Albert Sosnowski is a massive underdog against Vitali Klitschko in Saturday's heavyweight title fight in Germany, but there have been many less-qualified challengers. Sosnowski captured the European championship in December by easily outpointing Paolo Vidoz but vacated the title upon getting the big fight with Klitschko.
The Polish boxer at least looks the part, with his muscled physique.
So, who are some of the past heavyweight title challengers who were deemed to be without hope?
There have been many of them.
Take Pete Rademacher. The 1956 Olympic gold medalist from the Yakima Valley in Washington state was making his professional debut when he took on Floyd Patterson for the championship at Sicks Stadium in Seattle in August 1957. Rademacher was dropped seven times in a sixth-round knockout defeat, but he had fleeting success when he dropped Patterson with a right hand in the second round.
Referee Tommy Loughran, the old light heavyweight champ, waved off the mandatory eight count at "four," seemingly because he thought Patterson had likely slipped. Afterward he told reporters that Patterson had indeed been floored. Patterson sportingly gave Rademacher credit for dropping him, telling the press he had been "hurt for a moment."
At least Rademacher went down fighting. That has not always been the case. Johnny Paychek, a balding 25-year-old from Des Moines, Iowa, seemed terrified when he faced Joe Louis for the title at Madison Square Garden in March 1940 and was dropped four times in a two-round blowout. "No matter what fights are held in the future, the affair of last night will stand as the sorriest spectacle in which a champion and challenger were ever involved," news agency columnist Henry McLemore reported.
Paychek was one of the challengers who formed what was unkindly called the "Bum of the Month Club," when Louis was scorching through a series of hopelessly overmatched challengers. At least Paychek made it out of the first round, unlike the hapless Jack Roper, who lasted just 2 minutes, 22 seconds with Louis in April 1939. Roper, described by the Associated Press as a "grim-visaged ring veteran with a knockout punch in his left hand, a world of courage and a decidedly splotchy record," did seem to jolt Louis with a left hook before a series of punches sent him to the canvas.
Joe "King" Roman was another no-hoper to crumple in one round against a far more powerful champion, lasting just two minutes against George Foreman in Tokyo on Sept. 1, 1973. Roman was down three times; Foreman even hit him while he was on the floor.
Dave Zyglewicz was another challenger who failed to survive one round against an unbeaten champion, lasting just 96 seconds against Smokin' Joe Frazier in Houston in April 1969. Born in Troy, N.Y., but a Houston resident, Zyglewicz was a game slugger but massively outgunned. "Zyglewicz came out at the opening bell with bombs-away abandon, but sobered up once I began hitting him," Frazier recalled in "Smokin' Joe: The Autobiography" ghosted by Phil Berger.
Another Frazier victim who really shouldn't have been in the ring with Smokin' Joe was Terry Daniels, from Beaumont, Texas, who was rescued by the referee in the fourth round of their title bout in New Orleans in January 1972. "It was a routine slaughter that left the beaten challenger in tears," Red Smith reported in The New York Times.
Frazier's great rival, Muhammad Ali, had his share of title defenses against challengers who were completely out of their depth. One such was Jean-Pierre Coopman of Belgium, who was cuffed almost gently into defeat in five rounds when he shared the ring with Ali in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in February 1976. "Ali may never have had an easier fight," reported Dave Anderson in The New York Times. "It might be considered more an appearance than a competition."
Another Ali fall guy, Richard Dunn, held the British and European heavyweight titles, but the Yorkshire southpaw had been stopped eight times in 30 bouts. To his credit, Dunn had a go, throwing punches spiritedly, but he was dropped five times in a fifth-round defeat in Munich, Germany, in May 1976. "Dunn was no pushover," Ali said generously after the fight. "He was better than I thought he'd be."
Dunn certainly put up a better performance than fellow-Briton Brian London, who a decade earlier collapsed in the third round against Ali at Earls Court Arena in London. "London offered a minimum of opposition to the champion, pushing out rather than throwing the odd blow," reported Britain's venerable The Times newspaper. "London in this mood did not belong in the same ring as the champion."
Does Sosnowski belong in the same ring as Klitschko? We will find out Saturday, but he will surely do no worse than some of the challengers who have gone before him.