The Biggest Upsets in Heavyweight History

Andy Ruiz Jr.'s stunning seventh-round TKO over Anthony Joshua is the talk of the sports world. But where does the new champion's win rank among the greatest upsets in boxing's glamour division?

When I woke up on Sunday morning, I had to check to make sure what transpired the night before wasn’t a dream. Andy Ruiz Jr., well-known lover of Snickers, now holds three of the four major heavyweight titles.

Ruiz shocked the world Saturday night, knocking down Anthony Joshua four times en route to a seventh-round TKO of the Briton in his American debut at Madison Square Garden.

Ruiz’s win means Joshua’s invasion of America won’t be mentioned alongside that of the Beatles and Oasis, but something closer to A Flock of Seagulls. Now the question will be whether Joshua opts for the immediate rematch, or if he’ll run far away, like the English new wave band sang about in their one hit.

Ruiz’s lone loss was a close majority decision to Joseph Parker in December 2016 in Parker’s native New Zealand. Many felt Ruiz did enough to walk away with the vacant WBO title, but he didn’t move his hands enough to take the title from the champion.

In April, Ruiz made his PBC debut, battering the 6-foot-7 Alexander Dimitrenko via five-round stoppage on FOX. A week later, Joshua lost his original opponent for June 1, when it was discovered that Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller tested positive for a trio of banned substances.

Ruiz jockeyed for the fight, both in the media and on FOX’s Inside PBC Boxing studio show, biting into a Snickers bar as the show went to commercial. Ruiz landed the fight and told the world he wasn’t coming for a payday. He proved it in the ring.

The new champion overcome odds of 13-to-1 by the time the bell rang Saturday night. Even as the seventh round began, Ruiz was a 5-to-1 underdog in live betting in the UK. It ranks as one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight title history – but exactly where does it land?

Obviously, nothing can knock James “Buster” Douglas’ stirring February 1990 knockout of Mike Tyson. Like Ruiz, Douglas climbed off the canvas after eating the kind of shot that would have rendered mortal men unconscious. In the 10th round, Douglas unleashed an unholy combination that put Tyson flat on the seat of his trunks.

Tyson made it to his feet but was stopped by the referee. He was a 42-to-1 favorite.

The silence of the crowd in Tokyo that night was surreal. Douglas would earn $20 million for a subsequent fight against Evander Holyfield. He showed up woefully out of shape and was stopped in three rounds, his heavyweight glory only lasting eight months. But nothing will take away what Douglas did, removing the aura of invincibility off Tyson forever.

Ranking second odds-wise in terms of heavyweight title upset victories was Hasim Rahman’s one-punch, fifth-round knockout of Lennox Lewis in South Africa in April 2001. Lewis was positioning himself for his own fight with Mike Tyson, but instead found himself on the wrong end of a massive right hand. Rahman was a 16-to-1 underdog heading into the fight.

The rematch occurred seven months later. Lightning didn’t strike twice; Lewis KO’ed Rahman in four rounds. The former famously turned down lucrative money for his own Tyson fight and instead bet on himself to win the rematch against Lewis, a decision he still has to be kicking himself over.

Boxing upsets are what great movies are made of, and the heavyweight title fight between Max Baer and James Braddock became the story that Cinderella Man was based on. Braddock was a 10-to-1 underdog in 1935 at the Madison Square Garden Bowl in Queens. Baer couldn’t overcome the nickname for the venue as “The Graveyard of Champions” because no reigning champion had ever successfully defended their title there before, and Braddock won a 15-round decision to become heavyweight champion of the world. Braddock entered the fight with a record of 50-25-7.

In just his eighth pro bout, Leon Spinks shocked the world in February 1978 when he dethroned a fading Muhammad Ali, winning a 15-round split decision. Spinks opened as a 10-to-1 underdog and closed somewhere closer to 8-to-1. The fight drew 70 million viewers on CBS (those were the days) and Spinks eked out the decision when he won the last three rounds on all three judges’ cards. That proved the difference in the fight. Spinks became the first challenger to win the heavyweight title on a decision since Braddock beat Bear 43 years earlier. Though Ali would recapture the belt in a rematch, this fight helped signal the beginning of the end for “The Greatest.”

Ali was also on the winning side of one of boxing’s biggest heavyweight title upsets. Known only as Cassius Clay at the time, he was a 7-to-1 underdog when he fought Sonny Liston for the first time in February 1964. Ali was just 22 years old at the time, and a 1960 Olympic gold medalist, but few gave him a prayer against the heavy-handed, no-nonsense Liston.

Ali was coming off an unimpressive year in which he barely beat Doug Jones and climbed off the canvas to stop Henry Cooper on cuts. Forty-three of 46 sportswriters picked Liston to win. Yet Ali picked him apart. Liston shockingly didn’t get off his stool after the sixth round and thus, a legend was born. Liston would get knocked out in one round in their rematch 15 months later.

There are a couple of other major heavyweight title upsets worth mentioning. Evander Holyfield opened as a 25-to-1 underdog against Mike Tyson in 1996 but was bet all the way down to 5-to-1 and Las Vegas took a bath on the fight. Holyfield stopped Tyson via 11th round TKO, cementing his legacy.

The rematch was held in June 1997. Tyson infamously bit part of Holyfield’s ear off, turning what was to be the fight of the century into the bite of the century.

Wladimir Klitschko found himself on the losing side of two major upsets – a second-round KO loss to Corrie Sanders in 2003 and another stoppage loss to Lamon Brewster the following year. Those were long-odds losses but were for just the WBO trinket.

If we are going off physique alone, Andy Ruiz Jr.’s win Saturday is easily the most colossal upset in heavyweight title history. We’ve never a legitimate heavyweight champion with such a shape, at least in the modern era. It has to be considered the biggest heavyweight title upset on American soil, with Tyson and Lewis’ losses coming abroad.

Can Ruiz duplicate his success in a rematch? He’ll probably go into that fight the underdog again – though not at the same odds. He’ll perhaps have to travel to the UK this time. But if he wins, he may become an Everyman Folk Hero, building toward his own superfight against undefeated WBC World Champion Deontay Wilder. This is what makes heavyweight boxing so special.

For a closer look at Andy Ruiz Jr, check out his fighter page.

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