Wednesday 17 January 2018

Five occasions when seemingly unbeatable sport stars and teams were humbled

Conor McGregor knocks out Jose Aldo during a featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194 in Las Vegas
Conor McGregor knocks out Jose Aldo during a featherweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 194 in Las Vegas

Tom Rooney

In all sports, individual or team, reigning champions are inevitably dethroned but in some cases the spectacle is more seismic than others.

At this stage, it’s positively trite to acknowledge that nobody, other than Conor McGregor and his team, expected him to bring an end to Jose Aldo’s time as the UFC featherweight champion in just 13 seconds.

In the last five years, discerning even the slightest vulnerability in the Brazilian has been nigh on impossible. Over the course of 147 minutes of combat seven fighters tried and failed to do what the Dublin native achieved in the time it takes to read a book of matches.

Yet McGregor is not alone in the pantheon of grand usurping and, over the years, there have been some incredible overthrows.

Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Championship of the World, February 25, 1964

Now considered as one of the great heavyweight boxers of all time, the then Cassius Clay was nothing more than 7/1  brash underdog heading into this title fight with the fearsome champion Sonny Liston.

Like a certain Dubliner, Clay had goaded the revered kingpin throughout the build up to the bout held in Miami, much to the bemusement of observers.

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 “A big ugly bear; after I beat him I'm going to donate him to the zoo," was just one of the young pretender’s proclamations. Yet, even with Liston rubbing a blinding ointment in the 22-year-old Clay’s eyes, the challenger earned a Round 7 TKO when the former refused to answer the bell. As he said himself, the new champion had “shook up the world.”

The following year,  and by then Mohammad Ali, the ‘Louisville Lip’ disposed of Liston in less than a round.

Everton beat Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, May 20, 1995. 

Having done the double the previous year, Alex Ferguson’s charges had established themselves as the first superpower of the Premier League era.

However, all was not well at Old Trafford, and just a week before meeting Howard Kendall’s Toffee’s at Wembley Stadium, United lost their league title to the cash-rich Blackburn Rovers on the final day of the season.

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Paul Rideout

The overwhelming prognosis was that the Merseysiders would be on the receiving end of the fallout and, that there was no conceivable way the Red Devils would finish the campaign empty-handed.

But Paul Rideout had other ideas, and his thumping header in off the upright decided the contest . A United team containing Roy Keane, Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Peter Smeichel proved the most unlikely of runners-up. 

Offaly deny Kerry five-in-a-row in All Ireland Football Final, September 19, 1982.

Twice before teams on the verge of clinching five Sam Maguire trophies on the trot failed to complete the feat- Wexford in 1918 and Kerry in 1933.  

In 1982, the Kingdom were once again close to the promised land with Offaly, the side they beat in the previous year’s final, standing in their way.

It was a Kerry outfit littered with now legendary names such as Spillane, Liston, O’Shea and Moran. Offaly led by a point at half-time but, going into the dying moments, Kerry were ahead by four points.

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The defining moment of the 1982 All-Ireland final... Offaly's Seamus Darby, extreme left, watches his shot for a goal sail over Kerry 'keeper Charlie Nelligan. Photo: Colman Doyle

Matt O’Connor sent over a brace of points for Offaly to hand them a slim lifeline, before substitute Seamus Darby netted that famous last minute goal and, in turn, scuppered Kerry’s quest for immortality.

Team USA defeat Soviet Union’s ice hockey behemoth at Winter Olympics, February 22, 1980.

This amazing underdog story has subsequently been dramatised in a film starring Kurt Russell. As the Cold War still raged, Lake Placid, New York was the setting as the Americans were pitted against the mighty Soviets, who had won gold in six of the previous seven Olympics.

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LAKE PLACID, NY - FEB 22: Team USA celebrates their 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union in the semi-final Men's Ice Hockey event at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York on February 22, 1980. The game was dubbed "the Miracle on Ice". The USA went on to win the gold medal by defeating Finland 4-2 in the gold medal game. (Photo by Steve Powell /Getty Images)

Led by coach Herb Brooks, the host nation were expected to be annihilated, but they had other ideas.  After a water-tight three periods of action, the sides were tied at 3-3,  before Team America captain Mike Eruzione fired home the winning goal. The game would be become affectionately known as the Miracle on Ice.

The Americans still had to defeat Finland to secure their gold medal, which they did, while the Soviet Union had to settle for silver after bettering Sweden.

Holly Holm knocks out Ronda Rousey to win the women's bantamweight title at UFC 193, November 15, 2015.

Returning to MMA and, indeed, more recent history. When Holly Holm was matched with the seemingly indestructible Ronda Rousey, not a sinner foresaw anything other than another routine victory for the UFC women’s bantamweight champion.

Undefeated, and only once taken out of the first round, Rousey’s previous three title defences had lasted a total of 64 seconds. Holm, too, had never tasted defeat but the bookmakers installed her as a 9/1 underdog, which some considered a generous estimate.

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 15: Holly Holm of the United States celebrates victory over Ronda Rousey of the United States in their UFC women's bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 193 event at Etihad Stadium on November 15, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

However, as soon as the action commenced in the Ethiad Arena in Melbourne, it quickly became apparent that the challenger was not going to be tossed onto the heap of the ever-growing pile of Rousey’s victims.

Utilising superb movement and footwork, the Albuquerque native beguiled Rousey and began landing punches at will. Then, with just over a minute gone in the second round, Holm connected with a concussive head-kick to knock Rousey out cold as jaws around the world dropped.

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