"The Moments": Mike Tyson vs Buster Douglas

12.07.05 - By Kevin Kincade: You’re heart’s pounding so hard you feel it could explode from your chest at any moment. You find yourself throwing punches in the air, knocking over drinks and chips and hearing banging on the walls to quiet down from your neighbors or your wife suddenly opens the door to the entertainment room to see if you and one of your guests have suddenly decided to kill each other, “What the Hell is Going On In Here?!”

A Moment.

Though not the first such “moment” I experienced, by far the most powerful occurred while watching HBO on February 10th, 1990.

I was in my second semester of college, earning a degree I would never use and tuned in on a Saturday night to watch yet another 90 second destruction in the ongoing saga of Iron Mike Tyson.. I had been a boxing fan for years and had become doubly enthralled with the sport when I realized my VCR could pick up HBO.

I can still remember watching my first Tyson fight, heart in my throat, fully expecting one of his hooks to decapitate James “Bonecrusher” Smith; what a disappointment. Needless to say, Kid Dynamite thoroughly impressed me in every fight after that and while I felt he didn’t look as impressive against Frank Bruno and Carl “The Truth” Williams, I fully expected him to do away with James Douglas in short order.

I had seen Douglas fight Tony Tucker two years before in the last Heavyweight Championship bout scheduled for 15 rounds and was impressed with him for the first 8 or 9 rounds; then he quit. I felt, before the 10th round, that this guy might give Tyson some trouble when they fought in the unification bout that was obviously to come next. Of course, Tucker got the nod on that bout, seeing as how he outlasted Douglas.

So, when I heard Douglas was next on Tyson’s menu, I didn’t expect much as most everybody didn’t. Watching the preflight feature on Douglas, I could feel sympathy rising for this man, whom the Fates seemed to have cursed. His mother had died just two weeks before the fight, the mother of his son was currently in the hospital, and he was taking medication to combat the effects of the flu; and now he had to climb through the ropes to face the single most devastating fighting machine ever. Man, did I feel for him!

Douglas jogged to the ring in his white resplendent robe to a song custom written and recorded for him, “Win it All”, and I remember admiring the lack of fear and excess of energy he showed. During the pre-fight introductions, he bounced around his side of the ring, red and white shoe tassels dancing with his every movement as James shadow boxed, staring inwardly, preparing himself for what he was about to do, practically oblivious to the dark clad terror that awaited him just 10 feet away. This was a man who had nothing to lose.

My friend John Mark had come over to watch the fight and we both were trying to guess how long this one would last: “2 rounds, no more than two rounds”, “Man, Douglas ain’t gonna hear the bell ending the first!” Neither of us had any idea of the roller coaster ride we were about to take.

When the fight began, I remember thinking how smooth Douglas looked. It was eerie how easily he moved around the ring popping that telephone pole jab into Mike’s eye. Every time Mike would start a volley, James just tied him up and waited for the ref to break them.

Pop, Pop! Pop, Pop, Pow!! Double jab after double jab, right hand after right hand with an occasional uppercut and no Tyson response. “Well, he’ll catch him sooner or later”. Round after round went by just like that with Douglas getting braver and braver. Still, we waited for Tyson to land the money maker. In round 5 Douglas hit Tyson so hard with the right, Mike got a good view of the stadium lighting as his head shot straight back and up. “Whoa!! Damn, what a shot!” Pop, Pop, Pop!!

James Douglas was on a mission. His eyes were as cold as steel and his fists were as fast and deliberate as an assassin’s bullets. Neither of us could believe what we were witnessing. The notion of Tyson losing a fight refused to sink in. Then, in the eighth round, left eye closing, seemingly far behind on the cards, Mike emerged from the fog and dropped Douglas with one hellacious uppercut. Skidding backwards on the seat of his pants, Buster came to a stop about seven feet from where the punch connected. Douglas pounded the canvas with his fist just before he arose at the referee’s count of 9. Ding!

By this point, both John Mark and I are shamelessly rooting for the underdog. At the start of the 9th, we’re both screaming for Buster to stay away from him. Tyson came out with murder on his mind. He smelled blood and was going to end this thing before his foe could regain his senses. At least, that’s what we thought was going to happen. All of a sudden, midway through the round, Douglas plants his feet and unloads a five punch combination and Tyson staggers backwards to the ropes! “YOU GOT HIM!! GO FOR IT!!! GO FOR IT!! YOU GOT HIM!!” Even the largely silent Japanese audience could be heard gasping as James Douglas blasted Tyson again and again from one side of the ring to the other. Never had I seen anyone put Tyson’s back to the ropes until that fight. Ding, Ding, Ding!!! Tyson staggers back to his corner while John Mark and I sit down for the 60 second respite.

The 10th round is a mixture of sight and sound as I remember Jim Lampely saying something to the effect of “What we are viewing now is a Mike Tyson, left eye closing, in all likelihood behind on points…” and Ray Leonard jumping in, stating what we all thought, “OHHH, THE UPPERCUT!” Then and there I saw the unbeatable Mike Tyson collapse from a follow-up barrage that sent his mouthpiece flying. John Mark and I were both on our feet, unable to stand still, counting along with Octavio Meran. When I saw Mike fumbling around for his mouth piece, only to put it in backwards as he staggered to his feet, it sunk in what I had just witnessed, “Oh my God.”

The post fight scene was equally as dramatic as the action that had just occurred; Douglas’s people surrounding him as he raised his hands and seemed to look skyward. Larry Merchant’s post fight interview with James is the best I’ve ever witnessed. Douglas’s people wanted to pull Buster away and start celebrating; but Merchant was going for the quote, the truth, the emotion of this historic moment, “Why James? Why were you able to do what nobody thought you could do? What inspired you?” (or something to that affect) And amid the questioning, Douglas broke down and felt the loss he must have buried deep in his heart, “My mother, my Mother! God Bless Her Heart!” And then, ever so briefly, he wept. I nearly did too.

Buster Douglas might not have lived up to the expectations we all had for him after that fight; but he more than surpassed what we all thought of him on the night it mattered. For one night in his life, he did what so many of us will never come close to approaching: For one moment in time, He was Great.

Other fights that live in my memory as experiences are Duran-Barkley, Leonard-Hagler, and Hopkins-Trinidad; but none quite so much as the night a 42-1 underdog knocked out the “Baddest Man on the Planet”. On July 16th, Bernard Hopkins has a chance for another moment against Jermain Taylor; or Taylor has a chance for his first moment against the great champion who has reigned for so long. The moment will belong to whoever takes it. We, as observers, have the privilege of going along for the ride.

Following fighter’s careers, there will be good times and bad times, heartaches and exultations; but rest assured, there will be those moments that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. They may be few and far between; but when they come, they are well worth the wait.

Thank you Buster.

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Article posted on 12.07.2005

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