This article appeared in The Japan Times in February 2015.
Douglas reflects on Tyson fight 25 years later
By Ed Odeven
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
— Nelson Mandela
Two significant historic events happened on Sunday, Feb. 11, 1990, in different locales: South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, the nation’s future president, was released from prison after 27 years, and James “Buster” Douglas produced a stunning 10th-round knockout of undisputed world heavyweight champion “Iron” Mike Tyson at Tokyo Dome.
The youngest heavyweight champion in history, making his 10th title defense, entered the fight with a 37-0 record (33 knockouts) and had never been knocked down during his pro career; Douglas (29-4-1) was the 42-1 underdog.
Tyson’s reign ended 28 minutes, 22 seconds into the fight, at precisely 1:22 into the 10th round.
Douglas’ triumph consistently ranks among the top items on the lists of greatest upsets in sports history.
A quarter-century later, Douglas described his victory, witnessed by 40,000 spectators at the Big Egg and shocked TV viewers around the world, as the culmination of a long journey.
“(I’m a guy) who fought for everything he’s got and had to come up the hard way,” Douglas told The Japan Times. “Started from the bottom, because the last time I had actually fought in the amateurs was at 15 (years old), then to come back and fight again at 21 as a pro, that was pretty intense. I had to learn a lot, learn the life of a fighter again . . . and just getting back into it to the point where I became heavyweight champion.”
Three days after the fight, the Rolling Stones, opened a 10-day concert series at the indoor stadium. Greetings concertgoers at the cavernous venue on Valentine’s Day, Stones guitarist Keith Richards said, “I feel better than Mike Tyson,” according to published reports that week.
Fast forward to late January. Douglas said by phone from Columbus, Ohio, his hometown, that his systematic beatdown of Tyson excited Muhammad Ali. And when they met shortly thereafter at a charity function in West Virginia, Ali spoke about it.
“Well, what was really cool was when I met Muhammad Ali . . . and he was talking about how he was reacting during the course of the fight, and that was pretty cool, because he was one of my favorite fighters,”Douglas told The Japan Times.
How did Ali react?
“He was saying how he was jumping up while watching me fight Mike, and the things that I was doing, seeing a big heavyweight box and move, really sparked his interest. I thought that was pretty impressive,” the 54-year-old Douglas said, describing Ali as “animated” during their conversation back in the day. (Years later, author Davis Miller would reveal in his thoughtful tome on The Greatest, “Tao of Muhammad Ali,” that Douglas emulated the legend. “As an amateur,” he said, “I tried to do everything I saw Ali do. . . . Used to wear trunks like his, white with black stripes, still wear Ali tassels. Only arteests wear tassels. I learned a lot from Ali. Learned to be nice to people.”)
Douglas remains impressed with his performance against Tyson, saying if he had been a ringside judge he would’ve scored nine of 10 rounds in his favor.
The lone exception?
The eighth round, when a powerful Tyson uppercut sent him to the canvas.
“I was dominating throughout the fight. It was just that eighth round when I got caught,” Douglas said.
That proved to be a powerful wake-up call.
“I knew I just had to get back on point, and do what had got me to that point, because I had a moment of daydreaming and got caught,” Douglas recalled, “and then I realized he was really still alive because for that instant to be caught with a shot like that (showed) he was still looking. It wasn’t over.
“I started kind of thinking it was over.”
But Douglas reasserted his dominance as the ninth round progressed, landing a flurry of fast, powerful punches with both hands as he backed Tyson up against the ropes.
As soon as the round ended, HBO blow-by-blow announcer Jim Lampley called it “the most action-filled, heavy-exchange punching round of Mike Tyson’s career.”
Tyson, visibly limited by a swollen, closed left eye, paid the price for those fistic exchanges. Douglas came out on the offensive in the 10th round, In one key sequence, which signaled the beginning of the end, the 191-cm Douglas, who effectively used his left jab throughout the bout, landed pinpoint punches on Tyson’s head and battered face. One devastating uppercut catapulted his foe’s head backward and upward at the same time.
Douglas’ final-round attack was relentless. And he finished off the 180-cm weary champion with a lethal assault: a right-left-right-left combo that sent Tyson tumbling to the canvas and on his back. He fumbled for his mouthpiece as he tried to get up to beat the count, but Mexican referee Octavio Meyran grabbed ahold of Tyson and stopped the fight.
“Sustained accuracy,” Lampley declared, summarizing the effectiveness of Douglas’ punches throughout the fight.