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The most compelling thing about MMA is that anyone can land that single knockout shot regardless of the differences in skill levels. Throughout history, we have seen many jaw-dropping upset victories that weren’t supposed to happen in the first place. But as we all know, these shocking upsets usually come when you least expect them.
We understand that upsets happen in every sport. But, MMA is a bit different and special. It’s always thrilling to see a massive underdog beating the favorite against all odds. But it’s also very sad to see fighters having a hard time dealing with the losses and moving forward.
The thing is, MMA fighters spend so much time and money preparing for a fight. Also, they need to sell a fight by dealing with media and creating a huge hype that puts even more pressure on their back. So, when a fighter loses a fight that he/she should have won, this can negatively affect their motivation and passion for fighting.
The following upsets below are not only the biggest in MMA history, but they have also altered the defeated fighter’s career for worse to come.
10. Mirko Crocop vs. Gabriel Gonzaga – UFC 70
In his prime, Crocop was the best striker and the most intimidating fighter in the world. He came to the UFC in 2006 as the Pride FC Open-Weight champion and with a mission to achieve the same success in the UFC. So, many fans looked at his fight against Gonzaga as the warm-up fight that would lunch him into the title contender position.
We had many reasons to believe Crocop would dominate the UFC heavyweight division. During the mid-2000s, UFC was still catching up on the Japanese MMA promotion and the difference in talents was obvious. So, signing Crocop to shift from Japanese Pride FC organization to the UFC was a huge deal.
But Gonzaga came in prepared and he knocked out Crocop with a spectacular head kick. Also, it was weird to see Crocop getting knocked out by the kick he used the most. To this day, many fans believe this was the most violent knockout in MMA history. On top of that Gonzaga beating Crocop via TKO is arguably the biggest UFC underdog win because literally every MMA analyst assumed Gonzaga was nowhere near Crocop’s skill level.
Sadly, Crocop never fully recovered from this loss. In the next four years, he got KO’d three more times against the opponents he would have demolished in Pride FC. His loss to Gonzaga is a pure representation of a loss that changed Crocop’s career.
9. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin
Shogun was one of the most talented fighters who have transitioned from Pride FC to the UFC. He joined the UFC with the Pride FC record of 12-1 and his only loss came against much bigger Mark Coleman.
We’ve all believed he is the next big thing inside the UFC octagon. Thus, nobody expected him to lose the debut fight against Forrest Griffin whom many viewed as a less skilled fighter than Rua. At the time, fan-favorite Griffin was working his way up and wasn’t representing much of a threat for Rua.
Further, Shogun fought against elite competition in Pride FC and he dominated them all. In four years’ time span, he fought 12 times and had scored 10 stoppage victories.
But, a fan favorite Griffin capitalized on the Pride star’s poor cardio and outworked him through the first two rounds. With the 15s left on the clock in the third round, Griffin pulled the massive upset by submitting Rua.
After the loss, Shogun continued to fight in the UFC. But he just couldn’t catch up with the new generation of fighters. Despite winning a few big fights, Shogun was never able to regain the momentum and go on a winning streak.
8. Antonio Nogueira vs. Frank Mir
Nogueira joined the UFC in 2007 as the Pride FC champion. So, everybody expected him to dominate through American promotion as well. Nogueira made his presence known by winning the debut fight against Heath Herring at UFC 73. Shortly after, he beat Tim Sylvia at UFC 81 to win the Interim heavyweight belt.
Due to his reputation in Pride days and strong UFC start, many fans thought he will have huge success in UFC. Also, many believed that the UFC roster was inferior to Japanese Pride FC where Nog dominated. So, he went into his third UFC fight against Frank Mir as a huge favorite.
The reality is, Nog was better than Mir in every aspect of the MMA game. Nogueira was a much better striker with a lot of experience fighting top kickboxers. In Pride, Nogueira beat the elite striker in Mirko Cro Cop and went toe-to-toe with Fedor Emelianenko.
In the eyes of the whole world, Mir was just another of Nogueira’s victims. But, the American was on a rise and ready to put the lights on himself with the victory over the legend. In the second round, he caught Nogueira with a nasty double left hook and Nogueira was out in a second.
Nogueira quickly came back with the victory over Randy Couture, but he was never able to regain the momentum. After the Couture win, Nog competed in seven more fights but he lost five of them including the rematch against Mir at UFC 140. He retired in 2015 after going on a three-fight losing streak.
7. Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas – UFC 217
For many years, Joanna was the strawweight queen and a synonym for violence. She cleaned the entire division and was close to beat Ronda’s record for most title defenses (6). What’s more, Joanna would have tied this record with the win over Namajunas.
Coming into this bout, Namajunas was a +500 underdog and many fans thought the Joanna fight came too soon for her. Thus, the MMA world truly believed the Polish phenom would take apart young Namajunas.
Yet, Namajunas came in prepared and with the perfect gameplan. She quickly found Joanna’s number on the feet and began destroying the champ. After just three minutes, Namajunas pulled the massive upset by knocking Joanna with a single punch.
Yet, many fans thought it was a fluke. So, Namajunas went on to beat Joanna in the rematch at UFC 223 and prove the doubters wrong. Since then, it seems like Joanna can’t find her rhythm and form that allowed her to dominate the game of MMA.
6. Tim Sylvia vs. Randy Couture
Sylvia is the former UFC heavyweight champion and a ferocious knockout artist. He is best known for his trilogy with one of the best heavyweights Andre Arlovski. At UFC 61, Sylvia closed the trilogy with two victories and one defeat and was looking for new challenges.
At that time, UFC had a problem matching Sylvia against a credible opponent. So, when they booked him against much smaller Randy Couture, we were all a bit worried. I mean, Couture was competing as a light heavyweight and was 43 years old at the time.
Further, Couture was way past his prime and he actually came out of retirement to face the heavyweight champion at UFC 68. Despite he was the former UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champ, many fans saw this fight as a huge mismatch.
Against all odds, Couture shocked the world by beating Sylvia in a dominant decision and winning the heavyweight title for a second time.
The loss against Couture struck Sylvia really badly. But, he came back with the victory against Brandon Vera and this win secured him a shot at the Interim belt against Nogueira. But, Nogueira submitted him at UFC 81 and the UFC released Sylvia shortly after.
Thus, he went on to fight in various promotions across the world and he even fought Fedor Emelianenko in Affliction MMA. But, his career was never the same and he retired in 2015.
5. Renan Barao vs Tj Dillashaw
Coming into his Bantamweight title defense against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 173, Barao was on an amazing 32 fight winning streak. With the 22 finishes on his record, Barao was a tough fight for anyone.
Dillashaw at that time was nothing more than a talented upcoming fighter. Despite his great skills, nobody could see him beating a more experienced Barao.
But, the young Dillashaw was able to sustain the pressure of the moment and execute a perfect gameplan. Right from the start, he began leading the dance on the feet and demolishing Barao with the strikes.
Dillashaw had defeated Barao in one of the most one-sided title fights the UFC has ever seen. It was really weird to see Barao getting destroyed like this. So, many thought he simply overlooked the challenger. But, Dillashaw proved the doubters wrong by finishing Barao in their rematch at UFC on Fox 16.
Since the loss, Barao went from being the most dominant UFC fighter to competing in the preliminary cards. He continued to fight nine more times after the UFC 173. But he lost an astonishing eight fights. As a result, the UFC released Barao in 2019 after the fifth consecutive loss.
4. Luke Rockhold vs Mike Bisping 2
The second fight between Rockhold and Bisping is one of the most famous upsets in sports history. The heavily battled Bisping took the fight on a 17-day notice and was a huge underdog coming into this fight. At that time, Rockhold was a middleweight champ and a much more skilled fighter than Bisping.
Since he already defeated Bisping a year prior, many predicted it was going to be an easy night for Rockhold. Further, both fighters have talked massive trash leading up to the fight and the tensions were high.
But in the end, Bisping had the last word. He wisely recognized that Rockhold was lowering the right hand and he capitalized by landing a perfectly placed left hook. The punch sent the champ teetering to the mat and Bisping went on to close the show with few more shots.
After the Bisping loss, Rockhold no longer appeared to be the same fighter. He went on to fight three more times and got knocked out against Yoel Romero and Jan Blachowicz. The Bisping loss clearly destroyed his confidence and will to fight. Not to mention his chin began giving up on him as well.
3. Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm
Without a doubt, Ronda was the most dominant woman UFC champion and a true pioneer of women MMA. She holds the record for most title defenses (6) and was unstoppable in her prime. At that time, Holm was a relatively new face in the MMA world. She came into MMA as a boxing champion looking to achieve the same success. On paper, Ronda was a much better MMA fighter.
Inside the cage, Ronda was very violent and aggressive. Before the Holm fight, she was on a 12 fight winning streak with 11 first-round finishes on her record. Thus, the entire world believed Ronda is a more experienced fighter and by far a better grappler. But, we have all forgot the fact Ronda never faced an elite striker before.
Despite all the pressure and 90.000 people in the stadium, Holly was able to survive the early storm. She defended all the takedowns and went on to land some good punches. With the minute left in the round, she knocked Ronda out cold with the devastating head kick and left the world in shock.
With the way she handled the loss, it was obvious that Ronda would never be the same. She tried to regain her momentum by facing Amanda Nunes at UFC 207. But, Nunes knocked her out in the opening minute of the fight.
It’s fair to say that we have all learned a lot from Holly Holm that night. Her win over Ronda proved the evolution of women MMA is a real thing and that it finally caught up with Ronda.
2. Anderson Silva vs. Chris Wiedman
For many fans, Silva is the greatest MMA fighter of all time, and it’s hard to argue against that. In his prime, Silva went on an amazing 16 fight winning streak and was unbeaten for over six years. He had that unique aura of invisibility around him and the world couldn’t imagine anybody beating him down.
So, coming into his another title defense against Chris Weidman, Silva’s fans felt no worries whatsoever. But, the biggest upsets are happening when you least expect them. Weidman was an upcoming talented wrestler who never had any particular striking skills. But that night in Vegas, he beat Silva in his own game.
Like in many of his fights, Silva began showboating and provoking Weidman. But, Weidman managed to time the perfect left hook and knock the champion out cold. Along with Holm knocking out Ronda, this was the biggest upset in UFC history.
In the rematch at UFC 168, Silva broke his leg while landing a leg kick. Fortunately, he fully recovered, but he wasn’t the same fighter. When he came back, Silva lost just about every fight afterward.
1. Fedor Emelianenko vs. Fabricio Werdum
Fedor is one of the greatest fighters of all time. During the glory days of Pride, he was a mystery and undefeated for almost 10 years. Also, he was always known as a solid BJJ fighter who was never submitted before.
Fedor came to Strikeforce as an undisputed champion of Pride FC. In his debut fight in Strikeforce MMA, he knocked out Brett Rogers and the hype around him got even bigger. Fedor’s next fight was against Werdum.
Despite being a world-class BJJ fighter, Werdum was no match for Fedor on paper. Up to that point, Fedor had already faced elite grapplers before, and he dominated them all. So, when Werdum caught him into submission inside the first minute of the fight, the world was in disbelief.
The shock was so massive that the majority of fans thought it was a fluke and that Fedor got caught. However, in the next two fights, Fedor was brutally knocked out against Antonio Silva and Dan Henderson. Nobody expected such a fall from a fighter who was unbeatable for so long.
Fedor continued to compete in various promotions but his career was never the same after the loss against Werdum.