By Jesse Holland
Special to UFCmania
What started as a freak occurrence has seemingly turned into a spiraling epidemic as the best of today's UFC fighters are going down in a blaze of eight-sided glory. After the year we've had in this sport I must approach every pay-per-view with nervous anticipation. It really is true: Anything can happen.
With that in mind I present my list of the ten greatest UFC upsets:
10. Randy Couture vs. Vitor Belfort: UFC 15
At UFC 15, relative newcomer Randy Couture was set to face Vitor Belfort in a match that many experts compared to the ancient practice of feeding Christians to the lions. Couture had only two fights under his belt while Belfort was 4-0 in the Octagon. Not only was he undefeated, Belfort had four straight (T)KO's and never had a match go longer than two minutes.
Randy was supposed to be a cakewalk for the invincible Brazilian but it was Couture who earned the TKO stopping Belfort with strikes shortly after eight minutes. They would face off two more times in 2004 but the match that will be remembered in my book is probably their first as it ranks as one of the UFC's first big upsets.
9. Jason Lambert vs. Renato Sobral: UFC 68
Renato Sobral was widely considered one of the top light-heavyweights in the world and for good reason. Since July of 2002 he compiled an impressive 12-2 record including a ten-fight winning streak.
Like Minotauro Nogueira, who could have been on top for years if not for a certain Russian cyborg, Babalu was second only to Chuck Liddell. His bout against Lambert at UFC 68 was supposed to be a chance to get back to his winning ways.
Lambert wasn't having it. Talented but unproven, Lambert was coming off a KO loss to Rashad Evans and had a history of falling short against popular fighters like Tim Sylvia and Cabbage Correira. He was expected to follow suit against Sobral but instead stunned the world with a lights-out KO at 3:26 of the second round.
8. Frank Mir vs. Marcio Cruz: UFC 57
Believe it or not there was a time when Frank Mir was the poster boy for UFC heavyweights. He was an 8-1 submission master and a fan favorite long before breaking Tim Sylvia's arm. After a devastating motorcycle accident kept him out of action for nearly two years, the UFC welcomed him back by matching him against Brazilian cream puff Marcio Cruz.
What was planned as a homecoming quickly turned into a nightmare as the 1-0 rookie put Mir on his back and started raining down elbows until a blood soaked Mir could no longer defend. The fight was mercifully stopped at the end of the first round and Frank's career would never be the same.
7. Mark Coleman vs. Maurice Smith: UFC 14
Mark Coleman was one of the first true heavyweight goliaths of the UFC using his superior wrestling and ground ‘n pound to lay waste to the entire division. At 6-0 he had already destroyed legends Gary Goodridge and Dan Severn by submission and Don Frye by TKO.
His next victim was UFC newcomer Maurice Smith who was 3-4 with submission losses to Ken Shamrock and Bas Rutten. It looked like an early night for the heavily favored Coleman but instead it became a very long one as Maurice put an end to the era of dominant wresting and scored a unanimous decision after twenty-one minutes of fighting.
The Pete Williams head kick may be the loss that fans remember, but to me the Smith fight was a more shocking upset (and what I consider the beginning of the end). Coleman would never see another victory in the UFC and eventually defected to PRIDE in 1999.
6. Jens Pulver vs. Joe Lauzon: UFC 63
Jens Pulver -- like most lightweights -- was unwelcome in the Octagon after the UFC decided they were better off without a 155-pound division. Fortunately good sense prevailed and Jens, like the division, was reinstated.
Little Evil was undefeated in the Octagon and his win over BJ Penn was a memorable battle. Now he looked to return to greatness and his ring entrance at UFC 63 looked more fitting for a war hero or a matador than a UFC combatant.
In his first UFC match, unknown Joe Lauzon admitted to taking Jens antics personally. He took out his anger on an unsuspecting Pulver with a brutal KO in the first round. Any thoughts of Jens walking to the title went out with the lights.
5. Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture: UFC 43
Appearing for the second time in my illustrious list is "The Natural" and this time it's for upending the mighty Liddell at UFC 43. Chuck was 12-1 and on a torrid ten-fight winning streak looking as close to immortal as a fighter can get.
In contrast Randy was coming down from heavyweight after getting crushed by Josh Barnett and Ricco Rodriguez. Nearly 40, Randy was seen as not just a huge underdog, but also an aging combatant in a sport that long since passed him by (if they only knew).
For the second time Randy made the critics eat their words as he put an absolute clinic on the bewildered Liddell stopping him with strikes in the third round.
4. BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes: UFC 46
Matt Hughes was a victory machine. Coming into the Penn fight Matt was 13-0 since 2001 and a staggering 34-3 overall. He was making it look easy and scoffed at the idea of BJ moving up in weight. After all, Penn was a mere pup compared to the welterweight workhorse and Hughes probably took things lightly.
He shouldn't have. BJ tooled him from start to finish and choked Hughes into tapping in the first round. The look on Matt's face perfectly summarized what we were all feeling: complete and utter disbelief. He didn't even notice when the Hawaiian celebrated with a kiss. He was too busy trying to figure out what just happened.
3. Randy Couture vs. Tim Sylvia: UFC 68
After reading this list I wonder how I could have ever picked against Randy. But pick against him I did, as did most, when he came out of retirement to face the hulking menace from Camp Miletich.
Randy's last dance in the Octagon was grotesquely one-sided, and his return to a weight class that chewed him up and spit him out in 2002 seemed ill-advised and money-driven. Few believed Randy when he claimed to have found a hole in Sylvia's game and we quietly hoped he would get through the fight void of serious injury.
Once again we looked on in astonishment as Randy dropped The Maine-iac in the opening seconds of round one and continued to punish him throughout the fight. Tim summed it up best after dropping the decision: "He would strike when I thought he would shoot and shoot when I thought he would strike."
Tim shouldn't feel bad for having Randy make him look stupid. He's been doing it to us for years.
2. Mirko Cro Cop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga: UFC 70
I'll admit it. Part of what makes this upset come in at #2 is the way it ended. Aside from Randy Couture (who looks more and more like a genius with every move he makes) I don't think anyone gave Gonzaga a real chance at winning.
People may have been open to a decision loss or a freak submission but if you wanted to lay odds on a head kick they would have laughed in your face. Well no one is laughing now as the artist formerly known as #2 in the world is back in Croatia licking his wounds.
Gonzaga was a talented fighter before the bout but his TKO loss to Croat associate Fabricio Werdum made it hard to believe he could withstand the strikes of Cro Cop. Mirko later admitted to having blurry vision courtesy of Gonzaga elbows and never saw it coming. Don't worry Mr. Filipovic, neither did we.
1. Matt Serra vs. Georges St. Pierre: UFC 69
As if there was any doubt, I present the greatest upset in the UFC and perhaps all of mixed martial arts. Nobody in the world whose last name isn't Serra gave Matt a chance against an opponent largely considered one of the best fighters in the world today.
With only a submission loss to Matt Hughes on his near-perfect record, GSP represented the new breed of MMA: Young, strong, and versed in all styles of combat fighting with very few weaknesses.
Of course a perfect skill set doesn't do you any good if you get punched in the head. Serra did everything right, maintained composure, and finished off a rigid GSP in devastating fashion.
This is one win I don't think even Randy could have predicted.
Here's a video I made to go along with the post: