4 of the Biggest Losers in History, Statistically Speaking
Even in an era where your drunkest uncle won’t shut up about “participation trophies,” a straightforward fact remains: Whether it’s battles, fights, sports or game shows, no one can win without someone also losing. No podium can be climbed without a corpse to use as a stepladder. When you look at it like that, there’s got to be a limited amount of shame in losing — after all, somebody had to.
Of course, there’s different levels of losing. It’s one thing to succumb at the end of a long, hard-fought face-off. It’s another to get your ass absolutely waxed from tip to tail, the kind of beating that would inspire cries of mercy from the crowd. But not all men, women, sports teams and armies are created equal, and sometimes, if two are forced to square off, it’s going to be less of trading blows and more an extended obituary. When that happens in any measurable manner, suddenly you find yourself in the company of history’s great losers, your number in danger of being retired not out of respect, but out of a horrific, unwashable stink.
Here are, quantifiably, four of history’s greatest losers.
First off, let’s not get it confused: I am well aware that even the most frequently bloodied failed boxer could make my face a Cubist tribute in 10 seconds flat. Still, when you enter the professional ranks, you’re agreeing to be judged by your record. Boxing, especially, is a sport where, if you want to be one of the greats, you’ve got almost zero losses to play with. All-timers are afforded only a knockout or two if they want to stay in that rarefied air.
Then there is Kristian Laight, known as “Mr. Reliable” and one of the greatest tomato cans of all time. Tomato can, of course, being beautiful boxing slang for a patsy, because of how easy it is to get red liquid out of one. Laight fought in 300 bouts during his career, and he lost 276 of them, ending with a record of 12-279-9. During which, he never knocked out a single opponent. Honestly, it’s an impressive capacity for punishment, and Laight himself doesn’t seem to labor under any delusions about his role, explaining that he knew everybody he fought was better than him, but it was good money.
Laight said to Sky Sports, “I get criticized but even if I wanted to win, I couldn’t. I can’t match those kids for skill or fitness, but I can get through the fight and give them four rounds of good boxing. I was getting paid to fight lads who were always better than me. I turned it into a job and a weekly income. I completely ignore criticism, it doesn’t bother me. I knew I would never be a world champion. But I was quite clever.”
Cumberland College v. Georgia Tech
John Heisman is probably most well-known these days for his eponymous trophy, but he’s also got a delightful nugget hidden in his history: orchestrating one of the greatest blowouts of sports history. This comes from when Heisman was the coach of Georgia Tech’s baseball and football team, and after the baseball team lost to Cumberland College 22-0, he had an axe to grind. Next year’s Georgia Tech versus Cumberland football game seemed like the perfect opportunity to exact revenge, at least until Cumberland announced they were done with football altogether at the end of the year.
At least, they thought they were. Because, as Heisman noticed, the next year’s Cumberland versus Georgia Tech game had already been scheduled. Heisman was happy to nix the game, considering the circumstances — for the small cancellation fee of $3,000 (in 1916 money). So Cumberland rounded up 13 guys and put them on the football field against an actual genuine football team coached by one of the most famous figures in football. The final score: Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland College 0.
Cao Cao at the Battle of Red Cliffs
Lose a sports match, and you might have to deal with angry fans. Lose a military engagement, and you might have just wiped your own name out of the history books. Military blunders have shaped plenty of human history, since even the most cunning human is still just that: human. The same way LeBron James probably still drops his iPhone sometimes, so does Napoleon fall at Waterloo.
One of the most pigheaded and embarrassing defeats of all time, however, belongs to the Chinese warlord Cao Cao in the Battle of Red Cliffs in 208 C.E. Cao Cao, up until this point, had been crushing it on the warfront. Barely before this disaster, he’d just scored a victory over Liu Bei’s forces. Not to mention, he was rolling remarkably deep, with a self-reported (and possibly self-inflated) 800,000 men (historians think it was closer to 250,000). Meanwhile his enemies had somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 men at their disposal.
So where’d it all go wrong? When Cao Cao took his many landlubber soldiers and put them on stolen ships to traverse the Yangtze River. Unused to water, the troops became violently seasick. To combat this, Cao Cao lashed all of the ships together, creating one large floating behemoth that, sure, was a little more stable, but also was now an unmaneuverable island. You know the saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”? Yeah, you can swap that out for “don’t tie a bunch of flammable wooden boats together with your whole army aboard.”
Liu Bei spotted the enemy hanging out on what was essentially a large unlit bonfire, and sent some flaming ships directly into them, giving Cao Cao’s forces a thoroughly unsavory choice: Burn to death on Ship Island, or swim to the shore and get spearfished like a trout by waiting soldiers. Cao Cao’s army was routed, and this is pointed to as the moment at which his dream of unifying China died.
The newest inductee to the Own-Foot Sharpshooter club? Fifty-one-year-old self-described memelord Elon Musk was delivered one of the Guinness’ least-desired world records recently, the uncomfortable crown of “largest loss of personal fortune in history.” After his Twitter takeover, which has gone, to be charitable, about as well as eating Chipotle before a scuba dive, Musk, through the tanking of Tesla stock mainly, has lost an incredible amount of money.
If you’re getting ready to argue inflation, and that it’s probably not as much as some other, older losses, you’re underestimating both how obscene modern-day moguls’ wealth hoarding has become, and just how badly Musk fumbled the bag. He not only soundly beat a man who’s probably very relieved to now be number two, but lapped him — three times over. The previous record was held by a man named Masayoshi Son, losing $58.6 billion in 2000. Musk, since November, has lost an estimated $182 billion. That's approaching a quarter of a trillion dollars, which, to reiterate again, was a single man’s net worth. Good thing he'll be able to easily recoup that when Twitter becomes profitable. Oh, that's right, Twitter hasn't been profitable eight of the last ten years. Well, he can always try poaching Onion writers for a pet comedy project then pull the plug and leave them high and dry again.