5 Times the Sports Underdog Took Home the Win

he Japanese rugby team celebrates after beating South Africa during the Rugby World Cup 2015. Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The story of the underdog rising above adversity and claiming victory is a classic tale. Here are five times a team or athlete that no-one expected to win managed to overcome the odds that were stacked against them.

Japan defeats the Goliath of rugby in the 2015 Rugby World Cup

There are a few national teams that come to mind when you think of powerhouse squads, with countries like Australia, England, New Zealand, France, and of course, South Africa topping the list. 

Ranked fourth behind New Zealand, Australia and Ireland in the World Rugby Rankings just ahead of the Rugby World Cup in September 2015, South Africa was a top contender for the trophy. So, when Japan – who were sitting at 14th position – managed to beat the Springboks 34-32 in the opening match of the tournament, the rugby world was shocked. The underdogs had last won a World Cup game in 1991, but managed to take a game off of a team that  not only regularly won World Cup matches, but had also taken the title home twice.

While the South African team was likely underperforming on the day, the Cherry Blossoms still showed amazing resilience. The team chose to avoid penalty kicks that would have tied the score, opting for scrums that could have cost them their chance at victory. But the tactic paid off and gave Karne Hesketh the chance to score one final try in the closing minutes of the game, securing victory for the  Japanese squad.

The Queen of the UFC falls

Ronda Rousey was the first female fighter to sign up with the mixed martial arts promotion company now synonymous with the sport – the UFC. During her three years with the UFC, she set plenty of records and went undefeated in the first 10 fights of her career. Unfortunately for Rousey, nothing lasts forever.

On November 14, 2015, the Queen of the UFC  would go up against Holly Holm in a match that sportsbooks and fans all predicted to be another walkover. Despite having dispatched all but one of her opponents in the first round of previous fights, Rousey struggled against Holm and was even left with a bloody face at the end of the first five minutes. 

Holm knew that Rousey had the advantage on the ground, but managed to stay on her feet despite Rousey’s best efforts to take her down. She slowly wore Rousey down using her long left punches, and when Rousey lost her balance after a hit to the chin, Holm ended it with a left kick to the neck.

The future GOAT of NFL carries his team to victory

A young Tom Brady in his Patriots gear before the start of a game. Photo by Mitchell Reibel/Getty Images
Photo by Mitchell Reibel/Getty Images

Looking back to the 2000 NFL Draft, who knew that a sixth round, 199th over selection would go on to become the greatest NFL player of all time. With teams grabbing players like Courtney Brown, LaVar Arrington, and Chris Samuels, the relatively unknown Tom Brady was little more than an afterthought to the New England Patriots. In fact, they only ended up drafting him in the sixth round. If the other teams had known what we know now, Brady might have ended up creating a legacy based around the Cleveland Browns instead.

Things didn’t pan out that way, though, and the Patriots are no doubt glad about that. Before Tom Brady, the New England team was far from a powerhouse, despite showing some flashes of brilliance during the ’90s. But after Brady was drafted, the Patriots would go on to end the 2001 season with an 11-5 record, a division title, and the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

The team would dominate the NFL for many years, cementing Brady’s GOAT (Greatest of All Time) status before signing with the Buccaneers on March 20, 2020. Unfortunately for die-hard Patriots fans, this meant a sudden drop in the team’s performance, but for those interested in NFL betting, the move opened up plenty of interesting betting options.

The New Jersey Devils slip and then go all the way

Considering their performance in the 1993-94 season, many expected the New Jersey Devils to continue their successes as they moved into the 1994-95 season. Their preseason record of 5-2-2 gave fans high hopes, but a lockout came into effect and seemed to throw the Devils off their game. 

Play eventually resumed, but when the regular season came to a close, the Devils seemed to be a shadow of their former selves. Where the New Jersey team once dominated, it ended the regular season with a score of 22-18-8 – a far cry from the performance many were expecting.

Despite this less-than-stellar performance, the team still managed to secure a position in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It was at this crucial moment that they surprised everyone, taking down the Boston Bruins 4-1, the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-1, and the Philadelphia Flyers 4-2. This secured their place in the Stanley Cup Finals, where they went against the Detroit Red Wings.
The first game may have been close, with the Devils only going 2-1 while playing on Detroit’s home ground, but from Game 2 it was Devils all the way. The team ended the second game 4-2, and smashed the Red Wings 5-2 in Games 3 and 4. Unfortunately for many NHL betting fans, the Devils showed that there’s no such thing as a surefire bet.

A NBA giant falls against the Detroit Pistons

Richard Hamilton, playing for the Detroit Pistons, drives past Kobe Bryant during a Finals match in 2003. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Fans of NBA betting during the early 2000s who were given a choice between the LA Lakers and the Detroit Pistons would probably have put their money on the Lakers. And in most cases this would have been a good bet.

The Pistons had a poor 1999 season, which ended when they were eliminated during the first round of the Eastern Conference with a score of 42-40. Things were even worse for them the following year when they went 32-50, failing to qualify. They did manage to improve in 2001 and 2002, ending both seasons 50-32, but were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Finals respectively. 

During the same period, the Lakers were proving to be an unstoppable force. They tore up the league in ’99, with a record 67-15, followed by a Championship win. Despite slightly less dominating performances in 2000 and 2001, they still won the finals for each season. 

The Lakers were still strong in 2002, ending the season 50-32, but failed to make it past the Western Conference Semifinals. The following season wasn’t much kinder to them; 2003 was the year in which this titanic team would be outmaneuvered by the underdog.

While both teams had fairly even records coming into the Playoffs, the Lakers were able to close out their series games 4-1, 4-2, 4-2. The Pistons, on the other hand, had a bit of a harder time. They won their first series against the Bucks convincingly with a score of 4-1, but had to play a full seven-game series against the Nets, which they eventually won 4-3. 

Despite the Pistons’ 4-2 win in the Eastern Conference Finals, many people expected the Lakers to make short work of them in the NBA Finals. While one team did make short work of another, it was the Pistons who took home the Championship after they beat the LA Lakers 4-1.

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