James “Buster Douglas” Vs Mike Tyson
February 11, 1990
Venue: Tokyo Dome
I remember being 13 years old and telling my father the night Larry Holmes defended his world heavyweight title against Renaldo Snipes that this fight was going to be a one-sided mismatch. My father explained to me that when two big men are in the ring, anything can happen. For the first six rounds, my theory was on the money as Holmes completely outclassed Snipes with his battering ram of a left jab and well placed right crosses. Then all of a sudden in round seven, Snipes landed a picture perfect missile of a right cross that dropped and badly hurt Holmes. When that happened, my father smiled at me with that I told you so look. Holmes was able to recover and would eventually stop Snipes in the 11th round, but not before almost getting knocked out.
Right before the night of the Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight, I reminded my father of what he had told me over eight years prior to this evening. While Pop didn’t think Douglas had the heart and determination to pull off the upset, he wouldn’t be surprised if Douglas hurt Mike as he was six inches taller than the so called baddest man on the planet. What my father and I didn’t take into consideration that night was the fact that Buster’s mother had passed away a little over three weeks before he was to fight Tyson. Looking back, I’ve always felt that it was a combination of his mother dying and Tyson not taking him seriously that helped Buster put on the performance of a lifetime.
Despite having personal problems with his ex-wife Robin Givens and his tumultuous breakups with former manager Bill Cayton and trainer Kevin Rooney, Mike still was as dominating as ever going into the ring that night as he attempted to successfully defend his world heavyweight for the 10th time since winning the WBC version in November of 1986. Tyson had unified all the world titles and Douglas was a mere stop gap before facing Evander Holyfield in what looked to be the biggest money making fight in combative sports history. Buster had other plans.
Buster Douglas was in the best shape of his life that night. At 6’4 and 235 pounds, Buster was a good half foot taller than the baddest man on the planet. Combined with a 12-inch reach advantage, Douglas used a tremendous jab and movement over the first seven rounds to give the champion a one sided boxing lesson. While we were watching the fight, my father was awestruck by Buster’s ring generalship that evening. Buster was in such a zone that he felt Mike needed a miracle from God to overturn the beating he was taking. Douglas battered Tyson from pillar to post through the eighth round and in his overzealousness, walked into a sizzling right uppercut that dropped the grief stricken challenger. Douglas barely got up at the count of nine just as the bell sounded to end the round.
Despite having a challenger in deep trouble going into round nine, Tyson, because he had taken such a one-sided beating before scoring the knockdown, had absolutely nothing left to finish off Buster. After Buster cleared his head, he resumed using the heavy jab and right crosses and gave Tyson a wicked beating the second half of the round. Finally, midway through round 10, Buster landed a vicious right uppercut, left hook, right cross and left hook combination that drove Tyson onto the canvas. Tyson was attempting to get up and put his mouthpiece back in at the same time. He got up just as referee Octavio Meyran counted to 10. The greatest upset in boxing history and maybe sports history had occurred.
This would be the highlight of Buster’s career as eight months later he would get knocked out by Evander Holyfield and lose the undisputed heavyweight title, which I chronicled earlier in this series. As for Tyson, his entire downfall that began that evening in Tokyo will be written in full detail in an upcoming article. As for my father and I, we had watched this historic upset at my then girlfriend’s house. On the subway ride back home, he started laughing and brought up what I had reminded him earlier that evening, “When two big men are in the ring, anything can happen.”