Sandor Martin faces Jose Felix this Friday in his first outing since a stunning upset win over three-weight world champion Mikey Garcia. The Spaniard’s majority decision victory over the pound-for-pound candidate launched what had been a rather lowkey career into the stratosphere overnight. This sort of spectacular and unexpected win can have numerous effects on a fighter. Some kick on and become better than anyone thought possible, others wilt in the renewed light of scrutiny.
Here are five of boxing’s best Cinderella Men, and how they coped in their first fight following a star-making upset.
‘The Leamington Licker’ pulled off the greatest win by a British fighter in history when he defeated Sugar Ray Robinson by decision in 1951. The middleweight champion had lost just once in 132 fights going into their 15-round battle at Earls Court in London, but Turpin was undaunted. The Brit battled bravely to take the nod, and the championship.
The contract stipulated a mandatory rematch, and in the fast-moving days of 1950s boxing the return arrived just 64 days later. New York played host to their swiftly-arranged second fight, and Turpin once again fought well. However, Robinson was pressed into looking for a finish after suffering a bad cut that could have ended the fight. The great Sugar Ray piled on the pressure and pinned Turpin up against the ropes, where he forced a tenth round stoppage. Turpin’s title reign was very brief, but the impact of his win in the first fight will live forever.
‘Neon’ Leon faced off against Muhammad Ali in just his eighth professional fight. The 1976 Olympic gold medalist was given little chance against ‘The Greatest’, but pulled off the upset of the decade to become heavyweight champion of the world. Spinks’ split decision win made him a legend on the spot, and led many to speculate Ali was finished.
Spinks famously lived fast off the back of his newfound fame, while Ali redoubled his efforts to try and capture the title for a record third time. Summoning one last magic trick, Ali defeated Spinks in their rematch via comprehensive unanimous decision. It would be the last win of Ali’s career, while Spinks would settle into something of a journeyman role for the remainder of his time in the ring.
It is impossible to overstate how much of a phenom Donald Curry was at his peak. ‘The Lone Star Cobra’ dominated his division, becoming undisputed welterweight champion and crushing all comers on the way to a 25-0 record. Enter: Lloyd Honeyghan.
The British-Jamaican was a 6-1 underdog, as despite being unbeaten he had only mixed at European level. The wonderfully-named ‘Raggamuffin’ proved why nobody had found a way to beat him when he pounded the American to a sixth-round stoppage defeat. This was not just a shock win, it was a brutal and seismic display.
Honeyghan’s next fight was a glorious homecoming at the Grand Hall in Wembley. The new champion successfully defended his title against former WBA super lightweight king Johnny Bumphus. The second-round knockout victory proved Honeyghan’s arrival at world level was far from beginner’s luck.
James ‘Buster’ Douglas
The story has been well-told, but bears repeating. Douglas inflicted the first professional defeat on the previously-unstoppable ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson. ‘Buster’ knocked out the iconic Catskills puncher in the tenth round of their Tokyo war, registering the most famous boxing upset of all-time.
Like Spinks, the sudden and intense glare of the spotlight changed Douglas. The dedication he had shown in the build-up to fighting Tyson was discarded in favour of food, drink and celebrity appearances.
Douglas came in 15 pounds heavier than he did for the Tyson fight when he defended his heavyweight title against Evander Holyfield. ‘The Real Deal’ had little trouble whipping ‘Buster’, destroying the Tyson conqueror and winning by knockout in the third round.
Andy Ruiz Jr
The Mexican-American’s infectious personality and decidedly unathletic build captured hearts and minds before his shot at Anthony Joshua’s WBA, WBO and IBF heavyweight titles. Few gave Ruiz a chance against a champion who looked like he was carved from stone. In the third round it looked like the fight would follow the script, as Ruiz was knocked down. But the challenger rose and eventually stopped ‘AJ’ in the seventh.
The fighters fought again six months later, but had taken very different paths to get there. Like many Cinderella Men before him, Ruiz had allowed his hunger outside the ring to eclipse his hunger within it, coming in much heavier for the second bout. Joshua meanwhile had been working hard to improve the defensive side of his game. These different approaches were instructive to the outcome, as ‘AJ’ boxed a cautious but effective twelve rounds to take a wide points decision.
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