By Jake Donovan
While 2014 didn’t boast excessive shakeup at the sport’s top level, the year was hardly without its share of shocking results. From young prospects getting exposed to ex-champions being humbled by career journeymen, the odds were literally defied on a number of occasions.
Most years boast a notable upset so stunning that it truly grabs the sport by storm. Because so few of the sport’s leading fighters suffered defeats on that level, this was yet another category in this lackluster year to produce a true frontrunner.
Sometimes, betting odds tell the true story in the wake of hyperbole trying to toy with the facts. Just because media members whose tendency is to go chalk on its predictions believed “a healthy” Sergio Martinez would toy with Miguel Cotto, doesn’t mean the rest of the boxing world believed it to be the case.
However healthy Martinez was by the time he stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden last June can never truly be determined. And while Cotto’s one-sided performance was unexpected, the fact that he won was not. The superstar from Puerto Rico was a 2-1 underdog (and bet down closer than that by fight night) to become the island’s first ever four-division champion that night, hardly the type of odds that causes the Earth to stop rotating when the result goes in the other direction.
For that reason, you won’t find that fight among the ones listed below. What you will find were the fights that created that “Oh s***!” reaction as the night unfolded and the official result played out.
With that, BoxingScene.com presents its 2014 Upset of the Year and its supporting cast.
2014 UPSET OF THE YEAR: VIVIAN HARRIS SD10 JORGE PAEZ JR.
Adding to the actual result was the fact that this fight was never intended to happen at all.
The March 22 date reserved for Paez Jr was supposed to come against faded boxing legend Erik Morales, who sought one last fight in Mexico before officially closing the book in his incredible career.
Just one month prior, Harris was medically scratched from a February clash with Bradley Skeete in England after the British Boxing Board of Control refused to license the former 140 lb. titlist based on medical test results provided. Despite this fact, event handlers looking to salvage the March 22 show in Monterrey, Mexico believed the former 140 lb. titlist was a recognizable enough name to serve as a suitable pinch-hitter.
It turned out to be the worst call anyone has ever made on behalf of Paez Jr.
The second-generation boxer never quite lived up to the promise that surrounded the early years of his career, believed to be more than just a sideshow amidst a run of young boxers from Mexico whose promoters looked to cash in on their family bloodlines.
Paez Jr. will likely never live up to the accolades earned by his more familiar father, Jorge Paez Sr., a former featherweight champion in the 1980s and affectionately known as the Clown Prince of Boxing. At age 26 (at the time) though, there was belief that he still had plenty to offer the sport, or at least the local market. He entered the fight riding a 10-fight win streak, including a pair of wins over Omar Chavez, one of two fighting sons of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.
Harris came in having won his last two fights, including an upset win over welterweight prospect Danny O’Connor the previous October. The win was dismissed as a robbery, with the wide disparity in scores enough of a selling point for those looking to shop that angle. The industry-wide insistence was that Harris was a shot fighter with no business continuing his career, with one writer from ESPN exaggerating the fight as “everything that is wrong with boxing.”
That line of thinking was shared by the oddsmakers, who had Harris as a massive 16-1 underdog to shock the world.
Anyone who bet on the fight in that direction took the bookies for a ride that evening. Shortly before Francisco Rodriguez Jr. went from a fringe contender to the leading strawweight in the world following an upset win over unbeaten titlist Merlito Sabillo, Harris managed to remain a step ahead of Paez Jr. long enough to convince two of three local judges to score in his favor.
It wasn’t a dominant performance by any stretch, but it was enough to extend his career for at least one more fight. Shot fighters don’t pull off a performance well enough to upend a still-prime boxer. Vivian Harris wasn’t a shot fighter at the time, despite strong opinion to the contrary.
He was, however a fighter far enough removed from his prime to where nothing else was expected to come of his career in 2014. Because of that, what he achieved last March in Monterrey goes down as BoxingScene.com 2014 Upset of the Year.
RUNNER-UP: ROBERT POWDRILL KO1 DAMIEN HOOPER
The biggest light heavyweight story on November 8 took place in Atlantic City, when Sergey Kovalev delivered a masterpiece in his 12-round shutout of Bernard Hopkins. Much earlier on the day and on the other side of the world, the bottom fell out from another light heavyweight on the rise.
Hooper was a highly touted prospect who had served on the 2012 Australia Olympic Boxing team in London. The 22-year old hadn’t exactly been matched tough since turning pro in April ’13, but was still believed to make some noise while on the way up the ranks.
His opponent on this particular evening sought to have his own voice heard rather than merely serve as a footnote on Hooper’s career ledger. Betting odds weren’t even made available for the fight, simply due to the fact that the bookies didn’t believe the fish would be biting.
It was clear from the outset that Powdrill was determined to land a right hand on Hooper to see whether or not his countryman could take a punch. We will never know what would have come of the night had the perceived opponent been forced to switch to Plan B; it turns out he didn’t need it.
The fight began the same way it ended – with a jab, right hand combination from Powdrill. Hooper avoided to get caught by the first sequence, but failed to adjust the next time around. An overhand right came crashing down on his temple, sending the unbeaten prospect face first to the canvas.
A mere 21 seconds were required for Australia to endure its latest setback in a year filled with disappointment. Those 21 seconds were enough to produce one of the most shocking upsets of 2014.
RUNNER-UP #2: AMNAT RUENROENG SD12 KAZUTO IOKA
Timing is everything. Had this bout been the last of Ruenroeng’s breakthrough campaign in 2014, perhaps the industry experts don’t regard the matchup as the foregone conclusion as was believed to be the case.
Ioka was an unbeaten former two-division champion heading into his flyweight title challenge last May. Ruenroeng was a former kickboxer who was still relatively green as a pro despite his coming in as a newly crowned titlist.
The march from his native Thailand to Japan was supposed to be his last as an unbeaten boxer, with his title reign to become one and done. The precocious Ioka was meant to win, entering the record books once again as the fastest run from pro debut to world titles in three weight classes. A win in May was going to be used to pave the way for a potential rematch with World lineal flyweight champion Akira Yaegashi.
It never came close to happening, and having nothing at all to do with Yaegashi suffering back-to-back losses to end his 2014 campaign. Ioka didn’t just lose to Ruenroeng, but was made to look foolish at times in a bout in which he was a hefty 9-2 favorite to conquer a third weight class. The fact that the night ended in a split decision only spoke to at least one judge’s determination to keep his unbeaten record intact; either that or just general hometown favoritism.
Four months after an off-the-radar vacant title win over Rocky Fuentes, the boxing world now knew better than to underestimate Ruenroeng’s in-ring potential. This much was further confirmed in his nail-biting win over mandatory challenger McWilliams Arroyo later on the year. By then, the industry was keen on his skill set, thanks to his eye-opening performance in Japan four months prior.
OTHER UPSETS RECEIVING CONSIDERATION (IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER)
Rey Loreto KO3 Nkosinathi Joyi (2/1/2014)
– A result that also should have landed in the Knockout of the Year category, this one was as brutal as it was sudden and shocking. Filipino southpaw Loreto (17-13, 9KOs at the time) was believed once again to be in way over his head versus Joyi, once revered as the top strawweight in the world and still believed to have something left to offer the sport. A single punch in round three forever changed that perception, as Loreto rode out a combination to launch an overhand left to put Joyi flat on his back in Monte Carlo.
Chris Rudd SD7 Yakabu Amidu and Petr Petrov UD6 Fedor Papazov (2/21/2014)
– The start of the ESPN2 Boxcino Lightweight Tournament saw a pair of upsets in the quarterfinal round, although Petrov ultimately proved everyone wrong by being discounted as an opponent. Countryman Fedor Papazov – an unbeaten prospect from Russia – was expected to cruise into the semifinals but instead served as the first step towards Petrov – an 11-2 underdog at the time of the fight - winning the tournament and resurrecting his career. Rudd became a one-night rare success story from his corner of the world – Covington, TN, which traditionally produces “opponent”-type fighters – in extending the heavily favored Amidu into overtime, forcing a tiebreaking 7th round after fighting on even terms through six to score the upset win.
Derek Edwards KO1 Badou Jack (2/28/2014)
– Floyd Mayweather’s relationship with Showtime has spilled over to the network’s Shobox series, on which his promotional company has been granted several dates littered with mismatches. Yet somehow, his cards continue to produce results that land in this category. Jack was unbeaten at the time and in line to face England’s James ‘Chunky’ DeGale in a title eliminator, and simply had to get past a journeyman whose last victory over a fighter with a winning record came nearly five years prior. But all it took for Edwards – a 12-1 underdog going in - was a right hand over a weak jab that left Jack’s chin exposed for the first knockdown just 30 seconds in. Jack never fully recovered, getting dropped again seconds later and then staggering about the ring before forcing referee Charlie Fitch to stop the fight after just 61 seconds of action.
Chris Algieri SD 12 Ruslan Provodnikov (6/14/2014)
– The plan was simple as event handlers – and HBO – saw it; a win by Provodnikov paves the way for an eventual November showdown with gym mate Manny Pacquiao. Through three minutes of action at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, the free-swinging Russian did his part, twice flooring Algieri and punching the New Yorker’s eye shut. What he – and most observers, included a jaded ringside broadcast team – seemed to forget was that 11 rounds remained. Algieri spent the rest of the fight playing catchup, eventually surging ahead to score the biggest win of his career, taking place just an hour from his hometown in Long Island.
Dejan Zlaticanin SD10 Ricky Burns (6/27/2014)
– It remains to be seen if promoter Eddie Hearn keeps his word and limits Burns’ fighting future to the domestic level. He is a promoter, after all. But the current leading carnival barker in the UK insisted going into the fight that a loss by Burns would mean his last days spent as a major player. Zlaticanin was unbeaten but untested at the time of his road trip to Scotland. Burns was on the mend, having lost his lightweight title to Terence Crawford more than three months prior. The June night began with Zlaticanin scoring an opening round knockdown, with his stiffest challenge coming at the end of the night from the three judges. John Keane stubbornly ruled in favor of the local attraction and the other two judges barely granting the visiting Montenegro boxer the winner (115-113 each), despite the fight never being close.
Rogelio Medina KO3 J’Leon Love (8/30/2014)
– Perhaps it was foreshadowing that – as a 12-1 underdog – Medina stood as much of a chance at beating Love as Derek Edwards did of beating Badou Jack. Lightning struck twice on Mayweather Promotions, as Love’s unbeaten record and any remaining career upside went flying out the window after a perfectly timed left hook put the Michigan native face first onto the canvas early into the third round of their Showtime-televised bout in Las Vegas.
Juan Carlos Payano Tech-UD6 Anselmo Moreno (9/27/2014)
– The ending was anti-climactic and the scoring debatable. However, the official result is what counts when all is said and done, and the final call was Moreno’s lengthy bantamweight title reign coming to a close in Mesquite, Texas. Payano’s face was a mask of blood as early as round two, but the ringside physician gave him a fighting chance to soldier on. The courtesy wasn’t lost on the unbeaten Dominican, who proved resourceful enough to outwork the slick Moreno long enough for the fight to officially go to the scorecard – that moment coming after six completed rounds, thus bringing a close to Moreno’s championship run after more than six years.
Tommy Karpency SD10 Chad Dawson (10/4/2014)
– This was supposed to be the next step for Dawson to crawl his way back to light heavyweight title contention. Armed with adviser Al Haymon these days, it was believed that all the former lineal 175 lb. king had to do was beat a career journeyman to eventually move towards the front of the line for a shot at fellow Haymon client and current light heavyweight champ Adonis Stevenson. Karpency was the type of fighter who needed two tries to beat Rayco Saunders, but the revenge win kicked off a 2014 that ended with a bang, as the Western Pennsylvania boxer exploited Dawson’s shoulder injury, outworking the comebacking ex-champ to score by far the biggest win of his career.
Jorge Sebastian Heiland KO10 Matthew Macklin (11/15/2014)
– Macklin’s Irish heritage was the focal point of the promotion, as his November 15 headliner was his first fight in Ireland in nearly six years. A win was to keep the perennial Top 10 middleweight in contention, despite having fallen short in three separate title bids. There was minimal expectation of Heiland – a southpaw journeyman from Argentina – upsetting the apple cart, but the visiting 8-1 underdog never showed an ounce of fear while fighting in hostile territory. A nip-and-tuck affair through four rounds slowly transitioned into a rout by Heiland, whose confidence grew with each passing round. Macklin was running on empty by the time the rounds hit double digits, with Heiland closing the show courtesy of a left-right combination to send the local favorite down in a heap early in round ten.
BOXINGSCENE.COM 2014 AWARDS SEASON
Network of the Year: HBO
Comeback of the Year: Rocky Juarez
Prospect of the Year: Anthony Joshua
Event of the Year: Mayweather/NSAC
Round of the Year: Francisco Rodriguez Jr.-Katsunari Takayama, Round 12
Upset of the Year: Vivian Harris SD10 Jorge Paez Jr.
Fight of the Year: Francisco Rodriguez Jr.-Katsunari Takayama
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox