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The Rise of the Underdog: Boxing’s Biggest Upsets

John Smith

John lives in UK and loves attending and supporting small hall shows. He lives in England, UK and attends local shows in London. He loves writing about boxing betting and particular likes when an underdog wins against all odds.

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The Rise of the Underdog: Boxing’s Biggest Upsets

There’s nothing more exciting that a boxing match between two heavy hitters. There have been numerous Hollywood films where the underdog comes out on top. Take Rocky, for example. This film sees a rough and ready boxer from the streets take on the World Champion – Apollo Creed. This is a story where he comes from nothing and puts the champion through his paces. He may not win, but he causes an upset by going the distance, against all odds. In the next one, there’s a rematch where Rocky actually wins.

Everyone loves an underdog story, so here are some of the very best real life underdog boxing stories. If your favoured boxing betting strategy is betting on the underdog, with the boxing betting tips and a bit of luck on your side, here’s proof that it really can work.

5) Jess Willard v Jack Johnson: 5th April 1915, Havana, Cuba

The first black champion, Jack Johnson, had managed to hold on to his heavyweight championship titles since 1908, despite many attempts to relieve him of the belt. However, none of the contenders had managed to even come close to defeating the powerhouse.  Then along came Jess Willard.

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Willard didn’t really look likely to change anything. He was already 34 years old and had been boxing for less than five years. Even before the fight, Willard had said that he was expecting to get knocked around for the first ten to fifteen rounds and had trained for that very scenario.

When the fight opened, most of the fight was conducted at long range with both fighters on the back foot. Although Willard managed to lead most of the fight, it was actually Johnson that managed to do most of the scoring. However, Willard was prepared for that and he soaked up the punches.

In the twelfth round, Johnson was on fire and unleashed a flurry of big hits, which pushed Willard right back into the ropes. However, his jaw proved strong and he carried on with his tactical jabbing. Johnson dominated the attack until round 17, when gradually the fight started to turn around. Despite the blows he had received, he still had the strength and energy to move forward and up his work rate. Many of his shots didn’t hit the mark, but Johnson was getting the message that Willard was not going to go down without a real fight. In this round he let Johnson know that he was still in it and there was a long way to go in the 45 round bout.

It was in the 19th round that Willard started getting the better of Johnson. Willard’s energy level was much higher and it was becoming evident that Johnson was tiring. It was Willard’s stamina, combined with Johnson’s lack of condition, alongside the hot Cuban sun that made Johnson realise this was maybe not going to be the fight he expected. He knew he didn’t have the stamina for 45 rounds, but assumed that he could get the job done quicker – and this was his biggest mistake. In round 20 Willard answered all of Johnson’s attacks and Johnson’s energy was fading fast. Johnson may only have been 37, but he seemed much older than that against the much livelier Willard.

The end of the road for Johnson came in round 26 when Willard fired off a heavy jab followed by a deadly right to Johnson’s jaw. This was too much and he was sent thudding to the ground. He couldn’t get up and was counted out. For months he conceded that the best man won. However, 9 months later he made a written confession that he actually threw the fight in return for undisturbed re-entry into the US and a $50,000 fee. He stated that he threw the fight as soon as his wife received the money and gave the signal. He then later repudiated that statement and said he was paid to make the statement that he threw the fight.

Confusion aside, the fact is that despite being the World Champion and firm favourite, he lost the bout and anyone betting on the underdog would be in the money.

4) Cassius Clay v Sonny Liston: 25th February 1964, Miami Beach, US.

There weren’t many times that Cassius Clay was seen to be an underdog in a fight. However, the young Mohammed Ali was fresh on the scene and relatively unknown. Liston, on the other hand, was ten years older than Clay and had been world heavyweight champion since 1962. People simply saw Cassius clay as a mouthy upstart who had just won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games.

As was his style, Clay taunted Liston and kept boasting that he would knock Liston out. Few people believed. However, Clay started the fight off strong and used his speed and fancy footwork to great effect against Liston, who was much slower. It was in just the sixth round that Liston declared he couldn’t continue. He had cuts and bruises around his eyes and an apparent shoulder injury. This meant that Clay won the match by TKO and it as then he declared himself as the greatest. This declaration was backed up in full when they met for a rematch in May 1965 and this time Clay (by then known as Ali) won by a knockout in the first round.

3) Leon Spinks v Mohammed Ali: 15th February 1978, Las Vegas, US

Now it is Ali’s turn to be on the back end of an underdog story. Since he won the Thrilla in Manila against Frazier over 2 years previous, Mohammed Ali hadn’t really seen much in the way of decent competition. He had successfully defeated all of his underperforming opponents in underwhelming matches.

Undoubtedly, Ali’s form wasn’t what it was – and his glory days were most certainly behind him. However, when he was put up against Spinks, it should still have been a pretty straightforward exercise for Ali. Ali had almost 20 years of boxing experience, fighting against the best heavyweights in the world. Spinks, on the other hand, had had just seven professional bouts – and one of those was a draw against Scott LeDoux.

However, never known for his lack of confidence, Ali went into the match full of bravado. He was not only over confident, but he was most definitely under prepared. A crowd of over 5,000 people turned up to watch the fight and got to witness a grueling, yet very exciting fight. Spinks was too young and too determined for Ali.

Ali wasn’t used to taking such punishment, and by the end of the match his face was swollen and distorted. He managed to make it to the end of the fight and traded blow for blow until the final bell. However, it was not enough and Ali lost the match on points. He took the decision well and didn’t complain about the match not going his way. Ali showed his mettle then when he said that not only would he not retire, but he would come back and win the title back for the third time. In the rematch he proved this to be true, and despite his age, he showed that in every way, he really was the world’s greatest.

2) James ‘Buster’ Douglas v Mike Tyson: 11th February 1990, Tokyo, Japan.

This one has to go down in history as one of the greatest upsets of all time. Whether you like Mike Tyson or not, you cannot deny that in his time, he was one of the greatest boxers every to grace the sport. He had that mix of aggression, fearlessness and power that overcame the biggest and toughest of opponents. This was the time when he was deemed unbeatable, and was the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world.

In fact, in this match, Douglas was deemed to be such an underdog that nearly all bookies wouldn’t even take bets for it – and the only one casino in Vegas that would take bets, offered odds of 42/1 for a Douglas win. It’s safe to say that no-one really thought to put money on the underdog here… although maybe if they’d known a little more about Tyson’s lack of preparation, they might have given it a go.

Tyson himself admits that he never saw Buster Douglas as a real threat or challenge. Because of that, he never watched any videos of him fight. He figured that as he’d beaten everyone who’s beaten Douglas, it was a foregone conclusion. Tyson’s arrogance going into this fight meant that not only did he not bother checking out his competition, but he barely even trained for the fight at all. All he managed was a few sparring rounds with Greg Page… and even he caused Tyson problems. However, Tyson still didn’t ever think he could be beaten by Douglas. He was on his way to giving the public the most unpredictable fight ever. Tyson even says his only real training for the fight was building up a sweat with the ladies.

Tyson arrived in Japan 30 pounds too heavy and had to slim down to weight for the match. He did that, then continued his party time with alcohol and girls.  This all became apparent when the fight got started.

From the beginning, it wasn’t Tyson as we knew him in the ring. By the end of the fifth round he had bad damage to his left eye. His corner hadn’t brought any ice, so they had to fill up a rubber glove with ice water and hold it against his swollen features. This didn’t work. It wasn’t looking great for the champion, but in the eighth round he threw an uppercut that knocked Douglas skywards. This could have been it – victory for Tyson but between a Japanese timekeeper and a Mexican referee, they messed up the ten count, giving Douglas a few seconds grace to recover. This was all it needed – just 2 rounds later Douglas would be victorious.

Tyson did believe he had been robbed and that Douglas was just lucky. In a sense he was proved right when Douglas later lost to Holyfield in just 3 rounds.  Tyson never really recovered. The championship was passed around; he was sent to prison for a while. He eventually won back the WBC and WBA but he was never the force he was in the past.

  1. Manny Pacquiao v Oscar De La Hoya: 6th December 2008, Las Vegas, US.

When the fight between Oscar De La Hoya and Manny Pacquiao was announced, many believed it to be a complete mismatch. De La Hoya was a much bigger guy naturally; he had fought from 130 to 160 pounds; furthermore, he had managed to win titles in the six different divisions as well. Pacquiao, the fearsome Filipino, had only fought above 130 just the once. To the outsider and anyone looking in on the match, it seemed a crazy pairing. How could Manny Pacquiao hold his own? This wasn’t so much a case being an underdog – he was seen as a mouse squaring up against a cat. However, if you’ve seen Tom and Jerry, you’ll know that you should never underestimate the mouse.

Don’t get me wrong, Pacquiao had a decent record. He started as a teenager at 106lb; he then went on to win titles at 112lb, 122lb, 126lb, 130lb and 135lb. He then made a massive jump up two divisions to De La Hoya in the 147lb division.

Because of this, many thought it was a joke. Pacquiao had fought just one fight at over 130lb and was far too small to take on De La Hoya. Anyone who had sense would put their money on De La Hoya right?

Well, the fight started, and it was an absolute master class from Pacquiao. His straight lefts were absolutely brutal and he had a speed that De La Hoya simply couldn’t handle. He was slow and lumpy in comparison. Things got so bad for De La Hoya, that in round seven, Pacquiao managed to connect a staggering 45 of his power shots. It was too much punishment to take and in the eighth round, Pacquiao won by TKO.

At the end of the match De La Hoya was just a shell of his former self. His trainer threw in the towel and he was left with a swollen eye and a broken spirit. He retired from the fight and just months later, in April 2009, he retired from fighting. So, all the critics were right… it was a mismatch, just not in the way they expected.

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