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5 Big Boxing Upsets From The Last 30 Years

By Colin Linneweber

One lucky punch has proved time and again that there's no such thing as a "favorite" in the sport of boxing. A perfect record means nothing to a wildly thrown haymaker or a well placed counter, even the most heavily favored and greatest-of-all-time fighters can fall victim to a career-changing blow. Unless you have a prolific gambling addiction, sports fans of all types enjoy the occasional upset. Here are five of boxing's biggest upsets from the last 30 years.

1. Mike Tyson - James “Buster” Douglas (February 11, 1990)

The 23-year-old Tyson (37-0, 33 KOs) was listed as a 42-1 favorite to bury the 29-year-old Douglas (29-4-1, 19 KOs) at the Tokyo Dome in Japan.

Tyson was flatly intimidating and blessed with blinding hand speed, accuracy, coordination, power and timing. Furthermore, “Iron Mike” had developed into a defensive wizard by perfecting the peek-a-boo style taught to him by Cus D’Amato. But rather than concentrating on Douglas, Tyson focused on using alcohol, drugs and women while in the “Land of the Rising Sun.”

In stark contrast to Tyson, a heartbroken Douglas was prepared and determined to pay homage to his recently deceased mother. The 6-foot-4 Douglas commanded the bout from its outset by using a steady jab to slow the 5-foot-10 Tyson. Douglas, who rose from the canvas in the eighth after surviving one of “Iron Mike’s” signature uppercuts, completely seized control late and pounded Tyson’s left eye shut.

With the bully badly terrorized, Douglas landed a savage, five-punch flurry that floored the battered Tyson in the 10th. Referee Octavio Meyran counted Tyson out at 1 minute, 23 seconds of the decisive frame, and Douglas was awarded the IBF, WBA and WBC heavyweight titles.

"That's a good fight. I don't take it personal. I've watched it," said Tyson, 48, who was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2011.

“I missed him with some bombs, but Buster was hurting me and he was moving pretty good. He did an awesome job. He did a great job. That was my bravest fight, one of my best fights. I took that beating like a man.”

Better than “a good fight,” Buster Douglas’ victory over Mike Tyson is one of the biggest upsets in the annals of sports.


2. Julio Cesar Chavez - Frankie Randall I (January 29, 1994)

The 33-year-old Randall (49-2-1) won a controversial split decision against the 31-year-old Chavez (89-1-1) to gain the WBC world super lightweight crown at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Randall bloodied Chavez’s nose and sent the Mexican legend to the ground in the 11th. Although “The Surgeon” operated admirably, Randall greatly benefited from referee Richard Steele’s decision to deduct two points from Chavez for low blows. Chavez avenged his loss and defeated Randall twice over the next decade. Still, for one evening, Frankie Randall bested Julio Cesar Chavez and shocked “Sin City.”

3. Lennox Lewis - Hasim Rahman I (April 22, 2001)

The 29-year-old Rahman (34-2) was installed as a 20-1 underdog versus the 36-year-old Lewis (38-1-1). Fortunately for “The Rock,” the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Lewis had been more concerned with filming Ocean’s Eleven than training to defend the WBC, IBF and IBO straps.

Lewis, the first and only world heavyweight titleholder to hail from Britain in the 20th century, looked portly and lumbered around the squared circle for 14 minutes at the Carnival City Casino in South Africa. Rahman continued to stalk Lewis before landing a huge overhand right in the fifth that nearly rendered the Brit unconscious. Hasim Rahman, a retired Baltimore drug enforcer, was the new heavyweight champion of the world.

hit and run driver
(Credit: Cindy Child)

4. Roy Jones Jr. - Antonio Tarver II (May 15, 2004)

The 35-year-old Jones (48-1) won a debatable majority decision over the 35-year-old Tarver (21-2) roughly six months earlier in November 2003.

Jones, who outscored John Ruiz in March 2003 to become the first middleweight champ to capture a heavyweight belt in more than 100 years, was considered the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer. The 1990s Fighter of the Decade looked quick and agile and dominated Tarver in the opening round.

However, shortly thereafter, the 6-foot-2 Tarver connected with a looping left that sent the 5-foot-11 Jones to the floor. Referee Kenny Bayless officially halted the match at 1 minute, 41 seconds of the second round.

5. George Foreman - Michael Moorer (November 5, 1994)

The 26-year-old Moorer (35-0, 30 KOs) used a barrage of jabs to outmaneuver the 45-year-old Foreman and win eight of the first nine rounds at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada. Foreman appeared hopelessly outclassed before delivering a pinpoint left-right to the jaw in the 10th that collapsed Moorer’s legs and left the youngster on his backside and unable to recover.

“Big George,” a 3-1 underdog who hadn’t fought in 17 months, earned the WBA and IBF belts to become the oldest heavyweight titlist in history.

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