After opening with the farcical sight of a traditionally-garbed Sumo losing a tooth to a Savate expert, the UFC has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Appropriately, with the growth of its brand has come a new breed of fighter, with the likes of Conor McGregor, Jose Aldo and (naturally) Brock Lesnar taking WWE-style elements of showmanship into promos and publicity events. Although such ‘promos’ can help an event’s PPV draw figures rocket, they can also be a precursor to an almighty fall.
Conor McGregor’s profile stands superlative among his fellow fighters, and it hit new heights when he made his pro-boxing debut against Floyd Mayweather Jr back in August.
A price to be paid for complacency
Shocks are a huge part in the very fabric of combat sport, and there can be no room for complacency. Whether it’s Zac Riley’s dismantling of Huge Viana or Buster Douglas’ KO of Mike Tyson, the ‘Rocky’ spirit is captured in combat sport and can give underdogs a sense of momentum heading into big fights. This is a view no doubt shared by boxer Kubrat Pulev, who is +1000 in the latest boxing odds to beat Anthony Joshua, the current champion, who Pulev has advised to take nothing for granted. The UFC is no exception when it comes to shocks. Only this year, 43-year old former K1 kickboxing champion Mark Hunt defeated Derrick Lewis, an opponent eleven years his junior and in far better shape.
There are many other examples of a superior fighter’s inner ego being punctured, but one of the most memorable MMA shocks in history did not come occur in a UFC ring. Ten years ago, in a match at PRIDE 33, an unknown fighter from Cameroon by the name of Rameau Sokoudjou took on rampant favourite Antônio Rogério Nogueira. The Brazilian had stopped future UFC great Alistair Overeem just eight months previously, and though he was marginally below peak fitness, there was universal agreement that he would win easily.
Such confidence was further reflected in odds of over +1000 against Sokoudjou, who himself entered this bout on the back of a defeat to Glover Texeira – another ‘nobody’ in the grand context of MMA. The audience sat down in anticipation of a quick knockout, and that is exactly what they got. The bell rang and Sokoudjou charged out. Exactly 23 seconds later, Sokoudjou connected with an almighty punch that felled his opponent for the count.
Through brute strength and fearlessness, Rameau Sokoudjou had upset almighty odds against him. In beating Nogueira, Sokoudjou had also become the first man with an official price over +1000 to win a sanctioned, professional MMA bout.
A selection of highlights from the MMA career of the ‘African Assassin’ Sokoudjou.
Looking ahead: More shocks in store in Nov 2017?
Just one defeat can set off a chain of bad results, and with the UFC’s wider reputation coming first, a sustained string of losses now sees fighters more readily cut. The stakes higher than ever, and with more pivotal bouts looming over the coming months, the chances of another massive shock occurring in the near future appear exceptionally high.
Of those priced in the betting markets for confirmed UFC matches in November, Anderson Silva will be one underdog to watch. Priced at +187 to beat Kevin Gastelum, the 42-year old can take some topical inspiration from Mark Hunt’s victory earlier this year. He also approaches his bout with Gastelum on the back of a decision win over Derek Brunson back in February – it was his first win for 4 and a half years.
Gastelum, meanwhile, faces the highly experienced Silva on the back of a loss. Though favorite, he will need to be relatively coy, and let his body do the talking on the night itself.