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Biggest Upsets in Combat Sports

| 03.10.2019

There’s nothing like a David and Goliath story in combat sports to get fans salivating at the mouth. When they occur they usually capture a global audience, catapulting lesser-known fighters to stardom.

These Cinderella stories are what sport is all about.

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Mike Tyson vs. James Douglas (Tokyo, 1990)

In 1990, Mike Tyson was the most feared man on the planet. He was literally walking through people, and spending the millions he earned on lavish cars, big houses, and lions.

Tyson was a freak of nature, an almost Frankenstein-like creature that had been created to wreak havoc in the Heavyweight division. He was meant to walk through “Buster” Douglas, too.

Douglas was a journeyman with a 29-4 record, matched up against legendary trainer Cus D’Amato’s finest creation. Yet Douglas didn’t read the script, causing one of boxing’s biggest upsets of all-time, knocking Tyson out in the 10th round. Douglas was a 42-1 underdog as he stepped through the ropes to shock the world.

Lennox Lewis vs. Hasim Rahman I (Brakpan, 2001)

During the 90s, Lennox Lewis was at the peak of his powers. He was a formidable heavyweight who had every imaginable asset a boxer needs to be a champion.

The fight was billed as “Ready to Rock” implying that Lewis was going to make Hasim “The Rock” Rahman, well, rock. That play on words backfired. In the 5th round the huge underdog flattened the Brit with a right hook that caught Lewis on the chin. Lewis hit the deck and couldn’t beat the count.

In the rematch, Lewis disposed of Rahman quickly. The iconic image of Rahman lying flat on his back in the centre of the ring will be remembered as one of boxing’s legendary images. It also goes to prove that maybe rematches aren’t a good idea if you managed to pull of a fluke the first time around.

Wladimir Klitschko vs. Lamon Brewster (Las Vegas, 2004)

Wladimir Klitschko vs. Lamon

In the early 2000s, the Klitschko brothers sat at the top of the Heavyweight division peering down on the mere mortals that propped them up.

There was one problem: Lamon Brewster didn’t take any notice. He rocked up to the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and flattened the younger Klitschko in the 4th round via a TKO that sent shockwaves through the boxing world. Wladimir was 42-2 at the time with 39 KOs. Although Brewster was ranked #2 in the world, not even the American’s corner men could believe the fairytale ending.

However, Klitschko got his revenge in Köln when he defeated Brewster in the 6th round, with the American’s trainer Buddy McGirt throwing in the towel.

Georges Saint-Pierre vs. Matt Serra (Houston, 2007)

The Canadian Welterweight was arguably the UFC’s biggest draw when he walked out in full Karate Kid gear to meet the diminutive Long Island BBJ practitioner in Houston, Texas. GSP had won the title at UFC 65 beating the great Matt Hughes.

However, it wasn’t going to be GSP’s night, as Serra let go with a flurry of punches, putting him down on the canvas and Big John McCarthy waved off the bout. it’s still heralded today as the greatest upset in MMA history. One that not even GSP’s very own Mr. Miyagi, Firas Zahabi could do anything about.

GSP would go on to beat Serra at UFC 83 via TKO and go undefeated for the rest of his career. How’s that for payback?

Fedor Emelianeko vs. Fabricio Werdum (San Jose, 2010)

Fabricio Werdum fight

He’s part of the reason PRIDE FC became so iconic. “The Last Emperor” was one of the first MMA superstars – although mainly in Japan.

He’s part of the reason PRIDE FC became so iconic. “The Last Emperor” was one of the first MMA superstars – although mainly in Japan.

Fedor had an aura about him that few exhibit in MMA. He wouldn’t bend a knee to promoters, choosing to stay stoic and humble at press conferences until he stepped into the cage.

He was 36-1 going into this fight with the seasoned Werdum under the Strikeforce banner. But when you stay in Werdum’s guard for too long, you are asking for trouble. The BBJ black belt locked in a triangle and squeezed the life out of Fedor. Ironically, it also squeezed the life out of the Russian’s career. He went on to lose his next two fights against Dan Henderson and “Bigfoot” Silva, never really recovering.

TJ Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao I (Las Vegas, 2014)

This is a controversial one as Dillashaw has since tested positive for Erythropoietin (EPO) by USADA and is currently serving a two-year suspension. However, back then it is alleged he was clean.

This is a controversial one as Dillashaw has since tested positive for Erythropoietin (EPO) by USADA and is currently serving a two-year suspension. However, back then it is alleged he was clean.

Barao, along with UFC great José Aldo, fought out of the famous Nova Uniao camp in Rio de Janeiro and was one of the most feared fighters on the planet. Yet, things changed when he matched up against Dillashaw. The former Alpha Male fighter used his footwork and speed to outwit the Brazilian, pummelling him for five rounds until he finished him via a TKO.

Unsurprisingly, Dillashaw did the same to Barao in the rematch.

Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey (Melbourne, 2015)

Ronda Rousey figth

At the time Ronda Rousey was one of the biggest names in combat sports let alone in MMA. She was riding a 14-0 record, and practically everyone was aboard the hype train – apart from Holm. Headlining UFC 201 in Sydney, Holm would go on to create history, head kicking Rousey so hard images of the former judo Olympic bronze medallist’s face taking the impact of her foot, broke the Internet.

Rousey never recovered from the defeat and only appeared once more in the Octagon, losing again by KO to Amanda Nunez in one round.

Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor (Las Vegas, 2015)

Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor

Not so much an upset; it was more how it played out in just 13 seconds that stunned the world. During their world press tour McGregor was living inside the Brazilian’s head – his wit, trash talking and mind games meant that Aldo was emotionally invested in the fight.

After 13 seconds, Aldo went from being one of the pound-for-pound best fighters in the world and unbeaten for 9 years to the latest in a long line of heads that McGregor had collected en route to being UFC Featherweight Champion. McGregor dethroned the legendary Brazilian fighter in the blink of an eye. And then proceeded to jump on top of the cage and throw imaginary money at the crowd.

Michael Bisping vs. Luke Rockhold II (Inglewood, 2016)

Michael Bisping had achieved almost everything in MMA apart from winning a title prior to his second fight with Luke Rockhold.

But when Chris Weidman had to pull out of a rematch against American Kickboxing Academy’s, Ralph Lauren pinup boy, who was the UFC going to call? You guessed it – Manchester’s very own Michael Bisping.

In short, the barbs between the two before the fight were funny, but so too was the way Rockhold dropped his hand and left his chin exposed. It was an opening “The Count” wasn’t going to pass up.

He finished him in the first round to turn this into one of the best Cinderella stories in MMA history, and paved the way for Bisping to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame three years later.

Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz (New York, 2019)

Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz

“The Weightlifter” as Tyson Fury calls him, wasn’t facing his body double when he came up against the rather portly Ruiz in New York. It was meant to be Joshua’s introduction to the American audience, and it could not have gone any worse in a seventh-round TKO defeat

Joshua stumbled around the ring, until the referee stopped him from any more embarrassment. The 29-year-old Olympic gold medallist was quick to trigger the rematch clause, and the two will fight again later this year.

Ruiz has even gone on record stating that he will aim to lose weight coming into the fight.