Tyson Fury’s win over World Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko might have surprised pundits and boxing followers, but it is certainly not the first time that an underdog has made a champion (and ringside experts) eat humble pie. Here are ten other bouts which stunned the world and world champions alike.
Jack Johnson vs James Jeffries 1910
Perhaps no fight – or even sports spectacle – has had such an impact on the world as Jack Johnson fighting James Jeffries. In a world still divided by rampant racism, Johnson had surprised everyone when he had become the world’s first black heavyweight champion (and perhaps first black champion in a popular sport) by defeating Tommy Burns. So incensed were some at this prospect that they lured the undefeated former James Jeffries out of retirement to show him his place. In the event, Johnson mercilessly pummelled Jeffries, stunning the world and even sparking off riots in some parts of the USA. The era of white supremacy in boxing was over!
James Braddock vs Max Baer, 1935
An immaculately built and toned world champion fighting a person who had been in such dire straits that he had to give up boxing and take up manual labour? No one gave James Braddock a chance against the powerful Max Baer, not least because the Irish American had mostly
fought as a light heavyweight. On the night, however, Braddock called up hidden reserves of strength and courage, taking everything an overconfident Baer threw at him and returning it with compound interest to win a unanimous decision.
Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston 1964
Going into the fight, many people were actually worried that Liston, a mountain of a man who had a reputation for brutal knock outs, would physically damage Clay, who kept taunting the champion. On the night, however, Cassius Clay danced rings around a bewildered (and later it
emerged, injured) Liston, jabbing him at will. By the seventh round, it was over, with Liston spitting his mouthpiece out and not coming out. Silence enveloped the arena as no one realised what had happened and then Clay shouted: “I am king.” The Greatest had arrived.
Mohammad Ali vs George Foreman, 1974
Ten years after he had shocked the world by beating the seemingly undestructible Sonny Liston, Cassius Clay was back, with a new name (Muhammad Ali) hoodwinking another opponent that many had considered invincible, George Foreman. Everyone had expected Ali to be cannon fodder for the phenomenal fistic power of Foreman, but he absorbed phenomenal punishment, draining out Foreman and then as the world watched in shock, knocked him out in the 8th round.
Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler, 1987
They are still fighting over who actually won the fight, but the fact is that going into the bout, not too many gave former Middleweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard a chance against the current holder of the title, the brilliant Marvin “Marvellous” Hagler. Leonard had not fought for five years and was in semi-retirement. He, however, came back with a brilliant display of ring craftsmanship, out-thinking Hagler in perhaps the greatest fight of the twentieth century in terms of sheer skill. In the end, Leonard won the decision, but Hagler still feels he was robbed. No matter who you believe, it was as an upset of Titanic proportions.
James Douglas vs Mike Tyson, 1990
In 1990, Mike Tyson was being considered well nigh unbeatable by most experts. The man had annihilated all the opposition in front of him. So not too many gave James “Buster” Douglas too much of a chance against him – he was supposed to be a warm-up for Tyson’s next bout, which
was expected to be against Evander Holyfield. In the event, Douglas danced, jabbed and flummoxed the champion, and with a touch of good fortune (he survived a ‘long count’ in the eight round with the referee taking too long to count), did something in the tenth round no one had thought possible – he knocked out Mike Tyson.
Frankie Randall vs Hugo Cesar Chavez, 1994
In 1994, Hugo Cesar Chavez was pretty much lord of all he surveyed in the lightweight division, undefeated in ninety fights and considered one of the all-time boxing greats, while Frankie Randall was supposed to have frittered away his early promise in the late eighties. The bout was supposed to be a cakewalk for Chavez and a good payday for Randall. So you can imagine how shocked Chavez was to find himself on the canvas for the first time in his career in the eleventh round, and handing over his Light Welterweight title to Randall. This was the first chapter in a bitter and controversial rivalry, but it was easily the most surprising.
George Foreman vs Michael Moorer, 1994
Picture this: a 26-year-old boxer supposed to be at his prime and renowned for his speed, having just won the World title off a legend like Evander Holyfield. His opponent: a man who had been World champion himself but when the current champ was a mere seven years old. Not too many gave the 45-year-old tubby George Foreman (who had himself been shocked by Ali in 1975) a chance against the leaner, faster, fitter Michael Moorer. And for nine rounds, the fight followed the script, until Foreman suddenly unleashed a right that floored Moorer, winning back
his title nineteen years after losing it.
Hasim Rahman vs Lennox Lewis 2001
Rahman was supposed to not even have a ghost of a chance against the unbeaten Lewis, who was known for his immaculate technique and temperament, and had taken the heavyweight title in brilliant fashion from no less a person than Evander Holyfield. Lewis seemed to have believed this too for he turned up for the fight a few levels below peak fitness and was pushed around for four rounds before being knocked out in the fifth. He later made a triumphant return, but the fight would haunt him for years.
Corrie Sanders vs Wladimir Klitschko, 2003
No, Tyson Fury was certainly not the first one to have stunned Klitschko. More than a decade ago, a relatively unknown Corrie Sanders literally demolished the Ukranian (then the defending WBO champion) in a surprising display of fisticuff fury (pun intended). Klitschko had been the overwhelming favourite coming into the fight, but the crowd was shocked to see him knocked out in less than two rounds, his face a mass of bruises. In a twist right out of Bollywood, Vladimir’s brother, Vitaly swore vengeance on Sanders. He would eventually get but Sanders
will be remembered as the man who first showed that Vladimir Klitschko was vulnerable.