Seeing a team or individual “do the impossible” and cause a massive upset is one of the most entertaining aspects of sport, and people love nothing more than seeing an underdog come out on top. Not only is it inspirational to see a team or individual overcome the odds, but it can be fantastic to see the heavy favorite taken down a peg (unless it is your team, of course). Throughout sports history there have been some astonishing upsets which have shaken the sporting world to its core and shown that with hard work and belief, anything is possible
12. Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey (November 2015)
The incident that inspired this article, on the 14th of November 2015, the biggest upset in UFC history occurred when Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey. Rousey had been labeled the female Mike Tyson and had won her first 12 fights, with 11 of these coming in just the first round, which led many to state that she is the best female fighter ever. Going into the fight, Holm was a 22-1 underdog just a few days before, despite the fact that she was a multiple time winning champion in boxing. Nobody gave her a chance, but straight away she proved a difficult opponent with her elusive fighting style. She landed a few punches, and then just a minute into the second round, she landed a brutal knockout kick for one of the biggest upsets in sports history. This has given the sport more attention than ever before.
11. Appalachian State vs. Michigan (September 2007)
Look away now, Wolverines fans. On the 1st of September, 2007, history was made in The Big House in Ann Arbor in what has been hailed the greatest upset in college football. The Wolverines were ranked 5th in both major FBS polls and many considered them favorites to win the Big Ten and possibly the national championship. The Appalachian State Mountaineers, meanwhile, were ranked first in the FCS poll and were favorites to win their third straight FCS championship, but nobody believed that an FCS school could ever beat a ranked FBS school. Shockingly, that is exactly what happened in a truly humbling performance which finished in dramatic fashion. The Wolverines were in position to kick the game winning field goal with six seconds left, but incredibly it was blocked by Corey Lynch to secure the famous win. The following week, the story graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
10. New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams (Super Bowl XXXVI)
Back in 2001/2002, the New England Patriots were just another team trying to become elite, and Tom Brady was a fresh-faced second year quarterback who began the season on the bench but got his chance and took it, helping them to an 11-5 record. The Rams had posted an NFL best record of 14-2 thanks to their spectacular offense led by QB Kurt Warner, which was labeled “The Greatest Show on Turf” and made them heavy favorites. The score was tied with 1:30 remaining, and without any timeouts, Brady stepped up and led his team down the field to set up Adam Vinatieri’s game winning 48-yard field goal as time expired. Nobody believed that Brady could guide the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title, but he completed 16 of 27 for 145 yards and a touchdown—good enough for Super Bowl MVP and the start of something incredible.
9. Denver Nuggets vs. Seattle Supersonics (Round One, 1994 NBA Playoffs)
It was once believed that the 8th seed could never win a series over the conference leader, but this all changed in a historic series in the 1994 NBA playoffs. Barely managing .500 in the regular season (42-40), the Nuggets held the 8th seed in the Western conference whilst the Seattle Supersonics topped the conference with an impressive 63 wins. Powered by Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton, things seemed to be going to plan when the Sonics took a commanding 2-0 lead (series were best of 5 at the time). Then, behind the solid play of Dikembe Mutombo, the Nuggets fought back and won the next two games. In the deciding game (in Seattle), the game went to overtime before Denver won by four points to advance to the next round and become the first 8th seed to beat the #1. A lot of finger wagging was done by Mutombo.
8. New York Jets vs. Baltimore Colts (Super Bowl III)
The third ever AFL-NFL Championship game (and the first to be officially called the Super Bowl), many thought Joe Namath had lost his mind when he guaranteed that the Jets would win Super Bowl III three days before the game. The AFL was deemed inferior and had never beaten the NFL champion, and the Colts were heavily backed to continue this after posting a 13-1 record and winning the NFL championship game 34-0. Entering the game, the Jets were 18-point underdogs, but Namath and the team had belief. True to his word, Namath and his team stepped up on the big stage and took a commanding 16-0 lead into the 4th, before Baltimore scored its only touchdown in the last few minutes. Namath was named MVP after completing 17 of 28 passes for 206 yards, and “the guarantee” is now one of the most famous instances of NFL lore.
7. Greece (European Championships, 2004)
Having only ever qualified for two major tournaments (where they won zero games), and without having a single star player in their ranks, being considered underdogs was an understatement of what Greece felt as they entered Euro 2004. Prior to the tournament, they had odds of 150-1 and faced a tricky group with Portugal (hosts), Spain and Russia. They managed to scrape through after beating the hosts and drawing with Spain, and this gave them great spirit and belief as they entered the knockout stages. Astonishingly, Greece saw off France (defending champs), Czech Republic (one of the favorites) in extra time, and then stunned the world by once again beating the host nation in the final whilst conceding no goals in the knockout stages. Winning the entire tournament proved that this was no fluke, and that with great spirit, hard work, willingness and trust in your teammates you can overcome the odds and achieve anything.
6. Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees (ALCS, 2004)
In the 2004 ALCS, Boston had won the AL wild card, whilst the Yankees had won the AL East and posted the best record in the AL. Additionally, the Red Sox had not won the World Series since 1918, whilst the Yankees had won a staggering 26 in this time. This made Boston giant underdogs, and almost everyone started looking ahead to the World Series once the Yankees took a commanding 3-0 series lead. Then, the start of something incredible happened with the Yankees leading by one run in the 9th inning of game 4. The Red Sox tied the score and won the game in extra innings, sparking a historic comeback, as they won the next three games, which made them the first team to overcome a 3-0 lead. This included Curt Schilling’s legendary blood-soaked sock in Game 6, before finishing the job in Yankee stadium. In fairytale fashion, the Red Sox went on and won the World Series.
5. Rulon Gardner vs. Alexander Karelin (Sydney Olympic Games, 2000)
It must be pretty intimidating to go up against the best wrestler in the history of Greco-Roman wrestling, and a man who hadn’t lost a match in 13 years, or even surrendered a point in six years. Additionally, with nicknames such as “Russian Bear,” “Russian King Kong” and “The Experiment,” most would be shaking in their boots when set to face the legend that is Alexander Karelin. This was what American Rulon Gardner was up against when he reached the super-heavyweight gold match in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, making him a massive underdog against the three-time defending Olympic champion. On the biggest international stage, Gardner did what was thought impossible and defeated Karelin for the gold. He managed to score a point in the second round against the “Russian Bear,” and then was able to hold on for a famous and inspirational win and the gold medal.
4. Villanova Wildcats vs. Georgetown Hoyas (NCAA championship game, 1985)
Going into the 1985 NCAA championship game, the Georgetown Hoyas were heavy favorites as the number one seed on a 17 game winning streak. The defending champs, who were coached by John Thompson, had a certain Patrick Ewing in the squad as well, making it seem all but certain that they would once again come out on top. Villanova were not given a chance as the 8th seed, but something remarkable happened after tip-off. Behind the play of Ed Pinckney and Dwayne McClain, Villanova shot a staggering 78.6% from the floor to keep pace with the Hoyas and send the game to overtime. They then outscored Georgetown by two points in OT to become the lowest-seeded team to win the tournament. Shooting an incredible 22 of 28 from the field (and missing just once in the second half), it remains the greatest shooting performances in the championship game (it is worth noting that this was before the three point line was introduced).
3. Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson (February 1990)
From time to time, something will happen and you will always remember where you were when it occurred. This is the case for the legendary fight between Buster Douglas and Mike Tyson, which occurred over 25 years ago but is still talked about to this day. Going into the fight, Tyson was the most feared boxer around and was the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champ. Buster Douglas came into the fight as a 42-1 underdog and was ranked 7th heavyweight by Ring magazine thanks to mixed success. Additionally, his mother died just 23 days prior to the fight and he contracted flu on the day before. He showed no fear from the start and connected with a flurry of punches, and then stunned both the world and Tyson in the 10th by knocking him to the canvas (for the first time ever). Tyson was counted out, and history was made.
2. New York Giants vs. New England Patriots (Super Bowl XLII)
The entire sporting world was left with its jaw on the floor following Super Bowl XLII in 2007, especially because of the stunning final quarter with a Super Bowl record of three lead changes and one of the greatest plays in history. The Patriots entered with a perfect record and nobody believed that they could be beaten, with some claiming that they were the greatest team in history. This saw them start as 12-point favorites against the Giants, who were looking to become the first NFC wild card team to win a Super Bowl. The Giants miraculously spoiled the party for the Patriots, including one of the most iconic catches in history with David Tyree somehow pressing the ball against his helmet for a 32-yard gain with 1:15 remaining. They then scored the winning touchdown with 35 seconds remaining, winning by three points and crushing the Patriots’s hopes of perfection.
1. Team USA vs. the Soviet Union (Winter Olympics, 1980)
Accurately dubbed “The Miracle on Ice,” this is a true fairy tale story and remains the greatest upset in sports history. Going into the medal-round game during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, the Soviet Union were commanding favorites having won gold in six of the last seven Olympics and sporting a team of legendary players with excellent chemistry. The USA team, meanwhile, were led by Herb Brooks and it was a team built up entirely of amateur and collegiate players. A true “men vs. boys” matchup, the unthinkable happened as team USA trailed by one going into the final period, but then miraculously scored twice early in the third. The team brilliantly held strong for the final 10 minutes, with sportscaster Al Michaels delivering his famous line as the clock ran down—“Do you believe in miracles!?” After reading this list, yes, Al, we do.