Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas

Tyson Is Back!
Tyson douglas.jpg
Date February 11, 1990
Venue Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan
Title(s) on the line WBA, WBC, IBF, lineal heavyweight titles
Tale of the tape
Boxer United States Mike Tyson United States James Douglas
Nickname "Iron" "Buster"
Hometown Catskill, New York Columbus, Ohio
Pre-fight record 37–0 29–4–1 (1)
Height 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) 6 ft 4 in (1.93 m)
Weight 220 lb (100 kg) 231 lb (105 kg)
Style Orthodox Orthodox
Recognition WBA/WBC/IBF/lineal undisputed heavyweight champion IBF
No. 2 Ranked Heavyweight
No. 3 Ranked Heavyweight
No. 4 Ranked Heavyweight
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[1][2] Douglas. The fight is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history.[3][4][5][6] Japanese paid £5 million to the boxing officials for the privilege of staging Mike Tyson's fight in Tokyo.[7]


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;[2] 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).[2][8] 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.[6][9] Additionally, the mother of his son was facing a severe kidney ailment, and he had contracted the flu on the day before the fight.[9]


From the beginning of the fight it was apparent that Douglas was not afraid. He displayed a lot of spring and life in his body movement and he 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.

After a lackluster and ineffectual 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".

In the middle rounds Tyson managed to land a few of his signature uppercuts, but Douglas was still dominating the fight. Tyson's left eye began to swell from Douglas' right jabs. 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. Douglas got up after a 9-second count (the validity of which Tyson promoter Don King would later argue in vain).[10]

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. 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 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 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.


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.[11] 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.[12][13] 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.[14]

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.

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.[15] 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.[16] Despite rumours of a rematch with Tyson throughout the 1990s,[17][18][19] 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."[20] The fight is often ranked among the biggest upsets in sports history.[21][22][23][24]

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.


Country Broadcaster
 United States HBO


  1. ^ "'The Moments': Mike Tyson vs Buster Douglas". East Side Boxing.com. 2005-12-07. Archived from the original on 2010-11-30. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  2. ^ a b c "Douglas' knockout of Tyson still resonates 20 years later". Time Inc. 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  3. ^ "Greatest Upsets In Sports History". Time Inc. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  4. ^ "Sports' All-Time Greatest Upsets". NYDailyNews.com. 2009-07-08. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  5. ^ "The List: Biggest Upsets". ESPN Internet Venures. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  6. ^ a b "Timeline James "Buster" Douglas". The Columbus Dispatch. 2007-06-08. Archived from the original on 2011-05-23. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  8. ^ "This Month In Boxing History: Buster Douglas – Mike Tyson 1990". Saddo Boxing. 2006-02-16. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  9. ^ a b "Douglas reflects on upset, talks Pacquiao-Mayweather, MMA". Time Inc. 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2010-08-24.
  10. ^ Solotaroff, Ivan (2010-08-10). "Everything You Think You Know About Mike Tyson Is Wrong". Details. Retrieved 2012-09-06.
  11. ^ Berger, Phil (1990-02-12). "Boxing Officials Could Overturn Defeat of Tyson". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  12. ^ "What They Really Meant to Say Was..." Los Angeles Times. 1990-02-14. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  13. ^ Berger, Phil (1990-02-14). "Tyson Concedes; Wants Rematch". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  14. ^ Rosenthal, Michael (March 12, 2010). "Where Does Pacquiao Rank All Time". The Ring. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  15. ^ Berger, Phil (1990-10-26). "Holyfield Flattens Douglas and Takes the Title". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  16. ^ "Douglas reflects on upset, talks Pacquiao-Mayweather, MMA". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  17. ^ Kram, Mark (1990-02-14). "Buster Beats The Count Debate; Rematch Likely". Philly.com. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  18. ^ Raissman, Bob (1999-07-21). "TYSON-DOUGLAS REMATCH IN WORKS". New York Daily News. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  19. ^ "Douglas wants rematch with Tyson". Bangor Daily News. 1995-02-21. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  20. ^ "Apex: Tyson reduces Spinks to dust". ESPN. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  21. ^ "The List: Biggest upsets". ESPN. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  22. ^ Davies, Gareth (2010-02-11). "Feb 11 1990: the night James Buster Douglas shocked world with Mike Tyson knockout". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-09-20.
  23. ^ "The 10 Biggest Upsets In Heavyweight Title Fight History". EastSideBoxing. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  24. ^ "Greatest Upsets In Sports History". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 20 September 2011.

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