An Impossible Dream? Maybe Not
And though the Canadian will enter the fight as an underdog, history has shown that while beating a favored champion is a huge mountain to climb, it’s not an impossible one.
When Patrick Cote steps into the Octagon this Saturday night in the main event of UFC 90 at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, he will be squaring off not only with the UFC middleweight champion, but with the man widely considered to be the best fighter in the game, pound for pound, Anderson Silva.
And though the Canadian will enter the fight as an underdog, history has shown that while beating a favored champion is a huge mountain to climb, it’s not an impossible one. Just ask the following seven fighters, who will forever be immortalized for their roles in scoring the biggest championship upsets in the UFC.
7 – Evan Tanner vs David Terrell
The tragic passing of Tanner in September prompted many to revisit the former middleweight champion’s storied career, and no victory was greater for the Texas native than the one at UFC 51 in February of 2005. Fighting for the vacant 185-pound belt, Tanner was seen as the solid veteran who would probably give California phenom David Terrell a couple of rounds before getting put away. Remember, Terrell, a world-class jiu-jitsu black belt, had just knocked out Matt Lindland in 24 seconds six months earlier and was seen as the future of the division. Tanner didn’t go along with the script though, and after holding off Terrell’s initial charge, he roared back and stopped his foe with just 25 seconds left in the opening round to win the UFC middleweight crown.
6 – Tim Sylvia vs Ricco Rodriguez
We all know that in any sport, you can’t teach size, but few expected 6-8 giant Tim Sylvia to stop the rise of Ricco Rodriguez in 2003. Before the UFC 41 bout, Rodriguez was the UFC heavyweight champion and one of the organization’s poster boys following his win over Randy Couture at UFC 39 in September of 2002. He was winning, he was marketable, and boxing superstar Felix Trinidad even traveled with Rodriguez in the lead-up to the fight, the precursor for what was hoped to be the first crossover into the Latino market for mixed martial arts. But Rodriguez apparently liked the spotlight a little too much, and it showed in his training. In the fight, a right hand from Sylvia changed everything, and just 3:09 into the opening round, the unheralded ‘Maine-iac’ was a world champion. Rodriguez would only fight once more in the UFC, losing a lackluster decision to Pedro Rizzo at UFC 45.
5 – Forrest Griffin vs Quinton Jackson
Time will tell whether this bout from July will be deemed a great upset or just the beginning of an illustrious title reign for Mr. Griffin, but a couple of months ago, few were giving the Ultimate Fighter season one winner much of a shot against ‘Rampage’, whose previous two victims were a couple of guys named Liddell and Henderson. But for five torrid rounds, Griffin gave as good as he got, almost stopping Jackson in the second round, and when it was all over, the kid from Georgia had upset the champ, proving beyond all shadow of a doubt that he belongs with the elite at 205 pounds.
4 – BJ Penn vs Matt Hughes I
Before his recent renaissance, which saw him win the UFC lightweight crown and park himself on the pound for pound list, Penn was once seen as a talented but unfocused kid whose desire to jump from 155 to 170 was deemed hubris at best and suicide at worst. Hughes, on the other hand, was unstoppable, winner of 13 in a row (including six UFC championship fights), and declared to be just too big and too strong for Penn. But as Hawaii’s finest proved that night in January of 2004, he was – and is – something special in this sport, and his first round submission of Hughes was just the beginning of another wild ride for Baby Jay Penn.
3 – Randy Couture vs Tim Sylvia
When Couture took the mic in the Octagon after winning his third UFC heavyweight crown in March of 2007 and said ‘Not bad for an old man,’ you couldn’t hear yourself think in the packed Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Not only had Couture won the heavyweight crown by shutting out Tim Sylvia over five rounds, but he did it at the age of 43 and after a year long layoff. And let’s not forget that the reason Couture moved down to the light heavyweight division in 2003 was because the fighters were too big at heavyweight. So how do you come back? Take on a 6-8, 263 pounder. Couture’s performance that night was stirring, and those in attendance that night won’t forget it anytime soon.
2 – Jens Pulver vs BJ Penn I
Probably my favorite fight on this list, and one of my favorite all-time bouts. Pulver, the scrappy champion who came up the hard way, won his title in 2001 by decisioning Caol Uno, and he defended it against heated rival Dennis Hallman seven months later. In the meantime, Penn ran through Joey Gilbert, Din Thomas, and Uno with little difficulty, making the UFC 35 main event in January of 2002 not a title fight, but a coronation. Pulver, visibly angered at this show of disrespect, told anyone he spoke to before the fight that he wasn’t just showing up to hand his belt over to Penn. Most didn’t believe him, but after some shaky early moments, the champion showed what he was made of, and he finished strong and pounded out an inspiring five round majority decision. You usually don’t see champions on the underdog side of things these days, and Jens Pulver may be the reason why.
1 – Matt Serra vs Georges St-Pierre I
The granddaddy of them all. Serra won his title shot on The Ultimate Fighter’s fourth season and was immediately dismissed. Considering the champion was Canadian wunderkind St-Pierre made things even worse for the New Yorker. There was just no way St-Pierre was going to lose to Serra at UFC 69 in April of 2007, but then the bell rang and ‘The Terror’ took the fight to GSP and didn’t stop until he rocked, dropped, and stopped Montreal’s finest. St-Pierre would win his title back in their rematch earlier this year, but nothing will ever take away Serra’s monumental victory, the biggest upset in UFC championship history.
Will Patrick Cote force Serra to make some room at the top of the list? We’ll find out on Saturday.