The 10 Biggest Upsets In Heavyweight Title Fight History

By James Slater: Though the betting odds, in the U.K at least, are quite close regarding the upcoming Wladimir Klitschko Vs. David Haye heavyweight unification battle, it will be seen by many fans as a big upset if WBA champ Haye wins and adds the Ring magazine, IBO, IBF and WBO belts to his collection; it will be seen as an even bigger upset if “The Hayemaker” wins by brutal, quick KO (as he says he will).

But where amongst the biggest heavyweight title fight upsets would a Haye victory over “Dr. Steel Hammer” rank?

Here, in my opinion, are the ten biggest shocks the heavyweight division has seen when the world title was on the line:

1: James “Buster” Douglas KO 10 Mike Tyson. February 1990, Tokyo Japan.

A no-brainer to start us off! How could any other heavyweight title fight upset be ranked above this jaw-dropper on a titanic shocker? Douglas, seen as a mere payday ahead of Tyson’s looming fight with the unbeaten Evander Holyfield, was a whopping 42-1 favourite - at those betting establishments where it was possible to actually place a bet, that is! Fight fans will never forget the way Buster’s punches left Tyson groping for his mouth-piece as he attempted to get up in the 10th-round.

2: Hasim Rahman KO 5 Lennox Lewis. April 2001, Gauteng, South Africa.

Lewis, already a two-time heavyweight ruler, saw no threat at all from Rahman - so much so that he spent precious weeks of training time filming his role in the big Ocean’s 11 movie in Las Vegas. Lennox paid for this, as his lack of adjusting to the altitude in South Africa saw to it that he was exhausted and out of gas as soon as the 4th-round. The better-prepared “Rock” took advantage and levelled Lewis with his big right hand in the 5th.

3: James J. Braddock WU15 Max Baer. June 1935, New York.

Like Rahman some 60-odd years later, former light-heavyweight contender Braddock was looked at as nothing more than an easy payday for the reigning heavyweight king. Baer, a lethal puncher, was younger, bigger and had far less wear and tear on his body than did the 10-1 underdog. Like Lewis many years later, Baer paid the price for underestimating his challenger and coming in in less than adequate shape. “The Cinderella Man” punched his way to a marvellous unanimous decision win, as well as a to a permanent place in boxing history.

4: Cassius Clay WRTD6 Sonny Liston. February 1964, Miami, Florida.

Seen as invincible, defending champion Liston was expected by practically everyone to make short, violent work of the upstart, highly vocal (some said scared) challenger. Instead, a boxing great was born in early ’64, as Clay, later to be known the world over as Muhammad Ali, outboxed, out-punched and simply outclassed the older, slower champion. To this day many insist Liston lost on purpose, as ordered by the Mob. Whatever the case, the upset shocked the entire sporting world big time.

5: Leon Spinks WS15 Muhammad Ali. February 1978, Las Vegas.

How on earth could a gap-toothed novice with just seven pro fights upset the great Ali; even if it was an ageing, poorly-trained Ali? Well, Olympian Spinks did just that, hammering the tiring, lazy Ali almost at will at times. The last round provided the best action of the fight; the upset reverberated around the globe. Perhaps almost as shocking as the win “Neon” Leon scored, was the fact that one of the three scoring judges somehow scored the fight to Ali!

The next five:

6: Ingemar Johansson TKO3 Floyd Patterson. June 1959, New York.

Labelled a quitter in his amateur days, big Swedish outsider Johansson rose to the occasion and decked Patterson no less than seven painful times in the 3rd-round. Unleashing his soon to be famous “Hammer of Thor,” or “Ingo’s Bingo,” the challenger made mincemeat of the shell-shocked champion.

7: George Foreman KO2 Joe Frazier. January, 1973, Kingston, Jamaica.

The arrival of “Big” George! Hammering the unbeaten conqueror of the great Ali, the young, immensely strong Foreman bounced “Smokin’” Joe on the canvas like, as the writers of the day put it, a basketball. Six times in all Frazier fell, six times he got back up. Despite Joe’s heroics, Foreman would not be denied. It was thought Foreman was set for a long reign, but……

8: Muhammad Ali KO8 George Foreman. October, 1974, Zaire, Africa.

As he did when he burst onto the world stage with his stunner over Liston a decade ago, “The Greatest” left seasoned experts in awe of him once again in his fight with the “unbeatable” Foreman. The exotic location of the “Rumble in The Jungle” added to the surreal nature of Ali’s stoppage win. Ali’s latest masterpiece also gave us his “Rope-a-Dope.”

9: Evander Holyfield TKO11 Mike Tyson. November 1996, Las Vegas.

“The Real Deal” was not only looked at as a sure loser against Tyson; he was seen as a guy who might get seriously hurt in the fight. Not too far removed from his “heart attack” fight with Michael Moorer, Holyfield’s health was a real concern going in. Instead, Holyfield proved to be way too clever, too tough and too damn good for the intimidating “Iron” Mike. Even looking as though he wanted to quit at one point, Tyson’s heart was taken for good in the 11th-round.

10: George Foreman KO10 Michael Moorer. November, 1994. Las Vegas.

“Big” George may only have been a little over a 2/1 underdog at the bookies but, as Larry Merchant said, he was looked at as a “gazillion-to-one underdog” by many experts, himself included. Taking a beating in the early, middle and late rounds, the teak-tough, mentally strong challenger reached back in time in the 10th and unleashed a wicked right hand to the chin. Moorer went down; Foreman went down in history as the oldest heavyweight champion of all-time!

Article posted on 25.04.2011

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