I refuse to give up on boxing. She’s like the girlfriend who you know is bad for you but the sex is so good you can never truly break free of her. That’s why no matter how many champions there are in each division or ridiculous decisions, I can never permanently cut it out of my life. There’s just something so pure about two guys trying to beat each other up.
Every major sport, with the exception of baseball, is basically watered down boxing. Think about it; football is wall to wall physical violence. Basketball is a very macho sport and even though there are few fist fights, the game is basically about trying to take your opponents heart away either by taunting or with a well timed slam dunk. Do I really have to explain the similarities with hockey?
And because there’s so much at stake with a fight, upsets are even more magnified. It doesn’t matter how old or accomplished you are, because there is nothing more humiliating then getting your ass kicked. You’re on the floor and there’s no hiding. It’s just the fighter out there naked. Floyd Patterson, a heavyweight champion who was knocked down more then any other champion, once said “The losing fighter loses more then just his pride and the fight: he loses part of his future, he is one step closer to the slum he came from.” Ouch.
So, while we should applaud anyone with the courage enough to get into a boxing ring, we should applaud even louder for those who pull off the seemingly impossible and beat up someone they have no business beating up. Here are the ten biggest upsets in boxing history:
10. Sugar Ray Leonard v. Marvin Hagler (1987)
While I’ve never been a huge Sugar Ray Leonard fan, there’s no denying that he was a really smart fighter. Smart enough to know that if he fought Marvin Hagler in 1984, he probably would’ve lost. In 1987, Hagler was a fighter in decline but only Sugar Ray and Angelo Dundee saw it.
That smartness extended to the negotiating as well. Hagler would receive a million more then Ray but Ray got the ring size (big), gloves (thumbless) and amount of rounds (12) all in his favor. But where Sugar Ray was really intelligent came two weeks before the fight. Ray’s original plan was basically to take it to Hagler and trade punches. Sugar Ray was knocked on his ass in sparring and from the time he was down to the time he got up, the plan was changed.
The night of the fight, the new strategy became apparent. Stay away from Hagler and let loose with a flurry of punches in the last fifteen seconds of every round. Miraculously, Leonard won the fight. Personally, I feel he lost but the judges were so impressed that Ray was still standing at the end that they awarded him the decision. Hagler was dumbfounded and never fought again while Ray retired three more times before finally calling it quits when he got knocked out by Hector Camacho in 1997.
9. Michael Spinks v. Larry Holmes (1985)
Heavyweight Champion, Larry Holmes was 48-0 entering the fight. One more win and he would tie Rocky Marciano’s record of 49 victories without a loss. It looked Spinks would be a speed bump on Holmes’s path to immortality, but it didn’t turn out that way. Holmes injured his thumb during training and refused to cancel the fight thinking it would be a cake walk. It wasn’t.
Michael Spinks fought a technically brilliant but boring fight, forcing Holmes to mostly chase him through fifteen rounds. In the end, it was a close but unanimous decision for Spinks. Holmes was beside himself and at the post fight press conference he said of Marciano, “…he couldn’t carry my jock.” While not literally true, it was still insulting. Holmes later apologized.
8. Gene Tunney v. Jack Dempsey I (1926)
We’re going way old school with this one. In the years previous to the Great Depression, there was no bigger celebrity in the world then Jack Dempsey. He was a man’s man and he had charisma but he also had a dearth of opponents. Yes, there were people who wanted to fight the “champ” but no one who excited the public. Dempsey was smart enough to realize that if you have the potential to get your brains bashed in, you should be well compensated.
Finally, light heavyweight champion, Gene Tunney, was deemed acceptable and contracts were signed. 120,000 people crammed into Sesquicentennial Stadium in Philadelphia to see Tunney thoroughly out box Jack Dempsey. At the conclusion, people were shocked but no one doubted that the judges were right and Gene Tunney was the new heavyweight champion of the world.
7. Antonio Tarver v. Roy Jones Jr. (2004)
Roy Jones Jr. beat Antonio Tarver in a majority decision six months earlier and figured to do the same that night. The first round was all Jones. He landed some good punches and was frustrating Tarver with his movement. In the second round, Tarver hit Jones with a vicious left hook. Jones, Jr. looked like he was shot. The referee didn’t even bother to count.
Unfortunately, for Jones, this fight was the first fight in his downfall because four months later he was knocked out in the ninth by Glen Johnson and Jones was never the same fighter.
6. Cassius Clay v. Sonny Liston I (1964)
Cassius Clay entered the ring a seven to one underdog against Sonny Liston. A lot of people thought those odds were too generous for Clay. Sonny Liston won the title with a vicious first round knock out against Floyd Patterson and did the exact same thing in the rematch. Liston was downright scary. He had a stare that could stop you cold and make you wet yourself.
Clay wasn’t having it, boasting that he would knockout Liston in seven. No one believed him but if you really looked at Clay’s fights, you wouldn’t have doubted him. Well, you’d think he had a chance. Clay won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in the Light Heavyweight division and had the perfect style to take it to Liston. He was fast and had a deceptively hard punch. Plus, Liston was probably a few years older then his stated age of thirty four.
When the fight started, Liston couldn’t touch Clay. In the fourth round, Liston managed to put liniment on his gloves and temporarily blind Clay who wanted to quit. Angelo Dundee wouldn’t let him, pushing his fighter out for the fifth. Eventually Clay’s eyesight cleared up and he retook control of the fight. Liston quit on his stool between the sixth and seventh rounds, blaming a bum shoulder, making Cassius Clay the heavyweight champion of the world.
5. Manny Pacquiao v. Oscar De La Hoya (2008)
Now it doesn’t seem like an upset but at the time De La Hoya was the heavier fighter and Pacquiao had only fought once over 130 pounds. The plan was for De La Hoya to get an easy win and then possibly fight Floyd Mayweather. Pacquiao smacked “The Golden Boy” around for eight one-sided rounds. It was the last time Oscar De La Hoya fought in the ring. As of now, he’s smart enough to keep it that way.
4. Roberto Duran v Davey Moore (1983)
Coming into this fight, Roberto Duran looked to be a shot fighter. He had lost two fights to Wilfred Benitez and Kirkland Laing but a knockout over former champ, Pipino Cuevas put him back in the title picture.
Davey Moore was a good, young champion having defended his junior middleweight title three times and Duran looked like he was going to be victim number four but it wasn’t meant to be. Moore knew he was in trouble when he entered the ring at Madison Square Garden and was cascaded by boos. Moore was from the Bronx and considered himself to be the hometown favorite. Duran entered to thunderous applause.
The fight started and at the end of the first round, Duran thumbed Moore in the eye which was eventually swollen shut. Mistake number two was Moore having had oral surgery five days before the fight. As anyone who’s ever had wisdom teeth removed can attest, it takes more then five days to recover, let alone fight a vicious animal like Duran.
Through eight brutal rounds, Roberto Duran kicked the crap out of Davey Moore. His corner should’ve stopped the fight a lot earlier. Moore was a young warrior and there was no need for him to take that kind of punishment when he had no chance to win. Duran won by knockout in the eighth round which enabled him to get big money fights with Hagler and Hearns. Moore tragically died in a motorcycle five years later.
3. Max Schmeling v Joe Louis I (1936)
Nobody can beat Joe Louis. The guy was just too good. He was big, he was fast and had a punch that could knock out a mule. Max Schmeling was undeterred and kept insisting that he saw a flaw in Louis that would enable him to knockout the “Brown Bomber.” What Schmeling saw was that Louis lowered his left hand just before throwing a left jab. This allowed Schmeling to counter with a right cross, his best punch.
As more and more rounds went by, Louis’s chances for a victory were slipping away just like Schmeling was. By the 12th round, Schmeling was far ahead on all the scorecards and put an exclamation point on his victory by knocking out Joe Louis, something that no one else was able to do to that point. The world was stunned. Eventually, there was a rematch and Louis knocked out Schmeling in one round but on June 19th, 1936, the night belonged to Max Schmeling.
2. Muhammad Ali v. George Foreman (1974)
Nobody thought Ali had a chance. People said “what about Liston?” Foreman easily had twenty-five pounds on Liston and Ali was now ten years older. This was an opportunity for Ali to fight in Africa, collect one last big pay day and hopefully not get killed in the process. Ali barely beat Joe Frazier and Foreman knocked out Frazier in two.
Ali really took to Africa and it was clear that the people of Zaire were rooting for him. Foreman secluded himself, barely coming out of his training compound. Foreman got cut over the eye when sparring and the fight had to be pushed back seven weeks. While the press and Foreman desperately wanted to leave Zaire, Ali thrived.
The night of the fight, Ali entered the ring and found the canvas was mushy instead of firm. He realized that if he fought the way everyone thought he would, running around the ring for fifteen rounds, Ali would run out of gas a third of the way in. That’s where the “rope-a-dope” came in. Ali let Foreman pound on him for seven rounds. Everyone thought he was insane but “the Greatest” knew what he was doing. By round seven, Foreman was exhausted and ripe for the taking. Ali landed a perfect combination and Foreman went down and didn’t get up. Muhammad Ali was once again the Heavyweight champion of the world.
1. Buster Douglas v. Mike Tyson (1990)
This one was such a huge upset that only one casino would take bets and their line was 42 to 1 against Buster Douglas. At the time, Mike Tyson wasn’t treating the fight seriously and it was hard to blame him. If that wasn’t enough obstacles for Buster Douglas to overcome, his mother died twenty three days before the fight. Douglas later said that he used his grief to focus on beating Tyson, dedicating the fight to his mother.
When the fight began, Tyson quickly found out that Douglas wasn’t going to just run, get hit and then inevitably get knocked out. Douglas dominated the fight from the get go, closing Tyson’s left eye in the fifth round. Tyson’s corner was so unprepared that they didn’t have an endswell for the swollen eye, so they tried to make due with a rubber glove full of cold water.
Tyson appeared to have new life in the eighth when he managed to knock Douglas down. The referee was slow with the count and it was fourteen seconds before Douglas got up but it was obvious that he could’ve gotten up sooner if necessary. By the tenth, it was all over. Tyson wasn’t just defeated, he was beaten as the referee counted him out. Douglas had done the impossible by taking apart “Iron” Mike Tyson.