James Buster Douglas

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In 1990, James "Buster" Douglas became the undisputed world heavyweight champion when his controversial knockout victory over Mike Tyson two days earlier was recognized by two holdout sanctioning bodies (Washington Times, DC).

James "Buster" Douglas (born April 7, 1960) is an American former professional boxer who competed from 1981 to 1990, and 1996 to 1999. He is best known for his stunning upset of Mike Tyson on February 11, 1990 in Tokyo to win the undisputed heavyweight title. At the time Tyson was undefeated and considered to be the best boxer in the world, as well as one of the most feared heavyweight champions in history due to his domination of the division over the previous three years. The only casino to make odds for the fight (all others declining to do so as they considered the fight such a foregone conclusion) had Douglas as a 42-to-1 underdog for the fight, making his victory, in commentator Jim Lampley's words, "The biggest upset in the history of heavyweight championship fights." Douglas held the title for eight months and two weeks, losing on October 25, 1990 to Evander Holyfield via third-round knockout, in his only title defense.

The son of professional boxer William "Dynamite" Douglas, Douglas grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in the predominantly black Linden neighborhood of Windsor Terrace. He attended Linden McKinley High School, where he played football and basketball, leading Linden to a Class AAA state basketball championship in 1977. After high school, Douglas played basketball for the Coffeyville Community College Red Ravens in Coffeyville, Kansas, from 1977 to 1978; the seventeen-year-old was a 6 feet 0 inch power forward. He is in the Coffeyville Community College Men's Basketball Hall of Fame. He also played basketball at Sinclair Community College from 1979 to 1980 in Dayton, Ohio, before attending Mercyhurst University on a basketball scholarship. He moved back to Columbus to focus on boxing. For a brief period of time during his early twenties, Douglas was known as the "Desert Fox" within the Columbus boxing community. This moniker was affixed to Douglas because of a misinterpreted encyclopedia entry regarding Douglas MacArthur and Erwin Rommel. Several friends of Buster Douglas mistakenly believed that Douglas MacArthur was known as the "Desert Fox" and subsequently addressed the future heavyweight champion as such. However, Buster Douglas distanced himself from the "Desert Fox" label no later than 1985 because of clarification from his promotional team and the concern that he might be confused with Syrian boxer Ghiath Tayfour.

Douglas made his debut on May 31, 1981 and defeated Dan O'Malley in a four-round bout. He won his first five fights before coming into a fight with David Bey twenty pounds heavier than he usually did in his early fights. Bey knocked Douglas out in the second round to hand him his first defeat. After six more fights, all wins, Douglas fought Steffen Tangstad to a draw on October 16, 1982. He was penalized two points during the course of the fight which proved to be the difference.

After the draw Douglas beat largely journeyman fighters over the next fourteen months. Two of his wins were against Jesse Clark. Douglas fought him a total of three times and knocked him out all three times. In his last fight of 1983, Douglas was dominating opponent Mike White, but White knocked him out in the ninth round.

On November 9, Douglas was scheduled to fight heavyweight contender Trevor Berbick in Las Vegas. Berbick pulled out of the bout three days before it was scheduled and Randall "Tex" Cobb elected to take the fight in Berbick's place. Douglas defeated the former heavyweight contender by winning a majority decision. The next year, he fought up-and-coming contender Jesse Ferguson, but was beaten by majority decision.

Douglas fought three times in 1986, defeating former champion Greg Page and fringe contender David Jaco in two of the fights. This earned him a shot at the International Boxing Federation championship that Michael Spinks was stripped of for refusing to defend it. Douglas started well against Tony Tucker and was ahead on points, but he ran out of gas and was stopped in the tenth round.

After the Tucker defeat Douglas won four consecutive fights and went on to fight Trevor Berbick in 1989, winning by a unanimous decision. He followed that up with a unanimous decision victory over future heavyweight champion Oliver McCall, and earned a shot at the undisputed heavyweight championship held by Mike Tyson, who became the universally recognized champion after knocking out Spinks in one round in 1988. (Douglas fought on the undercard of the event and defeated Mike Williams by TKO in seven rounds.)

The fight against Mike Tyson was scheduled for February 11, 1990 and took place in Tokyo at the Tokyo Dome. Almost everyone assumed that the bout was going to be another quick knockout for the champion. No challenger had taken Tyson beyond the fifth round since 1987. Many thought it was just an easy tune-up for Tyson before a future mega-fight with undefeated Evander Holyfield, who had recently moved up to heavyweight from cruiserweight where he became the first boxer to be the undisputed champion of the weight class. Douglas was given so little chance of lasting against Tyson, let alone beating him, that nearly every betting parlor in Las Vegas refused to hold odds for the fight. The one casino that did, The Mirage, made Douglas a 42-to-1 underdog.

Douglas's mother, Lula Pearl, died 23 days before the title bout.[5] Douglas, who had trained hard, surprised the world by dominating the fight from the beginning, using his 12-inch reach advantage to perfection. He seemingly hit Tyson at will with jabs and right hands and danced out of range of Tyson's own punches. The champion had not taken Douglas seriously, expecting another quick and easy knockout victory. He was slow, refusing to move his head and slip his way in (his usual effective strategy) but rather setting his feet and throwing big, lunging hooks, repeatedly trying to beat Douglas with single punches. By the fifth round, Tyson's left eye was swelling shut from Douglas's many right jabs, and ringside HBO announcers proclaimed it was the most punishment they had ever seen the champion absorb. Larry Merchant memorably added, "Well, if Mike Tyson, who loves pigeons, was looking for a pigeon in this bout, he hasn't found him."

Tyson's cornermen appeared to be unprepared for the suddenly dire situation. They had not brought an endswell or an ice pack to the fight, so they were forced to put tap water into a latex glove to hold over Tyson's swelling eye. By the end of the fight, Tyson's eye had swollen almost completely shut. In the eighth round, Tyson landed a right uppercut that knocked Douglas down. The referee's count created controversy as Douglas was on his feet when the referee reached nine, although the official knockdown timekeeper was two seconds ahead. In the ring the final arbiter of the knockdown seconds is the referee and a comparison with Douglas's winning knockdown count issued to Tyson two rounds later revealed that both fighters had received long counts.

Tyson came out aggressively in the dramatic ninth round and continued his attempts to end the fight with one big punch hoping that Douglas was still hurt from the eighth round knockdown. Both men traded punches before Douglas connected on a multi-punch combination that staggered Tyson back to the ropes. With Tyson hurt along the ropes Douglas unleashed a vicious attack to try to finish off a dazed Tyson but, amazingly, Tyson withstood the punishment and barely survived the 9th round. In the tenth round, the severe punishment Douglas had inflicted on Tyson finally began to take its toll on the champion. Douglas dominated the round from the outset. While setting Tyson up with his jab Douglas scored a huge uppercut that snapped Tyson's head upward. He then followed with a rapid four-punch combination to the head, and knocked Tyson down for the first time in his career. Tyson struggled to his knees and picked up his mouthpiece lying on the mat next to him. He awkwardly attempted to place it back into his mouth. The image of Tyson with the mouthpiece hanging crookedly from his lips would become an enduring image from the fight. He was unable to beat the referee's count, and Douglas was the new world heavyweight champion. As Douglas said in an interview years later, “I thought Tyson was getting up until I had seen him looking for that mouth piece and then I knew that he was really hurt. So anytime you know you only got ten seconds to get up so you aren’t going to worry about anything but just getting up first. So when I had seen him looking around for that mouth piece I knew he was really hurt.”  By contrast, during Douglas's knockdown two rounds earlier, Douglas shows to be ready to continue early in the count (he bangs his fist against the canvas in frustration at having let Tyson land the crucial counterpunch, showing no signs of being seriously hurt). Douglas, however, clearly waits for the referee to count to 8 before getting up.

Douglas's joy over the victory soon turned to confusion and anger as manager John Johnson informed him in the dressing room that Tyson and Don King were lodging an official protest about the referee's knockdown count in the eighth round. A week later, during an in-studio interview with HBO's Larry Merchant, Douglas admitted that the protest and the post-fight confusion ruined what should have been the best time of his life. During that interview with both fighters, Merchant asked Tyson the first four questions, infuriating Douglas's management crew, who stopped just short of walking out of the HBO studios.

While the IBF immediately recognized Douglas as its champion, the WBA and WBC initially refused due to Tyson's protest.[9] However, Tyson withdrew his protest four days later amid worldwide public outcry and demands from boxing commissions around the world, and Douglas was officially recognized as undisputed heavyweight champion.

While still champion, Douglas appeared on the February 23, 1990 episode of the World Wrestling Federation's "WWF The Main Event", as special guest referee for a rematch between Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Originally, Tyson was scheduled to be the guest referee, but following the upset, the WWF scrambled to sign on Douglas for the event. At the end of the match, Douglas was provoked into a 'storyline' punch and knockout of Savage, who was the 'heel' wrestler in the match.

The defeated Tyson clamoured for a rematch and Douglas was offered more money than he had ever made for a fight. Not wanting to deal with Tyson's camp or his promoter Don King, Douglas decided to make his first defence against #1 contender Evander Holyfield, who had watched the new champion dethrone Tyson from ringside in Tokyo. Douglas went into the October 25, 1990 fight at 246 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than he was for the Tyson match and also the heaviest he had weighed in for a fight since a 1985 bout with Dion Simpson, in which he tipped the scale at just over 247 pounds.

Douglas came out rather sluggish, and was thoroughly dominated by Holyfield during the first two rounds. In the third round Douglas attempted to hit Holyfield with a hard uppercut that he telegraphed. Holyfield avoided the uppercut and knocked an off-balance Douglas to the canvas with a straight right to the chin. Douglas did not get up, ending his brief reign. He retired after the fight.

Douglas vs Holyfield was a reported $24.6 million payday for Douglas. Doing little for the next several years, Douglas gained weight, reaching nearly 400 pounds. It was only after he nearly died during a diabetic coma that he decided to attempt a return to the sport. He went back into training and made a comeback. He was successful at first, winning six straight fights, but his comeback almost came to a halt in a 1997 disqualification win over journeyman Louis Monaco. In a bizarre ending, Monaco landed a right hand, just after the bell ending round one, that knocked Douglas to the canvas. Douglas was unable to continue after a five-minute rest period and was consequently awarded the win by disqualification (on account of Monaco's illegal punch).

A fight with light-heavyweight champion Roy Jones, Jr. was touted in the late 1990s, although ultimately fell through. In 1998 Douglas was knocked out in the first round of a fight with heavyweight contender Lou Savarese. Douglas subsequently had two more fights, winning both, and retired in 1999 with a final record of 38–6–1.

• In the fight against Tyson, the underdog challenger was competing in the face of almost unthinkable personal tragedy. His son Lamar's mother was suffering from cancer. His wife, Bertha, had left him unexpectedly months before. And, just 23 days prior to the fight, Douglas's mother, Lula Pearl, died suddenly of a stroke.




Sources for this article include:

•  Tyson-Douglas: The Inside Story of the Upset of the Century. Bill Long (2007). Potomac Books

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