Five Great Heavyweight Upsets

Five Great Heavyweight Upsets 

By Henry Walter

5: Wladimir Klitschko vs Corrie Sanders, WBO Heavyweight Championship, 2003



Back in 2003 British heavyweight great Lennox Lewis ruled the division. Yet the younger of the two fighting Klitschko brothers, Wladimir, was widely considered the heir to the throne and many critics suspected he had the beating of Lewis, should the two ever fight.

Klitschko took a stay busy fight in March, 2003 against fringe contender Corrie Sanders from South Africa.

Saunders, much like Andy Ruiz, was considered a decent heavyweight contender with fast hands but nothing more.

Saunders hadn’t turned up just for a payday however and he stunned the prime time German audience by destroying Klitschko in two short rounds, sending him to the canvas several times with his blinding handspeed to claim the WBO title.

Klitschko regrouped and later became the recognised number one in division. Saunders never scaled such lofty heights again, later losing a WBC title fight to Wladimir’s older brother Vitali.

Sadly just nine years after winning the WBO title Sanders was shot and killed whilst protecting his family during an armed robbery in South Africa.

4: Danny Williams vs Mike Tyson, 2004


In 2004 Mike Tyson was on the comeback trail after his decisive knockout loss to Lennox Lewis two years earlier. Former British Champion Danny Williams was thought to be an opponent Tyson could bulldoze and look good doing so. After all Tyson had won his previous fight in under a minute and Williams had been knocked out by lesser fighters before.

As the fight began Tyson quickly had Williams hurt and desperately hanging on. Yet Williams fought with a determindness never seen in him before or since and survived the round.

By round four Tyson, looking every bit of his thirty-five years, was clearly feeling the pace and Williams began to take over before knocking out Tyson just before the rounds end. It was a quite stunning upset that is still fondly remembered by British boxing fans.

Williams’ win earned him a title shot against Vitali Klitschko but he was easily defeated in eight rounds. Sadly he was still fighting as of 2018.

3: Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston, World Heavyweight Championship, 1964


In 1964 Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, was an undefeated Olympic gold medalist when he challenged the formidable Sonny Liston for his world heavyweight Championship.

Clay had an unorthodox, hands down style that relied on blinding speed and fast reflexes. He had been floored and badly hurt in his previous fight, against Henry Cooper, and was considered to represent an easy nights work for the champion.

Most in the media felt that Clay would be easily bested, most likely inside round, two at most, and the odds pre-fight were as long as 8-1 against for a Clay win.

The fight became one of the biggest upsets in boxing history as Clay outsmarted Liston with his brilliant movement and world class handspeed to claim a TKO win after six one sided rounds.

Clay would later change his name to Muhammad Ali and would go on to claim the world title two more times before retiring in 1981.

2: Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman, World Heavyweight Championship, 1974


By 1974 Ali was older, heavier and slower than the 1964 version of himself, that had first won the title.

At 32, he hadn’t been in possession of the title for some seven years, and had needed two attempts to beat rivals Joe Frazier and Ken Norton.

Both the aforementioned had been destroyed in less than two rounds by the brilliant new champion George Foreman. Foreman was undefeated in forty fights and was expected to easily beat Ali when the two met in Ziare, Africa.

Ali shocked the boxing world, taking Foreman’s best punches, before wearing him down for an eighth round knockout win.

Foreman would launch a comeback thirteen years later and finally regained the title in 1994, aged 45.

1: James Buster Douglas vs Mike Tyson, World Heavyweight Championship, 1990


Mike Tyson had become the youngest ever major heavyweight title holder in history when he’d knocked out Trevor Berbick in 1986 to claim the WBC Heavyweight Championship.

By 1990 Tyson was considered an all time great, such were the manner of his victories, usually achieved by violent KOs.

James Buster Douglas was a decent contender with an unremarkable record of 29-4-1. When the two signed to fight in Japan he was seen as little threat to the champion.

With a couple of KO losses on his record already Douglas was not expected to make it through the opening round. Yet Tyson arrived in Tokyo, Japan for the fight looking bored and distracted.

Douglas, for his part, entered the fight with an iron determination to win, having promised his mother he would take the title shortly before she had passed away.

Douglas stunned the boxing world and overcame odds as high as 42-1 against to outbox Tyson throughout the contest, before overcoming a knockdown to knock out Tyson in the tenth round.

It remains the biggest upset in boxing history. Douglas would go on to lose the title in his first defence but had firmly stamped his place in boxing history forever.

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