boxing upsets

Top 10 Heavyweight Boxing Upsets of All Time 

The outcome of these heavyweight boxing clashes left the fans shocked.

by Malik Waleed

Do you know about the greatest boxing upsets of all time? Let’s talk about them.

In boxing, it’s just a matter of a punch to decide the winner, particularly in heavyweight. As it is said, “A fighter is never truly out of the fight until that final bell rings.”

Legends like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson are said to be the finest players to play the sport; however, they have also tasted defeat on a mega scale. These fights’ “shockers” amazed the fans of the boxing world.

The Dope Lists looks at the top 10 biggest heavyweight upsets in boxing history. These fights have been numbered according to their popularity and the intensity of upset at the time.

10. Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks (February 1978) 

February 15, 1978, was a big day in boxing history and one of the greatest boxing surprises. Leon, an inexperienced underdog who had just played seven pro fights, defeated the living legend of his time, Muhammad Ali, after 15 rounds of action and became the heavyweight champion. However, while Leon was young, Ali was near the end of his career. 

After winning the title, Leon said, “I am the latest, but he is the greatest.” Their fight was named the Fight of the Year. The punches landed by Leon were more than any other fighter Ali had ever faced. 

For Leon, it was one of the best performances of his career. The two met again exactly after seven months on September 6, 1978, in New Orleans, LA. This time Ali unleashed his magic and gained revenge on Leon winning the world heavyweight title for the third time. It was one of the boxing upsets that got avenged.

9. Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jr (June 2019)

One of the massive upsets in boxing history occurred at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 1, 2019. Anthony Joshua, the unbeaten giant puncher from England, faced the Mexican underdog Andy Ruiz. 

Ruiz was made fun of for his weight and being out of shape. In the eyes of many, Joshua was thought to be the winner.

However, as the fight started, Ruiz seemed quicker, more agile, and more aggressive. Attacking Joshua with terrible punches, Ruiz made history by knocking him down twice in the seventh round and finished the game.

It was the first defeat of Joshua’s entire career. The win made Ruiz the first Mexican to be crowned as world heavyweight champion.

After the fight, Ruiz, in a news conference, said, “Everybody that bet on me is gonna make some serious money.” It was one of the worst boxing upsets.

8. Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (October 1974)

The fight between Ali and Foreman was one of the most phenomenal and the greatest upset in boxing history. Their action was named Rumble in the Jungle. 

George Foreman, the unbeatable terror, a gold medalist at the 1968 Olympics, butchered almost every opponent he faced. He had already defeated Frazier and Norton, whom Ali had lost to. 

The fight occurred in Kinshasa, Zaire, on October 30, 1974, with almost 60,000 fans in the Stade du 20 Mai. At the time, Ali was 32, while Foreman was 25. Foreman started pounding Ali with his signature sledgehammer blows when the fight started.

Fans in the crowd were chanting “Ali, bomaye” (“Ali, kill him”). However, by the fifth round, Foreman began to tire, and thus Ali got the chance to solidify his legacy.

After absorbing all his clubbing attacks, Ali’s hard left and chopping right caused the youngster’s legs to buckle and ultimately knocked him down on the floor in the 8th round. Ali called the technique “rope a dope,” through which he defeated Foreman.

7. George Foreman vs. Michael Moorer (November 1994)

It is hard to believe that George Foreman became the world champion at the age of 45, an age when fighters usually retire. In 1977, Foreman decided to end his boxing career; however, he returned to the ring in 1987 after a decade. He signed to fight young Michael Moorer, who was just 26 and held a significant title in the division. 

The old man was considered a complete no-hoper. He entered the ring after 17 months, yet some still hoped for a Foreman miracle. 

As the fight started, Moorer controlled the early action. He seemed to be quicker and had faster hands and feet. He hit Foreman with a powerful punch in his eye, and Forman’s eye started to swell. Moorer was dominating in the early rounds and won the opening seven rounds.

Foreman was eagerly waiting for the moment to land his lethal big punch and finish the fight. Then came the 10th round; Foreman stepped forward, floored Moorer with a heavy right jab, and regained the belt he’d lost two decades before. When it comes to heavyweight boxins, surely it’s one of the biggest fight upsets!

6. Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield (November 1996)

After being released from prison in 1995, Iron Mike flattened every boxer he faced with his explosive power and rattlesnake quickness.

When his fight with Holyfield was announced, many considered it a pitiful mismatch; some even feared for Holyfield’s life.

The fight occurred at the MGM Grand Arena (Las Vegas) on November 16, 1996, with over 16000 fans.

As the bell rang, Mike landed a powerful right, and it seemed the fight might get over in the opening minutes. But instead, Holyfield did not lose hope and started scoring quick left hooks to Tyson’s body.

The second round also proved to be unlucky for Mike. Holyfield severely impaired him, hitting him with dangerous flush shots and a powerful left that severely hurt his head.

Holyfield dominated the show, landing colossal right and left punches. At the start of the 11th round, Tyson was utterly exhausted. Hence the referee quickly interfered and declared Holyfield the winner. It was one of the primary boxing upsets of the 90s.

5. Hasim Rahman vs. Lennox Lewis (April 2001)

The clash between Hasim Rehman and Lennox Lewis was named Thunder in Africa. According to the New York Times, it was the biggest fight in African history and is considered one of the biggest boxing upsets of all time. 

Rahman arrived in South Africa almost a month earlier to adjust to the new surroundings. In contrast, Lewis came just two weeks before the fight. He seemed unprepared, and his weight was also higher than ever.

The first bell rang on the morning of April 22, 2001, in Gauta, South Africa. Having an advantage of height and reach, Lewis was leading by two points by the end of the fourth round. 

The fifth round shocked the entire world, and the impossible happened. With half a minute remaining, Rahman sensed an opportunity and pulled a heavy right-hand landing flush on his rival’s chin, flattening him in no time. Rahman was crowned the heavyweight world champion. And it remains one of the most shocking boxing upsets.

4. Wladimir Klitschko vs. Corrie Sanders (March 2003)

Corrie was a good fighter having phenomenal hand speed and power but was seen as a soon-to-be knockout victim against the world champion Klitschko. At the time of the fight, Corrie was 35 years old and had just fought twice in the past two years.

On the other hand, Wladimir held the WBO title since Oct 2000 and seemed chiseled from stone. The fight occurred at Preussag Arena in Hanover, Germany, on March 8, 2003.

The fight started, and Corrie decked Wladimir in the first round. Taking advantage of his blistering left punch, he dropped the Ukrainian twice within the first 3 minutes of the opening round. Eleven thousand five hundred fans witnessing the fight stood in complete shock.

Wladimir got hurt, and blood streamed down the side of his face. The second round started, and Corrie again knocked him down twice. The champion could not survive the blitzkrieg, and referee Genaro Rodriguez stopped the fight. Corrie was crowned the WBO champion, and their fight was named the “upset of the year.” Now we call it one of the greatest upsets in boxing history.

3. James J. Braddock vs. Max Baer (June 1935)

The fight between Braddock and Baer that occurred almost 87 years earlier was considered the greatest boxing surprise of that era and even today. Baer was the defending champion. He was a competent fighter having an advantage of height and power.

While Braddock was famous for his counterpunching style and his iron chin, after facing multiple chronic hand injuries, he returned to the ring in 1935 for a fight with Baer. Braddock has a movie to his name, “Cinderella Man,” which later became his nickname.

The bout occurred on June 13, 1935, at Madison Square Garden Bowl in New York. As the bell rang, Braddock started landing solid jabs. He constantly changed ring positions, hitting powerful shots and gaining early points.

Multiple rounds ticked by, and Braddock was leading on the scoreboard. However, the crowd knew that one mighty blow from Baer could finish the fight. But unfortunately, Baer did not realize he was playing the chicken game with himself. 

The fight continued for 15 rounds, and finally, Braddock outlasted Baer and won via points capturing the heavyweight boxing title. It’s was one of the most significant boxing upsets.

2. Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston (February 1964)

Sonny Liston was a dominant contender of his era, with an extremely powerful jab enough to demolish his opponents. He had already flattened Floyd Peterson to become the world champion in 1962. 

On the other hand, Cassius Clay, later Muhammad Ali, was a young rising boxing star. Ali, at the time, was just 22 years and was highly expected to lose to Liston. But he had enormous self-confidence and an elusive style. 

On February 25, 1964, almost 8300 fans arrived at the Convention Hall Arena in Miami to witness the biggest sporting event. The action began, and Ali landed punishing jabs to the champ’s head while preventing himself from Listons’ powerful swings.

Ali’s vision was severely affected in the fourth round, but he soon dominated the fight again. Liston discontinued the fight between the sixth and seventh rounds, complaining of a shoulder injury. 

Ali shocked the oddsmakers and became the heavyweight world champion for the first time.

1. Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas (February 1990)

Mike Tyson, the invincible knockout machine, was a lethal punching boxer having extraordinary punching skills. It was nearly impossible to beat Iron Mike.

The two met on February 11, 1990, in Tokyo. Douglas was also a talented fighter having a smooth jab and quick feet of a basketball player. Yet he had not got the chance to perform on the highest level. 

The clash was full of twists and turns. The fight was thought to be a one-sided mismatch. Douglas was seen as a lamb to the slaughter in Tokyo.

The action started, and Douglas fought bravely, landing a barrage of stinging blows to the champ. Rounds continued to pass on with Buster dominating the show until round 10 when Buster unleashed a vicious uppercut leaving Tyson on the canvas.

Douglas did the impossible and handed Iron Mike his first loss in his professional career. It was undoubtedly the greatest boxing upset of all time.

Which one is among the biggest boxing upsets according to you? Please mention or add in the comment section.

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