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Ready or not, here they come
A detailed look at some of our favorite overachieving underdogs

Preview by Brady Crytzer

On Saturday, August 8th lightweight challenger Kenny Florian prepares for the biggest test of his career as he battles 155 lb. kingpin BJ Penn in the main event of UFC 101: Declaration.

Though many pundits are counting the Boston native out already, Florian has made a career out of beating the odds and upsetting the best in the sport. After a one sided defeat by Sean Sherk in 2006, Florian rededicated himself to becoming the best lightweight in the world and he is one fight away from achieving his dream. Keep in mind however that Florian isn’t the first fighter to beat the odds and make in impact before the actual fight begins . . . and he won’t be the last. Let’s take a look at a few names that defied the traditional dogmas of professional combat sports as we prepare for UFC 101.

Bruno Jolie, Beijing, 2008

Although this Bantamweight was anything but a standout in his Olympic tournament bracket, Mauritian Bruno Jolie was certainly the games’ most unlikely dark horse. Using less than perfect footwork and landing with slight degrees of accuracy to outpoint opponents, Jolie quickly became the feel good story of the Olympic boxing week by taking an unexpected third place. Despite the fact that most of his fights aired on TV at 2 AM in the states, Jolie roused interest by becoming the first Olympic medalist in any sport from the island nation of Mauritius. While his name won’t likely resonate with readers as much as some other members of this list, Jolie’s achievement is, in some ways, the most impressive of all.

Jon Fitch, UFC 87

There is just something about winning eleven fights in a row that makes a fighter stand out. While Jon Fitch lacked the flash and flare of a marketable challenger, impressive victories over everyone from Thiago Alves to Diego Sanchez made this former Boilermaker the most obvious challenger to Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight crown in August of 2008. Although Fitch was outgunned for most of his championship bout, the perennial underdog hung in with the sport’s most gifted athlete and did something that no one had done before…took GSP all five rounds. In some instances this title fight could’ve been mercifully waved off, kudos to referee Yves Lavigne for letting it go. Jon Fitch earned his opportunity and deserved nothing less than the right to go the distance.

Tony Thompson, IBF/WBO/IBO heavyweight title, July 2008

Heavyweight boxing is a difficult and dangerous road to travel…especially when you do it alone for most of your professional career. Standing 6’5, Tony “The Tiger” Thompson was an imposing figure but lacked the financial support to truly make waves in the business of boxing. At the ripe old age of 36, opportunity knocked in a big way and Thompson answered with bells on. In an unprecedented string of fights the former undercard standout upset Dominic Guinn, Timor Ibragimov, and Luan Krasniqi en route to earning his first, and presumably last, shot at the heavyweight championship of the world. Wladimir Klitschko never appeared to be in danger and action was few and far between, but Thompson’s mere presence in Hamburg sent a message to all of boxing that justice (and dreams) could still ring true.

The Super Middleweight Division, 2005-Present

To the misinformed greater sporting world there is nothing glamorous or star studded about the 168 lb. weight class. To boxing fans on the other hand the Super Middleweight division has given us some of the most meaningful battles of the last decade. Thanks to a ridiculously fantastic amount of unification bouts over the last four years, Joe Calzaghe was widdled down to the ailing sport’s much needed quintessential undisputed, undefeated world champion. But, retirement called for the Welsh bomber and life (and boxing) goes on. Now, just week’s after the announcement of a potentially world changing six man, round robin super event, 168 lbs. has once again proved that it is not a mere stopping ground and it will continue to captivate boxing fans for years to come.

Closing Thought

There is still something to be said about the role of the underdog in our sport. Time and again we allow the business of professional fighting to be engulfed and enamored by politics and business deals.

Historian Ian Kershaw wrote that the road we travel is paved by indifference. Although Kershaw’s subject matter was infinitely more meaningful than ours, the message transcends.

Gentleman your sacrifices and struggles are not going unnoticed. Good show, boys. You are the reason that we are all still here.

 

 


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