hand raised at the end of their title bout.
Serra, who walked out to Rocky theme music proved that everyone has a fighting chance against the most dominant of champions, dropping GSP in the first round and pulling off one of the biggest upsets in MMA history.
Ronda Rousey was at the time the (-1400 favourite and) biggest box office attraction the UFC had, with Conor McGregor soon to follow.
Her promotional skills and of course her fighting ability proved to UFC president Dana White that women unquestionably had a place in the UFC octagon, but for the longest time she was in a league of her own, dominating all of her opponents with world class judo.
However, when multiple-time boxing and kickboxing champion Holly Holm (+830 underdog) was next in line, Rousey’s stand up game was severely exposed as she was continuously caught moving in by Holm. Eventually, a vicious head kick laid Rousey out unconscious, and “The Preachers Daughter” was to the shock of a sold out Melbourne crowd, declared the new Bantamweight champion. As a real, out-of-nowhere stunner, this takes the number one spot on our shortlist of biggest upset wins in MMA history.