Tyson vs. Douglas—Still the Shock Principle

By Marc Livitz on February 14, 2018
Tyson vs. Douglas—Still the Shock Principle
We still flocked to see him fight, even after he lost. Tyson still mattered. (Getty Images)

What was your initial reaction when you heard the news that Mike Tyson had been knocked out by a fighter named James “Buster” Douglas?

The Information Age, technological advances and the rise of social media have spoiled us as a society, whether we’d like to admit it or not. Of course, there are still many among us who like to manage our checkbooks by hand, carry cash instead of a debit card or remember when if you made a phone call to a friend and there was no answer, then you simply lived with it and couldn’t fathom leaving a spoken message on a machine. Breaking news was subjected to the same type of limitations and as is the case today, not much can beat the simple word of mouth. So, for those of us who are old (and therefore wise) enough to remember, what was your initial reaction when you heard the news that Mike Tyson had been knocked out by a fighter named James “Buster” Douglas?

This past Saturday marked 28 years since a 42-1 underdog from Columbus, Ohio shocked not only this planet, but perhaps the Martians as well. Granted, the fight was televised on HBO in the United States, yet 1990 was still a time when one didn’t need cable TV at home in order to get acceptable reception across our respective screens. Such is not the case today, as monopolistic companies have cornered the market and practically sent free TV well past the endangered state. That and the conversion to a digital signal, of course.

The unexpected, unimaginable tenth round knockout loss by Mike Tyson on February 11, 1990 in Tokyo, Japan still remains the single most shocking upset in the history of boxing, or does it? This is where the reader can jog his or her memory for what could possibly top it.

His defeat at the hands of James “Buster” Douglas almost 30 years ago is still very much a “flash bulb” type of moment for those of us who saw it live on television. The bout took place at the Tokyo Dome and Douglas was almost as much of a numerical underdog as the total number of our fingers, toes and teeth. None of us were well accustomed to an “Iron” Mike Tyson bout going deep into our respective evenings, save for perhaps Tony Tucker (who gallantly rode the full twelve with Mike but lost a wide decision) or James “Bonecrusher” Smith, who in effect hugged Tyson for the bulk of thirty-six minutes.

The man who would often come to the ring in a towel with a hole cut into it as a makeshift robe was not only beaten but beaten up as well by the man from Columbus, Ohio long before a kid named LeBron became the state’s favorite son. Just for that one night (or morning) in Japan or wherever we happened to be, the result became the talk of the town. No one forgot about Mike after he was handed his first defeat and he was perhaps even more popular after he “visited” a certain correctional facility in the Midwest for part of the mid 90’s. We still flocked to see him fight, even after he lost. He was still important and he still mattered. The egg may have left his loss column, but we still were fascinated by him.

There remain many who feel that the loss to Douglas wasn’t so much a devastating loss, but rather a direct result of a loss of focus and drive. Such was the case when “Buster” made the first defense of the undisputed heavyweight championship he’d wrested from Tyson. The unexpected death of his mother, by Douglas’s own admission, was much of the driving force during his training to face Mike Tyson. He showed up in Tokyo a determined man, while Tyson showed up for another payday. This is in direct contrast with the approach taken by the new champion, as evidenced when he stepped on the scales the following October to face Evander Holyfield. He looked awful and the next night, he fought the same way. He was able to take home close to $25 million for his troubles and while we’d see or hear of him from time to time, his reign was over.

Share your memories. Let them out because after all, this will always be etched in our memories. A fight which took place early in the morning in Japan so American audiences could watch it in prime time.

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  1. Alfonso Bedoya 02:08pm, 02/16/2018

    If Mike didn’t cannibalize his way out in the Holyfield return he would have ended his career with six losses all KOs! Still….he wasn’t chinny….he just couldn’t get out of the way of those hellacious flush shots….even McBride landed some nasty uppercuts even after Mike tried to pull his arm out of its socket!

  2. Buck Wild 11:31am, 02/15/2018

    It is funny how a defeated fighter seems to almost shrink right before your eyes and the victor seems to grow in stature. George Plimpton said that when George Foreman started bouncing Frazier off the canvas like a basketball, that Frazier went from looking like an indestructible tank to someone rather “tubby” and foolish looking. Meanwhile Plimpton said that Foreman became even more menacing, even larger standing over the fallen Frazier.  That photo of Tyson does the same thing for me. Tyson was built like a rhino but in the picture above, fumbling around for his mouthpiece, he indeed looks somewhat fleshy, not the mountain of chiseled granite that had destroyed anyone placed in front of him.

  3. Steve 09:06am, 02/15/2018

    I would say that Buster, had he maintained that demeanor his whole career had the potential to be a force to reckon with. I judged his last fight in Burlington Ia. He’d been on a winning streak but when I saw him alone in his dressing room he looked done. He ended up winning against Andre Crowder and that’s all we ever heard of him. He wasn’t the kind to blow money so I am sure he’s doing OK

  4. Buck Wild 08:38pm, 02/14/2018

    They say a man with nothing to lose is a dangerous man, and that night, Buster had absolutely nothing to lose. He was a huge 42-1 underdog who had just lost his mother. He was indeed a man on a mission that night. Buster was accused of having some “dog” in him and was looked at as a quitter when things got tough. I believe his mother’s death was the spark that pushed him on to victory here.

    I would say this was the second biggest upset that I personally watched play out. I would say the first Ali-Spinks fight was a bigger upset even though the odds against Spinks were nowhere near 42-1. Buster might have been played cheap considering that Tyson had proven to have trouble with much taller fighters. While Ali was shot, Spinks was still just a neophyte and not even a 200lb heavyweight when he took the title, going up against the greatest heavyweight of all time.

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