It was, as surely all fight fans regardless of age know, 33 years ago yesterday when whopping, great underdog James “Buster” Douglas upset Mike Tyson in Tokyo. The smashing 10th round KO 42/1 dog Buster scored rocked the entire planet – yet the drama did not end with the conclusion of the fight. Far from it.
With events moving as fast as Douglas’ punches had whipped into Tyson’s exposed head and jaw during the final, dizzying seconds of that 10th round in Japan, boxing fans were, the day after Buster’s triumph, reading how Don King had launched an official protest; the flamboyant promoter claiming his man Tyson had actually knocked out Douglas in the eighth round but had been denied victory due to a “long count.”
It got serious when it was reported how two of the governing bodies – the WBC and the WBA – went along with King and suspended the result of the fight pending hearings into the controversy of the so-called “long count.”
Was it Dempsey-Tunney all over again?
Well, no. Not at all.
Douglas, who had been caught napping by an increasingly desperate Tyson, hit down hard after taking a brutal uppercut in round eight. But Buster beat the referee’s count. He got up in time. That should have been all that mattered. And, after a short period of time that nevertheless ruined Douglas’ greatest moment, it was all that mattered. King, with a battered Tyson by his side, soon (soon as in four days after the fight) withdrew the protest and Buster was universally crowned king. He was THE heavyweight king.
But for Douglas, the damage had been done. Douglas spoke about how the best time of his life had been spoiled and that the desire to train for his next fight was compromised as a result. Maybe. It was some eight months before Buster fought again, this against Evander Holyfield in his first and, as it turned out, sole title defence. Could/should Douglas have focused on this fight, King’s protest or no? The critics have always said Douglas should have kept it together, that he should have behaved like a champion and trained with diligence for his maiden title defence. But we know what happened; how a flabby, unmotivated Douglas flopped in three rounds in the Holyfield fight.
Years later, Douglas was kind enough to speak with this writer, primarily about the “stress” and “bullshit” that followed his fantastic win.
“I went through a lot [after the Tyson fight] – a lot of B.S,” Buster said. “We had to go to court, and it was like I never stopped fighting after I won the fight and the title. By the time I got to camp (for the Holyfield fight) it was tough. It was my fault, in that I shouldn’t have allowed it all to affect me like it did, but I wasn’t properly prepared. There was so much pressure. What had been a wonderful childhood dream come true became a real nightmare. I’m still mad at all that stuff today.”
Douglas will forever be remembered, and celebrated, as the man who gave us The Biggest Upset in Boxing History. Some dark and powerful forces tried to deny Buster, this by taking his enormous win away from him. And, for a few days after the KO beating Buster dished out to Tyson, these forces seemed to come worryingly close to doing what they set out to do.
It must really have been a living hell for Buster and his team during those initial post-fight days when all concerned should have been doing nothing but celebrating. It really was quite a ride we fight fans were on 33 years ago!
Oh, and Buster told me that had he fought Tyson in a rematch (this when properly trained and motivated, naturally) he’d have “beaten him even better.”
We will never know.