Boxing is a sport that has been ongoing for centuries, and it is famous for its unpredictability. This statement is a testament to the fact that the best fighter does not always win. In boxing history, betting odds have evolved to be one of the most accurate metrics for predicting the chances of a fighter winning a fight. However, outright upsets in boxing do occur, which is why the sport continues to be exciting, emotional, and thrilling.
I will be discussing the biggest upsets in boxing history, from the initial bouts of gloved boxing to modern-day boxing, and how odds played a role in determining the likelihood of the victory.
James "Buster" Douglas vs. Mike Tyson (1990)
This fight is arguably the most significant upset in boxing history, and it featured an unheralded challenger in James "Buster" Douglas, whose mother had passed away a few weeks before the fight, facing off against the loud-mouthed, undefeated heavyweight king of the time, Mike Tyson.
Buster Douglas was quoted at odds of 42-1 for the fight, and entering the ring, no one gave him a chance considering his form, as he had lost twice in his previous four fights. On the other hand, Tyson had never lost, and he was coming off a spectacular demolition of Carl "The Truth" Williams in 93 seconds.
The fight took place in Tokyo, Japan, on February 11th, 1990. Under the cover of darkness, Buster Douglas pulled off the biggest shock in boxing history by knocking Mike Tyson out in the tenth round. This loss ended Tyson's undefeated record and sparked global news, with many sportsbooks losing a vast sum of money on this fight.
Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston (1964)
In another significant upset in boxing history, young Muhammad Ali was pitted against the seemingly unbeatable champion, Sonny Liston. At the time, Muhammad Ali was known as Cassius Clay, and his reputation for brashness and arrogance was beginning to get under the skin of the established boxing community.
Liston was considered a surefire winner, and according to boxing historians, he was a staggering 10-1 favorite in some sportsbooks ahead of the fight. However, the then 22-year-old Muhammad Ali proved that age was just a number by being faster and perhaps more crucially, possessing superior boxing intelligence.
In the end, Cassius "the Louisville lip" Clay knocked down the former champion in the seventh round before he quit before the bell at the start of the eighth round, making Ali the new heavyweight champion of the world.
Lennox Lewis vs. Hasim Rahman (2001)
This fight between Lennox Lewis, the reigning heavyweight champion, and Hasim Rahman, his challenger, was just a standard heavyweight title bout fighting for the WBC, IBF, and the IBO titles. Lennox Lewis was widely considered one of the best heavyweight boxers in history, having beaten Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, and Vitali Klitschko, among others.
Hasim Rahman entered the fight in Johannesburg, South Africa, as a significant underdog, with odds against him at 20-1 to win. However, Rahman landed a single punch in the fifth round that would end up changing the course of the fight. Lennox Lewis stood there, secure in his superiority over the opponent, feeling that perhaps he had built a wall of gloves around his head, failing to protect himself sufficiently. Rahman connected a perfect right hand with Lewis's chin, sending him crashing to the canvas in the manner of a sack of potatoes.
This punch not only rendered Lewis unconscious, but it shook the boxing world to its core, as not many boxing fans saw it coming, much less the oddsmakers who had priced Rahman at 20-1 outsider of the title fight.
Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman (1974)
The 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" was perhaps the biggest comeback in boxing history, as Muhammad Ali faced off against the seemingly unbeatable and brutal George Foreman. Going into the fight, Foreman was favored to win with odds of 3-1 available in some U.S. sportsbooks.
Foreman was a fierce opponent, with his power being the notable feature in his earlier fights as he dismantled Joe Frazier and Ken Norton on his way to becoming the heavyweight champion of the world. Ali, on the other hand, was famous for his quick footwork and impressive hand speed, which he effectively used to avoid most of Foreman's shots.
In the fight, Ali allowed Foreman to get off to a strong start, adopting a rope-a-dope strategy that exploited Foreman's overanxiousness and exhaustion, whereby he allowed George Foreman to unleash all his power, hoping to tire him out in the process. In the end, Foreman did indeed tire, and Ali struck with two big combinations and Foreman descended to the canvas in slow motion.