This year, UFC fans have been dealt three main-event fights that (on paper, anyway) seemed to be fairly significant mismatches. These fights were not planned weeks or months in advance by the UFC like most of its contests, but were born of a need to complete previously scheduled pay-per-view cards after injuries or other circumstances scrapped their original headlining fights.

First, in May, UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos found himself facing Frank Mir for the belt after his original opponent, Alistair Overeem, was pulled from the event after pre-fight tests revealed problems with his testosterone levels. More recently, fans saw light heavyweight titlist Jon Jones go from fighting Dan Henderson to fighting Vitor Belfort after Henderson injured his knee. The original fight was already a bit of a mismatch, but after the injury, Jones was pitted against a consensus non-contender who actually had to move up from his normal weight class.

This coming weekend will feature the third such ostensibly lopsided matchup of the year—UFC middleweight champion and pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva moving to light heavyweight to take on Stephan Bonnar. Once again, this was not a fight that UFC President Dana White and company planned on promoting, but after an injury to Jose Aldo forced the UFC’s featherweight champion from the card, drastic measures had to be taken.

In the previous two instances of late-replacement mismatches, the perceived favorites emerged victorious each time. Dos Santos pretty easily dispatched Mir by TKO, and Jones fought off an early armbar threat from Belfort, later returning the favor in an eventual submission win for the champ. If either challenger/underdog had succeeded, however, their wins would surely have constituted some of the more significant upsets in MMA history.

Which brings us to this weekend’s Silva/Bonnar fight. Of the three fights discussed here, this one certainly contains the most outrageous gap between each fighter’s prospective chances of success.

In Bonnar, we have a light heavyweight veteran who has remained somewhere near the middle of the pack for his entire career, never really flirting with title contention but always remaining a fan favorite due to his gutsy fighting style. He’s best known for his role in the first Ultimate Fighter finale, but has never been someone that fans or media personalities would rank among the top light heavyweights in the sport.

On the other side of the cage, we have Anderson Silva. He has never lost in the UFC, despite the fact that most of his fights have been against title contenders. He repeatedly makes his world-class opposition look amateur. He is the greatest MMA fighter of all time.

So, this raises the obvious question: If Stephan Bonnar can somehow defeat Anderson Silva on Saturday, would that be the biggest upset in MMA history?

At first glance, the answer to this question seems obvious. First, let’s look at it from a numerical standpoint using betting lines. Against Jon Jones, the line on Vitor Belfort winning was +500 at fight time (according to Bovada). This means that if a person bet $100 on Belfort, they’d profit $500 from a Belfort victory. Most underdog betting lines fall somewhere between +100 and +250, for reference.

Well, if fans thought the +500 line on Belfort was ridiculous, what does that make the +700 currently posted for Bonnar? One would be hard-pressed to find an underdog line that goes above that anytime in the history of MMA. Needless to say, the oddsmakers are giving Bonnar almost zero chance of succeeding.

Numbers aside, most MMA fans would almost certainly agree that the “biggest upset in MMA history” would have to be something on the magnitude of a Bonnar victory over Silva. After all, this would mean the world’s greatest fighter lost to a likely-past-his-prime opponent culled from the middle of the UFC light heavyweight pack. There would be a lot of slack-jawed viewers watching Saturday’s fights if such a result were to be realized, that’s for sure.

On the other side of the coin, however, there’s the fact that the Silva/Bonnar fight doesn’t really have any impact on the light heavyweight division regardless of the outcome. It’s a fun fight, but it’s definitely not one that holds any real importance for anyone beyond the two fighters and their training partners/families.

If Silva wins, the fans in Rio will go insane, Bonnar will probably call it quits for good and the MMA world will continue to turn as normal.

If Bonnar somehow, some way emerges victorious, it will certainly be a shock to just about everyone, but that’s about it. Bonnar won’t suddenly be catapulted to the front of the line for the light heavyweight title. Silva’s unbeatable aura will certainly be tarnished, but then folks will remember that the champion is 37 years old and has been a professional cage fighter for 15 years. If they fight long enough, even the best mixed martial artists will eventually be handed a loss, after all.

A Bonnar win would be significant in the short-term, but would have very few wide-ranging implications for the UFC. With that in mind, wasn’t Matt Serra’s win over Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title back in 2007 a more significant upset? After Serra’s victory (which no one expected), not only did a title change hands, but the result seemed to light a fire under GSP such that the current 170-pound champion has not lost a fight since.

Or perhaps we should look at Frankie Edgar’s first victory over B.J. Penn in 2010, in which one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world lost his lightweight title to a significant underdog. Since that fight, Edgar has established himself as one of the best in the sport while Penn has won precisely one fight and has seen his significance among UFC fighters diminish considerably.

As long as we’re talking about long-term significance, couldn’t it be argued that UFC 1 was the biggest upset in MMA history? After all, it was in the very first UFC event where the smallest competitor proved that technique trumps muscle and brought Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the forefront of the martial arts community, where it has become one of the most fundamental elements of MMA.

The lack of long-term significance surrounding the main event of UFC 153 should not be taken to mean that fight makes the card as a whole any less appealing. In fact, I argued just the opposite in a recent column I wrote with The MMA Corner Editor-in-Chief Bryan Henderson. Even with Silva’s standing as the best fighter of all time, however, the lack of practical repercussions from this fight make it difficult to say that a Bonnar victory would be the biggest upset in MMA history.

Regardless of how this somewhat hastily thrown-together main event between seemingly mismatched fighters that has no real importance to the wider MMA world turns out, fans should make sure to enjoy what they’re seeing at UFC 153…because, win or lose, Anderson Silva probably isn’t going to fight again for another year.

Photo: Stephan Bonnar (Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.