Hello and welcome RSR readers to my chronicling of boxing’s past heavyweight contenders and champions. I hope all of you had a great holiday season and are having a Happy New Year.
The list started at 100, we are moving our way down and are over halfway done now. As we continue the countdown of the greatest heavyweights of all time, this week’s slice of the countdown is full of upset specialists. Most of the names on the list scored one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s long and storied history. Nothing shakes up the boxing world or creates excitement more than a big underdog coming through with a surprising win.
For the last three names especially, they are not known as having particularly good legacies if you look at their careers as a whole. However they have one win on their record that was so tremendous and shocking that they will forever be remember and recorded in the boxing history books. But before we get to the three kings of the unlikely victory, we start at #50 who was on the wrong end of a memorable heavyweight upset.
50. Michael Moorer
Moorer was a frightening light heavyweight in his young years. He was the first WBO Light Heavyweight Champion at a time when the WBO was lightly regarded, but ended his campaign in the 175 pound weight class with a flawless 22-0 record with 22 knockouts. Moorer decided that he was not making enough money dominating the weak challengers that the WBO threw at him so Michael made a habit of driving through fast food restaurants so that he could compete in the heavyweight division. A handful of mid level heavyweight contenders fell at the hands of the southpaw slugger before he received a shot at the title held by Evander Holyfield. Moorer scored an upset with when he won a majority decision, becoming the first southpaw Heavyweight Champion in boxing’s history. “Double M” appeared to be the total package with his combination of speed, power, boxing skill, and tenacity. However his first title defense against George Foreman exposed what would be his biggest weakness: his chin. Moorer allowed Foreman to become the oldest Heavyweight Champion at 45 years of age, a feat that few thought was possible. Moorer had an up and down career after losing to Foreman, which was highlighted by winning back the vacant IBF belt, but his career slowly declined thereafter.
Most Famous Fight(s): MD12 over Evander Holyfield in 1994, KO10 loss to George Foreman in 1994, TKO8 loss to Evander Holyfield in 1997.
Notable Wins: TKO12 over Frans Botha in 1996, UD10 over Bonecrusher Smith in 1993, TKO5 over Bert Cooper in 1992 which was Fight of the Year.
49. Tim Witherspoon
The failure of Tim Witherspoon to become a longtime belt holder and championship success is a major factor as to why Don King has a poor reputation as a promoter among boxers. Witherspoon was one of the brightest stars of a 1980’s heavyweight era that had a deep pool of contenders. In “Terrible Tim’s” 16th pro fight he soundly defeated the great Champion Larry Holmes in the view of most observers, but was robbed of the decision. Tim developed into one of the best heavyweights of the 1980’s and was able to win the WBC and WBA belts. The unfortunate hitch to Witherspoon’s career was that he had the most toxic boxer/promoter relationship ever seen with his promoter Don King. There were accusations against King, including breach of contract, skimming money from his fighter’s purse, and doing other various acts that were not in Witherspoon’s best interest. Tim was growing more and more bitter by the day as he felt like he was being mistreated but was unable to get out of his contract. In 1986, at the peak of his career and holder of the WBA belt, Witherspoon was in line for a huge title unification showdown against Mike Tyson and desperately wanted that fight (it would have been a terrific match up!).
Don King did not make the Tyson fight instead throwing Witherspoon in against Bonecrusher Smith, a decent contender but someone that Tim had already beaten. Settling for the Smith fight was a huge letdown for Witherspoon and he did not take the fight seriously. As a result, he was beaten in the first round and his hopes of a Tyson fight were permanently dashed. Not getting the Tyson fight was the last straw and Witherspoon stopped cooperating with his promoter. He spent the rest of his prime fighting in the courts against his promoter instead of focusing his energy on his battles in the ring. Witherspoon did manage to win the lawsuit against King and got a $900,000 verdict, but the drawn out lawsuit took a huge toll on his career. Witherspoon remained active up until 2003 but was no longer a serious title contender after the loss to Smith.
Most Famous Fight(s): SD12 loss to Larry Holmes in 1983, MD12 over Greg Page in 1984, KO1 loss to Bonecrusher Smith in 1986.
Notable Wins: TKO1 over James “Quick” Tillis in 1983, MD15 over Tony Tubbs in 1986, TKO11 over Frank Bruno in 1986.
48. Ernie Terrell
Terrell stood 6’6”, topping all of his championship opponents in the length category. Ernie used his height advantage as well as any heavyweight we’ve ever seen. He stood tall and kept opponents at the end of his jab, perfecting the art of sticking and moving. Terrell was content winning fights on points with his jab, which explains his low knockout percentage. He rose to prominence in the early 1960’s, beating a handful of top ranked contenders and becoming the original holder of the WBA Heavyweight Championship, which began the splintering of the World’s title into different versions. Terrell is best remember for the “what’s my name?” bout against Muhammad Ali in 1967. He was on a roll prior to that fight making two successful defenses of his title and mastering his craft as a tall boxer. Ernie made the mistake of calling Ali by his former name of Cassius Clay in the pre-fight build up. A mad Ali abused Terrell for 15 rounds appearing to carry Terrell in order to torture him more with combinations. Thoroughly trounced and embarrassed at the hands of Ali, Terrell was unable to recapture his old form in subsequent fights. Even though he is best remembered for a one-sided loss, Terrell’s accomplishments as a young pug in the early to mid 1960’s are impressive.
Most Famous Fight(s): UD15 loss to Muhammad Ali in 1967.
Notable Wins: UD10 over Zora Folley in 1963, KO7 over Bob Foster in 1964, UD15 over Eddie Machen in 1965, UD15 over George Chuvalo in 1965.
47. Bob Pastor
One has to wonder if Joe Louis’s heavyweight era is considered weak because he made them look bad in comparison. Pastor used tremendous speed to box circles around his opponents. His speed and skill made up for disadvantages in size and punching power. Pastor had to rely on the judges for most of his wins, who can often be unreliable. In many of his losses Bob was in the fight until the end and the decisions could have gone either way. Born the same year as Joe Louis, the two fought once on the way up and once for the world’s title. Pastor lost twice but remained a prominent contender for most of Louis’s era. Bob’s overall legacy is one of an extremely clever boxer with impressive counterpunching ability but was blocked from immortality by his rival Joe Louis. He is considered one of the two best Jewish heavyweights in boxing’s history along with Max Baer.
Most Famous Fight(s): UD10 loss to Joe Louis in 1937, KO11 loss to Joe Louis in 1939.
Notable Wins: TKO9 over Lee Ramage in 1938, UD10 over Al McCoy in 1939, 10 round points win over Turkey Thompson in 1941, SD10 over Jimmy Bivins in 1942, UD10 over Gus Lesnevich in 1942.
46. Mike Weaver
Contrary to what rookie fans to the sport think, a win and loss record tells you very little about a boxer’s ability. At the time Mike Weaver fought Larry Holmes for the WBC belt he had a record of 19 wins and 8 losses. That is the record one would normally associate with a journeyman or a second rate club fighter, not a title contender or future champion. Weaver fought briefly as an amateur for the US Marine Corps, but learned his craft in his early pro fights against a row of opponents much tougher than a prospect normally encounters as they try to build up a glossy, padded record. The early losses helped Weaver learned how to handle adversity and taught him what he needed to improve on to win at the next level. Nicknamed “Hercules” because of his impressive physique, Weaver performed surprisingly well in his loss to Holmes, and then proved that the performance was no fluke during the next few years. Coming from a fighting family, Mike was a strong, fair-sized heavyweight with good technique and stamina. He used his assets to win the WBA Heavyweight Championship in 1980 and made his claim as one of the best heavyweights from the 1980’s era, especially during his reign as champ from 1980 to 1982. He lost his title to Michael Dokes controversially in their two fight series. In the first fight, Dokes hurt Weaver in the first but the referee stopped the fight prematurely according to Weaver. In the rematch most felt that Weaver should have won the decision but Dokes retained his title with a draw. Mike remained a ranked contender for a number of years after that and was able to win some regional titles but never again received a shot at a major belt.
Most Famous Fight(s): TKO12 loss to Larry Holmes in 1979, KO15 win over John Tate in 1980 to win the WBA belt, 15 round draw against Michael Dokes in 1983.
Notable Wins: TKO5 over Bernardo Mercado in 1978, TKO13 over Gerrie Coetzee in 1980, UD15 over James “Quick” Tillis in 1981, TKO2 over Carl “The Truth” Williams in 1986.
45. Jimmy Ellis
Ellis began his pro career as a middleweight and had a rather poor start. He lost three of four fights in 1964 by decision, although they were close fights against quality opponents, and decided to make changes to his career. Ellis switched trainers and hired Angelo Dundee. Dundee had Ellis sparring with Muhammad Ali on a regular basis. Jimmy put on weight and decided to fight at heavyweight, being featured on the undercard of Ali promotions. Even in his prime, Ellis appeared soft in his mid section, a sign that he was never a true heavyweight. Nonetheless, Ellis improved with the help of Ali and Dundee. The boxing powers needed to appoint a new Champion when Ali was stripped of his title for not entering the armed forces. The NYSAC and WBA had different methods for crowning a vacant champ. The NYSAC had #1 contender Joe Frazier fight one match against Buster Mathis. The WBA conducted an eight-man tournament. Though somewhat undeserving, Ellis earned a berth into the tournament. Considered a dark horse candidate, Ellis won three consecutive fights to become the WBA Heavyweight Champion and made one successful defense of his title against former champ Floyd Patterson. Ellis fell short when he tried to unify the titles against Joe Frazier. Later he fought his sparring partner and inspiration Muhammad Ali with Angelo Dundee working in Ellis’s corner but lost in a damaging fight that Ellis claims he was never the same after. Ellis fell short against the elite of his era but winning the historic WBA tournament ensured him as one of the 50 greatest heavyweights of all time.
Most Famous Fight(s): MD15 over Jerry Quarry in 1968, 15 round points win over Floyd Patterson in 1968, TKO5 loss to Joe Frazier in 1970, TKO12 loss to Muhammad Ali in 1971.
Notable Wins: TKO9 over Leotis Martin in 1967, UD12 over Oscar Bonavena in 1967, UD10 over George Chuvalo in 1971.
44. Joe Bugner
Joe Bugner is a curious case for two reasons. First, he is of Hungary descent but is of British nationality by way of Australia. If that doesn’t blow your mind, what if I told you that Bugner was active and won fights starting when he was 17 in 1967 and up until he was 49 in 1999. A 32-year career for a heavyweight boxing contender seems implausible but that is exactly what Bugner did during his unique and amazing career. In his prime Bugner was a tough, durable SOB who could seemingly endure whatever his opponent had to offer, lasting the distance against some of the best and hardest-hitting heavyweights of all time. Concerning his four stoppage losses, one was his pro debut, one was a stoppage due to cuts, and the other two came well past his prime. He was pretty versatile too, being a quick boxer in his prime, sometimes fighting defensively, rolling with punches, and dancing around, yet sometimes content to stand flat-footed and slug it out. Bugner’s prime came against the best and deepest heavyweight era ever in the 1970’s with varying success. His career continued after a series of retirements and was able to beat a couple ranked contenders in the 1980’s then win the Australian title in the 1990’s. His second and third careers were almost as impressive as his first because of how he was able to find success at such an advanced age.
Most Famous Fight(s): UD12 loss to Muhammad Ali in 1973, 12 round points loss to Joe Frazier in 1973, UD15 loss to Muhammad Ali in 1975.
Notable Wins: 15 round points win over Henry Cooper in 1971, 10 round points win over Jimmy Ellis in 1974, 10 round points win over James “Quick” Tillis in 1986, UD10 over David Bey in 1986, TKO1 over Bonecrusher Smith in 1998.
43. Jim Braddock
Braddock became known as the Cinderella Man because of his rag to riches story. He was a blue chip light heavyweight prospect during the roaring 20’s. Jim turned into a solid contender but did not manage to convert on his only shot at the 175 pound title against the great Tommy Loughran. Braddock’s career stalled after that, suffering a series of losses and being hit hard by the Great Depression. Jim was poverty stricken and took fights for short money on short notice as a way to provide for his family. He even quit boxing for a short time to work as a longshoreman because of a broken hand. Braddock relied on government welfare money and soup kitchens to survive. In 1934, a desperate Braddock agreed to fight prospect Corn Griffin for $250 on two days notice. This time The Cinderella Man had had enough of being a downtrodden opponent. He rejuvenated his career with a TKO win over Griffin. Braddock followed his surprise victory up with two of the best wins of his career, enough to get the attention of Heavyweight Champion Max Baer. Baer’s people thought of Braddock as an easy payday and chose him to be Baer’s first title defense. Sometimes in boxing, despite being out-gunned and out-skilled, the hungrier man wins. Nobody was hungrier than Jim Braddock, who was on the verge of being homeless. This was just another fight for Baer, the fearsome champ. Braddock was fighting for food to feed his wife and children. In, at the time, the biggest upset in heavyweight history, Braddock out-fought Baer over 15 tough rounds to be crowned the Heavyweight Champion, completing boxing’s most famous rags to riches story. Jim never had to worry about money again, especially after signing an extremely favorable contract for his first defense against Joe Louis.
Most Famous Fight(s): UD15 over Max Baer in 1935, KO8 loss to Joe Louis in 1937.
Notable Wins: SD10 over Tommy Farr in 1938, 10 round points win over John Henry Lewis in 1934, UD15 over Art Lasky in 1935.
42. Hasim Rahman
One of three upset kings, Hasim Rahman was apart of the late 1990’s surge of young, promising heavyweights along with guys like David Tua, Chris Byrd, Ike Ibeabuchi, Michael Grant, Oleg Maskaev and others. He had very long arms, which allowed him to have an effective and powerful jab; probably his best weapon if not his thudding straight right. Though clearly one of the most promising of that class with his formidable 1-2 combination, Rahman suffered two big KO losses when matched against his peers. The loss to Maskaev could be attributed to a tough stylistic match up and the loss to Tua was controversial because Tua appeared to hit Rahman after the bell. Hasim was an afterthought after those setbacks even though the losses could be rationalized. Rahman signed to fight Lennox Lewis for the Heavyweight Championship since Lewis wanted an easy optional defense/vacation in South Africa. One big right hand later and Rahman had scored the biggest upset in a decade. Lewis immediately took his title back in the rematch but Rahman was a successful contender for a long time and even won back the WBC belt in 2005.
Most Famous Fight(s): KO5 over Lennox Lewis in 2001, KO4 loss to Lennox Lewis in 2001.
Notable Wins: TKO7 over Corrie Sanders in 2000, UD12 over Monte Barrett in 2005.
41. Buster Douglas
Braddock’s miracle win over Baer represented the biggest upset in heavyweight history…until Buster Douglas came along. Douglas was a good but not spectacular heavyweight contender from the 1980’s. He was a boxer-puncher, skilled as both a boxer and had a respectable KO punch, but he was mostly known as a choke artist. Buster was knocked out by journeyman Mike White in the 9th round after dominating every moment of the fight prior to the stoppage. He was in an even battle with Tony Tucker in a battle for the vacant IBF belt when he appeared to give up and allow himself to get knocked out in the 10th. The problem with big James was that he did not like boxing. Boxing, at the highest levels of the sport, is more about passion and dedication rather than raw talent. Buster simply did not enjoy fighting and you could almost tell. In the late 1980’s, Douglas strung together a few good wins and secured a title shot against the most feared and awesome Heavyweight Champion, possibly ever, in Mike Tyson. Douglas was only picked because Tyson was running out of suitable challengers, not because anyone thought that James had any shot of winning, especially since Tyson had pulverized two of the men that Douglas had lost to. Buster lost his mother three weeks before the bout and her death seemed to finally allow Douglas to fight and train with passion. For one night in his career, Douglas reached his brilliant potential, scoring a dominant 10 round KO over Tyson. The win shocked the entire world and is still known as one of the biggest upsets in sports history.
Most Famous Fight(s): KO10 over Mike Tyson in 1990.
Notable Wins: UD10 over Oliver McCall in 1989, UD10 over Trevor Berbick in 1989, MD10 over Randall Cobb in 1984.