Friday 5ive: Five of the Best Underdog Stories in MMA

By: Albert Cameron – There are many reasons that we have all been drawn to pugilism; it could be the contest, the pageantry, or seeing one human being separate another human being from consciousness. No matter what your reason may be, it is universally understood that your reason is amplified when the victory and glory is obtained by the one half of the contest that was never supposed to win. This has been the case all throughout history; it’s why we make comparisons to David and Goliath, why Hanukah is celebrated, and why the movie Rocky 2 is such an inspiration to us all. When the underdog has overcome adversity, when the customary loser has achieved the unachievable, we almost identify a hidden greatness within ourselves. We don’t just cheer for the winner, we root for the impossible, and that gives us all a sense of empowerment.

This week’s Friday 5ive is all about those people who defied the odds and overcame adversity. This week, we’re counting down five of the best underdog stories in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Note: These five instances were chosen at whim, and by no means is this a definitive list. You may have a different opinion, and that’s okay.

No. 5: Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm defeats “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey (UFC 193: Holm vs. Rousey) – Yes, this one is a stretch, especially in hindsight. The women’s bantamweight championship at UFC 193 was written off (especially by yours truly) as another bantamweight to be sacrificed at the altar of Ronda Rousey. To make sure that I was educated enough on both fighters to form an opinion, I sat down and watched all of Holly Holm’s fights that I could get my hand on. Part of me wanted to be that MMA hipster, the guy who was so in tune with MMA that I could call an upset from a mile away. Watching Holm’s UFC bouts leading up to Rousey, I didn’t see anything that was a world class caliber like Rousey was at the time. In fact, the fight had so little going on for it that promoters were reaching for the clichéd “striker vs. grappler” angle that had been done to death in the early days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s fair to say, going into UFC 193, all I could grant Holly Holm was a puncher’s chance. Now, thanks to modern media and video streaming we have seen the head kick that won Holly Holm that fight, ad nauseum. Holly Holm’s first title reign was short lived, but the journey that she took to get that title was shadowed by her media darling opponent. That made the victory even sweeter and the story even more fun to be told.

No. 4: Pete “El Duro” Williams defeats Mark “The Hammer” Coleman (UFC 17: Redemption) – The Lion’s Den is easily MMA’s first “super gym,” or a stable of fighters who have gained as much accolades as a unit than they had as individuals. Pete “El Duro” Williams was among Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den fighters, rubbing shoulders with guys like Guy Mezger, Jerry Bohlander, Mike Burnett, and the brothers Shamrock. Before getting called up to the UFC, Williams had been cutting his teeth in Pancrase (which was still Hybrid Wrestling at the time) and making appearances in Superbrawl. Mark “the Hammer” Coleman was a freight train, tearing through some extremely substantial names leading up to the bout with Williams. Mark Coleman had dispatched of Don “The Predator” Frye, Gary “Big Daddy” Goodridge, and Moti Horenstein on his way to becoming UFC 10 tournament champion. In UFC 11, Coleman had no idea what the second round looked like; in UFC 12, Mark Coleman submitted Dan “The Beast” Severn to become the first ever UFC Heavyweight Champion. By all scales and measures, Pete Williams was a goldfish in Mark Coleman’s octagon shaped shark tank. If I had been Mark Coleman, I can’t tell you that I’d have taken Pete Williams serious; Coleman had just lost the title to Maurice Smith (an excellent kickboxer in his own right) and needed to get winning momentum to get back into title contention. Pete Williams, by pedigree, was a grappler; how much of a striking threat could he have been after going rounds with Maurice Smith? The answer: enough to knock Mark Coleman unconscious with a perfectly placed kick in the teeth. I’m not exaggerating that description at all. Pete Williams planted the laces of his wrestling shoes square in the mouth of the former UFC Heavyweight champion. Coleman stumbled, and went down hard.

No. 3: Seth “the Silverback” Petruzelli defeats Kimbo Slice (EliteXC 10: Kimbo vs. Shamrock) – Notice how the event title is “Kimbo vs. Shamrock”? “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” was set to make his EliteXC debut on CBS against EliteXC’s meal ticket, Kimbo Slice. Shamrock was pulled from the fight mere hours before the fight began because of a one-in-a-million injury. Shamrock had been warming up backstage and got a cut on his eyebrow; the cut was severe enough to get the doctor to stop Shamrock from fighting. Every fight up to this point had been built on Kimbo Slice being this ridiculous monster who couldn’t be stopped. Kimbo was a street certified fighter who was knocking blocks off, and he really had to be on the company’s CBS debut. I’m not saying this because he was such an immense talent that would have cheated the viewing audience if he hadn’t appeared; the company literally had to put him on the card or else the whole house of cards would have come tumbling down. EliteXC needed a replacement, quick. Seth “The Silverback” Petruzelli (Ultimate Fighter Season 2 veteran) was slated to fight on the undercard and was close enough in weight that he would have been certified by the reigning athletic commission. I can’t speak for anyone who was associated with EliteXC, but I have to believe that Petruzelli was never selected because of the chance that he may win. For the CBS debut, EliteXC needed the spectacle of Kimbo Slice knocking someone into being confused on which way was up. The bell rang and Seth Petruzelli kept range just long enough to send Kimbo crashing to the mat. The company face planted right alongside Kimbo, folding shortly after. Seth Petruzelli had overcome the odds and toppled an entire organization with a short right hand.

No. 2: Steve Jennum defeats Harold Howard (UFC 3: The American Dream) – I actually just chuckled to myself when I read the UFC 3 subtitle “the American Dream.” It’s so ironic that it was almost like someone planned it. I’m going to give you a description, and I want you to tell me if it’s the plot to a Jean Claude Van Damme movie or if it actually happened: “An American law enforcement officer gets selected to be an alternate in the world’s most televised no holds barred tournament; in a strange turn of events, he finds himself fighting in the finals for money …and honor.” Van Damme movie, right? Wrong. That’s actually how it happened for Steve Jennum, the finalist for the third UFC tournament. Royce Gracie had been in the tournament, on the fast track to choking traditional martial artists to submission, on his way to yet another giant novelty check. The only problem was, Gracie drew Kimo Leopoldo in the first round, and Kimo took Royce through his paces. While Kimo hadn’t defeated Gracie, he did beat on him to the point where he couldn’t continue. UFC 3 was also going to be Ken Shamrock’s reckoning over Royce Gracie from UFC 1, Shamrock was determined to not get caught in a gi choke again and would prove that he was the superior ground tactician. Shamrock made his way through Emanuel Yarborough in the quarterfinals and through Felix Mitchell in the semifinals. Gracie made his way to the cage to fight Harold Howard, but the Gracie family threw in the towel before the bout began. On paper, the finals should have been Ken Shamrock vs. Harold Howard, except Shamrock refused to fight anyone other than Royce Gracie in the finals and refused to show. Enter: Steve Jennum, the alternate. Jennum was a fresh man against Howard, who’d been in only one actual fight in the tournament; Steve Jennum got the knock out victory and the UFC 3 tournament championship. I decided to include this one because of the sheer ludicrous of the situation. How does a man come in as an alternate and win the toughest tournament of the 90’s in just one fight? After the Jennum win, the alternates were required to fight to earn their alternate status.

No. 1: Matt “The Terror” Serra defeats Georges “Rush” St. Pierre (UFC 69: Shootout) – In terms that imply zero disrespect, Matt Serra has always been a supreme gate keeper in my opinion. The back and forths of losing to guys like “The Prodigy” BJ Penn and Din Thomas, then beating guys like Jeff Curran and Ivan Menjivar suggested that Matt “The Terror” Serra is an excellent fighter and athlete, but is he world class championship material? The UFC had grand slams with their first three seasons of the Ultimate Fighter; the Las Vegas company needed a fresh new angle for the series, so they gave a bunch of fighters the opportunity to jump start their length careers. Matt “The Terror” Serra had to charge his way through Pete Spratt, Shonie Carter, and then get the decision victory over Chris Lyttle. The show had delivered, Serra’s stock had risen and he had earned himself a title shot with his Ultimate Fighter victory. The current champion: possible the best welterweight champion of all time, Georges “Rush” St. Pierre. While Serra was battling in the Ultimate Fighter house, St. Pierra was building his own momentum. Leading into UFC 69, St. Pierre had torn through Jason “Mayhem” Miller, Frank “Twinkle Toes” Trigg, “The Muscle Shark” Sean Sherk, “the Prodigy” BJ Penn, and knocked reigning UFC Welterweight champion Matt Hughes silly. It was a stark comparison, a guy who’d been on a show to revive old careers vs. a fighter who was still reaching the apex of his career. In the first round, Matt Serra had proven that his career was not dead and that he still had a great victory left in him. Before the end of the round, Matt Serra had scored enough tremendous blows to get the referee to intervene. Matt Serra had stopped Georges St. Pierre and won the welterweight championship on one fell swoop. The Matt Serra story as much of a great underdog story as any.

Thank you for joining us this week. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the Prizefight Podcast.

Until next time: Fights, Cameron, Action!