The Biggest Sporting Upsets of All Time


Anyone who follows sport will know that there are countless ways that it provides thrills for fans. There’s seeing your favorite team win, of course. There’s also the pleasure in seeing players you’ve followed from early on their careers really start to show their potential and thrive. Plus, it’s a bonding exercise when you watch sport with friends sharing in the successes, or failures, of your team.

But where sports really start to get involving are when the unexpected happens. That last minute home run or touchdown, the big favorite suddenly starting to perform as 10% of his or her best, the simple defiance of odds. Because, in sport, anything really can happen, and very often does. And with so much riding on the result and with emotions that can run so high, it provides a truly thrilling, or sometimes devastating, spectacle to witness, as these five examples only go to show.

Mike Tyson v Buster Douglas, 1990

February 11, 1990 was a date that will forever go down in boxing history. This was when Iron Mike Tyson, a fighter with 37 wins and no losses to his name, was soundly defeated by an opponent who had gained something of a reputation as a quitter.

The bout for the world heavyweight championship was held in Tokyo, far away from Tyson’s usual stomping ground of Atlantic City. Nevertheless, the projected outcome was one that would have been a seeming sure fire bet in sportsbooks for NJ residents at the time. Buster Douglas was at odds of around +4200 to win and everyone considered this a fair price at the time.

In the eighth-round things seemed to be going to plan as Douglas hit the canvas. But he rose to his feet on the count of nine and seemed to have been spurred on by the knock-down. A flurry of blows in the tenth saw Tyson go down – but he failed to get up and boxing history was made.

Leicester City, 2016

Those familiar with England’s soccer Premier League will know that for some years it’s been dominated by four or five big clubs which include Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs. Between them, they have always seemed to have had the league title sewn up.

Of the other teams in the twenty that make up the league, Leicester City is one that had never really hit the big-time. In fact, at the very start of the 2015-16 season most sportsbooks had them at around +500000 to wind up as champions.

But, the season progressed, these odds grew shorter and shorter as the little team from the East Midlands of the UK proceeded to lose just three matches all season claiming a once-in- a-lifetime victory. The next season, everything was back to normal with Chelsea at the top of the table and Leicester coming twelfth.

New York Giants v New England Patriots 2008

The Super Bowl XLII in 2008 has gone down in history as the greatest ever final for good reason.

Going into the game, the Patriots had enjoyed a perfect season, unbeaten in 16 games. This was a feat that had last been achieved back in 1972 by the Miami Dolphins. The Giants’ season had been far more mixed with ten wins and six losses behind them so the New Englanders were clear favorites.

In an exceptionally tight game, going into the fourth quarter, they led 7-3. It seemed like all they had to do was hang in there. With under three minutes left, the Giants’ David Tyree made his now legendary “helmet catch” before making a 32 yard touchdown. With more points scored by Plaxico Burress and Steve Smith, they eventually prevailed with a final scoreline of 17-14.

Rafa Nadal v Novak Djokovic 2020

The French Open tennis tournament is usually held in the late Spring. But, for obvious reasons, the 2020 event was postponed until the Autumn. Whether it was the cold weather, or other factors that led to the result, we can only speculate.

Although Rafa Nadal is generally acknowledged as being one of the best players ever on clay, no-one was expecting this scoreline. From the first set when the Spaniard won 6-0, Djokovic looked out of sorts. He did a little better in the second set, managing to win two games. But by the time he came to the third and pushed Nadal a little, it was too late, and he lost this too at 5-7. No-one, including the Serb himself, could have predicted such a one-sided final.

Greg Norman 1996

Going into the Sunday of the 1996 Masters tournament at Augusta the so-called Great White Shark looked to have the title in the bag. Throughout the preceding days he had led his nearest rival, Nick Faldo, by six shots and seemingly couldn’t be caught. But, in one of the most notorious episodes of choking, he then proceeded to lose eleven strokes to his rival, shooting a 78 on the final round.

It later transpired that he had lain awake all of the night before worrying that the victory could easily slip from his grasp, and so it came to pass. His career never really recovered from the trauma and his reputation suffered too – although developments in sports science have subsequently helped to explain his failure.

So here’s to the excitement, drama and surprises of sport – and the anticipation of many more upsets like these five to come in the future.

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