Top 12 All-Time Greatest Upsets

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. So, on the anniversary of one of the biggest upsets the ring has ever seen, Robinson vs Turpin I, we present to you The Twelve Greatest Upsets in all of 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.

Few gave Leonard any chance of beating Marvelous Marvin.
Few gave Ray any chance of beating Marvelous Marvin.

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.

Laing humbles Duran.

10. Fritzie Zivic W15 Henry Armstrong, Oct. 4, 1940 — Homicide Hank had reeled off an incredible eighteen straight defenses of his world welterweight championship and was expected by all to notch number nineteen 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.

Armstrong on the canvas in round fifteen.

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!”

Greatest Upsets Ali Foreman
Foreman down and out in Zaire.

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.

Honeyghan dominates Curry.

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 odds-makers 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 J. Braddock W15 Max Baer,  June 13, 1935It 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 new heavyweight champ Baer, but instead Braddock took the overconfident power puncher to boxing school and then took the crown by 15 round unanimous decision.

Braddock prevails and becomes “The Cinderella Man.”

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 and delivered to “The Brown Bomber” his first professional defeat.

Schmeling exults as Louis is counted out.

4. Muhammad Ali TKO7 Sonny Liston, May 25th, 1964Liston, 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.

Clay vs Liston I
Clay shakes up the world.

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, 1951No 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, found himself with an empty gas tank in the late rounds and dropped a clear-cut decision to a 20-to-1 longshot who had never gone past the eighth round.

Turpin (right) on his way to scoring a truly massive upset win.
Turpin had been given no chance.

1. Buster Douglas KO10 Mike Tyson, Feb. 11, 1990 — In professional prizefighting, this is the upset by which all others are measured. Long shots don’t come much longer than 42-to-1.

Douglas doing the unthinkable to “Iron Mike” in 1990.

“The eighth was followed by a rough round nine in which Tyson tried to capitalize on the knockdown. He couldn’t, and barely survived the round himself after being pasted by a series of hard rights. In the tenth, Douglas caught him with a hellacious uppercut that violently launched Mike’s head back. The subsequent combination floored Mike and the dazed champ could only fumble for his mouthpiece as the referee’s count narrated the final seconds of his championship reign.”      –From “Feb. 11, 1990: Douglas vs Tyson” by Eliott McCormick 

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, 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, Bernard Hopkins W12 Antonio Tarver, Simon Brown KO4 Terry Norris, Bernard Hopkins W12 Kelly Pavlik, Fighting Harada KO11 Pone Kingpetch, Jimmy McLarnin TKO1 Young Corbett III, 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, Manny Pacquiao TKO8 Oscar DeLaHoya, Andy Ruiz TKO7 Anthony Joshua.

Become a patron at Patreon!

4 thoughts on “Top 12 All-Time Greatest Upsets

  • February 13, 2020 at 8:06 am

    Number 12 on this list was a robbery and doesn’t belong. If the names had been reversed then Hagler would’ve won that fight. People were surprised to see Leonard in the ring with Hagler and not keeling over dead, so he got too much credit for being on two legs and fighting back. But taking the champion’s belt by being the aggressor and the better fighter, Sugar Ray did not.

    • November 3, 2023 at 4:24 pm

      I agree Hagler won the fight but Leonard took five rounds and there’s arguably enough justification to believe he edged two more. I don’t see it myself, Ray faded too much over the second half of the fight and Marvin kept thumping his body in between all the flashy, inconsequential flurries, but I still can’t call the decision a robbery when that term also describes the likes of Ramirez W12 Whitaker or Williams W12 Lara.

  • January 7, 2022 at 9:28 am

    Agree totally. Hagler won that fight. No two ways about it

    • June 11, 2022 at 1:37 pm

      I don’t know if it’s true, but I read somewhere that Hagler shot his television set after watching the fight


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *