On any given night…it’s the mantra of underdogs in all sports, and in the UFC in 2011, these gentlemen proved that when everything is clicking on fight night, anything can happen. Here are the 2011 Unofficial UFC Upsets of the Year.
10 - Dustin Poirier over Josh Grispi
On January 1, 2011, Josh Grispi was supposed to be fighting in the first 145-pound title fight in UFC history against champion Jose Aldo. Aldo got injured and was forced to pull out of the bout. Instead, Grispi got to face a Louisiana buzzsaw named Dustin Poirier, and in 15 minutes he was issued his first loss in four years. That’s not to say that Poirier had come out of nowhere, but consider that the previous four names on Grispi’s victims list were Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver, and LC Davis, and he finished all four in the first round. So for Poirier to come into the Octagon that night and not only win, but steamroll Grispi sent shockwaves through the featherweight division.
9 - Wanderlei Silva over Cung Le
In any other year, Wanderlei Silva defeating Cung Le wouldn’t have raised an upset eyebrow, simply because the two premier strikers would be seen as evenly matched, with Silva probably getting an edge from fans and oddsmakers. But in 2011, despite Le’s year and a half layoff, Silva was coming off a crushing 27 second knockout loss in July to Chris Leben, and many were calling for his retirement. You can’t kill off an “Axe Murderer” that easily though, and Silva turned back the clock for a Fight of the Night performance that ended with a vintage second round TKO of Le and propelled him into the New Year with a new lease on his career.
8 - Rick Story over Thiago Alves
Rick Story was a promising up and comer when he agreed to put his five fight winning streak on the line against veteran contender Thiago Alves at UFC 130 in May. The key word there was ‘promising,’ as it was expected that while the future would belong to Story, the present was the property of Alves, who was going to use a win to propel himself back into the title picture at 170 pounds. Story didn’t play along with conventional wisdom though, taking Alves down and keeping him on the mat for the bulk of their three rounder to earn a close, but unanimous, decision, announcing his arrival to the ranks of contenders in the process.
7 - Demetrious Johnson over Miguel Angel Torres
People forget that before his loss to Brian Bowles, Miguel Angel Torres was seen as a significant threat to Anderson Silva’s hold on the mythical pound-for-pound title. A WEC bantamweight champion with out of this world submission skills and a willingness (some might say eagerness) to scrap while standing, Torres was riding high until he lost his belt and then dropped a subsequent bout to Joseph Benavidez. But with comeback wins over Charlie Valencia and Antonio Banuelos, he looked to be on his way back. But bantamweight prospect Demetrious Johnson stopped Torres’ winning streak at UFC 130 with a wrestling-based gameplan that put him in the dominant top position for much of the bout. Yes, Torres fought well and attempted submissions from the bottom, but when the close verdict was rendered, it was no surprise that it went in favor of “Mighty Mouse.” Watch Johnson earn a shot at the UFC® bantamweight title on UFC.TV
6 - Brian Stann over Chris Leben
Under the tutelage of Greg Jackson, Brian Stann had come a long way from his days as WEC champion, but even though he had sewn up most of the holes in his defensive game, the fairly new arrival in the middleweight division still had a tendency to raise his chin when a firefight broke out in the Octagon. It was assumed that a brief moment like that would be all knockout artist Chris Leben needed to end their UFC 125 bout in January. Yet it was Stann who brought out the big guns on fight night, stopping Leben in the first round and letting his 185-pound peers know that sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Watch the fight here
5 - Stanislav Nedkov over Luiz Cane
No one in recent memory had more starts and stops to a UFC debut than Bulgaria’s Stanislav Nedkov, but finally, in August, he stepped into the Octagon for the first time. The catch? He was fighting a Brazilian, Luiz Cane, in Brazil, in the UFC’s first visit to the country in 13 years. Those are some daunting odds to face, but Nedkov fought like he was a 10 year UFC vet, keeping his unbeaten record intact by not only beating the favored Cane, but by stopping him in the first round. The looks on both fighters’ faces after the bout spoke a thousand words, with Nedkov ecstatic and Cane simply stunned, a feeling shared by his countrymen at HSBC Arena.
4 - Charlie Brenneman over Rick Story
Hollidaysburg’s Charlie Brenneman wanted nothing more than to fight in his home state of Pennsylvania on June 26th’s UFC Live card in Pittsburgh, but though there were occasional rays of light, it just didn’t look like it was going to happen. First, he wasn’t even scheduled to fight, but then Matt Riddle was forced out of his bout with TJ Grant and Brenneman was called to fill in. Next, Grant went down with an illness and withdrew, leaving Brenneman without a fight on such short notice. But amazingly, on the day of the weigh-in, Nate Marquardt wasn’t medically cleared to fight and Brenneman was asked to fill in against rising star Rick Story. He made weight, stepped into the Octagon, and fought 15 minutes with his fans cheering him on. When the bout was over, he had snapped Story’s six fight winning streak and created the MMA version of a Rocky story.
3 – Dennis Siver and Rafael Dos Anjos over George Sotiropoulos
Entering their UFC 127 bout in February, Dennis Siver was a legit lightweight contender with a nice two fight winning streak, but Aussie hero George Sotiropoulos had an even nicer eight fight hot streak, he was fighting at home, and he seemingly had the perfect style to defeat the Germany product. But after leaving Sotiropoulos in the dust in the first round, Siver maintained his fast start, didn’t let the bout stray to the mat where he could get submitted, and went on to pull off the three round unanimous decision win. Shockingly, things got even worse for Sotiropoulos in 2011, as he suffered a second consecutive defeat at UFC 132 in July, getting knocked out in 59 seconds by Rafael dos Anjos. See Dos Anjos finish Sotiropoulos on UFC.TV
2 - Johny Hendricks over Jon Fitch
When you discuss the idea of a ‘live’ underdog, once-beaten welterweight Johny Hendricks defined the term heading into his UFC 141 bout against perennial contender Jon Fitch. But…Fitch, with a 13-1-1 UFC record, was expected to grind out the win and keep his spot in the 170-pound pecking order intact. And if Hendricks did manage to pull off the win, it was probably going to be of the three round decision variety. So when Hendricks knocked Fitch out in 12 seconds, it was one of the most shocking moments of 2011, especially considering that the former Oklahoma State wrestling standout delivered a finish that fighters like Georges St-Pierre, BJ Penn, and Thiago Alves (twice) couldn’t. That’s impressive, and a heck of an upset.
1 - Tito Ortiz over Ryan Bader
If you picked 36-year old Tito Ortiz to defeat Ryan Bader at UFC 132 in July, you probably did so just for sentimental reasons. Why? Because the former light heavyweight champion had shown nothing in his previous five fights (a 0-4-1 stretch) that would make you think he could turn the tide against young powerhouse Bader. Yes, Ortiz was dealing with injuries during his losing streak and even then he had brief glimpses of his old form, but in a 15 minute scrap with an opponent who could very well send him to join Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture in retirement, what would he do to win? Well, he did it by shocking Bader with a flush punch to the jaw and then finishing matters with a guillotine choke that ignited the MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd and resurrected Ortiz’ career. At a time when you usually bow your head and dread the day that an aging superstar steps into the Octagon and doesn’t have it anymore, Ortiz came alive and proved that the great ones always have one great fight left in them.
Honorable Mention – Dennis Siver-George Sotiropoulos, Costa Philippou-Jorge Rivera, Jared Hamman-CB Dollaway, Minotauro Nogueira-Brendan Schaub, Jake Hecht-Rich Attonito, Igor Pokrajac-Krzysztof Soszynski, Chan Sung Jung-Mark Hominick, Jimy Hettes-Nam Phan, Demetrious Johnson-Kid Yamamoto, Brian Ebersole-Chris Lytle