Of all the awards that get doled out by various boxing outlets at the end of each year, Upset of the Year is maybe my favorite. It’s not always something that has the longest shelf life for impact on the sport, and it frankly might not even matter much after the upset victor’s next fight, if he or she goes out and turns into a pumpkin.
But a genuine upset on a big stage in boxing is truly exciting, in part because we see so few of them, what with matchmaking being so overly careful most of the time.
Last year, of course, we had Andy Ruiz Jr turning the boxing world upside down on June 1 when he stopped Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden. It was one of the most wildly exciting nights in recent memory for the sport, and the fallout was massive and insane.
Six months later, it didn’t matter much, as Ruiz was handily outboxed by Joshua in their Saudi Arabia rematch. The world had returned to normal, basically. But it was still Upset of the Year, and it was still one of the craziest, most pulse-pounding nights in a long time.
This year we’ve seen a few notable upsets, some early clubhouse leaders. We’re not talking about your mild upsets here — stuff like Jono Carroll over Scott Quigg, for instance, where the betting odds did favor Quigg but not by some really big amount. We’re talking about the true upsets.
Technically speaking, TJ Doheny losing in Dubai this past Friday against Ionut Baluta is probably the biggest upset of the year. Literally nobody out there expected Doheny, a former titleholder at 122, to go lose to an unheralded Romanian fighter with a 12-2 record in an eight-round bout. Doheny was hoping to stay busy, stay sharp, and go fight for a world title again. Not happening for now, obviously. There aren’t even any odds I can find for that fight because it wasn’t considered something notable enough that it needed a line.
On that same token, it’s also not really notable enough a fight to be a serious Upset of the Year contender, in the same sense that the best six- or eight-round prelim war is not going to win Fight of the Year. Doheny losing impacts Doheny’s career, but that’s about it. It was a low-level fight on a lower-mid-tier show.
There are two other fights that are minor contenders but don’t really move the needle enough.
The first came on Jan. 30 in Miami, when Roamer Alexis Angulo upset well-regarded super middleweight prospect Anthony Sims Jr. It was a huge win for the 35-year-old Angulo, who looks like he’ll be turning it into a title shot against David Benavidez on Apr. 18, and a really big setback for the 25-year-old Sims, but it wasn’t a sport-shaker.
The same can be said for Petros Ananyan beating Subriel Matias on Feb. 22, on the prelims before the Wilder-Fury 2 pay-per-view. Matias, 27, had the hopes of Puerto Rico behind him as he climbed the ladder at 140, but he got dropped and took the L against Ananyan, a twice-beaten Armenian-born Russian now based in Brooklyn. Ananyan had come in having lost two of his last three, albeit both close decisions. Big setback for Matias, but ultimately made no real waves.
That leaves us with two clear options for the current Upset of the Year leader.
The first came on Jan. 18, when Jeison Rosario beat the hell out of Julian Williams to take the IBF and WBA junior middleweight titles in Philadelphia. Williams was a top dog at 154 and Rosario was seen as someone who brought a little danger, but was going to be outclassed against a good veteran fighter. Instead, Williams — who had a contender for Upset of the Year in 2019 with his win over Jarrett Hurd — turned into the pumpkin, as mentioned before, just as Andy Ruiz had a month and change prior. (Well, not just as Andy Ruiz had. Williams wasn’t horrendously out of shape, he just lost, and Ruiz lost to someone still seen as a top contender, not a guy nobody had in the top 10.)
The second came just this past Saturday, when Robert Helenius stopped Adam Kownacki in the fourth round of a WBA eliminator that had been tailor-made for Kownacki to secure a mandatory title shot. Helenius, at 36, was thought to be long-faded and found out. Kownacki, while nobody foresaw him being a world-beater, was the heavy and obvious favorite.
So what’s the bigger upset?
By the odds, it’s very close. At closing lines, Williams had mean odds of around -3165, with Kownacki at -2900. The underdogs, Rosario and Helenius, were listed at around +1240 and +1280, respectively.
I think all in all you have to go with Rosario still, because it was a world title fight and had a significantly bigger impact on his division. Helenius beating Kownacki, who was borderline top 10 coming in, sets Helenius up for an eventual title shot (which is wild), but doesn’t terribly change the landscape of the major fights coming otherwise. Rosario beating Williams made Rosario a top three guy at 154, while Helenius still isn’t top 10 at heavyweight.
Bigger impact favors Rosario, but Helenius made it a discussion.