What does it mean for someone to shock the world? For different people, it can mean different things. Some would claim it designates performing better than expected against a more superior foe, even if the person performing better than expected still falls victim to a defeat. Others run with the standard definition and state that one can only shock the world, especially in a sporting event, by defeating a heavily favored opponent.

Entering 2010, nobody thought that such a thing would happen in the UFC. With Brock Lesnar as UFC heavyweight champion, Anderson Silva as UFC middleweight champion and Georges St-Pierre as UFC welterweight champion, every MMA fan expected that all three would continue their reigns of dominance.

In 2010, St-Pierre defended his belt at UFC 111, taking Dan Hardy to a unanimous decision verdict in a bout highlighted by St-Pierre’s attempts to submit the seemingly rubber-armed “Outlaw.”

Meanwhile, Silva defeated Demian Maia via unanimous decision, albeit one that came in much more lackluster fashion to observers. Silva dominated the fight unquestionably and stood just one combination of strikes away from potentially forcing a TKO win via a doctor’s stoppage, but instead, he opted to play around with Maia, knowing that he could finish the bout on his own time. Silva never did pull the trigger, and the bout was universally panned, to where UFC President Dana White actually threatened to terminate Silva’s contract on a similar repeat performance.

Silva went on to score one of the most memorable comebacks in UFC history when he endured four and a half rounds of punishment from Chael Sonnen and locked up one of the most memorable triangle armbars in the sport en route to a rare fifth-round victory. Had Silva not secured the submission, Sonnen would have claimed the title and received credit for the most undisputed upset of that year. Still, the biggest upset of the year came when Lesnar entered the cage in October at UFC 121.

How did the biggest upset and landmark fight of 2010 come about? Well, it came after Lesnar made a comeback earlier in 2010. On the heels of his UFC 100 win over Frank Mir, the former WWE champion was priming himself for a UFC 106 bout with Shane Carwin in 2009. However, Lesnar endured the first of two grueling bouts with diverticulitis.

The then-undefeated Carwin looked for a big step up in competition on the heels of his March 2009 showing in a UFC 96 win over Gabriel Gonzaga. Carwin found that step up in the form of Mir, against whom he competed in the co-headliner of UFC 111. The former engineer handled himself well, finishing the former champion in the first round and booking his UFC heavyweight title-unification bout with Lesnar at UFC 116 in July. Carwin dropped and nearly finished Lesnar early, but Lesnar weathered the storm and found his way into round two. Once round two came, Carwin looked unbelievably fatigued and could not defend Lesnar’s subsequent takedown attempts or his successful attempt at securing the full mount. Lesnar found his opening to lock up an arm-triangle choke, and Carwin needed to tap.

Many viewed Carwin as one of the three hungry prospects with the skills needed to dethrone Lesnar, but Lesnar’s second-round submission win exposed a lack of cardio in Carwin. Fans familiar with Cain Velasquez, the UFC heavyweight division’s other undefeated prospect at the time, figured him in as the man to finish the job that Carwin started. But despite defeating former Pride heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and French kickboxing sensation Cheick Kongo, Velasquez’s chin underwent a severe test against the latter, and many felt Lesnar would test it again.

Lesnar and Velasquez headlined October’s UFC 121 card. Lesnar mixed things up by not only going in for a takedown on Velasquez, but also throwing a flying knee. Still, the cardio machine Velasquez never let up. Velasquez put fists to Lesnar’s face and body, as well as a perfectly timed knee to the body. The barrage left Lesnar’s face covered in blood, and the resulting gash looked capable of justifying a doctor’s stoppage because of how deep it appeared. Nevertheless, Velasquez ended the bout with vicious hammerfists and claimed his first UFC title.

In the history of the UFC, only Randy Couture could claim to win the UFC heavyweight title while undefeated, but Velasquez represented an upgrade from the prototype to which Couture laid out the blueprint in 1997. Velasquez brought a well-oiled machine that liked to stand and knock out opponents, as well as wrestle with them. But above all else, Velasquez brought a machine that did not exhaust, regardless of the bout’s duration.

Velasquez lost the following year and regained the belt the year after. Couture, meanwhile, kept showing how age only represented a number. He fought like a young dinosaur while well past his prime. In talking about the UFC’s 2010, some would bring up his UFC 118 bout with touted boxer James Toney, which represented a throwback to the early days of the UFC when one-style athletes ruled the roost. Although Couture does deserve props for putting Toney down and submitting him, many often overlook UFC 118’s other important fight, the headliner between Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn.

Some fighters and athletes are lauded for their success in rematch situations, and heading into UFC 118, Penn looked for that same success against Edgar, who had defeated “The Prodigy” by a very close unanimous decision as part of the UFC 112 triple-header. Penn knew he needed to keep his boxing crisp and his takedown defense airtight, whereas Edgar knew he needed to clear any doubts about his ability to definitively defeat Penn in the rematch.

This time, the pride of Toms River left no skepticism as he out-struck Penn and took him down at will. Penn fought valiantly to stay in the fight, and he honestly did not look any worse for the wear, but he never found an opening to catch Edgar on the way in or get him to the ground. Every time Penn tried to do something to Edgar, he found himself on the ground, fending off Edgar’s efforts from the top while “The Answer” neutralized Penn’s vaunted BJJ game.

In the end, Edgar took a five-round sweep on the judges’ scorecards, and it left a number of people wanting to see more from the champion. The same UFC 118 card also saw Gray Maynard defeat Kenny Florian in a bout that left people rather equally unsatisfied, but the resolution to that dissatisfaction would come just months later, when Edgar and Maynard competed on New Year’s Day. Of course, it would not mark the only big thing that fans would witness in 2011.

Big things awaited the world of MMA in general once 2010 closed and 2011 dawned. The UFC’s sister promotion, World Extreme Cagefighting, was absorbed into the UFC, and rival promotion Strikeforce would go from one of its best years to another great year. Meanwhile, the UFC saw major moves on the rise, and like most of what it did prior to the big boom in 2004, nobody saw it coming before it happened, apart from the optimists within the brass. Turns out, MMA was about to get a spot front and center, in primetime.

Photo: Cain Velasquez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Dale De Souza
Staff Writer

Dale De Souza is a 22-year-old kid straight out of Texas, who grew up around Professional Wrestling but embraced the beauty of Mixed Martial Arts and Combat Sports at a young age. Dale is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report MMA, a writer at The MMA Corner.