With Conor McGregor angling to put Floyd Mayweather on his arse this weekend in Las Vegas, fight fans and even the wider public may be sceptical about what seems like a staggering mismatch – but we’ll all be watching nonetheless.
After all, as Frankie Boyle put it, it’s about time we found out whether a non-boxer can beat the world’s best boxer at boxing. And in an infinite universe of endless possibilities, perhaps the unlikeliest outcome really can come true. After all, boxing has had its fair share of shocks over the years…
James ‘Buster’ Douglas v Mike Tyson, Tokyo, February 1990
And this one might be the biggest. Back in 1990, Mike Tyson was the most ferocious, scariest puncher on the planet (he’s still pretty scary right now in all honesty – check this recent interview with Norm MacDonald).
‘Buster’ Douglas was a 42/1 shot outsider, while Tyson had won each of his 37 professional fights prior to this one. Yet in a half-full arena in Japan, Iron Mike lost his aura of invincibility for ever. Though Tyson was far from at his best, he still managed to drop his opponent in the eighth round – but Douglas had the tenacity to get back up. And two rounds later, it was the underdog who took control.
With Tyson’s left eye swollen shut, Douglas caught his opponent with a powerful upper cut that would send him to the canvas for the first time in his career, counted out as he tried to climb to his feet – with the supposed no-hoper Douglas becoming the new heavyweight world champion. In his only defence, Douglas would lose that title to Evander Holyfield.
Cassius Clay v Sonny Liston, Miami, May 1964
Before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and with his reputation yet to be forged, Cassius Clay was already a confident chap, referring to world heavyweight champion Liston – the Tyson of his day – as an ‘ugly old bear’ in the run-up to this fight.
Few thought the 22-year-old Clay could overcome Liston, whose reputation was such that several pros – amongst them Britain’s Henry Cooper – refused even to get in the ring with him. Liston was a scary character, with a background that included time served for armed robbery, and a stint as a mob enforcer. In a bid to be prepared for the worst, Clay’s doctor had reportedly studied the fastest route to the hospital from the ring.
But Clay turned out to have Liston’s number, the older man struggling to connect with the faster young boxer. Clay’s combination punches would leave the champion with a serious cut in the third round – and by the end of the sixth, Liston’s shoulder was injured so badly that he could no longer continue.
Liston remained sat on his stool when the bell rang for the 7th round – meaning Clay would win by technical knockout. The new world champion celebrated by running over to the reporters who had given him no chance of winning in the build-up to the fight, telling them ‘eat your words!’
Randy Turpin v Sugar Ray Robinson, London, 1951
When the world middleweight champion Robinson met Englishman Turpin, the American was unbeaten in 91 fights. But after a tour around Europe that had seen the emphasis on meeting the press rather than training for the fight, Robinson was not at his sharpest; the fight went the distance, with Robinson outpointed by the so-called ‘Leamington Licker’. Turpin’s moment of triumph was short-lived; in a rematch just three months later in the US, Robinson would reclaim his belt from Turpin.
Muhammad Ali v George Foreman, Zaire, 1974
Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali, had been prevented from fighting between 1967 to November 1970, his boxing licence revoked thanks to his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam war, and his refusal to take part in the conflict. When Ali’s licence was returned, he won his first two fights but was then beaten by Joe Frazier; had the boxer’s time come and gone?
Few expected the 32-year-old Ali to beat 25-year-old Foreman in the famous Rumble in the Jungle. Ali’s gameplan, revealed after the fight, sounded risky; this was the famous ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy, whereby Ali would spend much of the round against the ropes, soaking up punches in a bid to make Foreman tire himself out.
To most onlookers, it certainly looked as though the older man was literally on the ropes; here’s commentator Harry Carpenter’s summation of the final moments. ‘Suddenly Ali looks very tired indeed, in fact at times he looks as though he can barely lift his arms up. Oh he’s got him with a right hand! He’s got him! Oh you can’t believe it. OH MY GOD he’s won the title back at 32! Muhammad Ali!’
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