10 of the greatest upsets in sporting history
Although Conor McGregor might have failed in his recent attempt at beating Floyd Mayweather in a fight he never realistically had a chance of winning, larger upsets have occurred in the history of sport. We here at Esquire are big fans of underdog victories. Not only do they provide feel-good moments for fans and athletes alike, but they’re also great for rubbing it in the face of the over-confident favourite.
Having never been picked first for any sports when we were younger, living vicariously through these moments of sporting history is likely the closest we’ll ever come to getting our very own “Rudy!” moment. Here are 10 of the best:
Japan beat South Africa RWC 2015
The Rugby World Cup might have had a predictable overall champion in the all-conquering New Zealand All Blacks; however, it was Japan’s national team who pulled off the biggest upset in rugby history by beating former world champions South Africa in a Pool B encounter between the sides. A plucky effort for the full 80 minutes of play, it was Karne Hesketh's try in the final minute of the game that gave the Cherry Blossoms their historic 34-32 win against South Africa at the Brighton Community Stadium. Japan’s then-manager Eddie Jones even managed to land himself a job with the England team as a result of this impressive performance.
Matt Serra knocks out George St-Pierre
Anyone who even vaguely follows the UFC will know who George St-Pierre is. Even those who ardently follow the UFC don’t really know who Matt Serra is. In what St-Pierre described as “the biggest humiliation” of his life, it took the relatively untested Matt Serra a mere 3:25 to knock-out GSP in the Canadian Welterweight’s champion’s very first title defence at UFC 69. Despite losing the title in a subsequent rematch to St-Pierre, Serra’s victory remains one of the greatest upsets in UFC history.
Leicester win the 2015/16 Premier League
It’s hard to put into words just how unexpected Leicester City becoming the 2015/16 Premier League champions was. To help us out we’ve incorporated some numbers into the fray. Numbers such as 5,000. And 1. Bookmakers thought Leicester's victory was so unlikely that both Ladbrokes and William Hill offered odds of 5,000–1 for this outcome at the start of the season. Neither bookie had ever paid out such long odds before, with Leicester’s eventual victory resulting in the largest payout in British sporting history with total winnings of £25 million. What makes Leicester’s efforts all the more impressive is that almost every game they won could be considered an upset in of itself – the side having only been recently escaped relegated the season before.
The New York Giants stun The New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLII
An instant classic, the 2008 Super Bowl saw the upstart New York Giants pull off a massive upset when they ruined the undefeated New England Patriots’ perfect season run of 18 victories and 0 losses. An Eli Manning 13-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left on the clock sealed the deal for New York and broke the heart of Tom Brady fanatics all over the country. That being said, the Patriots themselves managed to nab an upset victory at last year’s Super Bowl LI by overcoming the Atlanta Falcon’s 28-3 lead to win the game 34-28 in overtime.
The Miracle on Ice
On February 22, 1980, the United States Olympic hockey team pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history by defeating the super-powered Soviet Union 4-3. Dubbed ‘The Miracle on Ice’ it’s hard to argue that anyone saw this victory coming. The Soviet Union had won the gold medal in six of the seven previous Winter Olympic Games, and were the favorites to win once again in 1980. The Soviet team consisted almost entirely of professional players with significant experience in international play whereas the US team —led by head coach Herb Brooks—consisted exclusively of amateur players. The youngest team in the tournament and in U.S. national team history, the plucky United States went on to clinch the gold medal by beating Finland in the tournament’s finals. Great moments truly are born from great opportunities.
Greece win the 2004 Euros
Similar to Leicester’s Premier League success, this was one of those unbelievable moments in football where an underdog side continued to belie the odds time after time. Scoring only more than a goal a game once in the entire tournament, Greece hardly played attractive football, yet there can be no arguments that they certainly played winning football. Beating Portrugal 1-0 in the final game, Theodoros "Theo" Zagorakis robbing Ronaldo of a Euros winners medal is about the best underdog narrative you could get.
Boris Becker rocks Wimbledon
Who could forget the moment that a relatively unknown 17-year-old German lad by the name of Boris Becker defeated Kevin Curran in the 1985 Wimbledon final to become the youngest men's singles champion? A record the legendary tennis player still holds together, Becker’s success at such a youthful age continues to haunt us to this day. With every passing year his victory becomes all the more impressive as our lack of success becomes all the more worrying.
Buster Douglas KO’s Mike Tyson
This is a bit like what would have happened if McGregor actually beat Mayweather. If McGregor was also a properly trained boxer, that is. In 1991, undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion Mike Tyson lost via knockout to perennial underdog, Buster Douglas. With no-one expecting Douglas to come out on top, the historic Tokyo Dome bore witness to one of the boxing world’s greatest upsets.
The Cubs end their 108-year World Series drought
Before 2016 came along, the last time the Chicago Cubs had won a World Series title was 1908. That was over two World Wars ago. Sliced bread hadn’t even been invented. No, really. Although far from the worst team in the league, it genuinely appeared that with every passing year that Chicago would never be able to win themselves a championship again. Thankfully the hoodoo was ended last year, with Back to the Future II only being a year off in its eerie prediction of when the Cubs would end their drought.
The Netherlands cricket team beat England
The opening match of the ICC World Twenty20 2009 between England and the Netherlands was never expected to be anything other than a walkover. In fact, the most initially surprising feature about this game was that the Netherlands actually played cricket. Having obviously made the decision not to read the script beforehand, the Netherlands actually came out on top by a mere four wickets. What makes this upset all the more interesting is that they actually managed to do it again in 2014.