5 surprising UFC title challengers
The announcement that Brock Lesnar – former UFC Heavyweight champion, but also a man who hasn’t fought since 2016 and was suspended by USADA for the use of PEDs after that fight – is going to challenge Daniel Cormier for the UFC Heavyweight title at some point in late 2018 or early 2019 has largely split the fanbase of the MMA juggernaut when it comes to whether the fight is a good idea or a bad one.
The pro-Lesnar crowd believe the fight makes sense due to Lesnar’s ability to draw a massive pay-per-view buyrate for the company as well as draw in more casual fans than perhaps anyone but Conor McGregor, while the anti-Lesnar camp are of the view that the match simply makes a mockery of MMA as a legitimate sport, with Lesnar jumping the queue ahead of more deserving contenders.
However you view it, one fact is undisputable – Lesnar isn’t the first surprising – and perhaps undeserved – title challenger in UFC history. Here are five other fighters who made a surprising challenge for UFC gold.
#1 Ken Shamrock (2002)
Despite being a bonafide UFC legend thanks to his success as a pioneer in the early days of MMA, by 2002 it was pretty clear that Ken Shamrock’s prime had been and gone.
‘The World’s Most Dangerous Man’ had lost his UFC Superfight Title way back in 1996, and since then he’d had an extended run in WWE before returning to MMA with PRIDE in 2000, but he’d only picked up one win in the Japanese organisation, and had lost a major grudge match with Don Frye in February 2002.
It came as a pretty major surprise then when the UFC – at the time struggling for any kind of financial success – announced that Shamrock would be challenging poster-boy Tito Ortiz for Ortiz’s Light-Heavyweight title at UFC 40 that November.
In a lot of ways the fight made sense; it was almost guaranteed to draw a bigger PPV buyrate than any other fight the UFC could put together at the time, and Ortiz and Shamrock had a rivalry dating back to 1999, when Shamrock had confronted Ortiz for the way he celebrated a victory over Shamrock student Guy Mezger.
But to claim the 38-year old Shamrock was the legitimate No.1 contender was a fallacy, given he hadn’t won in the UFC in six years.
In the end, the fight turned out to be one of the most one-sided UFC title fights of all time, as Ortiz simply battered Shamrock both standing and on the ground en route to a corner stoppage after the third round.
But indeed, the event proved to be one of the most financially successful of the pre-TUF era – and convinced Zuffa not to sell the promotion – making it one of the most important of all time, too.