Competition in all its forms is defined by moments. Poker and the UFC are no different. Fans of both remember the times we were thrilled, excited or blown away by the action at the table or in the Octagon.
In the spirit of our continuing look at the overlap between the UFC and poker, let’s take a look at how some moments can produce similar feelings on the felt or inside the cage.
The ultimate upset
When an underdog pulls off a massive upset, it becomes a defining moment not only for the individual, but for the sport.
That legendary 2003 win in the World Series of Poker main event by Chris Moneymaker was unlikely in many ways.
Moneymaker turned an $86 satellite buy-in to one of the most iconic moments in poker history. To do so he defeated WSOP bracelet winner, and all-around “respected” player Sam Farha heads-up. It was a win worth $2.5 million.
The UFC doesn’t exactly have a “satellite” system in place for winning a shot at a championship. Not without climbing your way up the rankings. Except that is in 2006, when the UFC used their Ultimate Fighter television show to award title shots in two divisions to veterans whose time in the Octagon had only been marginally successful.
One of those men was Matt Serra. He’d compiled an 8-4 record in MMA and a 4-4 record in the UFC. Serra was a talented enough grappler, but his biggest claim to fame coming into the reality show was being the victim of a highlight reel spinning backfist knockout against Shonie Carter.
Serra managed to win the welterweight tournament — getting revenge against Carter along the way — earning himself a six-figure UFC contract as well as a six-figure sponsorship deal.
But the real prize was a shot at welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre. He’s considered the greatest welterweight fighter in MMA history, and one of the best fighters to ever step into the Octagon.
Given Serra’s disadvantages seemingly everywhere and a bit of a “skip the line” path to take on GSP, he was a massive underdog. As in, a +850 underdog.
This story makes no sense if Serra didn’t buck the odds and turn his “satellite” to a title shot into a championship. And that’s exactly what happened as he scored a first-round knockout to become the UFC welterweight champion.
Adding to all the absurdity of the moment, Serra had never scored a knockout as a professional prior to stopping the greatest fighter in the history of the weight class.
The ultimate bad beat
Bad beat stories are a dime a dozen and we’ve all heard plenty enough to last a lifetime. But sometimes the beats are so bad the story transcends your run of the mill “my aces got cracked by fours” and into something truly nausea-inducing.
Take, for example, this hand from the EPT super high roller in Barcelona.
Sven Reichard has Olivies Busquet has kings full of eights after the flop and is greater than 99% to win the hand only to see Busquet hit runner runner aces after going all in.
The bad beats in massive tournaments where you lose to the less than 1%? Those are the ones it’s ok to shout about from a mountain top.
Similarly, at UFC Fight Night 139, “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung was literally one second from winning his main event fight with Yair Rodriguez by at least a split decision when this happened:
1 second left… No better way to go out on the 25th Anniversary! pic.twitter.com/aGg1Z0bAeO
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) November 11, 2018
Rodriguez threw a wild upward angled elbow as he ducked down, dropping Jung to the canvas as the referee waived off the fight just as the horn sounded.
One second was all that separated Jung from celebrating a huge main event victory, and lying unconscious on the canvas — all following one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history.
The ultimate double champ
Winning one EPT main event is the kind of incredible memory that only so many can claim. But winning two? That was unheard of.
Until Victoria Coren Mitchell.
Coren Mitchell won the European Poker Tour London main event in 2006 and continued a successful career at the tables. That was before once again she found herself heads up playing for a EPT main event championship at European Poker Tour San Remo in 2014.
With the win, Coren Mitchell became the first person to ever win two EPT main events and cemented her place in poker history.
While “double champs” or “champ champs” have happened a handful of times in UFC history, no woman had ever held championships in two divisions.
Until Amanda Nunes.
Nunes’ story is almost as unlikely as Coren Mitchell’s.
Nunes picked up the UFC bantamweight championship at UFC 200 with a rear-naked choke victory over Miesha Tate, one of the most famous female mixed martial artists in history. But it was her first defense where she’d meet the woman who finally got the UFC to embrace women in the Octagon.
Ronda Rousey was looking to recapture the championship she’d lost after a shocking head-kick knockout against Holly Holm and Nunes was the woman standing in her way. Rousey spent years building her legacy of dominance, before eventually being named the world’s most dominant athlete.
Despite being an underdog to one of the few mainstream mega-stars in UFC history, Nunes knocked out Rousey in just 48 seconds.
She then defeated Valentina Shevchenko, who is now the UFC flyweight champ. And then Raquel Pennington. All before moving up in weight to face off with featherweight champ Cris Cyborg.
If any woman could rival Rousey’s previous claims as the most dominant woman in mixed martial arts, it was Cyborg. In fact, Cyborg had won 20 straight fights following a loss in her pro debut before stepping into the cage with Nunes.
As Cyborg was the bigger, more feared fighter, she was also the betting favorite.
Understandably, it took Nunes more time to deal with Cyborg than it did Rousey.
Instead of scoring the knockout in 48 seconds, it took her 51 to score the knockout of Cyborg and become a two-division champ.
These women know how to make history.