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James “Buster” Douglas (born April 7, 1960) is a former undisputed world heavyweight boxing champion who caused a stunning upset when he knocked out previously-undefeated champion Mike Tyson on February 11, 1990 in Tokyo, Japan. At the time, Tyson was considered to be the best boxer in the world and one of the most feared heavyweight champions in history due to his utter domination of the division. The Mirage Casino in Las Vegas, the only Las Vegas casino to make odds on the fight, had Douglas as a 42 to 1 underdog for the fight.
Douglas held the title for eight months and two weeks, losing on October 25, 1990, to 28-year-old, 6-foot-2-inch, 208-pound Evander Holyfield, via third-round KO.
The son of professional boxer William “Dynamite” Douglas, Douglas grew up in Columbus, Ohio, in the predominantly black Linden-area neighborhood, Windsor Terrace. He attended Linden McKinley High School where he played football and basketball, even 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 1977-1978 where the seventeen year old was a 6 feet 0 inch Power forward. He is in the Coffeyville Red Ravens Men’s Basketball Hall of Fame.
Douglas had been fighting since the early 1980s. Among his most notable early fights were points wins over Randall “Tex” Cobb and former world titlist Greg Page, and a stoppage loss against David Bey. He fought the undefeated Tony Tucker in 1987 for the vacant IBF heavyweight title. Douglas was leading on the scorecards until he appeared to grow tired in the later rounds before being stopped by a TKO in the tenth round. After the Tucker loss, Douglas notched six consecutive wins, including decisions over Oliver McCall and Trevor Berbick and a knockout of Mike Williams on the undercard of Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks, to earn a shot at the heavyweight championship.
Almost everyone assumed that Douglas’ fight versus Mike Tyson was going to be another quick knockout for the champion. Only one betting parlor in Las Vegas would hold odds for the bout, and many thought it was just an easy tune-up for Tyson before a future mega-fight with undefeated cruiserweight champion Evander Holyfield (who was ringside for the event).
Douglas’ mother, Lula Pearl, died 23 days before the title bout. Douglas, who had trained hard, surprised the world by dominating the fight from the beginning, utilizing his 12-inch reach advantage to perfection. He seemingly hit Tyson at will with powerful jabs and right hands and skillfully 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’ many right hands, and ringside HBO announcers proclaimed it was the most punishment they had ever seen the champion absorb.
Tyson’s cornermen appeared to be unprepared for the suddenly dire situation. They had not brought an endswell to the fight, so they were forced to put ice 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 engendered controversy as Douglas was on his feet when the referee reached nine, although the official knockdown timekeeper was two seconds ahead. However, 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 8th 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. Douglas dominated the tenth round from the outset. While setting Tyson up with his jab Douglas scored a huge uppercut, followed by a rapid combination, and knocked Tyson down for the first time in his career, making boxing history. 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 heavyweight champion of the world. As Buster 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.”
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 Randy “Macho Man” Savage. Originally, Mike 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.
Douglas made his only defense of the heavyweight title on October 25, 1990, against Evander Holyfield. Douglas came in the fight heavy, at 246 lbs (over 15 pounds heavier than in his fight against Tyson). In the third round, Douglas loaded up with a right uppercut that Holyfield easily countered with a straight right that knocked Douglas down and out for the full count. Douglas decided to retire after the fight.
He did little for the next several years, living off his wealth (he received a reported $24.6 million for the Holyfield fight) and gaining weight to nearly 400 pounds. It was only after Douglas 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 6 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 to end 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.
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