Tonight's main event title fight between Michael Bisping and Dan Henderson has left some fans (ok probably a majority) grumbling that while Henderson is a legend of the sport, he is not very deserving of his title shot tonight. He isnt ranked in the top 10, is 2-3 in his last 5 fights and has seen his granite chin start to crack. Despite these facts, Henderson is a star of the sport and the current champion has a bone to pick with him.
While we all want the best to fight the best and champions to fight #1 contenders, there is nothing new about a champion fighting a less than deserving challenger. For a variety of reasons, whether it be because of injury, a cautious champion, promotional failure or the simple fact that more money is to be made, it happens often. So lets take a look at some of the more famous controversial "mismatch " title fights in combat sports history.
Matt Sera vs GSP 1- since Matt Sera shocked the world, its been kind of overlooked that going into the fight he wasn't just the underdog, people were saying he wasn't deserving of the title shot. Serra had won the season of TUF 4 and was granted a controversial title shot that had most scoffing at his chances. Serra made the most of his chance, landing an early stoppage via swarming destruction, winning the title and throwing a monkey wrench in the GSP - Hughes title feud.
Floyd Patterson vs Pete Rademacher - Floyd Patterson was a popular heavyweight champion who had been accepted by white america, following the path Joe Louis had laid out before him. Still, he was a black man in 1950's America. Pete Rademacher was the darling Heavyweight gold medalist from the 1956 Olympics. He was 72-7 as an amateur and more importantly, he was white. Rademacher became the only person in the history of boxing to fight for the undisputed heavyweight championship in his pro debut. Rademacher nearly shocked the 16,000 in attendance and the world when he dropped Patterson in the 2nd round but it wasnt meant to be. Patterson rose quickly and went on to knock Rademchacer down 7 times, stopping him in the 6th. Rademacher went on to have a mediocre career, losing to some tough fighters like Zora Folley. Patterson would be the last of the "safe black heavyweight chamipions" until Joe Frazier was adopted as one by white america in the 1970s.
Brock Lesnar vs Randy Couture - was Brock clearly ready for a title shot? Yes. Had he "earned" a title shot in the eyes of mma purists? No. Simply put he was 1-1 in the UFC and coming off a dominant win over Heath Herring a top 10 fighter. Still, thats a pretty light resume no matter how amazing your amateur background and physique are. That being said, Brock made the most of his opportunity and stopped Couture via basketball fist dribbling
Randy Couture vs TIm Sylvia - Captain America was considered over the hill and coming off a loss to Chuck Liddell. He was 0-2 in his last 2 heavyweight fights. Still when Randy came calling for a title shot vs the unpopular HW CHamp the UFC obliged him. Randy went out and shocked everyone, dominating the 6'8 monster of a champion from the opening bell. That doesnt mean Randy was exactly "deserving" of a title shot but he sure made the most of it, winning one of the most epic title fights ever. I salute you Captain America
Nate Quarry vs Rich Franklin - I cant remember what the exact reason for Quarry's title shot was. It had to be because some contenders were injured, either that or UFC was just banking on the TUF brand. Whatever the reason for the match up was, I remember it was clear and brutal that Franklin was miles ahead of Quarry. Quarry was stopped in dominant fashion and a reminder that theres a reason for having a ranking system and its to avoid dangerous blowouts like that.
George Foreman vs Michael Moorer - Michael Moorer had upset Evander Holyfield becoming the first Southpaw Heavyweight Champion. He wanted to face a safe name opponent that could generate money and solidify his claim as the legit champion (there were other belts floating around). George Foreman hadnt fought in a year and that fight had been a brutal ass kicking defeat to Tommy Morrison who had left George face bloody and swollen. But, as Bob Arum put it, "George is a star, he called me and I knew he wanted to fight for the title, you cant deny a star." Foreman was a huge underdog, considered over the hill and having less than a punchers chance. Well, Foreman may have lost every round of the fight, but late in the 10th round he found Moorer with stiff 1-2s that shut the champs lights out. Foreman shocked the world becoming the oldest heavyweight champion at 45.
Jon Jones vs Vitor Belfort - Injuies were decimating the UFC 152 card, Lloyoto Machida backed out of a fight against Jones on short notice and Middleweight contender Belfort stepped in. It helped that he was a former Light Heavyweight Champion and had fought at heavyweight back in the day, but VItor was clearly not seen as a worthy challenger for the dominant Bones Jones title. Well, VItor nearly pulled off the upset, nearly submitting Jones with a armbar early in the fight. Jones toughed it out and scored the victory but VItor showed once again that you cant count out an underdog in a title fight, especially if they are former champions with tons of experience.
Jon Jones vs Chael Soenen - Dont write checks your ass cant cash. Unless your Chael Soenen. Then you can turn that ass whooping that you receive into alot of cash. Thats just what Chael did when he badmouthed Jon Jones after the whoopla of UFC 151 being canceled due to Jones refusing to take on a last inute replacement (rumored to be Chael). Well Jones took on CHael with a full training camp at UFC 159 despite Chael not being a ranked Light Heavyweight (just like VItor). Unlike VItor, Chael didnt have any answer for Jones and was taken down and elbowed and pounded into near dust.
Michael Bisping vs Luke Rockhold - most people were viewing Bisping vs Rockhold as UFCs way of giving Bisping a hand me down title shot when injuries forced their hand. Following a common them of either shocking the world or getting your ass kicked, Bisping did the former. Bisping won with a huge first round stoppage that left Luke Rockhold pondering a modeling career while thousands of Brits have been left to ponder if they want to stay up all night to see a Bisping title defense live in person.
Wanderlei SIlva vs A Bunch of Japanese people - PRIDE had some of the best epic roid induced fights that you will ever see, it also had some of the absolute craziest mismatches ever, ranging from Prime Cro Cop vs a comic book hero (Albert Del Rio), Fedor vs Zuluzinho, etc. But none stands out more than some of Wanderlei's title defenses against "hometown" fighters like Kanehara and Iwasaki, Minowa, etc. Were they tough fighters? Hell ya, were they deserving of a title fight? Lets be real I love Minowaman, but the fact he lasted under 2 minutes tells us the answer to that question.
These are just a few examples, Im sure some wont agree with everything I said, so let me know your opinions, but I see a common theme, either the viewed overmatched opponent shocks the world or gets beaten pretty easily, however sometimes they can make a fight of it but not win (Soto vs DIllashaw). GO ahead and add some other examples if you can think of some. This is a pretty common thing in combat sports and thats all this post was trying to really convey. Hopefully tonights fight is memorable either way!