There were so many questions being asked going into the James Douglas-Evander Holyfield world heavyweight title fight of 30 years ago today (I know, where did the time go!) Was Buster’s brilliant performance in Tokyo, where the whopping, great 42-1 underdog dethroned the “invincible” Mike Tyson, a fluke? Could Tyson bounce back? Was Evander Holyfield big enough to make it as a heavyweight?
We only got answers to two of these three questions.
Yes, Tyson was able to bounce back and regain the crown (for a while, this after a spell behind bars), and yes, Holyfield was “The Real Deal” at heavyweight. But as for Douglas, we never really found out if he could have repeated the combination of skill, nerve, desire and power that he showed in his hammering of Tyson. This great performance, it turned out, was a one night only deal.
For in his first and, as it turned out, only title defence, Buster inflicted on the world one helluva flop. Douglas was paid many $millions for the fight that took place at The Mirage in Las Vegas, yet the defending champ barely earned a fraction of his gargantuan payday. Sadly, after eight months of eating, going to court (to battle Don King – and we all of course remember all that fuss over how Tyson had in fact “knocked out” Buster in the 8th round in Japan), eating, doing a little training and then eating some more, Buster had made the transition from whopping, great underdog to whopping, out of shape 246 pounder.
And the svelte, expertly trained and conditioned Holyfield was more than happy to burst Buster’s bubble and take the championship.
Holyfield, who had reigned as THE greatest cruiserweight in the history of the then maligned division (Evander still holds this distinction, although the cruiserweight division is now a certified fan fave), was 6-0(6) as a heavyweight, yet the critics insisted the bulked-up 208 pounder from Georgia was not big enough for the heavyweights. Looking back, it’s amazing how long it took Holyfield to finally silence such talk.
On the night of October 25, 1990, Holyfield won and he won in style, in just three rounds, yet the new heavyweight champ’s victory wasn’t the big talking point. Buster’s gross conditioning and his perceived lack of effort at getting back up after Holyfield had chinned him with a right hand counter in that 3rd round was the story. There was so much outrage, so much anger and disappointment – King said right then and there that there would never be any Douglas-Tyson rematch now – that Holyfield’s win went almost unnoticed.
How could Douglas, such a fine specimen of underdog tenacity and mental strength in Japan, have let everyone, himself included, down so heavily?
Douglas never recovered. At least his reputation never did. Thankfully, after almost dying due to increased weight gain (as in well over 300 pounds walking around weight), Douglas pulled himself together and is today in a far better place than he was in the years that followed his flop against Holyfield. Evander as we know is a living legend who gave his all in a number of epic rumbles. Tyson? Heck, he’s all set to fight again this year!
Things could so easily have panned out differently on that night that is remembered for the Holyfield-Douglas let-down. As it is, we had to make do with one brief display of greatness from a fighter from Columbus, Ohio. A fighter who, for a short time, had the world at his feet.