Ngannou adding to heavyweight boxing upsets?

Francis Ngannou is a huge underdog in his fight against heavyweight Anthony Joshua on March 8, but don’t tell Ngannou, who’s looking to cement one of the largest upsets in boxing history.

almost resulted in him pulling off one of the most unexpected victories

The 37-year-old longtime MMA fighter shocked the world by stepping into the ring for a debut match against world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury in October 2023. His brash carelessness for his opponent led many to believe that he would lose quickly, yet it almost resulted in him pulling off one of the most unexpected victories in the sport’s history.

As the burly Cameroonian returns to fight Joshua, he’s potentially 12 rounds away from joining boxing lore forever—and with only two bouts under his belt.

Ngannou vs. Joshua

Ngannou is a +370 underdog against Joshua, a -500 favorite, according to FanDuel. The implied probabilities of these odds suggest that Ngannou has a 21.3% chance of victory, while Joshua has an 83.3% chance.

Those odds, while still lopsided, give Ngannou much more of a chance than the majority of boxing fans and experts would have expected for his second fight. After all, he was as high as a +850 underdog (10.5% implied probability) at some sportsbooks for the Fury fight, while many live betting odds suggested he was the favorite to win heading into the final round.

Although Fury is considered a better fighter than Joshua, the latter may present a more difficult matchup for the 37-year-old novice. He’s stronger and more willing to take power shots and to throw his own, whereas Fury quickly realized he could not stand in the center of the ring and survive. 

Joshua also has tape of Ngannou to watch, whereas Fury had very little outside of his decorated MMA career.

A Ngannou victory wouldn’t mark the first time a former heavyweight champion fell victim to one of the numerous upsets, but it would be one of the more memorable underdog victories. Here are a few of the sport’s best thus far.

Remembering the greatest heavyweight boxing upsets

Buster Douglas TKOs “Iron” Mike Tyson

Tyson was the most feared man on the planet in 1990. He had a record of 37-0 with 33 KOs and was fighting for the WBA, WBC, IBF, and The Ring heavyweight titles when he met Douglas, a 6-foot-4 fighter with a record of 29-4-1 (19 KOs).

landing quick jabs to keep Tyson away from the inside and throwing punishing power shots

Pundits believed that Tyson was going to crush the seventh-ranked heavyweight contender, who was given betting odds of 42-1 (+4200 – 2.3% implied probability). But Douglas showed from the opening moments that he envisioned the fight differently, landing quick jabs to keep Tyson away from the inside and throwing punishing power shots when given the window.

Just about a month after his mother passed away and in the 10th round, Douglas floored Tyson with a fierce uppercut that sent him stumbling backward. He pounced on the wounded champion and landed four shots to the head, putting him on the canvas for the first time in his career. Tyson attempted to get back to his feet but did not make the count, and the greatest of all upsets in heavyweight boxing was secured.

Boxing’s “Cinderella Man” delivers

James J. Braddock, a poor man from New Jersey who outlasted the Great Depression and rose to heavyweight champion of the world, was a +1000 (9.1% chance) underdog against champion Max Baer when the pair set their sights on a June 1935 fight date.

Braddock had a rugged style and was past his peak as a fighter with 27 career losses. Meanwhile, Baer was taller, stronger, smoother, more powerful, and more dominant. 

Braddock earned a unanimous decision and received control of all three heavyweight titles

While many expected Baer, already the Ring, NBA, and NYSAC heavyweight champion, to steamroll his way past Braddock, the pair went through all 15 of the scheduled rounds and had their fate decided at the judges’ table. Braddock earned a unanimous decision and received control of all three heavyweight titles, which he retained for two years until he lost to Joe Louis.

Muhammad Ali beats Sonny Liston…twice

Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, was just 22 years old and already an Olympic champion when he locked eyes on Liston, the most feared man of the time. Johnny Tocco, a trainer who also helped George Foreman and Mike Tyson, said that Liston was the hardest hitter of the three, and he was arguably even scarier than Tyson in his prime.

The young challenger was given little chance as a +800 underdog after he’d been knocked down and narrowly edged out a couple of decisions on the judges’ scorecards against lesser-tier opponents earlier in his career. But that didn’t stop him from his customary verbal gymnastics and pre-fight headline-making.

Liston came out enraged and looked for a knockout of the smaller, younger Clay, only to quickly find out that he did not have the speed to keep up with his young opponent. Controversy arose in the middle of the fight when Clay claimed that Liston smeared his gloves in a substance that caused his eyes to burn and for him to lose his vision.

Undeterred, Clay continued his assault until Liston’s corner threw in the towel, citing a shoulder injury suffered during training. That set up a rematch between the two, as Liston did not believe that Clay was the better fighter.

However, that fight also ended in controversy. Clay, now Ali, landed a right-handed shot in the first round that sent Liston clattering to the ground, though the shot came so quickly and subtly that many in the crowd did not even notice it. 

The referee did not pick up the count as he attempted to usher Ali back to his corner, leaving the timekeeper to handle those duties. There was no microphone or easy way for the pair to communicate, but it was ultimately decided that Liston did not meet the ten-second window to arise, and Ali was declared victorious.

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