How does one measure an upset? Simple: by the number of chins on the floor at the end of the fight. And the power of the shockwaves felt by the entire sport. Herewith, the 12 greatest upsets in boxing history, the ‘shockers’ which amazed boxing fans the world over and transformed the image and standing of the pugilists involved. Click on the links for videos or in-depth articles on each monumental upset.
12. Sugar Ray Leonard W12 Marvelous Marvin Hagler, April 6, 1987 — Marvelous Marvin Hagler had been not just the best middleweight, but one of the best boxers in the world at any weight. No one had come close to beating him in over a decade. Meanwhile the smaller Leonard had only fought once in five years. Few gave Ray a chance to last the distance, let alone prevail, but the close decision went his way and boxing fans have been arguing about this huge upset ever since.
11. Kirkland Laing W10 Roberto Duran, Sept. 4, 1982 — How low can you go? Duran had already disgraced himself by quitting against Ray Leonard and was coming off a one-sided defeat to Wilfred Benitez, but he was still regarded as a force to be reckoned with, not to mention an all-time great. The unknown Laing made “Manos de Piedra” look completely washed-up as he scored the biggest upset in years. Duran’s ignominious defeat nicely set up one of the most remarkable comebacks in boxing history.
10. Fritzie Zivic W15 Henry Armstrong, Oct. 4, 1940 — Homicide Hank had reeled off an incredible 18 straight defenses of his welterweight championship and was expected by everyone to notch number 19 against Zivic. But the infamous Fritzie, known the world over for his incredible talent at getting away with low blow after thumb after rabbit punch, startled everyone by beating the hell out of the great Armstrong and almost stopping him in the final round.
9. Muhammad Ali KO8 George Foreman, Oct. 30, 1974 — Invincible. Incredible. Impossible. With his awesome demolitions of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, Foreman was the most powerful and impregnable champion since Joe Louis. Ali? An outstanding former champ, but both Frazier and Norton had defeated him and he was 32-years-old. What hope did he have? The people of Zaire replied: “Ali Bomaye!”
8. Lloyd Honeyghan TKO7 Donald Curry, Sept. 27, 1986 — After a string of convincing wins, Curry was viewed by all as the heir apparent to Sugar Ray Leonard, pound-for-pound second only to the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler. “Lloyd who?” people asked before the bout, but it was Curry who quit in his corner after taking a six round beating on national television.
7. Evander Holyfield TKO11 Mike Tyson, Nov. 9, 1996 — Mike Tyson had been a human steamroller after his release from prison, flattening every fighter in his path. Holyfield, long considered washed up, figured to be no different, the oddsmakers initially installing him as an incredible 25-to-1 underdog. Instead The Real Deal stunned the experts by dominating and stopping Tyson and forever deflating the myth of Iron Mike.
6. James Braddock W15 Max Baer, June 13, 1935 — It was after this colossal upset that Braddock, considered by most a washed-up has-been, became “The Cinderella Man.” It was supposed to be an easy night’s work for heavyweight champ Baer, but instead Braddock took the overconfident power puncher to boxing school and then took the crown by unanimous decision.
5. Max Schmeling KO12 Joe Louis, June 19, 1936 — Louis had ripped through the heavyweight division like a tornado in a bad mood, knocking off ex-champions as if they were so many empty farmhouses, his path to the crown all but blasted clear. But Schmeling had done his homework on the awesome young contender and battered Louis into submission with hard counter right hands, delivering “The Brown Bomber” his first professional defeat.
4. Muhammad Ali TKO7 Sonny Liston, May 25th, 1964 — Liston, having twice demolished Floyd Patterson in a single round, was regarded as invincible and some feared for the welfare of young Cassius Clay and his big mouth. But the challenger “shocked the world” and proved all the experts wrong when the champion quit on his stool after six blistering rounds and an amazing performance from the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali.
3. Leon Spinks W15 Muhammad Ali, Feb. 15, 1978 — While it was obvious Ali was nearing the end, few thought Spinks — who had only seven pro fights to his credit — had any chance of defeating the old champion. But young Leon gave the best performance of his career in a fifteen round war to miraculously annex the heavyweight crown.
2. Randy Turpin W15 Sugar Ray Robinson, July 10, 1951 — No one, absolutely no one, thought Turpin had a shot at defeating the great Sugarman, not even his own British countrymen. Robinson, undefeated in ninety straight fights but soft after an extended PR tour of Europe, found himself with an empty gas tank in the late rounds and dropped a unanimous decision to a 20-to-1 longshot who had never gone past the eighth round.
1. Buster Douglas KO10 Mike Tyson, Feb. 11, 1990 — The upset by which all others are measured, not just in boxing but in all of professional sports. Long shots don’t come much longer than 42-to-1.
Honorable Mentions: Gene Tunney W10 Jack Dempsey, Iran Barkley KO3 Thomas Hearns, Hasim Rahman KO5 Lennox Lewis, James J. Corbett KO21 John L. Sullivan, Michael Spinks W15 Larry Holmes (I), Sandy Saddler KO4 Willie Pep, Jess Willard KO26 Jack Johnson, Ingemar Johansson KO3 Floyd Patterson, Antonio Tarver TKO2 Roy Jones Jr., Billy Petrolle W10 Jimmy McLarnin, John Stracey TKO6 Jose Napoles, Bernard Hopkins W12 Kelly Pavlik, Battling Siki KO6 Georges Carpentier, James Toney TKO11 Michael Nunn, Ken Norton W12 Muhammad Ali, Rocky Graziano TKO3 Billy Arnold, George Foreman KO10 Michael Moorer, Keith Mullings TKO9 Terry Norris, Darryl Pinckney KO 3 Junior Jones, Yasutsune Uehara KO6 Samuel Serrano, Mike Rossman TKO13 Victor Galindez, George Foreman KO2 Joe Frazier, Oliver McCall TKO2 Lennox Lewis, Carlos Baldomir W12 Zab Judah; Manny Pacquiao TKO8 Oscar DeLaHoya, Jimmy McLarnin TKO1 Young Corbett III, Bernard Hopkins TKO12 Felix Trinidad, Billy Backus TKO4 Jose Napoles, Ricky Hatton RTD11 Kostya Tszyu, Corrie Sanders KO2 Wladimir Klitschko, Vilomar Fernandez W10 Alexis Arguello, Roger Stafford W10 Pipino Cuevas, Frankie Randall W12 Julio Cesar Chavez, Jean Pascal TD7 Marcus Browne, Andy Ruiz TKO7 Anthony Joshua.