Sherdog’s Miscellaneous Awards for 2008

Upset of the Year

Jan 10, 2009
Daniel Herbertson/

Golyaev shocked Takanori Gomi.
Sherdog’s Upset of the Year
By Tony Loiseleur

When relative unknown Sergey Golyaev defeated Takanori Gomi at Sengoku’s “Sixth Battle” on Nov. 1, fan reactions ranged from the shocked (“How could it happen?”) to the snarky (“I told you so”).

While it was generally acknowledged that the Gomi of 2004-2005 was no longer with us, most viewed the booking of his bout with Golyaev as nothing more than a way to keep the gears moving for the former No. 1 lightweight in the world.

How wrong we were come fight time.

Golyaev’s long limbs harried the Pride lightweight ace throughout the fight and helped him score a big knockdown to steal the second period. Realizing that he had split rounds with Golyaev, Gomi turned it up in the third frame, taking down the Russian before delivering a stomp to pass to mount. From mount, Gomi unloaded with right-handed piston punches before Golyaev scrambled to his feet. Gomi gave chase for the rest of the round, swinging wide with fast overhand rights and low kicks.

While Golyaev made a decent case for himself on the feet, a determined-not-to-lose Gomi put forth just enough effort to sew up the third round and win the fight. It was close -- too close given Gomi’s caliber -- but the victor was pretty clear to those watching.

A relieved Gomi seemed to have slid by Golyaev, much like he had slid by Seung Hwan Bang in his previous Sengoku showing. However, only one judge, Takashi Kobayashi, voted for Gomi. Tomoki Matsumiya and Gen Isono curiously voted for Golyaev, giving him the split decision.

The wacky call proved disastrous for several reasons. Not only was Gomi just defeated by a fighter imported solely for him to beat -- and beat one-sidedly for the crowd, at that -- but at the same event, Sengoku was concluding a tournament set up to determine who would fight Gomi for the promotion’s lightweight title in 2009. With the upset loss, any and all credibility of Gomi as a mythical titan at the end of the Sengoku lightweight tournament had gone completely out the window.

Perhaps worst of all was that Gomi should have won in the first place. Sengoku judges by a 10-point must system, and it’s difficult to know for certain just how or why Matsumiya and Isono scored the fight the way they did. Unfortunately, Sengoku also has a policy of not revealing scores, so we may never know how or why the promotion’s marquee lightweight lost a fight many believe he clearly won.

It’s this double feature that makes the Gomi-Golyaev bout a particularly compelling pick for Sherdog’s “Upset of the Year.”

Of course there were other upsets. A rejuvenated Frank Mir toppling the once-invincible Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is arguably an equal choice for 2008’s biggest upset. After years of taking punishment in Pride, Nogueira’s claim to fame was that no matter what you threw at him, he would eventually submit you in the end. While Mir was a very talented former UFC champion, the consensus was that he could neither damage nor submit Nogueira.

As history will now attest, the best Mir we’ve seen in the Octagon to date proved that Nogueira’s indestructibility is a thing of the past. After dropping Nogueira multiple times, he shockingly put him away 1:54 into the second period.

On New Year’s Eve, Melvin Manhoef dispatched another seemingly invincible fighter in Mark Hunt. Despite giving up 88 pounds to the rock-jawed Hunt, it took Manhoef just 18 seconds and two big hooks to extract a good 30 minutes of memory from “The Samoan Monster.”

In October, Junior dos Santos shocked MMA fans by emerging from obscurity to spark Fabricio Werdum in his Octagon debut, punching him out for the TKO in less than two minutes. Werdum was a top-10 heavyweight at the time, and Dos Santos’ win not only signaled his arrival in thunderous fashion but also threw a monkey wrench into heavyweight rankings.

Also of note are the victories of Josh Thomson over Gilbert Melendez, as well as Mike Thomas Brown over Urijah Faber. As champions of Strikeforce and the WEC respectively, most expected Melendez and Faber to protect their houses handily. That they were vanquished, however, was certainly upset material but not particularly surprising. Compared to Golyaev -- a virtual unknown that even oddsmakers had as high as +1000 -- Thomson and Brown were at least proven commodities.

Therein lies a particularly salient lesson when it comes to MMA upsets: There really is no sure thing. At any time the fortunes of favorites can and do go south. The ensuing wrinkles in the narrative of the sport make it riveting and compelling for all of us involved, though. Whether it’s through the destruction of old myths or the creation of new stars, upsets like those listed above are byproducts of the dynamism of our continually evolving sport. If there’s any guarantee, it’s that 2009 will have as many, if not more, of these surprises in store for us.

Thank goodness for at least that kind of consistency.
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