World Heavyweight Champion: 1990
Every dog has its day, every person gets his or her 15 minutes in the spotlight, etc etc. Such sayings might have been conceived with James ‘Buster’ Douglas in mind. He was a work-a-day heavyweight who did little prior to February 11, 1990, and not much after it. But on that day in Tokyo, everything conspired in his favour. Fortunately for him, it happened to be the day when he was fighting Mike Tyson for the heavyweight crown.
Douglas was born in Columbus, Ohio, on July 7, 1960. The son of a decent middle and light-heavyweight, Douglas had all the physical attributes of a top-class heavyweight. But he didn’t have the boxing skills or mental strength to go with his magnificent physique. He was a solid professional, a decent contender, but nothing more. Even so, by 1987 he had notched up enough successes to earn himself a crack at Tony Tucker for the IBF heavyweight crown. He flopped badly and was knocked out in the 10th. Douglas also fought on the Tyson-Bruno undercard, against Trevor Berbick. It was a victory this time, but it was all dreary and uninspiring stuff. 42-1 outsider
Such was the background and calibre of the man lined up to fight Iron Mike in February 1990. Small wonder that few people gave him a prayer. As a measure of how seismic an upset this was, one only has to consider the bookmakers’ odds. Douglas was a 42-1 shot, by far the longest odds in the championship’s history. Tyson’s behaviour was becoming increasingly wayward and unpredictable out of the ring, but no one believed that this volatility would have any bearing on his performance inside it. Besides, Douglas himself had had his own share of setbacks, albeit of a different kind. His mother had recently died, and his wife was seriously ill: personal blows which were hardly conducive to putting him in the frame of mind necessary to take on the most feared fighter on earth. Yet Douglas was in peak condition, both mentally and physically. Perhaps he gained inner strength from his loss, and was determined to dedicate the biggest fight of his career to his mother and his wife. Who knows? But the fact remains that Douglas frustrated Tyson, avoided all his best shots – with one notable exception – and emerged a glorious and wholly unlikely champion.
Tyson looked as though he had trained for the usual duration of his fights, in other words, a matter of minutes. When Plan A didn’t work, the champion’s aura of invincibility suddenly began to look like a rather thin veneer. He swung wild punches that Douglas easily evaded, and the challenger countered with good technique and plenty of solid blows which found their mark.
Saved by the bell
Finally, in round eight, Tyson connected with a meaty uppercut. All Douglas’s good work could have been undone in an instant. What followed was an incident reminiscent of the famous ‘Long Count’ of the Dempsey-Tunney fight more than 60 years earlier. Referee Octavio Mayran ushered Tyson to a neutral corner, delaying the start of the count by a few seconds. All well and good, but he then blundered by beginning the count himself instead of taking his cue from the timekeeper. Douglas took maximum advantage of the extra few seconds, staying down till nine, or rather the referee’s version of that count. As he got to his feet the bell went, giving him even more time to recover. And recover he did. Douglas’s crisis, and Tyson’s one chance, ended at that point. Douglas meted out more punishment in the ninth round, and finished Tyson in the next with a barrage of heavy, accurate blows.
There followed a brief and undignified hiatus as Tyson and promoter Don King cried foul. They wanted the decision overturned because of the eighth round fiasco. Quite rightly, they were given short shrift by the authorities.
Douglas’s reign lasted just eight months. In October 1990, his first defence pitted him against Evander Holyfield. Douglas couldn’t reproduce the stunning form he showed against Tyson. In fact, he reverted to the style, or lack of it, that he had shown earlier in his career. His moment of glory had been and gone.
Born: Columbus, Ohio, USA. April 7 1960
World Heavyweight Champion: 1990
Won 38 (25 Kos) Lost 6 Drawn 1 .