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Biggest UFC Upsets in History

In the grand scheme of things, MMA is a relatively new sport. The rate of evolution of fighters has been exponential since the inception of the UFC and has helped to make for some incredible moments and huge upsets for some of the biggest names in the promotion. Here is our breakdown of some of the biggest UFC upsets in history.

  1. Nate Diaz vs. Conor McGregor (2016)

Conor is still undoubtedly the biggest name in MMA despite this UFC upset, but the lead-up to the Diaz fight was arguably the peak of Conor’s popularity. He had become the featherweight champion in his last fight with a 13-second knockout of Jose Aldo and was on a run of five consecutive finishes. He was attempting to become a two-weight champion by facing lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anos, but the Brazilian was forced to pull out with an injury. With a Conor-shaped main event void to fill, in stepped Stockton brawler Nate Diaz for an intriguing catchweight match-up. Diaz had suffered several defeats in his career, but his chin and durability up against Conor’s explosive fighting style was a conundrum the Irishman struggled to overcome. Despite a good start from Conor, his inability to get the knockout saw him tire out and succumb to a surge from Diaz, who closed off the fight with a rear naked choke and give Conor his first UFC defeat.

  1.  Shana Dobson vs. Mariya Agapova (2020)

Perhaps not two household names for fight fans, but Shana Dobson’s defeat of Mariya Agapova was the biggest odds-deficit defeat in the UFC since Holly Holm defeated Ronda Rousey around five years earlier.  After three straight defeats, Dobson was fighting to avoid being cut by the UFC and had been personally called out by Agapova who was riding high from her first UFC victory. Very much a case of ‘careful what you wish for’, Agapova began the fight well, but started to fade allowing Dobson to take mount and thunder down strikes to claim a TKO victory.

  1. Henry Cejudo vs Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson (2018)

To this day, Mighy Mouse’s dominant reign as flyweight champion is arguably underappreciated due to the perceived lack of quality competition within the lower weight divisions. Nevertheless, since the inaugural flyweight division was introduced in 2012, DJ went on a 14-fight unbeaten streak, with 11 title defences including a flying knee KO of Cejudo in 2016. Cejudo was a wrestling gold medallist who was looking to establish himself in MMA but was on the comeback trail after consecutive defeats against Mighty Mouse and Joseph Benavidez. He had angled for the rematch and, with DJ looking hard-pressed for challengers, got the chance at redemption. He was still a huge underdog, but he showed that he had learnt lessons from their first encounter, and his mix of wrestling and striking proved the difference, dragging the fight into deep waters and claiming a split decision win with this UFC upset, meaning the end one of the best winning streaks we’ve ever seen.

  1. TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barão (2014)

New fans watching this fight would have been forgiven for guessing that TJ was the long-reigning champion and not Barao. While Barao’s career might have tailed off sharply following this defeat, it’s important to emphasise just how good he was to give context to the upset. Barao was undefeated in an astonishing nine years, winning 32 straight fights. He had defeated Dillashaw’s mentor and Alpha Male campmate Uriah Faber twice, including a head kick knockout to reclaim the belt little over six months prior to the TJ fight. TJ was a big prospect, but few expected he had what it took to defeat Barao, much less comprehensively dominate him from the first round, before avenging Faber with a head kick knockout in the fifth round.

  1. Cody Garbrandt vs. Dominick Cruz (2016)

Garbrandt was undoubtedly a credible threat to Cruz, but the manner of his victory is what made for the upset here. Straight out of the traps, Garbrandt’s movement, striking and downright showboating was incredible to see against a champion like Cruz. After a long-term battle with injury, bantamweight champion Cruz had returned to reclaim his throne, defeating both Garbrandt’s formal stablemate in TJ Dillashaw and mentor Uriah Faber, with Gardbrandt the next on the Alpha Male conveyor belt to try and take him out. Cody dropped Cruz multiple times, dancing between combinations and never really looked in danger once throughout the entire fight.

Top 10 UFC Upsets in History

  1. Forrest Griffin vs. Shogun Rua 1 (2007)

Forrest Griffin had established himself as a fan and company favourite after winning The Ultimate Fighter first series and helped catapult MMA the mainstream with his fight in the final against Stephan Bonnar. His form had been a little patchy following that, with some good wins punctuated with losses and was on the comeback trail from a disappointing knockout loss to Keith Jardine when he was matched with Shogun. Rua, on the other hand, was a former PRIDE middleweight Grand Prix champion, and was a big favourite against Griffin after a first-round knockout over heavyweight Alastair Overeem in his previous fight and was considered the top light heavyweight in the world. Griffin put on an incredibly dogged display and overcome early dominance from Rua and a nasty cut to take control of the fight, before landing a rear naked choke near the end of the third to take the win.

  1. Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva (2013)

Heading into the fight, Silva was undefeated in seven years across 16 fights, nine title defences and two weight divisions. He was the biggest star in the sport across that time and was expected to dispatch of a tricky match up with prospect Chris Weidman in inimitable fashion. Throughout his career, Silva had been known to take risks in playing around with his opponents, ducking and weaving to entice them into a counter strike. Tactics like that look great until the day they don’t, and this was that day. After being caught with a punch, Silva attempted to play possum by pretending to be wobbled by the strike, only for Weidman to call his bluff and land a perfect left hook for what was a UFC upset and embarrassment in equal measure.

  1. Luke Rockhold vs. Michael Bisping 2 (2016)

By 2016, Michael Bisping had been chasing a shot at the UFC title his entire career but it seemed like, despite being a pioneer of British MMA, he would be resigned to being a nearly man in the championship stakes. He had already started to make moves to secure his post-fight career with media and film work, and when the call came for this short notice title opportunity against Rockhold he was on set filming a movie and not even nearly in fight shape. Add to that he had already been previously defeated by Rockhold in comprehensive fashion, there were few people outside of Bisping and his coach who thought he could win, certainly not Rockhold. Bisping has since spoken that his coach Jason Parillo had noticed a tendency for Rockhold to leave himself open to the left hook and it was that punch which saw the Brit drop the champion and follow up with ground and pound to become the first ever British UFC champion.

  1. Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn (2010)

BJ Penn was one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world and hadn’t lost at lightweight since 2002. Future Hall of Fame inductee Edgar was still a prospect who had gone 7-1 with the promotion but Penn was a significant favourite ahead of the fight. Edgar’s performance on the night was excellent, using his movement to keep Penn thinking and scored the first takedown of Penn in over six years, twice, one of the reasons this UFC upset qualifys for this list. Edgar ultimately clocked a unanimous decision win to shock the world and become the champ, but many felt Penn had done enough to win the fight. Edgar would ultimately settle the debate with another unanimous victory just a few months later.

  1. Rose Namajunes vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (2017)

It was the build up to this fight that Joanna famously described herself as the ‘boogey woman’ and had made a point to try and intimidate Rose as much as possible. In fairness to Joanna, as amusing as the ‘boogey woman’ moment was at the time, she wasn’t wrong. Undefeated at 14-0, with five strawweight title defences leading into the fight, Joanna was an absolute monster and was expected to run through Namajunes. before this UFC upset Rose had showed promise, but a mixture of confidence issues and patchy performances positioned her as little threat to a champion as dominant and aggressive as Jedrzejczyk. Once the fight started, it was Rose who was the aggressor, with stinging leg kicks and pushing the pace. Just three minutes into round one, she landed a huge right hand and followed up to finish the fight and become world champion.

Top 5 UFC Upsets

  1. Gabriel Gonzaga vs Mirko Cro Cop (2007)

If this was a list of the most ironic UFC wins in history, this is likely number one by a landslide. One of the most fearsome strikers in the world, famous for his head kicks, being knocked out by a head kick was an unbelievable outcome. Cro Cop was a decorated kickboxer who had transitioned into the UFC from PRIDE as their open weight Grand Prix champion and was expected to be a force in the sport prior to this UFC upset. He had won his first fight in the organisation by first round knockout and was matched with relative unknown at the time in Gabriel Gonzaga. Cro Cop was expected to sweep the Brazilian aside, and had started the fight well, nearly landing his signature left high kick on numerous occasions before Gonzaga turned the world on it’s head by knocking him out with a high kick of his own.

  1. Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey (2015)

Ronda Rousey was at the height of her career going into the fight with Holm. She had fought and finished 12 opponents in a row and it seemed like she was going to continue to quickly armbar a conveyor belt of challengers with relative ease. Holm was a different proposition. To many in the outside world who were unfamiliar, she may have been the next in line to be defeated, but as a former world champion boxer, Holm offered a skillset Ronda simply hadn’t encountered before. Holm’s execution throughout was exemplary, making the whole fight look awkwardly easy, before claiming the belt with a stunning head kick finish in this UFC upset.

  1. Joe Lauzon vs. Jens Pulver (2006)

One of the stranger scenarios and UFC upsets we’ve seen in the sport’s history. Joe Lauzon was a prospect who competed on series 5 of The Ultimate Fighter in BJ Penn’s team, despite the awkward situation of already having a knockout win over the opposing coach, Jens Pulver. Little was known about Lauzon when he was drafted in for an opportunity against former UFC lightweight champion in his UFC debut. In an astonishing turn of events, it took the young prospect just 48 seconds to knock out the established veteran and make for some uncomfortable exchanges throughout the TUF season.

  1. Juliana Pena vs. Amanda Nunes (2022)

Prior to this fight, there was a lingering discussion among MMA fans that Nunes had simply run out of challengers and had started to lap the bantamweight division, while also holding the featherweight title.  She had defeated the biggest names in the sport such as Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg and Meisha Tate. Pena did have some good victories of her own but there couldn’t have been many fans who predicted Pena not only to win, but to finish Nunes in emphatic fashion with this UFC upset.

Number 1 UFC Upset

  1. Matt Serra vs. Georges St-Pierre (2007)

One of only two blips on GSP’s considerable CV, both of which he would ultimately get back. While Matt Hughes’ win over GSP was eyebrow raising, Matt Serra’s was downright shocking. Serra had won the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter reality show and with a 9-4 record, was thrown straight into the deep end with a title fight against arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world. GSP was on a six-fight winning streak and this was to be his first title defence after avenging his Matt Hughes loss in blistering fashion just months before. The fight began as expected with GSP in control until the Serra caught him with a right counter, sending him down and followed up with ground and pound, remarkably resulting in the champion tapping out to strikes in the biggest UFC upset ever.