Imagine being a heavyweight boxer in possession of great skill, good power, a reliable chin, a fast-handed fluid style and, when willing to actually try hard enough to locate it, heart. Imagine then being this fighter and coming off the most sensational win not only of your entire career but in ALL OF BOXING HISTORY, and then ……… utterly and totally squandering your gifts, your fine boxing talent.
This is just what James Douglas, better known as Buster, was guilty of doing almost 30 years ago. And fight fans have still not been able to forgive him for it. Douglas, at 29, was at his peak should he actually have wanted to rise to it (he did not ) and he was coming off a truly stunning thrashing of Mike Tyson (an incredibly blessed fighter who was guilty of pissing a great deal of his own enormous talent down the gurgler). Now having finally proven his worth as a fighter his father, former middleweight Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, could be proud of, Buster was also a huge commodity in the heavyweight division.
So much so that Douglas signed on for a monster $18 million payday to make his first title defence against the unbeaten former cruiserweight king Evander Holyfield. But if any fan felt Buster would again fight his hardest, the way he had done against Tyson – and for the money he was getting combined with the honour a heavyweight champion should carry himself with, the fans had every right to think this way – they would soon be enormously disappointed. And mad as hell.
The glamorous Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas won the rights to the fight, one millions of fans paid for via pay-per-view, and even the great Sugar Ray Leonard was brought in to conduct MC duties. Then the fight began, such as it was, and one big, flabby dud of a bomb splattered all over the sport of boxing.
Having been eating pizza in the sauna as part of his preparations for the fight, Buster came in at a wobbly 246 pounds (he was a ready 231 for Tyson) and he was neither in the mood to fight nor able to fight. It was all over in round-three, Holyfield cracking Douglas with a big right hand that landed flush. Buster fell and then, in the opinion of many, made the conscious decision to stay where he was – Buster even checking his glove for signs of blood. The scene of this heavyweight’s perceived capitulation moved one writer to describe the image as that akin to “a man tucking himself into bed at night.”
Douglas was ridiculed the world over and his days as a relevant heavyweight were over (although Buster did launch a return some years later, this after ballooning to a near-death weight of over 400 pounds!)
How could this highly skilled fighter, this man who, against a naturally smaller man (nobody knew then how absolutely incredibly durable Evander, a “too small” heavy, really was; thus making Buster’s complete unwillingness to even try against him all the more criminal) quite literally had the world as his feet, perform so disgracefully?
28 years on and fight fans are still shaking their heads in bemusement. After what he did to Tyson, Douglas could have lived out the rest of his life as a king. If only he’d tried against Holyfield.
In the long list of ‘he could’ve been a great,’ Buster Douglas’ story is not only the most frustrating, but also the saddest.