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Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas
|Date||February 11, 1990|
|Venue||Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan|
|Title(s) on the line||WBA, WBC, IBF, lineal heavyweight titles|
|Tale of the tape|
|Douglas wins by knockout in round 10|
Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas, billed as Tyson Is Back!, was a professional boxing match that occurred at the Tokyo Dome on February 11, 1990. The event is historically significant, as the then-undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion Tyson lost by knockout to the 42–1 underdog Douglas. The fight is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Japan paid $6 million to the boxing officials for the privilege of staging Mike Tyson's fight in Tokyo.
Going into the fight, Mike Tyson was the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He held the WBC, WBA, and IBF titles. Despite the several controversies that marked Tyson's profile at the time, such as his controversial—and, allegedly, abusive—relationship with Robin Givens, the contractual battles between longtime manager Bill Cayton and promoter Don King, and Tyson's departure from longtime trainer Kevin Rooney, Tyson was still dominant in the ring, scoring a 93-second knockout against Carl "The Truth" Williams in his previous fight. Most considered this fight to be a warm-up bout for Tyson before meeting up with then-undefeated number 1 heavyweight contender Evander Holyfield (who was ringside for the fight). Tyson was viewed as such a dominant heavyweight that he was not only viewed as the world's top heavyweight, but often as the number one fighter in the world pound-for-pound (including by Ring Magazine), a rarity for heavyweights.
Buster Douglas was ranked as the #7 heavyweight by Ring Magazine, and had met with mixed success in his professional boxing career up to that point. His previous title fight was against Tony Tucker in 1987, in which he was TKO'd in the 10th round. However, a string of six consecutive wins gave him the opportunity to fight Tyson. In the time leading up to the fight, Douglas faced a number of setbacks, including the death of his mother, Lula Pearl, 23 days before the fight. Additionally, the mother of his son was facing a severe kidney ailment, and he had contracted the flu on the day before the fight.
HBO boxing analysts Larry Merchant and Jim Lampley expected to see "another 90-second annihilation." (When asked by a Japanese customs official how long he expected to be working in Japan, Ed Schuyler of the Associated Press replied, "Oh, about ninety seconds.") Instead of discussing Douglas's chances against Tyson, Merchant and Lampley compared their pets: Tyson had a white pitbull named "Duran" (after his idol Roberto Durán) while Douglas had a beagle named "Shakespeare." Merchant, after saying that "this fight is over before it begins or soon thereafter" and describing Douglas as "just another frozen tuna" from the Tokyo fish market, opined that "any prizefighter with a dog named Shakespeare can be all-bad." In an interview given to HBO prior to the fight, Douglas told reporters that his favorite Shakespeare play was the romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Lampley suggested that if Tyson were asked the same question (assuming he had read Shakespeare), he would chose something more bloody and violent, such as Henry the Fifth or Macbeth.
From the beginning of the fight it was apparent that Douglas was not afraid. As an initial surprise, Douglas displayed a lot of spring in his body movement and wasn't cautious in letting his punches fly whenever he saw the opportunity to attack Tyson. He used his quick and accurate jab to prevent Tyson from getting inside, where Tyson was most dangerous. When Tyson tried to get inside, Douglas tied him up, moved away, or would immediately hit Tyson with multiple punches as Tyson came within Douglas' range. Early on Douglas was more agile than Tyson and outlanded Tyson in exchanges. Douglas finished the second round with a snappy uppercut to Tyson's chin.
Seeming to regain his form, Tyson landed a punishing left to the body that had Douglas look at his corner. After an ineffectual and lackluster third round, Tyson cornerman Jay Bright screamed at his fighter "Don't just stand there and look at him, you've gotta work!" Boxer "Sugar" Ray Leonard, at ringside doing commentary for HBO, noted Douglas' dominance with the jab and right hand and said Tyson was having one of those occasional days in the ring where "you just don't have it...things just don't click in".
Douglas would still dominate the middle rounds although Tyson managed to land a few of his signature uppercuts. Tyson was wobbled by a chopping right during the fifth round. Soon, Tyson's left eye would begin to swell from Douglas' right jabs, preventing him from seeing his opponent's punches well. Tyson's cornermen were caught unprepared; they hadn't brought an endswell or ice packs, usually standard equipment for a fight. Instead, they filled a rubber glove with ice water and held it on Tyson's eye between rounds. At one point Aaron Snowell, Tyson's primary cornerman caught the chain from the identification badge hanging from his neck between the iced glove and Tyson's eye. As Snowell moved, Tyson winced in pain as the chain dragged from one side of his injured eye to the other. Confusion and panic grew in his corner as the fight went on. Despite Tyson's inability to execute an effective fight plan, his corner continued to give him the same advice between rounds to move his head, jab his way inside and deliver a right hand. In the eighth round, a round Douglas dominated until the last few seconds, HBO's Larry Merchant noted "Douglas is asking of Tyson, some questions he hasn't been asked before...in the last few rounds of a fight you have to come back and win it."
Within the last 10 seconds of the 8th round, Tyson, who had been backed onto the ropes, landed a big right uppercut that sent Douglas to the canvas. Although the knockdown timekeeper began when Douglas's backside touched the ring's surface, the referee was said to have started his own count behind by two beats. Douglas rose as the referee signaled nine, but the bell ended the round. In obvious annoyance at his own lapse, Douglas pounded his left fist on the mat. Tyson promoter Don King would later argue the validity of the referee count in vain.
In the dramatic 9th round Tyson came out aggressively to end the fight and save his title, hoping that Douglas was still hurt from the 8th-round knockdown. Douglas was able to fight off Tyson's attack and was able to close Tyson's eye completely. Both men traded punches before Douglas connected on a four-punch combination that staggered Tyson back to the ropes. With Tyson hurt along the ropes, Douglas closed in and unleashed a vicious four-punch attack to try to knock Tyson out. Tyson tried to fight Douglas off but it was in vain. Douglas continued to land hard punches on Tyson as the round came to a close. Tyson withstood the punishment and barely survived the 9th round.
In the tenth round Tyson pushed forward to fight, but he was still seriously hurting from the accumulation of punishment given throughout the match. As Tyson walked forward, Douglas measured him with a few jabs before landing a devastating uppercut that snapped Tyson's head upward, stopping Tyson in his tracks. As Tyson began to reel back from the uppercut, Douglas immediately followed with four punches to the head, knocking Tyson down for the first time in his career. In a famous scene, Tyson fumbled for his mouthpiece on the canvas before sticking one end in his mouth with the other end hanging out. The champion attempted to make it back to his feet to continue fighting but referee Octavio Meyran counted him out. Buster Douglas thus became the new undisputed heavyweight champion and the fight became one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. The official scorecards through nine rounds were 87–86 for Tyson, 86–86 even, and 88–83 for Douglas.
During the post fight interview, Douglas broke down in tears when asked why he was able to win this fight when no one thought he could. "Because of my mother...God bless her heart" said the emotional new Heavyweight Champion.
Merchant concluded that it was the expulsion of Kevin Rooney (who still rooted for Tyson every time he watched him fighting despite their split,) which led to the stunning knockout loss. Merchant said that Tyson needed Rooney much the same way Muhammad Ali needed Angelo Dundee. Merchant speculated that with Rooney in his corner, Tyson would have managed to end the fight on his feet, and to change the tide of the fight to his benefit, exactly as in the Tucker fight, after he was rocked in the first round but with Rooney's help he weathered the storm and came back determined to win, outboxing his opponent. Butch Lewis shared the same opinion, believing that after finally got rid of Rooney, Tyson found himself in a situation where there's no man to secure compliance with the training regimen and a normal daily routine for him, telling him "Back on track, Mike!" when needed. So did Jerry Izenberg, who commented:
They assemble a corner for that fight which looks like it was picked up out of the semi-finals of the Intercity Golden Gloves.
Surprisingly, both Japanese judges scored most of the fight in favor of Tyson (Ken Morita: 87–86, and Masakazu Uchida: 86–86 respectively). The only American judge Larry Rozadilla had Douglas leading on points 88–82. That means that if the fight would have gone the full distance, Tyson had considerable chances to win via the majority decision or at least to score a draw.
In the in-ring celebration, Douglas' 11-year-old son, Lamar, wearing a Buster Douglas cap, was hoisted onto his father's shoulders. As a 30-1 underdog, Douglas earned $1.3 million from the fight while Tyson got $6 million.
In the immediate aftermath of the fight Tyson's camp, led by Don King, protested the result, claiming that Douglas had been given a long count by referee Octavio Meyran. The WBA and WBC initially agreed and suspended recognition of Douglas as champion, although the IBF immediately accepted that the result was valid. After a public outcry and demands from boxing commissions around the world that they acknowledge Douglas as the champion, the protest was withdrawn and Douglas' win was recognised four days after the fight. In spite of Douglas' inspired and dominant performance, a sizable number of boxing fans viewed the fight outcome as an aberration, leading to interest in a rematch.
In an HBO studio interview with Merchant the following week, Douglas admitted the protest and post fight confusion ruined what should have been the best time of his life.
At the time of the fight, Don King was said to have been negotiating for Tyson's next fight to be in the fall in Berlin against former champion Greg Page, who decked Tyson while sparring with him three weeks before the Douglas fight. A future Mike Tyson versus George Foreman promoted by the Sultan of Brunei was also shelved.
Plans for a rematch fell through, so Douglas' first title defence was against #1 contender Evander Holyfield. An overweight Douglas, weighing 14 1/2 lbs more than the Tyson fight, was knocked out by Holyfield in the third round. Douglas retired after the fight. Six years later he launched a comeback after almost dying in a diabetic coma and won a few fights against journeyman opposition. He fought for the last time in 1999. Despite rumours of a rematch with Tyson throughout the 1990s, they never faced each other again.
Tyson would fight four more times after the Douglas fight before being convicted of raping beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington in 1991. Following his release from the Indiana Youth Center in 1995 he quickly regained the WBA and WBC world titles, before losing them to Holyfield and was never again a world champion. He fought on sporadically for another decade and lost in another title challenge against Lennox Lewis in 2002. He retired from boxing in 2005 after consecutive losses to journeymen.
Buster Douglas went down in sports lore as a prize fighter that defied the odds to accomplish one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Among the honors was a cover photo on an issue of Sports Illustrated with the title, "Rocky Lives!" after the popular film series about a similarly underestimated boxing hero. For Tyson, though he retained a menacing aura for years afterwards, "the mystique of the untouchable, invincible 'Baddest Man on the Planet' had been shattered." The fight is often ranked among the biggest upsets in sports history.
The fight appeared in the Mike Tyson Mysteries episode "Help a Brother Out."
In popular culture
The fight is referenced in The Killers song "Tyson vs. Douglas", which also features audio of the commentators for the fight.
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KO1 Carl Williams
| Mike Tyson's bouts
February 11, 1990
KO1 Henry Tillman
W10 Oliver McCall
| Buster Douglas' bouts
February 11, 1990
KOby3 Evander Holfield
W12 Donald Curry
| The Ring Magazine Upset of the Year
KO8 Jeff Fenech*
Mike Tyson vs. Frank Bruno
| KO Magazine Round of the Year
Chris Eubank vs. Michael Watson II
This was in 1992, as no award in 1991.
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