When one thinks of giant upsets, single fights with huge odds come to mind, such as Matt Serra vs. Georges St. Pierre or Roxanne Modafferi vs. Maycee Barber. However, there are also matchups where the initial disparity between combatants is even greater, but it takes a few years for them to meet. In these cases, the shift is gradual, and it sneaks up on you. One example is the recent Bellator Paris main event of Gegard Mousasi vs. Fabian Edwards, where Mousasi was a significant but not enormous favorite at -250, and Edwards ended up winning the verdict.
Mousasi’s Decline and Edwards’ Improvement
This sneaky shocker occurred through movement at both ends. Leading up to the bout, Mousasi talked about a persistent injury to his neck causing numbness in his hands and not allowing him to sleep, even bringing up retirement. At 37 years old, with an incredible 20 years and 60 fights of professional MMA, he is washed-up. Against Edwards, he was noticeably slower both in terms of his movements as well as reactions. His cardio was more limited, a common issue with older fighters, and he wasn’t as physically strong. Even his major strengths, like his brutal top game, ground-and-pound, jab, and right cross were all blunted.
On the other hand, let us not ignore the incredible improvement and performance of Edwards. In the biggest match of his career, he put on the fight of his life. This was a vastly different, better martial artist than the one who should have lost to Mike Shipman in late 2019. He now had a dangerous, accurate right jab, moved and defended beautifully, and was a much better grappler, both defensively and offensively. Mousasi may be washed up, but he would still have beaten a lot of quality middleweights that night, but not Edwards, who is now a top 10 middleweight.
Other Examples of Sneaky Shockers
There are many such examples of giant upsets sneaking up on us. Two of these come from the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. Imagine if you told people in 2004 that Chris Leben, who had been dominated by Josh Koscheck and lost via cut to the much smaller Kenny Florian, would at any point beat the world’s greatest light heavyweight and top pound-for-pound talent Wanderlei Silva? And yet, in 2011 not only did Leben beat Silva, but he knocked him out in 27 seconds. Silva’s risky style meant he would always eat a certain number of flush connects in a fight, and his chin was getting worse all the time. However, predicting this result in 2004 would have been met with disbelief.
Another instance where both fighters had moved so much that the initial underdog became a big favorite is Kenny Florian vs. Takanori Gomi. In 2005, Florian had limited wrestling and striking, with some jiu-jitsu and a nice elbow as his only weapons, while Gomi was a huge, powerful wrestler and possessed some of the best, deadliest boxing in the entire sport. Yet by the time they fought in 2010, it was actually Florian who was the big -350 favorite. Gomi was a shadow of his former self, with a number of poor performances and losses proving it. Florian, meanwhile, had utterly transformed himself into an excellent grappler, including good wrestling, and a solid striker. It was little surprise when Florian tapped Gomi with a rear-naked choke in Round 3, though it sure would have been five years before.
In conclusion, it’s fascinating to think of how insane certain results would have sounded if you had told them to fans just a few years ago. Keep an eye out for these sneaky shockers in MMA, as they can provide intriguing insights into the sport’s constantly evolving landscape.