The thrill of watching heavyweights is that either fighter can hurt the other, and one punch could change everything – as these savage, shocking heavyweight title KOs have all shown.
From Mike Tyson to George Foreman, Tyson Fury to Muhammad Ali, all-time great heavyweights have scored incredible knockouts. But some have also been on the end of huge upsets themselves.
These ten top stunning heavyweight stoppages all had a version of the world title on the line, and in most cases, it changed hands.
But that’s about the only predictable thing about the bouts, which featured intimidation, revenge, odds-defying surprises and one fight which involved six knockdowns in five minutes.
10. Tyson Fury KO Deontay Wilder (2020)
Now that Fury has proved his superiority over Wilder, it’s easy to forget that after their first bout – which saw ‘The Gypsy King’ haul himself off the canvas twice to earn a draw – the second fight was expected to be either a Fury boxing masterclass or a Wilder KO.
Instead, the 6ft 9in Brit stuck to his pre-fight boast that he was going to batter big-punching Wilder from the first bell.
Fury bludgeoned his rival to the canvas in rounds three and five before Wilder’s corner ended the shockingly one-sided bout. Cue an avalanche of post-fight excuses.
Both fighters are now set for huge heavyweight clashes as Wilder takes on Joseph Parker in Saudi Arabia and Fury readies himself for an incredible clash with Oleksandr Usyk.
We may be treated to another spectacular knockout in either of those bouts…
9. Corrie Sanders KO Wladimir Klitschko (2003)
The younger Klitschko was seen as the division’s biggest and best-rising star when he defended his alphabet world title against 37-year-old Sanders – who, Gareth Bale-like, was often said to prefer golf to the sport he actually made his living in.
However, the South African southpaw had fast hands and a hammer of a left hook, which he used to knock down Klitschko four times in less than four minutes, forcing the stoppage.
“In 25 years, I never fought anybody in this game that punched like Corrie Sanders,” Klitschko later reflected.
8. Mike Tyson KO Michael Spinks (1988)
Not Tyson’s most spectacular KO – his demolition of Trevor Berbick probably tops that lengthy list – but his most remarkable.
Tyson was a pre-fight favourite in this bout for the undisputed title, but Spinks was unbeaten, a two-weight world champion and a future hall of famer.
At the very least, ‘The Jinx’ was expected to give ‘Iron Mike’ a lot of problems. Instead, it was a 91-second massacre.
A clearly intimidated Spinks was put down early with an uppercut, then finished off with a combo, which left him glassy-eyed and unable to stand. A brutal exhibition of power.
7. Andy Ruiz Jr KO Anthony Joshua (2019)
Roly-poly Ruiz was a last-minute replacement for the US debut of chiselled giant Joshua. But this fight turned dramatically in three thrilling minutes of in-ring action.
The third round saw AJ floor his challenger – only to get caught, hurt, and dropped twice while trying to follow up.
The previously unbeaten Brit just about made it to the bell but never really cleared his head. The quick-fisted Ruiz downed Joshua twice again in round seven, and just like that, the 25-1 shot had pulled off an unlikely upset.
The December rematch, however, was a different story.
6. George Foreman KO Michael Moorer (1994)
Foreman was 45 years old, two decades past his athletic prime when he fought an undefeated southpaw who had beaten Evander Holyfield in his previous bout.
The first nine rounds went as expected: Moorer outboxing, if not seriously hurting, the rotund ‘Big George’.
Then, as shocked commentator Jim Lampley famously cried out: “It happened!” Foreman landed a right hand as slow but powerful as a wrecking ball, and Moorer crumpled to the canvas.
Foreman was world heavyweight champion again, 21 years after winning the title.
5. Joe Louis KO Max Schmeling (1938)
As with Tyson-Spinks, it was not a shocking winner – but a jaw-dropping style of victory.
American Louis was trying to avenge the only defeat of his pro career against Germany’s crafty former champion Schmeling when the pair met in front of over 70,000 fans at Yankee Stadium.
With World War II looming, Louis decimated Schmeling, knocking him down three times in the first round and leaving his brave opponent with cracked ribs and broken vertebrae among his injuries.
Schmeling would spend two months in hospital recovering after his two-minute pasting.
4. Muhammad Ali KO George Foreman (1974)
Boxing fans, writers and promoters feared for Ali’s health before he took on the unbeaten Foreman in Africa.
After all, Ali had had four tough fights against Joe Frazier and Ken Norton (losing to both before avenging his defeats). Foreman had blasted Frazier and Norton to pieces.
However, Ali used his speed, IQ and superhuman resilience to outbox and even outpunch arguably the biggest hitter in heavyweight history.
After seven rounds of being bamboozled by his older foe, an exhausted Foreman was dropped and stopped in round eight.
Ali was the champion again.
3. Hasim Rahman KO Lennox Lewis (2001)
A raw version of Lewis suffered an upset KO by Oliver McCall early in his career.
But he’d avenged that loss and proved himself the dominant heavyweight of his era when he met Rahman in South Africa – a bout viewed as so one-sided no US venue wanted to invest in it.
Yet the 20-1 underdog matched an underprepared Lewis throughout a slow fight before stunningly felling him with a powerful right hand.
’The Rock’ was suddenly the unlikely king of the division – even if Lewis would regain the belts with a sensational KO of his own in the rematch.
2. George Foreman KO Joe Frazier (1973)
Fifty years ago came the most astonishingly one-sided bout between two great heavyweights in their prime.
Two years after defeating Muhammad Ali, Unbeaten champion Frazier was viewed as too skilled and too dangerous for the big, powerful but slow and clumsy Foreman.
Instead, we got a short, sharp lesson in Foreman’s extraordinary power.
Frazier was knocked down six times in less than five minutes – including one titanic uppercut which lifted him off both feet – before the referee finally stopped the slaughter.
A barely believable outcome.
1. Buster Douglas KO Mike Tyson (1990)
The daddy of all upsets, not just in heavyweight boxing but across combat sports.
Journeyman Douglas was a reported 42-1 shot going into this bout against a peak Tyson – although those figures have never been substantiated because who on earth bet on him? Nobody.
However, Buster backed himself, channelling personal trauma – including the death of his mother – to train like never before, while Tyson was by now a distracted and underprepared champion.
Cue Douglas taking control with his jab, surviving an eighth-round knockdown, then putting down Tyson for the first time in his career in round ten.
‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ was counted out, and boxing had its least likely heavyweight champion.