By Jerome Foster
“Iron” Mike Tyson’s title defense against James “Buster” Douglas was supposed to be a formality. Tyson came into the February 11, 1990 bout from Tokyo, Japan as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He was undefeated (37-0) and was on a roll, knocking out his last six opponents, all within seven rounds. Because of his 33 knockouts, Tyson also was considered the most feared prize-fighter in the world, holding the nickname “the baddest man on the planet.”
Douglas was a major underdog in the fight, 42 to 1 to be exact. He was seen as a stepping stone on the way to a Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield mega-fight. He’d already lost four fights in his career (29-4-1) but had won his last six fights to get a shot at Tyson.
The first four rounds saw Douglas using his jab and lead right hands to keep Tyson on the outside. Douglas also used the tactic of grabbing and tying Tyson up when the champ was able to get inside of his punches. During these rounds, Tyson looked like he had no idea what to do. The head movement and combinations that he was known for under former trainer Kevin Rooney were gone. Now he looked like a fighter that was looking to land one big punch to get his opponent out of the bout.
Round five saw more of the same. Douglas was the aggressor, using combinations to land clean shots on Tyson and make his left eye begin to swell. Tyson’s corner did not have an enswell to combat the swelling and instead used what looked like a condom filled with water to keep the swelling down. This mistake by Tyson’s corner combined with his performance in the first half of the fight made people question the decision of getting firing Rooney after the Michael Spinks fight.
Tyson fared a little better in round six. He landed a few uppercuts to slow down the onslaught of Douglas. Tyson also used a peek-a-boo style defense to protect his left eye from the straight right hands of Douglas. The sixth round was the first round it looked like Tyson won,
Round eight saw a repeat of the first few rounds of the fight. Douglas was beating Tyson to the punch and landing with jabs and lead right hands. He was also still tying Tyson up on the inside when the champ managed to get inside of his punches. But after a clinch with less than ten seconds left in the round, Tyson caught the Douglas with a right uppercut that sent the challenger to the canvas. Douglas was able to get to his feet before the 10-count and the round ended. Tyson’s camp would later argue unsuccessfully that the 10-count by referee Octavio Meyran was slow.
Tyson came out quick at the beginning of the ninth to see if Douglas was still feeling the effects of the knockdown. Douglas was able to weather the storm by clinching. The two would trade big shots during the middle of the round. With about a minute left in the round, Douglas used combination punching to visibly hurt the champion. If it wasn’t for the ropes holding him up, Tyson would have gone down but he was able to hold on and barely escape the round.
The first minute of the tenth was pretty uneventful. That all changed with a little less than two minutes remaining, however, when Douglas nailed Tyson with a crushing right uppercut and followed it up with a three-punch combination that floored the champion. As Tyson searched for his mouthpiece on the canvas, the final ten seconds of his title reign and aura of invincibility ticked away. Tyson couldn’t beat the count. It was over. The unthinkable had happened. James “Buster” Douglas had beaten “Iron” Mike Tyson to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and in the process pulled off not only one of the biggest upsets in boxing, but one of the biggest upsets in sports history. A moment in boxing history that will never be forgotten.