The Long Count: Tyson vs. Douglas 1990

By Norman Marcus on July 29, 2015
The Long Count: Tyson vs. Douglas 1990
History often repeats itself, as it did when Mike Tyson met Buster Douglas in Tokyo.

Teddy Atlas later said that Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright, working Tyson’s corner in Tokyo, “couldn’t train a fish to swim…”

When most fight fans hear the term “the long count,” they think of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in Chicago, on September 22, 1927. But history often repeats itself, as it did on February 11, 1990, in Tokyo, Japan, when Iron Mike Tyson met James “Buster “Douglas at the Tokyo Dome.

The judges for this fight were Larry Rozadilla from the USA, Masakazu Uchida and Ken Morita, both from Japan. The referee was Octavio Meyran of Mexico. Three titles were at stake this night, including the WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight belts. No one knew it yet but the fight was to be another “Bombs Over Tokyo” surprise. What exactly does that mean?

Back in 1942, 16 American B-25b Mitchell bombers took just 30 seconds to bomb Tokyo and shock the world. In 1990, almost a half century later, it took two American boxers, just 14 seconds to shock the world again. Let’s look at what happened at the Tokyo Dome that night.

Buster Douglas came into this fight in better condition than usual. His mother Lula Pearl had died of a stroke, just three weeks before the fight. She had told her son that she had prayed for him to win this fight. The challenger wanted the title now, more than ever, in memory of his mother. He returned to the gym after her funeral with a vengeance his trainers had never seen before. This new attitude showed from the start of round 1.

Douglas took control of the action with strong jabs from the outside. His 12-inch reach advantage kept Tyson at bay. When Mike tried to get in close, Douglas would clinch. Tyson showed very little of his old peek-a-boo style or head movement. No slipping inside to work the body. He kept swinging wildly, throwing bombs, looking for one big punch and a quick KO.

It wouldn’t happen this night.

Mike’ trainers for his last three fights were Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright, boyhood friends from his old neighborhood. They soon showed they didn’t know what they were doing as corner men. Tyson’s old trainers, Kevin Rooney and Teddy Atlas had been absent from his corner for several years now. Don King had pressured Tyson to get rid of Rooney and all the remaining D’Amato staff in 1988. Atlas was long gone by that time too. These two men had helped guide Tyson toward the title.

When Tyson’s left eye began to swell up at the end of round 8, his new trainers fumbled the ball. They didn’t think to bring with them the simple instrument called an endswell. It’s a metal instrument that every cut man has with him in the corner. By applying cold pressure, it can reduce swelling around a fighter’s eyes. Instead, all they had instead was a rubber glove filled with ice water! The absence of an endswell that night may have cost the champ his belt. Teddy Atlas later commented on this old neighborhood team, “The new guys couldn’t train a fish to swim.” 

Atlas had left the Tyson camp in 1981, years before Rooney did. It seems Iron Mike had made lewd comments to Teddy’s niece and had grabbed her butt one day when Teddy wasn’t around. The girl was only 12 years old at that time. When Atlas heard about it the next day, he quietly came up to the 15-year-old Tyson, put a snub nose .38 caliber pistol in the boxer’s ear and whispered, “Come near my family again and I’ll kill you.” Atlas became persona non grata in the D’Amato home from that day forward.

At the end of round 8, Mike dropped Buster with a right hand bomb. It was an uppercut to the challenger’s chin. Douglas was up on the confused referee’s count of nine. Now here is the controversy. Meyran had taken 14 seconds to count to nine! It could have been the crowd noise or the hand signals from the timekeeper. The referee knew he had screwed up, but it was too late. The bell rang. The round was over. Tyson’s window of opportunity had closed. There would be no KO for Tyson in round 8. It was another famous “long count” that is still argued about today.

Round 9 saw Douglas come out and stun Tyson was his own left hand shot. Tyson appeared wobbly and Douglas moved in to finish him off. The champ took a lot of hits up against the ropes that round but managed to last it out.

In round 10 Mike was hurt again by a right uppercut followed by two left-right combinations. A final left hand bomb over the top saw him down on the canvas for the first time in his professional career. The champ got up but his legs were gone. Referee Meyran covered him up with his arms and called the fight over. It was a KO10 for Buster Douglas!

If the count had been done correctly in round 8, Douglas would have been counted out. Tyson would have won by a KO. At the time of the KO in round 10, the three judges had Douglas ahead on the scorecards. Larry Rozadilla had it 88-82 for Douglas. Ken Morita saw it 87-86 for Tyson. Masakazu Uchida scored it even at 86-86. If the fight had been stopped at that moment for any other reason, an accidental head butt or maybe Tyson’s badly damaged eye, it would have been declared a Draw. Tyson would have retained his title.

Definition of a Draw: “A draw will result if all three judges call the fight even or if one judge favors one fighter, a second judge’s card supports the other and the third calls the fight a draw.”

That is exactly how the cards read in round 10 when Tyson was knocked out.

The Ring magazine would name Tyson vs. Douglas the Upset of the Year in 1990. Douglas seemed to have no chance against a champion who was 37-0. Las Vegas didn’t even give odds on this fight. Tyson had partied in his hotel suite all night before the bout. Mike’s guests had included a dozen hookers and lots of cocaine and alcohol. Tyson probably lost more bodily fluid that night, than a hemophiliac with a new razor.

It is still a disputed theory that sex with a woman before a fight weakens the legs. How about 16 women? But we all can agree that staying up all night before a fight doesn’t help a fighter win. But Mike was so young and powerful at that time and Douglas was no great shakes. The Ring only had him ranked the #7 contender. Tyson didn’t take Douglas seriously. It was rumored that sparring partner Greg Page had even knocked the champ down in training camp. If Cus D’Amato had still been alive, Mike would have been asleep in his bed at 9:00 P.M. not at a party. Cus could always control his adopted son.

Here is another view of what happened that night in Tokyo, reported by Dave Anderson of the New York Times. “Whatever the boxing politicians eventually decree, James Buster Douglas is the boxing public’s new world heavyweight champion. Yes he apparently got a wrong count and a long count from the referee during his knockdown by Mike Tyson in the eighth round of their Tokyo title bout. But that was the referee’s fault, not his. And in that the fighter is not responsible for the referee… Octavio Meyran Sanchez, the Mexican referee acknowledged his mistake in relaying the timekeeper’s count.”

This fight was the biggest upset in boxing history since Jimmy Braddock beat Max Baer in 1935.

Promoter Don King moved to have the Douglas win struck from the record books. He claimed Douglas had gotten a “long count” in round 8, which was true. The IBF stuck with Douglas as the new champion. The WBA and WBC, however, withheld recognition pending further review of the fight tape. In the end, all three sanctioning organizations recognized Douglas as the titleholder. Pressure had been applied by the moneymen that run the sport of boxing. Doubt and confusion were not good for business.

A rematch between the two men was of course demanded by the public but never happened. In the interim, Douglas signed to meet Evander Holyfield at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 25, 1990. Don King was out of the picture for this fight. Buster was suing to get out of his contract with King. He had to pay him four million dollars to let Steve Wynn promote this fight. Buster rolled into Wynn’s place weighing close to 246 two hundred pounds, 15 pounds more than for the fight with Tyson. The headline in the newspapers was, “Douglas Stunned The World Then He Got Fat!”

When Holyfield’s trainer Lou Duva saw Douglas he said, “Roll him in and carry him out!” And that’s just what they did. Holyfield hit him on the button in round 3 and Douglas never even tried to get up. He just lay there looking up at the ceiling lights. Holyfield was the new champion and the Tyson-Douglas rematch never happened.

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Mike Tyson VS James Buster Douglas 1990-02-11

Gene Tunney -vs- Jack Dempsey II (Rare 16mm Long Count Film)

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  1. Charley 08:00pm, 12/16/2018

    I just watched the fight.  This story is complete BS.  The count could have been a little long, but 14 seconds is 5 more than he counted, and I counted with him, there was no pause or hesitation with the exception of one point where he looked over his shoulder… probably maybe a half a second at most..  JBD was waiting for the count, he would have got up sooner but being a smart fighter he didnt until about 8…This is all wishful thinking for Tyson lovers.  IMT got his A kicked period.  The reach and Buster’s quick jabs were simply too much for him.  Mike just wasnt prepared to fight JBD and got dominated for 8 of 9 rounds easy. Once knocked down he was out on his feet.  We need to give JBD the respect he deserves.  At least for one night, he was the greatest fighter in the world.

  2. nicolas 09:32am, 07/30/2015

    Douglas seemed to be watching the count, much as Tunney did I feel those many years earlier. this was a smart decision by both boxers, though it could have spelled disaster for both fighters if they had misheard the count, as has happened to some boxers like Jerry Quarry in his match with George Chuvalo. Had both fights not had long counts, I think both men would have gotten up without the controversies. I think of both fighters though, Tunney might have been in bigger trouble of getting decked again or stopped as there was more time in the round.

  3. Mike Casey 07:37am, 07/30/2015

    I have always believed that Mike never truly wanted to fight again after Tokyo. But we all know what happened!

  4. Pete The Sneak 04:01am, 07/30/2015

    Thanks Norman for bringing back this great boxing memory…While I don’t really put much emphasis on the ‘Long Count’ Buster received, I still remember the feeling I had after seeing that finishing awesome uppercut and vicious right hand Buster threw that did Tyson in. It was literally incredible seeing Tyson on the ground searching for his mouthpiece and then putiing it into his mouth rather askew while the ref counted him out. My only grumble about this fight was that it took place in Tokyo. Don’t get me wrong, Tokyo is a great place, however the fans there are not boisterous or loud. I remember not really hearing any crowd noise after this monumental upset, other than the Douglas camp in the ring…Can you imagine if this would have happened in Madison Square Garden, or a fully packed Staples Center or some venue like that here in the states? Man, it would have been really something to have seen those crowds go wild after witnessing the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ having his ass handed to him by a journeyman boxer. Great stuff indeed…Peace.

  5. Joe Masterleo 03:07am, 07/30/2015

    Tyson was teetering on the brink of a big-time demise anyway, so ripe for a fall that had he pulled-off the Douglas fight, long count or not, Lady Gaga could have beat him in his next bout.  No, wait.  Make that the aging (and ageless) Tony Bennett, Gaga’s stage-performing side-kick of late.  Recall, while training for Douglas in Tokyo, Tyson’s sparring partners pasted him pretty good, even knocking the champ to the canvas on one occasion—only the start of Tyson’s affinity for the canvas. Mike didn’t leave his heart in San Francisco, a la the Bennett classic, he left it in Tokyo, and never found it again.

  6. Underdog 10:04pm, 07/29/2015

    Great recap of an unbelievable event in the sport of boxing! However, by definition, there’s no such thing as a long count in boxing.  The rules say the referee needs to count to 10 - that does not mean 10 seconds as some infer.  Referees with speech impediments could lead to the rules being rewritten but AFAIK it hasn’t been a problem so far! lol

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 05:06pm, 07/29/2015

    For that one night Buster was the greatest fist fighter in the world. The finishing combo was an absolute thing of beauty.

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