Five late replacements who won big fights

Profile Picture: Danny Howard

Danny Howard

February 17th, 2022

In boxing, there is no length a promoter will go to save a scheduled fight from disaster, even if it means finding a sacrificial lamb as a late substitute. Sometimes, these walk-on opponents end up being more trouble than anyone would have guessed and turn an opportunity of convenience into a career-altering event.

Join us now as we look at five late replacements who won the big one.

5. Bonecrusher Smith destroys Tim Witherspoon (1986)

James "Bonecrusher" Smith was days away from a fight when Don King informed him that he would be stepping in for Tony Tubbs and facing Tim Witherspoon for the WBA heavyweight title instead. Smith had been beaten soundly by Witherspoon 18-months prior, but their rematch told an entirely different story. He dropped the durable Witherspoon three times in the first round, shocking the world and winning the heavyweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s.

4. Manny Pacquiao bookends career with walk-in fights (2001, 2021)

It’s hard to believe there was a time when Manny Pacquiao wasn’t a big deal, but he made one of the first big splashes of his career, stepping in to face Lehlohonolo Ledwaba with just two weeks' notice. Pacquiao spent no time piecing Ledwaba up to win a super bantamweight title, his second of eight he’d pick up in his legendary career.

Pacquiao would get a taste of his own medicine nearly 20 years later when Yordenis Ugas stepped in with just one week’s notice, and ended up being too crafty for the aging legend in his final fight.

3. Isidro Garcia’s title shot came in borrowed trunks (1999)

With just a few hours notice, Jose Lopez’s title defense against Alejandro Montiel went up in smoke when Montiel was unable to compete. Desperate to save the card, Garcia was identified in the audience enjoying the fight as a spectator with a doughnut in his mouth, no less. Garcia was offered the title shot along with a borrowed set of trunks and a mouthpiece, and shockingly, he actually ended up beating Lopez by decision. Garcia would successfully defend his title once before losing it to Fernando Montiel one year after winning it.

2. Jesse Rodriguez unseats a future Hall of Famer (2022)

One of the more recent entries in this list is also one of the most impressive. Rodriguez, 22, was elevated from the undercard to the main event to face Carlos Cuadras for the super flyweight title. Cuadras’ original opponent, the fearsome Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, fell out with five days' notice and Rodriguez jumped two weight classes up to face him.

Showing poise well beyond his years, Rodriguez turned in a master class against a future Hall of Famer, flooring him and beating him to the punch repeatedly. He won the title and put himself in the mix for a major fight.

1. Andy Ruiz Jr. stuns Anthony Joshua (2019)

One of the biggest upsets of the last 20 years was so improbable that it bordered on impossible. When Jarrell Miller tanked his shot against Anthony Joshua for using a banned substance, Mexico’s Ruiz was called to replace him ahead of Joshua’s U.S. debut.

The fleshy Ruiz was not expected to last long against the statuesque Joshua, with just a month to prepare. However, it was Joshua who wasn’t ready for Ruiz’s volume and drive, succumbing to Ruiz in seven rounds after the two traded repeated knockdowns.