Featured photo via The Province
As UFC fans, we are constantly force-fed the adage “anything can happen.” As overused as this expression is, however, it’s true. In MMA, anything can happen. That’s what makes the sport so exciting.
Betting lines, of course, can still be trusted. When a fighter is pegged as a significant favorite, it’s because they should win. And yet the thrilling thing about a fight in a steel cage is that all it takes is one well-timed kick, punch, elbow, or knee; one properly executed submission; one carefully crafted game plan to dump convention on its head and upset the odds.
Yes, every now and then, a massive odds underdog steps into the cage with a significant favorite, and somehow, they pull of the win.
There are a few instances of this heart-pounding phenomenon that stand out in the mind. Holly Holm’s second-round knockout of the seemingly unstoppable Ronda Rousey is one example. Matt Serra’s TKO of Georges St-Pierre is another. Surprisingly, however, neither of these fights resides on the list of the 5 biggest upsets in UFC history.
Without further ado, here are those five biggest upsets in UFC history, based on closing betting lines procured from Bookmaker, 5Dimes and Bovada.
5. Frankie Edgar (+725) upsets BJ Penn (-1100)
When Frankie Edgar stepped into the cage with BJ Penn back in 2012, the general perception was that he was in for a rough night. While nobody was denying his talent, Penn was simply regarded as the better fighter.
Having recently stopped highly-regarded contenders in Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez, he was looking like a near-unstoppable lightweight. Miraculously, though, Edgar came in with a near-perfect game plan. Mixing beautifully-time double-legs with a crisp boxing assault, he fought his way to a close but justifiable unanimous decision win, the UFC lightweight belt, and one of the biggest upsets in the promotion’s long history.
4. Frankie Saenz (+725) upsets Iuri Alcantara (-1000)
At the time of their 2015 scrap, Iuri Alcantara was a well established UFC bantamweight contender, while Frankie Saenz had fought just once in the Octagon, producing a pretty forgettable decision win over Nolan Ticman. As such, Alcantara was expected to breeze past Saenz. This is not the way things went down.
Instead, Saenz soundly outhustled an insipid looking Alcantara, capturing a unanimous decision win in front of a pro-Alcantara Brazilian crowd. While Saenz’ surprising rise quickly dropped off after this fight, the fact remains that the win registered as one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
3. Johnny Eduardo (+735) upsets Eddie Wineland (-935)
When Eddie Wineland stepped into the cage at UFC Fight Night: Brown vs. Silva, he was riding high off an impressive thumping of Yves Jabouin, and just two fights removed from a respectable showing against then bantamweight champion Renan Barão. His opponent that night, Johnny Eduardo, was a relative unknown who also happened to be emerging from a layoff of almost two years. So, you can understand why oddsmakers had so much confidence in a Wineland win.
Ultimately, however, the 35-year-old Eduardo showed off the hands he developed training alongside Jose Aldo, and put Wineland down with a crackling combo in the first round. Bam. Just like that, he’d authored one of the three most significant odds upsets in the long and illustrious history of the UFC.
2. Joey Beltran (+750) upsets Rolles Gracie (-1500)
Back in 2009, it was announced that the UFC had signed 4th degree BJJ black belt Rolles Gracie, who had already carved out a respectable 3-0 record as a pro mixed martial artist. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that the world-class grappler would battle Mostapha Al Turk, who was then replaced at the last minute by the gritty Joey Beltran.
Though Beltran has always has been tough, he’s also always been rough-around-the-edges, favoring brawls over strategy when the cage door closes. Given that he also took the fight on short notice, he was thought to be a cake-walk for the immensely skilled Gracie.
What ended up happening was one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, and one of the most forgettable fights the organization has ever promoted. After blowing his gas tank early in the fight, Gracie lumbered around the canvas like a drunk, while Beltran did not waste the opportunity, and began to pour on the offense. In the second round, Beltran even managed to take the grappler’s back, at which point he poured on the punches until the ref had no choice but to stop the contest. The fight was such a dumpster fire that Gracie’s UFC contract was promptly torn up thereafter.
1. T.J. Dillashaw (+765) upsets Renan Barão (-1250)
TJ Dillashaw’s title shot against bantamweight champion Renan Barão was mostly a product of the fact that there were no better options at the time. Dominick Cruz was injured. So was Raphael Assunção. Urijah Faber, Michael MacDonald and Eddie Wineland had already had their chances. And so the shot went to Dillashaw.
While Dillashaw was certainly thought to have a bright future at the time, Barão had the look of an unbeatable champion. He was on a ridiculous, 30-fight win-streak. He’d taken out the best opposition available in the UFC. He was dangerous on the feet and on the mat. As such, he was identified as a massive favorite, and was more or less expected to execute Dillashaw.
Then, Dillashaw authored the breakthrough performance of his career. After badly rocking Barão early in the fight, he maintained control through the middle rounds, and ultimately, kicked the seemingly unbeatable Brazilian’s head into the Oort Cloud in the fifth round. As far as the odds are concerned, it was the biggest upset in UFC history.
Dillashaw, of course, has since lost the UFC bantamweight title. That said, he’ll have the chance to reclaim it when he battles reigning champ Cody Garbrandt at UFC 217.