Unpredictability is one of the greatest things about sport. Even the most dominant, all-conquering team or player can have an off day. But there are upsets and then there are upsets. Here’s a look at 20 which we still can’t quite believe happened.
20. Leicester City win the Premier League
It’s hard to overstate just how incredible Leicester City’s Premier League title win in 2016 was. The U.K. soccer team were 5,000-1 to achieve such a feat at the beginning of the season. Yet, thanks to a strong teamwork ethic, the Foxes thwarted money-spinning teams like Chelsea and Manchester City to lift their first ever top-flight title.
19. Buster Douglas beats Mike Tyson
Complacency proved to be Mike Tyson’s downfall during a 1990 fight against Buster Douglas. “Iron Mike” reportedly hadn’t been too concerned about his journeyman opponent. But the then-undefeated heavyweight champion was soon left with an ego as bruised as his body when he was floored by Douglas in the tenth round.
18. The Miracle on Ice
Packed full of star talent, the dominant Soviet Union ice hockey team were expected to make light work of America’s amateur team at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Instead, though, Team U.S.A. pulled off a shock 4-3 victory in a game – staged during the Cold War – which has since been dubbed the “Miracle on Ice.”
17. Holly Holm defeats Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey was so distraught at losing to Holly Holm in 2015 that she briefly considered taking her own life. The Ultimate Fighting Championship star, who had previously never lost a women’s bantamweight bout, was expected to beat her opponent in routinely quick style. Instead, she was knocked spark out in the second round.
16. The New England Patriots win the 2001 Super Bowl
The New England Patriots may now be renowned as winners, but in 2001 they were the ultimate underdogs. Not only did they beat one of the all-time greatest offensive teams, the St. Louis Rams, in the Super Bowl, but they also did so with the help of a then-unknown Tom Brady. Yes, he was just a backup who’d only thrown a trio of passes during the entire previous season.
15. The New York Mets win the 1969 World Series
The New York Mets earned the nickname the “Miracle Mets” in 1969 after pulling off one of the most unlikely World Series wins of all time. Just two years previously the team had ended the season with just over 100 losses. But after winning the National League East with a 100-62 record, the Mets completed their miraculous turnaround with a 4-1 World Series victory over the favored Baltimore Orioles.
14. Villanova win the 1985 NCAA Championship
Boasting future NBA star Patrick Ewing in their line-up, Georgetown were odds-on favorites to retain their NCAA Championship title against Villanova in 1985. But the number eight seeds had other ideas. Thanks to one of the finest shooting performances of all time, Villanova emerged triumphant with a 66-64 win.
13. Rulon Gardner wins Olympic gold
It remains one of the biggest shocks in recent Summer Olympics history. Russian Aleksandr Karelin had been untouchable in the Greco-Roman super heavyweight wrestling field for years, winning seven world titles in a row and three Olympic golds. But he was denied a fourth at Sydney 2000 by Rulon Gardner, a farm boy from Wyoming without even a NCAA championship to his name.
12. The New Jersey Devils win the 1995 Stanley Cup
The previously struggling New Jersey Devils’ reversal of fortune was expected to come to a crashing halt against hot favorites the Detroit Red Wings in the 1995 Stanley Cup final. But they not only beat the Presidents’ Trophy winners; they did so convincingly. Yes, they swept their opponents aside 4-0 to claim their first ever championship.
11. Appalachian State beat Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines’ opening game of the 2003 season was supposed to be a formality. They were one of college football’s most esteemed programs, while opponents Appalachian State were a lowly Division I-AA team. However, in one of the sport’s biggest ever upsets, it was the latter who made the headlines with an unprecedented 34-32 victory.
10. Emil Zátopek wins the 1952 Olympic marathon
Despite him winning gold in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter contests, few gave Czech runner Emil Zátopek much hope of even completing his very first marathon at the 1952 Olympics. But while favorite Jim Peters never made it past the finish line, Zapotek breezed to victory by over two minutes. Speedy work!
9. Argentina’s basketball team win Olympic gold
The U.S. men’s basketball team had become so dominant in the Olympics that all other teams were presumed to be competing for silver. But the consecutive four-time gold medalists were given a rude awakening at Athens 2004 when they lost out to eventual winners Argentina. Indeed, the Americans missed the final altogether!
8. Roberta Vinci beats Serena Williams
In 2015 tennis superstar Serena Williams was just two games away from becoming the first player to win a calendar Grand Slam since Steffi Graf. The German had accomplished that almost three decades earlier. But Williams was denied the achievement when she lost her U.S. Open semi-final to an unseeded Roberta Vinci.
7. The Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks in 2007
A number eight-seeded team had never beaten a top seed in an NBA seven-game series before. And the Golden State Warriors hadn’t won a playoff series in 16 years. History, then, was certainly on the Dallas Mavericks’ side in 2007. But, against all the odds, Warriors such as Baron Davis, Willis Reed and coach Don Nelson were the ones who ended up celebrating.
6. Japan beat the U.S.A. to women’s softball gold
Rumor has it that women’s softball was only dropped as an Olympic sport owing to America’s dominance in the event. Team U.S.A. had won gold on every occasion since its introduction to the Games in 1996, and they were expected to make it four on the trot in 2008. But, against all odds, Japan denied them a clean sweep by winning 3-1.
5. A 100-1 long shot wins the Sanford Memorial
One of the biggest shocks in racing history occurred thanks to a horse with the suitably apt name of Upset. The 100-1 long shot was expected just to make up the numbers at the 1919 Sanford Memorial. But, out of nowhere, it pipped every other contender to the post, including the unbeaten hot favorite Man o’ War.
4. Japan beat South Africa at the Rugby World Cup
South Africa were aiming for their consecutive World Cup triumph. Japan hadn’t won a finals game in 24 years. It was supposed to be one of the biggest no-brainers of the 2015 rugby tournament. Instead, it was the plucky Japanese who ran out victors, thanks to an injury time winning score which sent shockwaves through the sport.
3. John Daly wins the 1991 PGA Championship
John Daly only learned that he’d be playing the 73rd PGA Championship 24 hours before it was due to begin. The golfer, who was ninth alternate for the tournament, had to drive through the night to make it to Indiana’s Crooked Stick Gold Club. But despite such a rushed start, the unfancied Daly went on to win the whole thing by three strokes
2. Boris Becker wins Wimbledon 1985
A virtual unknown before Wimbledon 1985, Boris Becker became a household name by the end of it. The 17-year-old triumphed over Kevin Curren in a four-set final to become the youngest ever men’s winner of the tournament as well as the first ever German and unseeded player to claim the title. Not bad work for a teenager.
1. Greece win Euro 2004
The defensive-minded Greece were positioned only 40th in the world rankings, and they had never been victors in a match at a major international tournament going into Euro 2004. Nevertheless, they stunned hosts Portugal by beating them both in the opening match and in the final. And in doing so, Greece pulled off one of the biggest ever sporting upsets.