Dennis Siver: David to McGregor’s Goliath

Fightland Blog

By Nick "The Tooth" Gullo

Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images

In any conflict, the most enviable tag is that of underdog. For numerous reasons: opponents underestimate you; fans expect so little, even a modest showing is seen as a triumph; and the freedom of a pre-ordained loss allows radical, unexpected strategies that just might deliver a victory.

So sits Dennis Siver as he faces the much-heralded Conor McGregor at UFC Fight Night 59, next weekend in Boston.

No question, for many fans the Irishmen is not only the Second Coming, he’s also a 12-to-1 favorite over Siver. The odds are so lopsided, it’s the stuff of David vs. Goliath myths.

Although Siver hails from German ancestry, he grew up in Russia, and originally trained sambo and judo before transitioning to tae kwon do and kickboxing. So he’s a fairly rounded competitor, and has even notched a few submissions during his UFC career. And that career is long. He debuted in the organization nearly eight years ago, at UFC 70—which means, as with most veterans, he’s likely got a bag of tricks to pull from when his back’s against the cage.

Now, that won’t guarantee you a used television at the local pawn shop, but it’s enough to hope for a shocking upset.

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Anyhow, back to David and Goliath. Aside from Eve nibbling that apple in the garden, this biblical yarn, wherein the diminutive Israelite bests a 6’9” armor-plated Philistine with a mere sling, is perhaps the most-referenced story in Western literature.

Why? Because at one time or another, each of us has faced impossible odds. Close your eyes and recall how it felt—the despair, the self-pity, and even anger at the universe. But also recall the feeling of resigning yourself to whatever fate may bring: Fuck it, if I’m going down, so be it, I’m going down with style.

It’s no secret, after the uninspiring PPV year that was 2014, the UFC has shifted strategy to emphasize more spectacle and less sport. Hence, the upcoming Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz super-fight, and the reason McGregor is poised to leapfrog the cabal of elite Featherweight fighters—Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes—for a title shot with José Aldo.

But this shift is actually a response to fan feedback, and a McGregor vs. Aldo mega-fight in an Ireland stadium will only take place if Conor dispenses with Siver in at least a semi-dominant fashion.

McGregor has already claimed this will happen: “I feel I will stop Dennis Siver inside two minutes,” he said during last week’s UFC 182 broadcast. “I’ve ran through some scenarios, I cannot see him escaping the first two minutes. He is a seasoned veteran. He is a kickboxing expert, a taekwondo expert. He is my most experienced competitor that I will ever have faced. But I feel that under two minutes it will take me to dispatch him, and again it will make way for the football stadium in Ireland.”

Two. Minutes. That’s a bold claim, and a high pole for a 5’9 Irishman to vault. If I were Siver, I would’ve rubbed my hands and smiled on hearing that, because McGregor just set himself up for a fall, no matter how unlikely.

This happens more often than you’d think. Apple resurrecting from the ashes and defeating Microsoft. The U.S. hockey team beating the Soviets for Olympic gold.

And in regards to combat sports, hands down, during my lifetime the greatest underdog upset came from Buster Douglas, when he KO’d Mike Tyson in the Tokyo Dome. Tyson was the undefeated, undisputed, champion holding every Heavyweight belt. Everywhere you turned, it was Tyson, Tyson, Tyson. He was the most omnipresent fighter ever: Pepsi commercials, the covers of non-fight magazines, his own video game. No fighter before, or since, has reached this level of media saturation. (For more insight on Tyson, check out this earlier piece.)

Before the fight, Tyson was a 42-to-1 favorite. This match-up was an afterthought, everyone looking past and ‘through’ Douglas. Which gave the underdog a tremendous advantage—the advantage of nothing to lose. Think that’s negligible? Well, Douglas’ mother passed away just three weeks before the fight, so you’ve got to imagine him before that opening bell, standing in that massive arena, a stranger in a strange land, telling himself: Fuck it, if I’m going down, so be it, I’m going down with style.

This perfect stew of over-confidence, dire odds, and resignation, led to the most storied finishes in history, a tenth round KO of the champ.

In regards to MMA, no question the greatest upset occurred during UFC 69, when GSP faced Matt Serra as an 11-to-1 favorite. Serra was recently cut from the organization, and was only asked back to appear in The Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback, alongside sixteen former UFC fighters, the winner receiving a shot at the Welterweight belt. Rocky-style unscripted drama. Throughout the show, Serra bested the other contestants, and on the night of his dubious Cinderella story, during the first round he caught GSP with an overhand right that stunned the champion, then Serra finished him in just over three minutes!

So when Siver enters the Octagon against McGregor, recall these Goliath-tales, for in MMA, and life, there are no guarantees.


Check out these related stories:

Sup Conor: Joseph Duffy Signs with the UFC

Victory over Siver Is Imperative for McGregor's Legacy

Conor McGregor and the Art of Hype