There have been hundreds of upsets in the squared circle throughout history as the favourites have often come up short. But some upsets are definitely bigger than others when the loser happens to be a current or former world champion in the middle of their hall of fame career and the winner is basically just a journeyman. This list deals with the 10 biggest upsets in the modern era of the sport. When boxers used to fight every week and had 200 bouts in their careers there was bound to be an upset or two along the way.
Sugar Ray Robinson losing to Randy Turpin in 1951 is a prime example of this and let’s not forget Robinson fought just nine days earlier. Therefore, we’ve focused on the past half century as boxers now have the time to properly train and focus on their opponent for a couple of months before meeting them. There are no excuses for losses these days when you’re fighting only two or three times a year.
10. Kirkland Laing over Roberto Duran
Roberto Duran may have been ‘The Hands of Stone’ when he met Jamaican-born Briton Kirkland ‘The Gifted One’ Laing in Detroit in 1982, but Laing had an iron jaw that night. Duran weighed 155 lbs. for the 10-round match while Laing was under 150. The lighter man used excellent movement to frustrate the former world champion and grew in confidence as the fight went on. He even rocked Duran a couple of times with his own power shots and the judges took notice. When the scores were read in Ring Magazine’s upset of the year, Laing took a well-earned split decision and Duran’s proposed big-money fight with Tony Ayala fell through. Laing would get knocked out in his very next fight by Fred Hutchins, but would go on to become a British and European champion even though he lost 12 career fights.
9. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai over Roman Gonzalez
When 30-yer-old WBC Super Flyweight Champion Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez met 30-year-old Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Wisaksil Wangek) in March of 2017 the champ was considered by many to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. He had a perfect mark of 46-0 with 38 Kos and seemed to be unbeatable. Rungvisai also had a fine record of 42-4-1 with 39 Kos, but it was quite deceiving. Fourteen of his opponents were making their pro debuts, including the last three in a row before meeting Gonzalez. In fact, many of Rungvisai’s opponents had losing records or were just novice pro fighters. Gonzalez was dropped in the first round by Rungvisai though and then suffered a bad cut above the right eye from an accidental head butt two rounds later. The two went to-to-toe in an exciting fight and the challenger won a close majority decision even though he lost a point for another head butt. Gonzalez will have a chance to avenge the defeat when he meets Rungvisai in a rematch on September 9th.
8. Frankie Randall over Julio Cesar Chavez
When you enter a fight as the WBC Super Lightweight Champion and without a loss in 90 outings you’re certainly going to be a huge 15-1 favourite. But those numbers meant nothing in 1994 when all-time Mexican great Julio Cesar Chavez (89-0-1) took on the slightly older Frankie Randall. Chavez shot himself in the foot as he was deducted two points for low blows by referee Richard Steele, but he was also dropped for the first time as a pro in the 11th round. Randall out jabbed the champion and generally just outbox him over 12 rounds on his way to the close split decision. The win was definitely the high point of Randall’s career as he’d go on to lose 18 career fights at 58-18-1 with 12 Kos. Two of his losses came at the hands of Chavez in a pair of rematches, which came just four months later and then again after a decade had passed. Chavez retired with a mark of 107-6-2 with 86 Kos.
7. Jeff Horn over Manny Pacquiao
The most recent upset came on July 2nd down in Brisbane, Australia when hometown hero Jeff Horn took on the great Manny Pacquiao. But while Horn was given a unanimous decision in front of about 50,000 fans, he had the fortune of some debatable judging. He ate of 182 of Pacquiao’s punches while landing just 92 of his own and appeared to be out on his feet at the end of the ninth round. Pacquiao out-landed the former school teacher 123-73 in power punches as well. Give Horn credit though as he was determined to win this fight and didn’t quit. He threw 53 more punches than the 38-year-old Pacquiao at 626-573, even though most of them missed, and carried on bloodied and bruised to see it through. The 29-year-old Horn entered the bout with just 17 pro fights under his belt (16-0-1) and none of them against a legitimate top-10 contender. It doesn’t matter though as the history books read: Horn UD 12.
6. Iran Barkley over Tommy Hearns (twice)
Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns was the WBC Middleweight Champion and the clear favourite when he took on Iran “The Blade” Barkley in 1988. Hearns was considered one of the best boxers and hardest punchers on the planet at the time even though he had been beaten by Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The Hitman had beaten the likes of Pipino Cuevas, Roberto Duran and Wilfredo Benitez. The fight started as expected with Hearns easily winning the first two and a half rounds, but a busted-up Barkley was desperate by the end of the third. The challenger nailed Hearns with two big right hands that sent him crashing to the canvas. Hearns managed to beat the count, but Barkley continued the attack and sent the champ through the ropes, forcing the referee to stop the fight with 21 seconds to go in the stanza. Barkley also took the WBA Light Heavyweight title from Hearns four years later in a rematch via a split decision.
5. Leon Spinks over Muhammad Ali
Okay, Muhammad Ali wasn’t the same brash young man who beat Sony Liston 14 years earlier. Heck, he wasn’t even the same aging boxer who had struggled to beat the likes of Alfredo Evangelista and Chuck Wepner, but he was facing ‘Neon’ Leon Spinks here. Yes, the inexperienced Leon Spinks who had just seven pro fights to his name after winning a light-heavyweight gold medal at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. The Greatest of All Time was expected to take Spinks to school in February of 1978. It was believed a blindfolded Ali could have fought with one hand tied behind his back and still knocked the newcomer out. It wasn’t to be though as Spinks outworked the master and took a split decision. With the upset, Spinks set a new record by winning the heavyweight title in just his eighth fight. Ali did his homework though and easily won the rematch by unanimous decision just seven months later.
4. Buster Douglas over Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson was regarded as the baddest man on the plant when he defended his undisputed heavyweight title against Buster Douglas in Tokyo back in February, 1990. Douglas had looked a little flabby in some of his previous fights and was a 42-1 underdog heading into this contest. And on top of all that, his mother had recently passed away and he was suffering with the flu. Tyson was 37-0 while Douglas was 29-4-1. The odds makers believed all the hype even though the challenger was close to six inches taller than Tyson, had a 12-inch reach advantage, and had already beaten the likes of Trevor Berbick, Oliver McCall, Greg Page, Tex Cobb and Jesse Ferguson. Douglas was close to perfect against Tyson except for getting dropped in the eighth round. He picked himself up off the canvas and proceeded to pound the living daylights out of Tyson until knocking him senseless in the 10th round. Douglas showed the world what an unafraid heavyweight could do to shatter the myth of Tyson and Tyson would go on to lose five more fights.
3. Wilfredo Benitez over Antonio Cervantes
On paper alone, it might not have looked like much of a mismatch. Wilfredo Benitez was 25-0 at the time and appeared a worthy challenger to 30-year-old WBA Super Lightweight Champion Antonio ‘Kid Pambele’ Cervantes, who was 74-8-3. Cervantes had been the world champ for about four years though with 10 successful title defences to his name. In addition, the losses had come earlier in his career and he was riding a 21-fight winning streak. To top things off, Benitez was just a 17-year-old high school student in 1976. That’s right, he was too young to drink and vote and was just six years old when Cervantes made his pro debut. The champ was so confident he agreed to fight in Benitez’s home territory of Puerto Rico. All of the ingredients were present for an enormous upset and that’s what we got as Benitez looked like the veteran and Cervantes the teenager as the kid won a 15-round split decision. Benitez still holds the record as the youngest-ever world champion, won three world titles in different divisions and was inducted into the hall of fame, as was Cervantes.
2. Muhammad Ali over Sonny Liston (twice)
Muhammad Ali was a huge underdog when facing the much-feared Sonny Liston in 1964 and did indeed shake up the world. He took the heavyweight title when Liston reportedly suffered a shoulder injury and couldn’t or wouldn’t answer the bell for the seventh round. Ali had boxed circles around him up to that point, but Liston was never out of a fight due to his thunderous one-punch knockout power. He’d already knocked Floyd Patterson out twice to win and defend the title and had beaten the likes of Eddie Machen, Zora Folley and Cleveland Williams. Ali may have been an Olympic gold-medalist as a light heavyweight, but the only big wins the 22-year-old had in 19 pro fights were against an aging Archie Moore and the cut-prone bleeder Henry Cooper. But Ali’s first-round knockout of Liston in the rematch 15 months later may have been a bigger upset. Liston had time to heal and if Ali had taken him by surprise he would surely have figured out what went wrong and how to adjust his tactics for the rematch. There’s no way Ali would be able to beat Liston twice in a row, right? Phantom punch or not, the chaos lasted for just 132 seconds.
1. Tyson Fury over Wladimir Klitschko
No matter what the critics say, if you’ve held a world heavyweight championship for just over a decade in your career then you’re definitely doing something right. Wladimir ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ Klitschko had achieved just that and also had 53 knockouts in his 64 wins. He was arguably facing the least-talented boxer of his career in England’s Tyson Fury in November of 2015 and the bout was being held in the champ’s adopted homeland of Germany. All Fury had going for him was his 6-foot-9-inch frame and an unbeaten record of 24-0 with 18 kos. His chin was questionable and his awkward, lumbering style was derided by many experts. However, he frustrated Klitschko that November night and managed to win a unanimous decision in what has to go down as the worst heavyweight title fight in history. In fact, it may have been the worst bout ever as Klitschko had no clue what to do and appeared afraid to get within Fury’s punching range. Klitschko only has himself to blame for the upset, but it should be noted Fury’s boxing license was stripped in Britain for drug use less than a year after the bout and he hasn’t fought since.