Mixed martial arts is the fastest-growing sport in the world, and it’s only a matter of time before it takes over boxing’s spot as the most popular combat sport in the world. With punches, kicks, knees, elbows, submission, slams, throws, ground strikes, and grappling allowed, there are countless ways to win a fight at any moment, making MMA one of the most entertaining sports to watch.
An underdog in boxing only has a puncher’s chance, but the underdog in mixed martial arts has many more ways to win the contest, increasing their odds of emerging victorious. It’s one of the reasons why undefeated champions are so rare in MMA compared to boxing.
This article will go down memory lane to explore some of the most memorable upsets in mixed martial arts history.
The 20 Most Memorable Upsets In Mixed Martial Arts History
Ready to find out who scored the biggest upsets in MMA history? Let’s jump right into our list:
1) Matt Serra Vs Georges St-Pierre
No one gave Matt Serra much of a chance heading into his title fight against GSP. He didn’t even earn the title shot the conventional way by beating all of the top contenders; Serra was a contestant on the fourth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” TV series.
The show was a marketing gimmick devised by the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s marketing team to give lower-ranked fighters some exposure. The winners of the two divisions on the show would earn title shots against the current champions. Serra took full advantage of the opportunity and won the welterweight division, setting up the stage for his title shot against St-Pierre.
GSP was already touted as the best that ever did it at the time, and few saw Serra as a legitimate threat. That didn’t stop Serra from catching GSP clean during the opening moments of their UFC 69 encounter, scoring the TKO victory to win the welterweight title. The win also earned Serra a spot in the promotion’s Hall of Fame, despite retiring with an 11-7 professional MMA record.
2) Adriano Moraes Vs. Demetrious Johnson
Johnson was the longest reigning flyweight champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship before losing his title via a controversial split decision loss to Henry Cejudo. He got traded to ONE Championship for Ben Askren and never missed a step.
One of the names that always comes up whenever the GOAT is discussed in MMA, Johnson got off to an excellent start in his new home, racking up three consecutive wins.
Moraes was the current flyweight champion when Johnson earned his first shot at ONE Championship gold, but many didn’t think that was enough to get him past a legendary fighter like Mighty Mouse. Moraes shocked the world when he knocked DJ out cold with a knee during the second round of their title showdown, successfully defending the ONE Flyweight Championship for the first time.
3) Holly Holm Vs Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was the face of women’s MMA when she faced off against Holy Holm at UFC 193. Rousey sported a 12-0 record at the time, with none of her opponents going the full distance with her. Holm was a decorated boxer who transitioned to MMA, and she was also undefeated inside the cage with a 10-0 record.
Holm had never faced a grappler on Rousey’s level, and few expected her to be able to keep the fight standing for long. However, Holm used her footwork to stay out of clinch range and successfully stuffed Rousey’s takedown attempts.
You could see the frustration on Rousey’s face as the fight went into the second round. Holly stuffed another takedown attempt and landed a devasting head kick as both fighters broke away. She followed up with ground strikes, ending Rousey’s reign.
4) Juliana Pena Vs Amanda Nunes
Nunes was on a 12-fight winning streak when she stepped inside the Octagon to defend her title against Pena. At that point, Nunes had racked up wins against names like Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, and Valentina Shevchenko.
Nunes was the reigning UFC women’s featherweight and bantamweight champion at the time and was largely regarded as the best female fighter in mixed martial arts history. Pena was a grappler with rudimentary striking, and few expected her to do much against the well-rounded Nunes.
Pena came out aggressively from the fight’s opening moments, wearing down Nunes with her pressure before putting her away with a rear naked choke in the second round.
5) Woo Sung Hoon Vs Yuya Wakamatsu
Wakamatsu had already established himself as a top contender when he squared off against Woo at ONE 163. Woo was a newcomer in the promotion and had amassed a 1-1 record fighting under their banner. Despite being the underdog, Woo shocked fans when he held his own against the more established veteran during the opening moments. He eventually sent Wakamatsu to the canvas and finished him with ground strikes later in the first round.
6) Chris Weidman Vs Anderson Silva
Weidman sported a 9-0 record heading into his UFC 162 title clash with Anderson Silva, but few gave him much of a chance heading into the contest. Silva was the longest-reigning champion in MMA history, and fans had become so used to seeing him dominating opponents they couldn’t fathom him losing a fight.
Weidman got off to a good start, keeping Silva pinned on the ground for most of the first round, but the momentum changed during the second round as Silva was able to keep the fight standing. Just when it looked like Silva was starting to take over the fight, Weidman caught Silva with a hook that ended his legendary reign.
7) Nate Diaz Vs Conor McGregor
McGregor had emerged as the biggest name in mixed martial arts when Nate Diaz stepped up to face him as a last-minute replacement when his scheduled dance partner, Rafael dos Anjos, pulled out of their fight.
Many expected McGregor to score another impressive victory against Diaz, but that’s not what went down. Diaz took all of McGregor’s best strikes in the second round, then hurt him with punches before finishing him with a rear-naked choke in the second round.
8) Fabricio Werdum Vs Fedor Emelianenko
Fedor was on a 27-fight winning streak when he collided with Werdum for the main event of the Strikeforce: Fedor Vs Werdum card. It didn’t take long for Fedor to send Werdum to the canvas with his strikes, but his decision to enter Werdum’s guard came back to haunt him. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace locked in an armbar, ending Fedor’s legendary win streak.
9) Rose Namajunas Vs Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Joanna was MMA’s second most dominant women’s champion when she collided with Namajunas. Joanna has already defended the UFC’s women’s strawweight title five times, and few gave Namajunas much of a chance heading into their UFC 217 showdown.
Namajunas brought the fight to Jędrzejczyk, and she put her away with a hook that sent her to the canvas three minutes into the first round.
10) Sage Northcutt Vs Cosmo Alexandre
Northcutt was the youngest fighter ever signed to the UFC’s roster at one point, and he had a lot of hype around him when he signed with ONE Championship. Many expected Northcutt to make an impressive statement during his ONE Championship debut, but Alexandre stole the show, putting Northcutt away 29 seconds into the contest.
11) BJ Penn Vs Matt Hughes
Hughes had already established himself as one of the most dominant welterweights in mixed martial arts history heading into his title showdown against Penn. BJ was one of the most promising up-and-comers then, but many didn’t think he was good enough to beat Hughes.
It turned out to be one of the most entertaining welterweight fights as Penn took Hughes back, trapped his arm, and finished him off with a rear-naked choke.
12) Ryo Chonan Vs Anderson Silva
Silva wasn’t a legend when he faced Chonan at Pride Shockwave 2004, but he was the favorite to win the contest. Chonan clearly didn’t get the memo as he put on one of the best performances anyone put against Silva during his Pride days. Chonan put the icing on the cake by finishing Silva with a flying scissor heel hook that also happens to be one of the coolest submissions ever pulled off in an MMA fight.
13) Seth Petruzelli Vs Kimbo Slice
This fight took place under the Elite XC banner. Kimbo was the most hyped fighter in MMA, making his name by recording himself participating in street fights. He wasn’t an exceptional fighter by MMA standards, but he was a genius as far as marketing was concerned.
Kimbo was the first MMA fighter to regularly earn million-dollar paydays for his fights, which rubbed many MMA veterans the wrong way since most weren’t getting paid anything close to that. Elite XC milked their cash cow as much as possible until Petruzelli stepped in as a last-minute replacement after Ken Shamrock pulled out of his scheduled fight with Kimbo. Seth shocked many fans when he knocked Kimbo out 14 seconds into their fight.
14) Timofey Nastyukhin Vs Eddie Alvarez
Alvarez was a former UFC lightweight champion when he signed with ONE Championship, and many fans expected him to make a strong statement during his debut. However, Timofey had plans of his own, and he was the one who emerged with a knockout victory after an entertaining brawl.
15) Antonio Silva Vs Fedor Emelianenko
Fedor was coming off a loss to Werdum, and Silva was meant to be a tune-up fight to get him back on the winning side of things. At best, Silva was an average heavyweight, and his resume wasn’t comparable to Fedor’s. However, he used his size to wear Fedor down and finish him during the second round of their Strikeforce showdown.
16) Quinton “Rampage” Jackson Vs Chuck Liddell
Liddell was one of the first strikers to dominate his division in mixed martial arts and one of the biggest names during the early days of MMA. Jackson was one of the big names on Pride’s roster, so he was selected for a cross-promotional fight against Liddell.
Jackson dominated the fight from the opening moments, giving the UFC champion a serious beating that forced UFC president Dana White to throw in the towel.
17) Miesha Tate Vs Holly Holm
Holm was coming off her memorable win against Ronda Rousey, and she got off to an excellent start against Tate, dominating the first two rounds with her superior striking. Holm also dominated most of the third round, but Tate pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in MMA history, taking Holm’s back and choking her unconscious with a rear-naked choke.
18) Cain Velasquez Vs Fabricio Werdum
Velasquez was a force to be reckoned with during his reign as the UFC champion. Few expected Werdum to defeat him at UFC 188 when the promotion took their show to Mexico to celebrate their first Mexican-American champion.
Werdum beat Cain at his own game, tiring him out with pressure before finishing him with a guillotine choke.
19) Nate Diaz Vs Takanori Gomi
Diaz and Gomi were already big names when they fought at Pride 33, but Gomi was the more accomplished fighter. Diaz proved once again how deadly his BJJ is, subbing Gomi with a gogoplata. The win was later ruled a no-contest after Diaz tested positive for marijuana.
20) Eduard Folayang Vs Shinya Aoki
Folayang pulled off a huge upset when he squared off against Aoki at ONE Championship: Defending Honor. It was Eduard’s first title shot with the promotion, while Aoki had already successfully defended the lightweight belt twice.
An entertaining fight broke out inside the cage, with both men having their moments, but Folayang eventually put Aoki away during the third round, securing the lightweight championship and a victory against one of the sport’s legends. Unfortunately for him, Aoki reclaimed the lightweight title during their rematch and won the rubber match.
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