A mere definition doesn't quite do it justice.
Up·set (noun): An unexpected result or situation, esp. in a sports competition.
Instead, at least when it comes to boxing, you’ve got to attach a name.
Say “Buster Douglas” to a fan from the early 1990s and you’ll instantly conjure memories of a stunning night in Tokyo, where, over the course of 10 rounds on HBO, the irresistible force known as Mike Tyson was reduced to semi-consciously groping for a mouthpiece.
Say “Cassius Clay” to a fan from the early 1960s or “Jim Braddock” to another from the late 1930s and you’ll encounter similar nostalgia from the nights that unbeatable champions like Sonny Liston and Max Baer shockingly became ex-titleholders.
Thankfully, though, the upset is not a once-in-a-generation phenomenon.
While the stunners of the Tyson-Liston-Baer magnitude are admittedly not so common, each year in the ring provides at least a handful of results that only the most prescient among us—and even then it’s usually only next-day geniuses doing the boasting—saw coming.
Here’s a look at our top picks for 2013. Feel free to drop some comments with your suggestions.
The Recap: OK, we concede up front that a loss by Devon Alexander, who was generally considered on the next tier of welterweights below the Floyd Mayweathers, Manny Pacquiaos and Tim Bradleys of the world, isn’t the most shocking result in recorded history.
But while his loss to Bradley at 140 a few years back was disheartening, it really seemed like “The Great” had gotten his act together at 147 pounds and seemed on the verge of entering legitimate discussions about who was most ready to challenge the trinity.
Well, after Dec. 7 in Brooklyn, we’re pretty sure it won’t be him.
Instead of schooling a foe like Shawn Porter, who was admittedly unbeaten, but hadn’t won on a truly high level, Alexander was outskilled, outhustled and ultimately outpointed on the way to sacrificing his IBF slice of the welterweight championship pie.
The Magnitude: On the upset Richter scale, we’ll give this one a 3.
The Recap: It seems pretty silly now, doesn’t it.
Though Danny Garcia had won all 26 of his pro fights, had been a world champion for 18 months and had beaten a level of competition that was overall superior, there were many who were not only expecting him to lose—but also fearing for his safety—when he signed to meet Lucas Matthysse on the Floyd Mayweather-Saul Alvarez undercard in September.
(Shameless self-promotion here: I wasn’t one of them… but a lot of the commenters on this piece were.)
Matthysse was one of those classic flavors of the month. He entered the ring with no frills. He made no bones about his intentions to stop guys quickly. And then, against the Humberto Sotos and Mike Dallases of the world, he went out and did so in a combined six rounds.
He stepped way up in class with a destruction of Lamont Peterson four months before meeting Garcia and revved the hyperbole engines further by saying his imminent foe’s father was going to have to come into the ring to rescue him after a crushing knockout.
Didn’t quite go that way, huh?
Rather, Garcia showed all the skills he’d shown in his previous fights and more than held his own when things got rough. In fact, he scored the contest’s lone knockdown in the 11th round and swept scorecards by margins of 115-111, 114-112 and 114-112.
The Magnitude: Thanks to the pre-fight hype for "The Machine," call this one a solid 5.
The Recap: It was springtime in New York and it was good to be Nonito Donaire.
The Filipino was emerging from the shadow of a more accomplished countryman and had come to Manhattan for a pair of purposes: to accept the Boxing Writers Association of America’s award for the top fighter of 2012, and to face Cuban-born dual gold medalist Guillermo Rigondeaux atop a celebratory HBO card at Radio City Music Hall.
But a funny thing happened on the way to world domination.
Instead of a beatdown of a skilled, but light-hitting opponent, Donaire was flummoxed from the opening bell and lost nearly every subsequent moment en route to a unanimous decision that cost him both the WBO’s 122-pound title strap and his premature spot among the world’s pound-for-pound elite.
A subsequent comeback fight against Vic Darchinyan has led to questions asking whether he’ll ever be the same.
The Magnitude: It’s easy to forget a eight months later, but Donaire was riding high and this one caused a precipitous plummet. Call it a 6, only because more people should have seen it coming.
The Recap: It was a beautiful night for boxing.
Not because a fine, upstanding champion like Chad Dawson was violently extricated from his light heavyweight throne, but because the very nature of the loss illustrated the dramatic plot turns unique only to the gloved, ringed endeavor.
With a single booming left hand that landed barely a minute after the first bell, the resurrection of a former inmate turned local hero was complete, and Adonis Stevenson was galloping around the ring like he’d just won the redemptive lottery.
Two subsequent vicious wins have legitimized the street cred the Haitian-turned-Canadian laid claim to that night, and the Kronk Gym’s gold trunks have returned to their rightful place among boxing’s elite.
The Magnitude: It was sudden. It was powerful. It was spectacular. Give it an 8.
The Recap: It was hard not to root for Abner Mares.
He was a young, handsome and articulate champion who was dedicated to his craft, always showed up in good condition and went to the body like fighters from a half-century prior.
But even he wasn’t immune to an abrupt script change.
When 62-fight veteran Jhonny Gonzalez landed a perfectly timed left hook to the right side of Mares’s jaw—and followed up with a barrage that ultimately forced the hand of referee Jack Reiss—the WBC had a new featherweight champion and Mares was left to dizzily explain a loss when nearly everyone had anticipated a joyous California celebration.
He gets another crack at his conqueror on Feb. 15 in Los Angeles.
The Magnitude: This one had it all. A popular champion. A quick KO. It’s a 9.
The Recap: To say Adrien Broner was controversial was an understatement.
To say he was loathed was a dead-on fact.
So, while it seemed unlikely to nearly everyone (including me) going in, people were nonetheless drawn to their televisions last Saturday night with a hope that a respectful throwback named Marcos Maidana would have what it took to finally shut “The Problem’s” prodigious mouth.
What happened next, at least to some, was nothing less than a Christmas miracle.
Broner was clipped early and dropped for the first time in his career, and spent the better part of the next 11 rounds vainly trying to fight off the grinding Argentinean, which he was ultimately unable to do in losing a more-decisive-than-it-was-scored unanimous decision.
His juvenile run from the ring to avoid an immediate post-fight interview only added joy to the celebrations, and the only thing quicker than the “I told you so” claims these days is the dizzying speed with which Broner is being dropped from pound-for-pound rankings.
The Magnitude: When you factor in the intangibles, like Broner’s persona and the belligerence of his All Access performances before the fight, you have the perfect upset storm. A 10 for 2013.