It’s regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest boxing upset ever. And almost 30 years ago halfway around the world in Tokyo, James “Buster” Douglas accomplished what had previously been thought to be unthinkable.
Douglas not only defeated, but knocked out, the unbeaten indestructible heavyweight champion of the world, Mike Tyson.
On This Date: 29 years ago, Buster Douglas defied the 42-to-1 odds and knocked out Mike Tyson. pic.twitter.com/ru5SCSLNtV
— ESPN (@espn) February 11, 2019
In a performance that was every bit as impressive as it was shocking, Douglas dominated Tyson from the beginning of their scheduled 12-round heavyweight title fight. Never before had anyone in Tyson’s professional career stood up to him the way that Douglas did.
With his size, longer reach, a steady left jab and repeated straight right hands and right hooks to the head, Douglas continued to win round after round early.
Douglas had been largely an under-achiever in the biggest moments of his career, including a 1987 title fight with Tony Tucker that he was winning early, as well. Only to have Douglas seemingly let up or give up as the fight went on, and Tucker eventually stopped him in the 10th round to win the IBF version of the title.
That February Sunday afternoon in Tokyo (live late in the U.S. on Saturday night), he rose to the occasion, being even more motivated after his mother had suddenly passed away just weeks before the fight took place.
In the shape of his life, Douglas summoned every ounce of skill, ability and heart to pull off the amazing victory.
Douglas was tested when Tyson knocked him down in the 8th round of fight. And, even with his left eye almost closed shut “Iron Mike” was still dangerous with one punch knockout capability in the latter rounds.
However, Douglas, who Las Vegas oddsmakers had put as a 42 – 1 underdog, eventually landed a massive right uppercut of his own, early in the 10th round. That staggered Tyson and eventually, another left hook landed right on Tyson’s jaw and put him down for the first time in his professional career.
Tyson wobbled to his feet putting his mouth guard in backwards at the count of 9 and when referee Octavio Meyran looked into his eyes, he amazingly waved the fight off, as a technical knockout.
Famed boxing play-by-play man Jim Lampley called the fight for HBO and his quote in the aftermath of Douglas’s remarkable upset knockout still resonates three decades later.
While talking to stunned colleagues Larry Merchant and Hall of Fame fighter Sugar Ray Leonard, Lampley uttered: “Let’s go ahead and call it the biggest upset in the history of the sport…. Say it now gentlemen, James “Buster” Douglas, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”
Lampley was right almost 30 years ago. No matter the upsets before or since, there was nothing quite like Douglas stunning Tyson in February of 1990.