When it comes to fighting at the highest level, you can never completely count out even the heaviest underdogs. No matter the odds, no matter the stylistic mismatch, no matter the difference in athleticism, there is always a chance a fighter can spring the upset.
Unlike other professional sports leagues like the NFL, in which the Patriots of the world almost always beat the Browns of the league, when men and women who throw fists for a living strap on the four-ounce gloves, no one is completely safe.
The latest list from LowKick MMA is here to illuminate the most unlikely, most jaw-dropping, most shock-inducing UFC victories of all time. These were the moments that made us jump out of our seats, made us exclaim “Holy sh*t!,” or left us utterly speechless.
Read on for our Top 10 biggest UFC upsets.
- 1 10. Nate Diaz Over Conor McGregor
- 2 9. Frankie Edgar Over BJ Penn
- 3 8. Miesha Tate Over HollyHolm
- 4 7. Joe Lauzon Over Jens Pulver
- 5 6. Gabriel Gonzaga Over Cro Cop
- 6 5. TJ Dillashaw Over Renan Barao
- 7 4. Forret Griffin Over Shogun Rua
- 8 3. Michael Bisping Over Luke Rockhold
- 9 2. Holly Holm Over Ronda Rousey
- 10 1. Matt Serra Over Georges St. Pierre
10. Nate Diaz Over Conor McGregor
We all know the history by now.
The “Notorious” Conor McGregor was slated to take on lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 196 in a bid to become the first ever simultaneous two-division champion in UFC history. Unfortunately for “Mystic Mac”, dos Anjos broke his foot roughly two weeks out from the fight, leaving the promotion scrambling for an opponent for their biggest star.
In stepped Nate Diaz, who three months earlier made an impressive case that he was still a top ten lightweight by dismantling contender Michael Johnson over three rounds, then calling out McGregor. But Diaz would have only ten days to prepare for the most high profile fight of his career.
It wouldn’t matter.
McGregor emptied his gas tank in the first trying to take Diaz’s ahead off, as he had done to almost every other opponent before. The bigger, longer, and famously iron-chinned Diaz did not wilt, and started to take over with his exquisite boxing in the second.
He repeatedly tagged the reigning featherweight champion with hard 1-2’s, and the exhausted McGregor eventually could take no more. He shot for an ill-advised takedown, which Diaz quickly reversed. Soon after, Diaz was locking on a rear naked choke and eliciting the tap from one of the most previously dominant fighters in the world.
9. Frankie Edgar Over BJ Penn
When Frankie Edgar fought BJ Penn for the first time at UFC 112 on April 10, 2010, Penn was in the midst of a truly dominant run at 155 pounds. While he had had mixed results at welterweight, Penn looked unstoppable as a lightweight. He had avenged his only loss at that weight (a majority decision setback to Jens Pulver way back in 2002), and had stopped the four challengers he faced since claiming the title.
Edgar, meanwhile, was 6-1 in the UFC with only two stoppage wins. His most impressive victory was a decision over former champion Sean Sherk, and he was coming into his title fight off a win over the unremarkable Matt Veach. Edgar opened as nearly a 6-1 underdog and closed as a 7-1 dog.
Penn likely landed the harder shots, but Edgar’s in-and-out movement, volume, and sneaky wrestling prevented Penn from really getting in gear. Edgar took a controversial decision, and in doing so ended Penn’s reign of terror at lightweight for good. Edgar would win their rematch much more convincingly on the way to becoming an all-time great.
8. Miesha Tate Over HollyHolm
Miesha Tate went into her second UFC title shot with a chip on her shoulder.
Following her win over Jessica Eye at UFC on FOX 16, she had been promised a title shot. Instead, looking for a fresh challenge for then-champion Ronda Rousey, the UFC granted the shot to Holly Holm (more on this later). Holm took advantage, dismantling the previously dominant champion on her way to a second-round knockout.
With Rousey on the shelf for an undetermined amount of time, Holm decided to take on the next challenger. In stepped Tate. After brutalizing Rousey, Holm gained considerable notoriety, and she went into her first title defense as more than a 4-1 favorite over the crafty veteran Tate.
We recently discussed “Cupcake’s” comeback in more detail. After being down on the scorecards entering the final round, Tate secured a takedown, transitioned to the back, and sunk in a rear naked choke to finally capture the UFC bantamweight championship.
7. Joe Lauzon Over Jens Pulver
Before Joe Lauzon became known for his spectacular fights and propensity for garnering bonuses, he was a contestant on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter. But even before that, Lauzon was brought in for a bout with former champion Jens Pulver.
Pulver was the only lightweight champion the UFC had ever had, and had defeated BJ Penn in his final title defense before a contract dispute saw him leave the UFC. He was stripped of his belt, and the lightweight summit remained empty for years as the UFC was non-committal toward the lighter weight classes.
But Pulver returned four years later, after fighting all over the world, looking to reestablish himself as the world’s premiere lightweight. He faced 22-year-old up-and-comer Lauzon, who was making his UFC debut and known for his submissions.
But due to a perceived significant gap in experience and “Little Evil’s” stout takedown defense, “J-Lau” entered the bout as a 7-1 underdog, expected to be cannon fodder for the former champ. It didn’t quite go down that way.
Lauzon quickly struck for a takedown, but Pulver soon returned to his feet. The aggressive Massachusetts native pressed forward, grabbing the Thai plum and going for a knee to the head. As Pulver pulled away to avoid it, he was met by a left hook that landed flush on his chin, sending him crashing to the canvas, dazed and confused. The referee stepped in soon after.
Their time together on TUF, Lauzon as a participant and Pulver as a coach opposite Penn, must have been pretty awkward.
6. Gabriel Gonzaga Over Cro Cop
Many expected a head kick-induced knockout in the number one contender matchup between Mirko “Cro Cop” Filopovic and Gabriel Gonzaga, and that is just what they got.
“Cro Cop” was entering his sophomore UFC effort as one of the most fearsome heavyweights in history. His combination of lightning fast sprawl and lethal head kicks made him an entertaining and devastating foe. Even his catchphrase was intimidating: “Right leg, hospital; left leg, cemetery.”
His opponent was the relatively unheralded Gonzaga, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion. “Napao” was 3-0 in the UFC with three stoppages, but he had nowhere near the pedigree of his Croatian opponent, who had terrorized Pride for years.
But when the two met at UFC 70 in April 2007, Gonzaga turned “Cro Cop’s” trademark move against him. As the first round came to a close and Filipovic moved in for a final flurry to punctate the frame, he was met by the Brazilian’s shin. He collapsed to the canvas, unconscious even before he hit the deck, his leg grotesquely folded beneath him.
Gonzaga’s unlikely run to the top of the heavyweight division was complete, and “Cro Cop” never would compete for a UFC title.
5. TJ Dillashaw Over Renan Barao
When TJ Dillashaw met Renan Barao in the headliner of UFC 173, most people derided the event and Dillashaw’s chances of dethroning the champion. The original marquee, Chris Weidman defending the middleweight strap against Vitor Belfort, had fallen through when TRT was banned in Nevada. Furthermore, Barao’s original opponent, Rafael Assuncao, pulled out of the fight due to a rib injury. Barao vs. Dillashaw was expected to be little more than a squash match for the dominant champion.
“The Baron” was at the time one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA. He sported a nine-year unbeaten streak and had thrashed every opponent set in front of him to that point in his UFC career. He captured the interim bantamweight title by outpointing Dillashaw’s Team Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber, and when Dominick Cruz could not return from injury, Barao’s interim belt became the undisputed title. He had already defended it three times with a combination of blistering Muay Thai, impenetrable takedown defense, and lightning-quick submissions.
Dillashaw, meanwhile, had had a modestly successful UFC career, going 6-2, but he had been knocked out in the finals of his season of The Ultimate Fighter 14, and had recently lost to Assuncao. But he looked like a completely different fighter when the bout started.
Dillashaw’s massively improved footwork flummoxed Barao. The challenger consistently beat the Brazilian to the punch, gradually wearing him down, and by the fifth round, the gap between the two had become a chasm. Dillashaw turned it up one final time and buried Barao under a salvo of punches to complete his unlikely title-winning performance.
4. Forret Griffin Over Shogun Rua
Prior to Mauricio Rua’s UFC debut at UFC 76 in September 2007, “Shogun” had torn through Pride in devastating fashion. He won the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix by bludgeoning Quinton Jackson, winning an epic battle with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and then stopping Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona in the same night. Rua was one of the most feared fighters on the planet, with a blend of elite athleticism and lethal Muay Thai, and it was expected he would quickly march his way to a title shot after the UFC acquired Pride.
In his path stood Forrest Griffin, the winner of the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter. Griffin was popular and skilled, but after disappointing setbacks to Keith Jardine and Tito Ortiz, few thought he would reach the upper echelon of the division.
Griffin gave as good as he got from the outset, though. The two light heavyweights traded leg kicks, punching combinations, and takedowns. Surprisingly, Griffin did his best work on the ground against the BJJ black belt. When taken down, he mostly nullified Rua’s attacks from guard, and in top position he landed good punches as Rua repeatedly gave up his back.
By the third round Rua was exhausted, while Griffin maintained the same torrid pace. With time winding down, Rua again gave up his back, but this time Griffin sunk in his hooks instead of merely punching from one side. He flattened out the former Pride star and wrapped up a rear naked choke, forcing the tapout and completing the most unlikely victory of his career.
3. Michael Bisping Over Luke Rockhold
This is the one freshest in our memories, and it comes in at #3 in our ranking of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
Prior to the their second meeting at UFC 199 in June 2016, Luke Rockhold had already thrashed Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night 55 in November 2014. The two had a relatively competitive first round during which Bisping stayed on his bike to avoid engaging with the much more powerful Rockhold. In the second though, Rockhold blasted “The Count” with a head kick before jumping on his dazed foe and sinking in a mounted guillotine.
Since then, Rockhold had ripped the middleweight championship from former champ Chris Weidman. The two were set to rematch at UFC 199, but a frightening neck injury forced Weidman to pull out about three weeks out from the fight.
Forever the tough out, Bisping had since authored a new three-fight winning streak, culminating in a close win over the fading but legendary Anderson Silva. With the higher ranked contenders unavailable – “Jacare” Souza was hurt and Yoel Romero suspended – Bisping finally had the title shot that had so long eluded him.
Not many gave Bisping much of a chance in his rematch with Rockhold. The champion was the harder hitter, especially at range and on the ground, and his grappling was suffocating and aggressive. But “The Count’s” ever-improving boxing and veteran craftiness was the ace up his sleeve on fight night.
Bisping, who had never been known for one-shot power, dropped Rockhold with a left hook he never saw coming, hit him with another as he tried to rise, and polished off Rockhold’s brief title reign with a flurry of follow-up punches. In doing so, Bisping became one of the most unlikely champions in modern UFC history.
2. Holly Holm Over Ronda Rousey
In November 2015, Ronda Rousey was unequivocally the biggest star in MMA and perhaps its most dominant champion. Undefeated in 12 pro MMA fights, all of them finishes, Rousey’s combination of next-level grappling – she was a bronze medalist in judo at 2008 Beijing Olympics – and powerful striking had cut down every challenger set before her.
Her latest victim was set to be Holly Holm at UFC 193. Holm was herself undefeated and boasted championship level boxing and kickboxing pedigrees. But her first two UFC appearances had left much to be desired, as she won both by decision in less-than-exciting fights. Yet with a dearth of new contenders, Holm was the best option available.
Most observers expected Rousey to toss Holm on her head and submit her with her trademark armbar. As the fight began, it became clear this was her intention. But Holm, a Jackson-Winklejohn protegé, was prepared. As Rousey repeatedly tried to close the distance, she was met with a piston-like jab from the challenger, who did an excellent job moving laterally to not get cornered. When Rousey was able to get a hold of her foe, Holm was able to extricate herself and reset the fight at distance. As the first round came to a close, Rousey was tired, bloodied, and befuddled.
The champion failed to make the necessary adjustments between rounds, and it was more of the same in the second stanza. Eventually, Rousey was staggered by a punch and a push from the challenger. With her back to Holm, she returned to her feet and was met instantly with a head kick that landed flush. Rousey crashed to the mat, her utter domination of women’s bantamweight at a devastating end. Holm had been more than a 10-1 underdog.
1. Matt Serra Over Georges St. Pierre
This legendary, historic bout is widely regarded as the greatest upset in MMA history. Nobody gave Matt Serra a chance against all-time great welterweight St. Pierre.
“The Terror” was 4-4 in the UFC before appearing on season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter. “The Comeback” season of TUF showcased fighters at welterweight and middleweight who had already fought in the UFC – a change from previous seasons – but had yet to win a title. The winners of the show’s tournaments would be granted title shots. Serra advanced to the final and barely eked out a split decision over Chris Lytle to earn his shot at the title.
The man he would try to dethrone was Georges St. Pierre, one of the best athletes and most complete fighters in MMA history. His combination of explosive wrestling and technical kickboxing gave “Rush” the look of an all-time great. He had just ripped the title from the greatest welterweight to that point in history, Matt Hughes, with a head kick and punches. Serra looked to be little more than a sacrificial lamb to GSP.
With nothing to lose, Serra swung for the fences at UFC 69 in April 2007. St. Pierre had not yet begun to employ the cautious and risk-averse style that characterized his second reign as champion, but this was the fight that set him down that path. Serra clipped St. Pierre with an overhand right that sent him staggering, and relentlessly swarmed for the finish. He eventually got it. “Rush” succumbed to the blows, his first brief title reign at an ignominious end.
Serra, the unlikeliest of all contenders, could now and forever call himself a UFC champion.