MMA Surprises & Shockers of 2015
MMA is the most exciting sport around today, and this excitement is largely a byproduct of its generally unpredictable nature. The simple diversity of the game, from the stand-up, clinch, and ground, create an unprecedented number of positions and potential outcomes. Each time a fight takes place, fans can’t be sure of what type of action they’ll encounter. Accordingly, the action inside of the cage surprises and entertains on frequent occasion.
Let’s take a look at the biggest surprises that the MMA world had to offer this year—from inside the cage, that is!
UFC 193 — Holly Holm Knocks Ronda Rousey Out
Placing the most popular of the year’s knockouts atop the list eliminates any chance of sequential listing, but this one is so fresh on everyone’s minds that it’s probably best to get it out of the way first.
Ronda Rousey had dominated each of her opponents prior to facing Holm, and according to the odds and most fans’ opinions, more of the same was coming against Holm.
While some predicted the upset, very few (if any) predicted the knockout stoppage, mainly because of the caliber of Holm’s opponent, as well as the fact that she had yet to stop either of her prior two UFC opponents.
The stars—and skills—aligned for Holm, and she achieved one of the biggest upsets of the year.
At the height of his reign, Renan Barao appeared to be invincible. He defeated each of his opponents in devastating fashion, and as he stepped into the cage to face T.J. Dillashaw as a nine-to-one favorite at UFC 173, fans expected to see more of the same.
But Dillashaw pulled off the upset, dominating Barao before securing the fifth-round TKO.
Although the odds shifted for their eventual rematch at UFC on Fox 16, many fans and analysts were expecting Barao to retake his belt. And in one of the most impressive performances of the year, Dillashaw dismissed these theories with vigor, as he once again finished the former champion via strikes.
The victory cemented Dillashaw’s status as not only an excellent wrestler but a high-level striker and elite overall fighter.
Prior to this loss, Halsey was considered to be one of the most dominant and feared middleweights on the Bellator roster—and frankly, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of competition for him, outside of competitors at light heavyweight.
During his two prior Bellator outings, it was made clear that Rafael Carvalho possessed a definite durability and well-rounded skillset. However, for as solid of competitors as Brian Rogers and Joe Schilling are, neither man possesses the high-level, All-American wrestling game of Halsey. The vast majority of the fans—and the oddsmakers, who booked Halsey as an eleven-to-one favorite—thought the American would outwrestle the Brazilian to regain the middleweight title (he was stripped for missing weight against Kendall Grove).
But Carvalho was evidently well-trained and prepared for the bout, as he dealt with some adversity without issue and picked his shots perfectly. Ultimately, he folded Halsey with a second-round liver kick that certainly made Bas Rutten proud.
The upset was one of the biggest of the year—and certainly the biggest inside the Bellator cage.
Frank Mir’s 2012, 2013, and 2014 years weren’t very successful, career-wise. During these years, the heavyweight legend lost four straight fights, albeit against elite competition in Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett, and Alistair Overeem, respectively. This multi-year rough patch, along with the ban of testosterone-replacement therapy (TRT), led many fans to expect the former champion to call it a career.
But Mir wasn’t ready to hang up the gloves quite yet, insisting that once he was fully healed, he could once again be a force in the division. For over one year after the Overeem loss, Mir trained and, more importantly, rested—and when he stepped back into the cage, it was clear that he was telling the truth; TRT or not, a healthy Frank Mir was still a considerable force.
As an underdog in his main-event spot against Bigfoot Silva in February of this year, Mir drove the idea that he was back to make a statement home, finishing the Brazilian via strikes in under two minutes of the very first round.
In his next main event of the year—a battle against the young and rising Todd Duffee in July—Mir was once again an underdog, and many expected his up-and-coming opponent to secure the win with relative ease.
Once again Mir proved the naysayers wrong, defeating Duffee via vicious knockout in just over one minute.
Although Mir would come up short in his final fight of the year—a quick turnaround against Andrei Arlovski—it’s important to remember that the fight was very close to a number-one contender bout, and was competitive throughout.
Starting the year having not recorded a win in four years, Mir defied the odds and beat some very game opponents in devastating fashion—proving that he can still compete with the elite of the heavyweight division in the process.
UFC 185— Rafael dos Anjos Dominates Anthony Pettis, Secures Lightweight Title
In one of the now-overlooked surprises of the year, Rafael dos Anjos dominated Anthony Pettis (who was a five-to-one favorite in most books) to become the lightweight champion.
Prior to the fight, Pettis seemed to be embarking on the longest and most impressive portion of his career yet, based upon his fight results and the hype behind these results. He submitted the high-level Benson Henderson to capture the title, and then defended it in similarly impressive fashion against perennial-contender Gilbert Melendez. After these wins, UFC President Dana White called Pettis “the number one pound-for-pound fighter”, and he secured sponsorship deals with Wheaties and Reebok.
Simply put, not many expected Pettis to lose as he headed into his title defense against dos Anjos.
But the Brazilian kept his cool throughout the fight, peppering the champion with crisp strikes and landing solid takedowns, all while negating any offense which he encountered. The result was a one-sided unanimous decision victory for dos Anjos, in which Pettis wasn’t able to win a single round.
The point isn’t made to take away from Pettis, but rather to reiterate just how impressive the win was for dos Anjos. Certainly, this was one of the biggest MMA surprises of 2015.
The best part of these surprises, as demonstrated by those of the past years, is that they’re set to be outshined by the shocking in-cage moments of 2016. Enjoy the fights!