After Ronnie O’Sullivan’s first round exit to amateur player James Cahill in the 2019 World Championships was dubbed ‘the greatest upset in snooker history’, we decided to take a look at five other great underdog stories in sport.
Johanna Konta vs. Serena Williams (Tennis)
1st August 2018
British number one Johanna Konta took on the most successful women’s player of all time in the first round of the Silicon Valley Classic last August.
In Serena Williams’ first match since losing in the final of Wimbledon, the American was clearly out of sorts and struggled to a 6-1 loss in the opening set. Things got even worse though as the merciless Brit turned the screw, winning the second set to love in a match that only lasted 53 minutes.
The 6-1, 6-0 loss was the heaviest defeat of Williams’ career, though she did have some mitigation as it was just her fifth tournament back since taking an extended break during her pregnancy.
Nevertheless it was a huge shock and quite the scalp for the British player, who would go on to beat Sofia Kenin in the second round before eventually succumbing to Belgian star Elise Mertens.
Mike Tyson vs. James ‘Buster’ Douglas (Boxing)
11th February, 1990
Mike Tyson eventually lost six times in his career but by far the most shocking, and unexpected, was his first defeat which came against James ‘Buster’ Douglas.
Douglas was given virtually no chance and many Vegas bookies refused to take bets on the fight at all.
It’s easy to see why. Douglas had been a journeyman until that point, losing four of his 33 previous fights with no significant names on his record. His preperations had been undermimed by personal circumstances, with the death of his mother coming three weeks before the fight.
Tyson, on the other hand, was an undefeated phenomenon boasting a 37-0 record with 33 knockouts en route to becoming the most feared heavyweight in the world. It was supposed to be a procession but the reality was very different.
Douglas demonstrated from the start that he had come to fight and was the aggressor for many of the early rounds, causing Tyson’s eye to swell dangerously.
In the tenth round Douglas hit Tyson with a vicious uppercut before launching an attack that put the champion on the canvas. Tyson failed to beat the count and, in scenes that shocked the world, a new Heavyweight Champion was crowned.
Greece – European Championships (Football)
Otto Rehhagel’s Greece found themselves in the bottom pot during the Euro 2004 draw and found themselves in a group alongside the hosts Portugal as well as Spain and Russia.
Given minimal chance of even surpassing that stage, the Greeks had other ideas and beat Portugal before drawing with Spain which was enough to earn second place in the group and a quarter-final with France, the reigning champions.
Despite having the likes of Robert Pires, Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry in their ranks, the French were stunned, succumbing to a 1-0 defeat.
The semi-finals brought an encounter with the Czech Republic who lost the talismanic Pavel Nedved in the first half. Once again the Greeks defended resolutely and the match finished goalless.
An opening goal finally came in the 105th minute of the match from the unlikeliest of sources as defender Traianos Dellas headed in from a corner to give Greece another shock victory and earn them a first ever tournament final.
In a rematch of their group stage encounter, Cinderella story Greece were to take on the host nation, Portugal, again. Many assumed that lightning simply couldn’t strike twice but it did.
A second half strike from Werder Bremen’s Angelos Charisteas was enough to earn the Greeks yet another single goal victory and the championship, having kept clean sheets through the entire knockout phase.
South Africa vs. Japan (Rugby Union)
19th September 2015
In many eyes, Japan stunning South Africa toin the 2015 Rugby World Cup was the greatest upset in the sport’s history.
The Japanese hadn’t won a World Cup match since 1991 and were barely given a chance against the two time champions, yet never looked overwhelmed during a match that they contested from the start.
With just eight minutes left the sides were level at 29-29, until South Africa replacement Handre Pollard kicked them back into the lead.
Japan then laid siege to the South African goal, turning down several opportunities to kick for a draw, opting to go for the try that would have won them the match.
As 80 minutes ticked over, Japan continued to press on the right flank before quickly switching play over to the left which caught the South Africans by surprise. The ball reached winger Karne Hesketh,who accelerated to the left corner flag where he grounded the ball, sealing Japan a stunning 34-32 victory.
Leicester City – Premier League (Football)
The greatest underdog story in sports history? Quite possibly.
It was Leicester’s second year in the Premier League, having narrowly avoided relegation in the first, and accordingly they began the season as 5000/1 underdogs.
Even after beginning the season with a six game unbeaten run, the most optimistic Leicester fan wouldn’t have dreamt of what lay ahead and, after Arsenal hammered them 5-2, many assumed they would begin to drop down the table.
However, instead they went ten matches without losing, winning eight of them, and topped the table on Christmas Day. A slight wobble thereafter saw them drop down to second but after beating Tottenham they reclaimed their place at the summit, where they remained for the rest of the season.
With only three defeats over the entire season, Leicester’s story is arguably the most remarkable in sporting history as they accomplished something that was regarded as impossible during the cash rich Premier League era.