Tyson vs Douglas: One Night In Tokyo
“The man’s mother died, and he turned that into the focus of his dedication and commitment. You prepare to succeed or you prepare to fail. Buster Douglas prepared to succeed, Tyson failed to prepare to succeed.” Don King told ESPN what went wrong and what went right on that memorable night in Tokyo in 1990.
James ‘Buster’ Douglas the 42-1 outsider with no hope, did the seemingly impossible and removed forever the unbeatable myth that surrounded Mike Tyson. Unbeaten in 37 fights and only 23, the best years still seemed ahead of him.
But Tyson was falling apart in full view, personal woes sent him over the edge and spiralling into oblivion. It was always coming, repeated indiscretions of various levels were covered up with signatures on a cheque. The fall was always likely, it was when it would happen not if. The loss in Tokyo was most definitely a shock, but it had been coming. If no opponent could beat Tyson, he would beat himself. He did it in some style.
With an appetite for sex and other such vices rather than honing his body for a prizefight, Tyson headed to Japan kicking and screaming and with little motivation. The partying didn’t stop, with no imminent threat insight to end his era of boxing dominance, Tyson was on a roll, he didn’t see the need to change. He almost certainly didn’t want to. King sensing what might happen offered Tyson a financial reward if he reached his normal fighting weight. Tyson said in his autobiography that he had soup that was supposed to burn off the excess fat, but then followed it up with a main course of sex with the many cleaning maids that were on offer. The more conventional form of training was rare, a public sparring session was so bad, it was stopped after a few rounds.
Out of shape, lacking in focus, Greg Page dropped him in sparring, it was written off as a publicity stunt to boost flagging ticket sales. It was anything but. Everyone ignored the warnings.
Despite the signs of obvious decline from the fighter who destroyed Michael Spinks in 1988, nobody expected Douglas to be the one to inflict such a seismic shock in the world of Don King.
Douglas was branded a ‘dog’ a quitter, King chose him for that reason. A big lucrative fight with Evander Holyfield loomed, it could not be risked. Douglas was there for a reason. Even the money men knew Tyson needed protecting.
The potential was always there with Douglas, he just never realised it. Early defeats hid plenty, a loss to Tony Tucker in 1987 for the IBF heavyweight title showed far more. Ahead on points, Douglas seemed to unravel mentally as Tucker rallied just enough to stop Douglas in 10 rounds. The ‘dog’ tag intensified. Even his own father Bill, a once-respected middleweight labelled him a quitter after the apparent surrender against Tucker.
But the Ohio native managed to put a few wins together to put himself in a position to be nominated the preconceived sacrificial lamb to Tyson. The wins didn’t convince but they served their purpose.
Douglas beset by the death of his mother so close to the fight with Tyson, trained with real purpose. Motivated by grief, this was a Douglas we hadn’t seen before, or would ever see again. Tyson was the redemption Douglas needed.
Tyson wasn’t the rampaging Tyson of old, but Douglas was inspired. Many forget how good ‘Buster’ Douglas was in Tokyo. For sure Tyson was self-destructing, but Douglas was exceptional, and even on a good night, Tyson may have struggled. On this night Douglas was that good.
From the start Douglas dominated, Tyson, expected a quick night, but he found an opponent who hadn’t come to fall. Douglas hadn’t read the script. He had come to fight.
A right uppercut in the 8th round had Douglas on the brink of defeat. He scrambled to his feet, barely beating the count, he followed the count of the referee and that was all he was obliged to do. The count was 9.9, he was lucky. Tyson had his moment, but on this night there would be quit.
The end came in the 10th, Tyson fumbling for his mouthpiece, an iconic unforgettable image. Douglas had shocked the world. Somehow the scoring was sadly but predictably a long way removed from what most of us saw. One judge quite rightly had Douglas well ahead. But the remaining judges had the fight close, one had it even, another had Tyson ahead. Almost certainly two of the worst cards in boxing history. Douglas arguably won every round except the 8th. It could have been the robbery of the century. Any century.
King did what he did best, where there is money to be saved there is no shame. The narrative and nonsense of the bogus long-count temporary halted the celebrations and the crowning of a new heavyweight champion, and when that failed and Douglas went elsewhere to defend his newly won prize, King had lost his grip on the lucrative heavyweight division. Tyson had long ago lost his grip on reality.
For Tyson, that night was just the start of his spectacular fall from grace. A conviction for rape resulted in Tyson being sentenced to six years in prison. Further trouble would never be that far away.
On his release, he returned to what he knew best. But despite once again becoming the heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson was struggling in many ways. As the money burned, he was now fighting for different reasons. High-profile defeats to Holyfield and Lennox Lewis, and then the sad defeats to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride prompted Tyson to finally call it a day in 2005.
The question for Douglas was would this be a false dawn or the start of a new era. Douglas could look forward to big-money fights with Tyson, Holyfield and a returning relic of another era George Foreman. Could Douglas retain the hunger? Sadly Douglas reverted to type, and the only hunger remaining after Tyson was one far removed from a boxing ring.
The miles on the road were replaced by frequent trips to the fridge. Douglas signed to fight Holyfield, he made $24m but lost far more. Douglas turned up 14lbs heavier than he did in Tokyo and he surrendered his title tamely in 3 rounds. It looked too easy, Douglas could have done more. Beating Tyson saved him from obscurity, the manner in which he lost to Holyfield sent him back to where he started.
After the loss to Holyfield in 1990, Douglas carried on eating and ballooned to 400lbs. The former champion ended up in a diabetic coma and was lucky to survive. Douglas returned to boxing in 1996, won all but one of those fights and deserves huge credit for turning his life around. Not all comebacks are judged by success in the ring.