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 411mania » MMA » Columns

TJ Dillashaw and UFC's Biggest Title Fight Upsets
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 05.29.2014

Just prior to Saturday's UFC 173 event, a new promotional poster for the show was released featuring quotes from media about how great the show was. If the poster had captured the reality of fan opinions leading into the bout, the quotes would have been something like, "Really?" or "Why would I pay for so many one-sided fights?" The co-main event featured a huge underdog (Dan Henderson) against a dominant favorite. The main event featured a huge underdog (TJ Dillashaw) against a dominant favorite (Renan Barao). The results were largely considered locks: the younger, better Cormier would dismantle the aging Henderson; Barao would overwhelm and dissect Dillashaw.

Only one of those things happened.

TJ Dillashaw, who was in danger of developing a habit of losing key matches, dominated Barao, who UFC had been championing as the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. It was one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. More specifically, it joins three fights at the top of the list of the biggest title match upsets.

UFC 14 Smith beats Coleman: Mark Coleman was a terrifying figure in 1996. He debuted at UFC 10 after being recruited during his failed attempt to make the 1996 Olympic wrestling team. In the finals of that event's eight-man tournament, Coleman punished Don Frye for nearly 12 minutes. At UFC 11, after tearing through his first two competitors, Coleman was crowned the tournament champion when nobody would fight him either due to injury or the scary prospect of fighting the hulking wrestler. In 1997 at UFC 12, Coleman was crowned the UFC's first heavyweight champion with a relatively easy win against Dan Severn. Mark's first title defense was considered little more than a formality on his way to a heavily anticipated bout against Vitor Belfort.

Maurice Smith was a top level kickboxer who walked into a career in pro-wrestling based on that fact. To this day, his less-than-stellar 14-14 record includes losses from those wrestling matches. In 1996, Smith was brought into Extreme Fighting, a short-lived but significant UFC competitor, as the underdog against promotional champion Marcus Silveira. Silveira, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at a time when grapplers were dominating strikers, was expected to score a win over a well-respected kickboxer. Instead, Smith survived the ground attack and stopped Silveira in the third round. After one more event, featuring Smith's first title defense, Extreme Fighting folded.

Smith was then brought into the UFC to face Coleman in a champion vs. champion match. Although Smith had lasted with the grappler Silveira, Coleman was another animal entirely. The UFC champion had shown some vulnerability in his conditioning, but had still never been anything less than dominant.

Coleman vs. Smith headlined UFC 14 on July 27, 1997. The night's earlier matches painted a bleak picture for Smith. Wrestlers Mark Kerr and Kevin Jackson had torn through the heavyweight and middleweight tournaments, respectively, that night. Initially, it looked as though Coleman would follow suit and make it a clean sweep for American wrestlers.

Seconds into the title match, Coleman took Smith down and unleashed a series of head-butts and right hands. However, Smith had been training on his ground defense with Frank Shamrock and was able to survive the early flurry. Coleman's attack slowed down, but he still had Smith pinned to the mat and took mount about five minutes in. For two minutes, Coleman was in dominant ground positions but failed to capitalize. He tired, and nine minutes into the match Smith scrambled to his feet. An exhausted Coleman looked like a sitting duck, but took the match back to the ground after Smith whiffed on a leg kick. Fourteen minutes into the match, with just one minute remaining in regulation time, Smith reversed Coleman on the ground. The remainder of the match, including two 3-minute overtime periods, was spent on the feet, where Smith dominated Coleman. After 21 minutes of fighting, the judges gave Smith the fight and the championship. On that night, the striker usurped the wrestler and sent Coleman's career into a brief tailspin.

UFC 69 Serra takes out GSP: The fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter deviated from the original concept. Instead of up-and-coming prospects duking it out for a chance in the UFC, season four featured middleweight and welterweight fighters that had already competed in the UFC with limited or no success. The prize for winning the tournament was a shot at a UFC championship. Welterweight Matt Serra, the owner of the middling 4-4 UFC record, met Chris Lytle in the finals of the show. The match was very close and the judges were split on a winner. Ultimately, Serra came away with the win. One week later, Georges St-Pierre took the welterweight championship from Matt Hughes in a dominant performance.

In 2006, Georges St-Pierre was not the star nor the fighter he would grow to be a few years down the line, but he was rightly looked at as the future of the welterweight division. He had out-grappled strong grapplers, taken down strong wrestlers, and he was still finishing fights on the feet. His promised next opponent, meanwhile, was a blown-up lightweight without a knockout finish to his name and strong grappling. Perhaps Serra could catch an off guard St-Pierre with a submission if the fight hit the ground, but the odds of Serra taking the fight there were slim and the odds of him out-striking the champion were none.

On April 7, 2007, St-Pierre, like Mark Coleman before him, walked into the cage with too much confidence. Personal issues bothered him leading into the fight, but he was only fighting Matt Serra.

Three minutes into the match, a Serra right hand missed, but his forearm barreled into the back of St-Pierre's head. The blow threw off St-Pierre's balance, which Serra never allowed him to recover. Just as St-Pierre appeared to set himself, Serra landed a right hand to the ear that sent the champion wobbling across the cage. Another right hand sent St-Pierre to his back, and Serra reigned down blows until the bout was halted. He remains one of only two fighters to ever topple St-Pierre, who is regarded as one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

UFC 112 Edgar edges Penn: After a one-sided loss to Georges St-Pierre in January 2009, BJ Penn returned to lightweight and had never looked better. He beat Kenny Florian with surprising ease once he finally decided to take the bout to the ground, and Diego Sanchez landed just eight strikes on him in more than 22 minutes of fighting. Penn's next lightweight title defense came down to two options: Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar. Most considered Maynard the bigger threat, especially considering he had already beaten Edgar, but neither fighter was thought to have the skills to beat the world champion. Due to a disappointing performance from Maynard against Nate Diaz, the UFC opted to give Edgar the opportunity.

UFC 112 on April 10, 2010, featured two seemingly unbeatable champions against two seemingly overmatched opponents. In the main event, Anderson Silva proved to be far superior to Demian Maia, albeit not in a conventional way. Prior to that, Penn and Edgar entered the cage in Abu Dhabi. Edgar entered the match battling a staph infection, which likely hindered his performance. The match was a close battle. Early on, Edgar was the more active of the two with movement, but Penn was landing more strikes. The fourth round was the closest round of the fight, and turned the momentum towards Edgar. In the final round, Edgar came away the clear victor. While most media scores reflected Penn as the winner, all three judges scored the contest for Edgar, including one 50-45 score. Although many did not believe Edgar had beaten the champion, he had unquestionably put on a great performance. In a rematch four months later, Edgar routed Penn and proved his worthiness as the world champion.

Both Smith and Serra struggled to hold on to their titles for long. Following a single title defense a falling Tank Abbott, Smith lost to Randy Couture. His victory over Mark Coleman was not a fluke, but Smith had trouble with wrestlers with good stamina. After losing to Couture, he dropped a decision to wrestler and future heavyweight champion Kevin Randleman.

Serra was dominated in a rematch with St-Pierre. His title win was a matter of fighting St-Pierre at the right time and landing the right punch at the perfect moment. He closed out his career going 1-2, including a controversial decision loss to Matt Hughes.

After proving his spot in the rematch against Penn, Edgar proved his toughness in a pair of rematches against Maynard. In both bouts, he was rocked badly early on but rallied late. He lost his championship to Benson Henderson via a close decision and lost again in a rematch most believe he should have won.

TJ Dillashaw's performance against Barao makes it exceedingly unlikely his title run will be the flash in the pan that Serra's was. "Fluke" victories when a fighter beats an opponent he would otherwise lose to the strong majority of the time are almost never extended one-sided contests. Dillashaw's win proved him to be not just a worthy champion, but also a world-class fighter. He wasn't taking advantage of a particular flaw in Barao that other bantamweights won't have; he was simply great. Without bad luck, Dillashaw should have the staying power of Frankie Edgar. Perhaps he'll be the underdog again in the future, but he won't be overlooked.


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