In many ways, 2021 was a year defined by upsets, so the Boxing Social panel had plenty to ponder in this category.
In terms of wide odds there were a host of fights that provided unexpected outcomes, such as Gabriel Rosado’s KO of Bektemir Melikuziev at super-middleweight and Tyrone McCullagh’s surprise three-round super-bantamweight reverse against journeyman Brett Fidoe.
Other shockers included middleweight Luis Arias’ split decision loss against 16-6-1 Vaughn Alexander, and junior welterweight prospect Elvis Rodriguez’s defeat against Kenneth Sims Jr.
Super welter Juan Carlos Abreu had lost five of his previous ten fights going into his York Hall bout against 4-0 prospect Tursynbay Kulakhmet. However, the Dominican pulled off one of the shocks of the year by KO’ing the Kazakh in seven. James Tennyson’s first-round shellacking by Mexican Jovanni Straffon was another headturner.
Straffon was one among many underdogs from Central and South America who upset the hopes of fighters from Britain and Ireland. For example, Argentinian Jeremias Ponce floored Lewis Ritson three times en route to a tenth-round win and Mexican Gabriel Gollaz Valenzuela notched a majority points win against Robbie Davies Jr.
There were also a fair share of upsets in fights for domestic titles. Gavin Gwynne’s seventh-round stoppage of hot favourite and hitherto unbeaten Sean McComb for the vacant Commonwealth lightweight title fell into this category.
Jason Cunningham lived up to the tattoo across his chest (which reads: ‘The underdog who never lost hope’) in 2021 as he secured two against-the-odds victories. In May he floored Gamal Yafai three times en route to securing a unanimous points decision and the European super-bantamweight title and in October he also upset Brad Foster – again on points – to add the British and Commonwealth straps to his fast-growing belt collection. If there was an award for underdog of the year, then Cunningham would have been a strong contender.
Lennox Clarke’s five-round victory against Willie Hutchinson for the vacant British and Commonwealth super-middleweight titles was yet another significant domestic upset.
Oddsmakers are more often confounded by unexpected outcomes in lower profile or regional title contests – where reliable form lines are harder to ascertain – than by high profile or world-title contests, but 2021 also seemed to contain more than its fair share of upsets in fights involving some of the sport’s biggest names.
Mikey Garcia has long been considered one of the premier fighters in world boxing, and despite his comprehensive 2019 defeat against Errol Spence Jr few thought he would have issues getting past the relatively unheralded Spaniard Sandor Martin in an October non-title welterweight contest. However, Martin’s smart counter-punching and excellent movement saw him snatch a deserved majority decision victory in Fresno.
Former unified super-welterweight champion Julian Williams was another former world champion to suffer defeat in a fight that most saw as a mere stepping stone to a more significant contest, dropping a split decision to Vladimir Hernandez in October.
Another massive upset came in September in Kyoto, Japan. Kenshiro Teraji entered his tenth defence of his WBC junior flyweight title as a huge favourite against 13-3 Masamichi Yabuki. However, the underdog stopped Teraji in the tenth round to end his four-year world championship reign.
Oscar Valdez was the underdog against Miguel Berchelt in an all-Mexican showdown for the WBC super-featherweight title, but overcame the odds in the most convincing of manners, laying Berchelt out in round ten with a massive left hook before declaring: “There’s nothing better in life than proving people wrong.”
Nonito Donaire is another fighter who proved the doubters wrong in 2021. The future Hall of Fame lock was the betting outsider against Nordine Oubaali in May but became the oldest man to win a bantamweight world title when he stopped the Frenchman in four to lift the WBC title.
Oleksandr Usyk was another significant underdog odds-wise ahead of his historic toppling of Anthony Joshua at Tottenham Hotspur stadium in September – most were unsure what was the bigger surprise at the end of the fight, Usyk winning or the judges not making a total hash of the scorecards.
Teofimo Lopez was another pugilistic superstar to suffer an unexpected reverse when he was out-fought and out-thought by George Kambosos Jr in their much-delayed showdown for the unified lightweight world championship.
If there was one weight class – however – that was the home of the upset in 2021 then it was featherweight.
In February, Josh Warrington’s ‘stay busy’ non-title fight against unheralded Mauricio Lara turned into a disaster as the Leeds 126lb-er lost his unbeaten record and was stopped in nine brutal rounds.
In July, few gave Leigh Wood a chance against WBA featherweight champion Xu Can, but the Nottingham man secured a sesnational 12th-round stoppage to become one of the most unexpected world title winners of the year.
However, this – and every other upset in 2021 – was topped by our overall winner – Kiko Martinez’s staggering sixth-round stoppage of IBF featherweight title holder Kid Galahad. As panel member Graham Houston put it: “For almost five full rounds Galahad seemed to be cruising. Then he got caught and dropped by an overhand right late in the fifth and blown out by Kiko’s first right hand of the sixth. The upset just seemed so unlikely, bearing in mind Galahad’s run of form and Kiko’s age.”