Buster Douglas

The world heavyweight title fight between ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson and James ‘Buster’ Douglas, which took place at the Tokyo Dome in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan on February 11, 1990, produced arguably the greatest upset in boxing history. Tyson, still only 23, was the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion; he had taken just over a minute-and-a-half to stop Carl ‘The Truth’ Williams, albeit under controversial circumstances, in his previous title defence – to take his career record to 37-0, with 33 knockouts – and was widely expected to make similarly short work of Douglas.

Douglas, by contrast, was a 29-year-old journeyman, who had already suffered four defeats – including a tenth-round technical knockout by Tony Tucker in his previous title fight, for the vacant IBF Heavyweight World Title, nearly three years earlier – in a chequered career. His chance was dismissed by the media and the Las Vegas oddsmakers alike; The Mirage, one of the few casinos to offer an odds line, made Douglas a 42/1 underdog to beat the seemingly-invincible Tyson. Douglas also carried the emotional burden of having recently lost his mother, Lula Pearl, who died suddenly, at the age of just 46, days before he left for Tokyo.

Nevertheless, at 6’ 4” and 230lb, and coming into the fight on the back of six consecutive wins – including, most recently, a victory over Oliver McCall by unanimous decision – Douglas was at the peak of his powers. To the surprise of virtually everyone, Douglas dominated the first seven rounds and Tyson, for the first time in his career, appeared fallible. However, in the eighth round, the reigning champion delivered a vicious right uppercut that knocked Douglas to the canvas.

The challenger barely beat the count but, by that stage Tyson’s left eye had begun to swell uncontrollably and Douglas, once again, dominated the ninth round. Finally, in the tenth round, Douglas delivered his coup de grace, a devastating right uppercut of his own, followed by a left, right, left combination, which sent Tyson to the floor for the first time in his career. Disoriented, Tyson was counted out after 1 minute and 22 seconds of the tenth round.

Dettori’s Magnificent Seven

On Saturday, September 28, 1996, reigning champion jockey Lanfranco ‘Frankie’ Dettori arrived at Ascot Racecourse for the Festival of British Racing – a forerunner of what is now British Champions’ Day – with a full book of seven rides. Two, three or possibly four of them held realistic chances of winning but, at the start of the day, no-one – or, at least, hardly anyone – could have predicted that Dettori would achieve the nigh on impossible feat of partnering all seven winners on the card.

Dettori opened his account on Wall Street, trained by Saeed Bin Suroor, on behalf of Goldolphin, his principal employer, in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Further success in the royal-blue silks of Godolphin followed on Diffident, who scraped home by a short head, in the Diamed Stakes, Mark Of Esteem in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes and, later in the afternoon, Fatefully in the Roseberry Rated Stakes.

In between times, Dettori partnered Decorated Hero, trained by John Gosden, to an easy victory in the Tote Festival Handicap, causing BBC television to extend its coverage until just a time that Dettori was beaten. BBC producers were not to be disappointed because Dettori extended his winning sequence to six when making all the running to win the Blue Seal Stakes on Lochangel, trained by Andrew Balding. By that stage, the popular Italian jockey had already equalled the record held by Sir Gordon Richards and Alec Russell by winning six consecutive races on the same card but, with one race left, still had the chance to complete an unprecedented seven-timer.

Coincidentally, his remaining mount, Fujiyama Crest, had won the closing Gordon Carter Handicap on the same card the previous year but, having failed to add to his winning tally – including when finishing tailed off in the Northumberland Plate on his previous outing – was available at 12/1 on the morning of the race. Nevertheless, in the face of unprecedented liabilities, Fujiyama Crest started 2/1 favourite and, as he had done the previous year, made all the running to land the spoils. What henceforth became known as the ‘Magnificent Seven’ landed odds in excess of 25,000/1 at starting price and in excess of 235,000/1 at the best odds available.

Aly Dia

Aly, or Ali, Dia is a Senegalese former professional footballer who, in November, 1996, was at the centre of the most famous hoax in the history of the Premier League. On the recommendation of someone purporting to be FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah, Dia, 31, was signed, on a one-month deal, by Southampton manager Graeme Souness. At the time, Souness reportedly said, ‘He’s played with George Weah at Paris Saint-Germain, and last year he was playing in the second division in Germany.’

In any event, injuries limited Southampton to just two fit first-team strikers, Egil Ostenstad and Matt Le Tissier, for their home fixture against Leeds United on November 23, such that Dia was named as a substitute after just a single training session. Le Tissier was forced off with a thigh injury after just half and hour and Dia replaced him, to make his Premier League debut. It would, in fact, be his one and only Premier League appearance because he was, as Le Tissier put it, ‘f***ing hopeless’. After 85 minutes, with Southampton trailing 1-0, Souness cut his losses and replaced Dia with defender Ken Monkou.

It was really no surprise that Dia proved unworthy of top flight football because, unbeknown to Souness, prior to signing for Southampton he had been playing not in 2. Bundesliga, but in the Northern Premier League for Blyth Spartans. ‘George Weah’ had apparently recommended Dia to several other clubs, including Third Division Gillingham, whose manager Tony Pulis said later, ‘…we gave the lad a trial and he was rubbish’. Ultimately, Dia lasted just two weeks at Southampton – although he did earn £2,000 a week – before returning to non-league football with Gateshead in the Conference Premier.

Eric Cantona

Former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona already had a reputation as a hothead with a dodgy temperament before his arrival at Old Trafford from Leeds United in November, 1992. However, it was nearly two years later, in January, 1995, when Cantona was involved in the most shocking episode of his football career.

During a Premier League match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, in South London, Cantona was subjected to robust, but fair – at least, in the eyes of the referee – tackling, particularly centre half Richard Shaw, who had been assigned to closely man-mark the Frenchman by Palace manager Alan Smith. Early in the second half, following the latest in a series of comings together between the pair, Cantona vented his frustration by petulantly kicking out at Shaw.

Cantona duly received the fourth red card of his Manchester United career, but the incident was far from over. As he was making his way from the playing surface, Cantona was confronted by Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons, who made his way down a gangway to launch a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse in his direction. On hearing his mother called a ‘French whore’, Cantona retaliated by launching what is known, in kung-fu circles, as a straight thrust kick, which carried him over the crowd barrier to strike Simmons in the abdomen with the sole of his boot.

Manchester United fined Cantona £20,000 and suspended him for four months, thereby ruling him out for the remainder of the 1994/95 Premier League season. The Football Association subsequently fined him a further £10,000 and extended the ban to nine months, until the end of September, 1995. Cantona also faced criminal charges for common assault, to which he plead guilty, at East Croydon Magistrates’ Court in March, 1995. He was initially sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment, although this was reduced to 120 hours of community service at an appeal hearing at Croydon Crown Court the following week.