Inspirational Athletes

James "Buster" Douglas

The date was February 11, 1990. The place was Tokyo, Japan. James "Buster" Douglas was standing in the ring, about to face undefeated heavyweight champion Mike Tyson for the title.

No one was giving Buster a chance to win. In fact, people were just watching to see how quickly and in what brutal fashion Mike Tyson would dispose of yet another challenger to his title. This was simply another opportunity for the 37-0 champion to let everyone know how he was "The Baddest Man on the Planet," a man who was leaps and bounds better than anyone else in the world. Mike was considered so accomplished and so dominant, that he was a 42-1 betting underdog to win the fight--an astronomically high number for a championship boxing match. Buster was, in most people's minds, a wolf being thrown into the ring with a lion.

Coming into the fight, Mike Tyson was already a boxing legend at the age of 23, noted for his amazing combination of speed and power, as well as his ferocity, determination, and extreme skill. He took up boxing at the age of 13, and it didn't take him long to make an impact on others. Noted trainer Cus D'Amato was so impressed with the young fighter, that he immediately began molding him into a future champion. Mike's demanding training regimen, coupled with his violence-filled upbringing in the toughest part of Brooklyn, helped develop him into a skilled, fit, and disciplined fighting machine with a street-thug mentality. By age 20, he was a world champion. The next few years saw him obliterate one opponent after another, including quick, brutal knockouts of Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks--both former champions who had never been stopped before as pros. By the time Mike faced Buster Douglas, boxing fans had become accustomed to watching Mike destroy anyone who was put in front of him. It seemed unlikely that anyone in the division could be a threat to such a dominant champion--and it was actually considered an accomplishment for an opponenet of his to make it out of round three without getting KO'd. Most experts didn't even think Buster Douglas would last one round.

Coming into the fight, Buster Douglas was a legitimate heavyweight contender, but no more than that. Although he possessed talent, his didn't really seem like the type to make much use of his talent. His record of 29-4-1 suggested that he was nothing special, and in his biggest fight--a 1987 match against the undefeated Tony Tucker--Buster started to fade in the middle rounds, and almost seemed to give up en route to a tenth round TKO loss. Many wondered if he took his fight career seriously. He did, however, manage to put together a six fight win streak after that loss, which got him the opportunity to fight for the undisputed title.

At the time, Mike Tyson had virtually cleaned out the heavyweight division, leaving very few real challengers left. The number one contender was an up-and-comer by the name of Evander Holyfield, a former Olympic gold medalist that Mike was eager to face. But fight promoter Don King convinced Mike to take on Buster Douglas for a quick payday. It would be Tyson Vs. Douglas in the Tyson-crazed city of Tokyo--and although the fight was for the heavyweight title, everyone considered it a mere tune-up for Mike, and an appetizer for the upcoming Tyson-Holyfield showdown.

Everyone considered the Tyson-Douglas to be more like an exhibition match than an actual title fight. Everyone, that is, except for Buster and his trainer. Totally intent and focused on destroying the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson, Buster began training with a determination that he had never had up until that point, as he prepared to fight the fight of his lifetime against the undefeated champion. Although no one took notice, Buster was having the best training camp of his career, and also looking unusually slim and fit.

But while the challenger was undergoing by far the best training camp of his career, the unthinkable happened. Three weeks before the fight, his mother died of a stroke. Buster, who was very close to his mother, was devastated by the news, and his handlers seriously considered calling the fight off.

But Buster would hear no part of it. He continued his quest, eager to go on with the fight. The death of his mother only added to his emotion and motivation as the fight date approached.

Shortly later, Buster suffered another blow to his personal life when his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child was diagnosed with a terminal illness. But still, Buster remained undaunted. And even when he developed a major bout of the flu shortly before the fight, his unrelenting dedication remained. He remained determined to go to Japan, fight the fight of his lifetime, and defeat Mike Tyson.

And so, after all of the anticipation and ordeals, the time had finally come, and Buster was standing in the ring in Tokyo, about to face "the baddest man on the planet," a man who virtually everyone on earth felt Buster had no chance of beating. But Buster was convinced that he had more than a chance, and that under his own self-reliance and *autexousiousness, he could take the title from the champion. But far from having false sense of confidence, Buster realized that Mike was a determined and dangerous champion, and that a mistake against him could be disastrous. He planned to take Mike down piece by piece, and break his seemingly unbreakable will.

From the onset of the fight, Buster asserted himself. Having a major size advantage, he kept his distance and threw a barrage of punches that prevented Mike from getting inside or establishing a rhythm. His punches were getting through, and he tagged Mike with several good shots in the opening round.

Buster continued his assault. It became quite clear to observers that he was intent on bringing the fight to Mike Tyson. Viewers were surprised over Busterís early performance, but everyone was still waiting for Mike to land a big shot and knock out the overmatched Buster. But Buster was focused and motivated. He was fighting a magnificent and masterful fight.

Mike Tyson, to his credit, would not get discouraged, even though matters seemed to be getting worse for him as the early to mid rounds progressed. Mike was a champion who would try every strategy he knew to try to take his opponent out. He knew that his opponent was game, and realized that he had to get things going as he struggled against a contender he was supposed to easily dominate.

Although Buster was repeatedly landing lots of big punches on Mike, Mike kept on coming back and trying all the strategies that allowed him to defeat his previous 37 opponents; and in fact, had begun to slightly turn the tides in the sixth and seventh round.

It was becoming a competitive fight, and it became obvious to Buster that even though he was landing plenty of hard and solid punches, it was not going to be easy to finish the job. Mike would not go down without a vicious and brutal fight, and he had no intentions of letting the challenger take his title easily.

James Buster Dougals vs. Mike Tyson (Illustrator: Thomas Mesenbring Field)

By the mid rounds, a classic battle had unfolded between two resilient warriors who refused to quitóa long shot challenger who seemed to have many answers to what his heavily favored opponent was presenting him with.

And after having accumulated so many landed punches over the duration of the fight, Buster soon made the outcome of the fight in doubt even to the staunchest Mike Tyson supporters, especially since the champís left eye continued to swell immensely from Busterís punches as the fight went on.

A determined-to-win Buster Douglas would not quit his assault for a moment. He knew he had to keep the pressure on Mike at all times, because Mike had shown throughout his career that he could be an extremely dangerous fighter in any round.

Finally, it happened in the eighth round. One of the fighters went down.

Unfortunately for Buster, it was him.

Mike had finally found an opening and managed to get through. Buster had slightly lost focus and let up for just a short moment, and that was all Mike needed. He landed a clean and brutal uppercut right in the closing seconds of the round, sending Buster crashing to the canvas, and most likely sending Busterís hopes of winning the fight crashing down with him. Buster pounded his fist on the canvas while down as if to say that he was more disappointed than hurt, though he barely managed to beat the count of ten.

The round ended when Buster got up, and both fighters went to their corners. The remainder of the fight, however, now seemed like a mere formality.

After all, Mike was a tremendous and brutal finisher who never let anyone off the hook, and was by all estimations expected to quickly dispose of Buster in the ninth round. It seemed as if Busterís career performance had run its course, and that the fight would still end just like everyone expected: Tyson by KO.

Round nine turned out to be the ultimate test of Busterís will. Mike began the round by coming straight at Buster, intent on finishing off the seemingly hurt challenger as soon as possible. And truth be told, even if Buster did succumb to Mikeís early round-nine barrages and went down, nobody would have thought the less of him for it. Just the fact that he had lasted so long and done so well up to that point was reason enough for celebration, and would have been considered a more than respectable effort that would have elevated Busterís ranking by leaps and bounds.

But Buster had no intentions of settling for a consolation prize. He was convinced that he would win the fight, and he was intent on seeing it out to the end. The fact that he was knocked down in round eight only increased his intensity and focus.

Then in perhaps one of the greatest and most shocking rounds in all of boxing history, Buster survived Mikeís early round-nine attack, reestablished himself and took over the fight by mid-round, and put the champ on the end of a brutal beating as roundís final minute was progressing. Suddenly, it seemed possible that the 37-0 champion could go down soon.

Mike managed to survive the ninth. But in the tenth, Buster really went in for the killóand finally, in the middle of the round, a tremendous uppercut followed by a three-punch combination took Mike Tyson down for the first time in his professional career.

Mike was severely dazed. The thunderous combination had him hurt badly. He tried to get up. He got to his hands and knees, and struggled to find his mouthpiece and put it in his mouth.

Although he was desperately trying to beat the count of ten and save his title, Mike could not do it. He could not beat the count.

The unthinkable had happened. James "Buster" Douglas had knocked out Mike Tyson and become the new heavyweight champion of the world.

Busterís team quickly ran into the ring to celebrate the victory. This was one of the hugest upsets in all of sports history.

In the emotional post-fight interview that followed, Buster dedicated the fight to his late mother, whom he called his "best friend." His heroic and touching story made him an instant world hero, and a "David beats Goliath" type figure that was plastered all over the media. In fact, there was even a James "Buster" Douglas Knockout Boxing video game released shortly after the win, as video game manufacturers no doubt figured it might reach the success of the best-selling boxing game released three years earlier: Mike Tysonís Punch Out.

But despite all the newfound success, Busterís boxing career and life quickly took a bad turn. In his first title defense, a seemingly unmotivated Buster reverted to his old ways and was promptly knocked out by challenger Evander Holyfield in three rounds. Busterís listless effort also made him the laughing stock of the boxing community, which had high expectations of him after his tremendous fight against Tyson.

And matters got much worse after that, as Buster would soon be battling an opponent that almost took him out for good: his bad lifestyle habits.

He took his nearly $20 million purse from the Holyfield fight and stopped boxing, stopped exercising, and began eating like there was no tomorrow. He ballooned to nearly 400 pounds, sending him into a diabetic coma and on the verge of death.

When Buster got out of the comma, he knew he needed to make a change. He improved his eating habits, and went back to the gym and began training again.

This one was a comeback unlike most of the others scattered throughout sports history. The man who once owned the most prized title in all of sports just several years ago was now in the gym chasing a goal of reaching a lower weight just to remain alive.

Drawing upon the spirit and lessons of his win over Mike Tyson, Buster gradually improved his condition as he fought his way out of his unhealthful state, and dropped a tremendous amount of excessive weight. In fact, a much-improved and renewed Buster progressed so much in his recovery that he began a boxing comeback in 1996.

Although he never fought for the title again, Buster managed to go a very respectable 8-1 in his comeback, before retiring once again in 1999. And despite the fact that his comeback from a coma did not meet as much fanfare as his dramatic knockout of Mike Tyson, those who have closely observed Buster throughout his life can attest that it was equally as impressive as that memorable night in 1990 when he shocked the world.


Inspirational Athletes