The man who is responsible for arguably the biggest upset in boxing history, celebrated a milestone birthday on Tuesday. James “Buster” Douglas turned 60 years old on April 7th, 2020.
30 years ago, in February of 1990, Douglas shocked the boxing world by toppling the seemingly invincible Undisputed Heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson.
As we wrote on that 30th Anniversary two months ago, Douglas had already suffered tragedy, while training for the upset. That’s when his mother suddenly passed away three weeks before his crack at the Undisputed Champion Tyson.
Douglas persevered and got in the shape of his life for that fateful Sunday afternoon in Tokyo.
As an unbelievable 42 – 1 Underdog at the lone Sportsbook in Las Vegas that would take legal wagering on the seemingly foregone conclusion Tyson title defense, Douglas put together a stunning display boxing skill and toughness. He decked Tyson once and for all in the 10th round.
The images of Tyson bucking from a big Douglas uppercut, then, vulnerable standing with his guard down for a finishing Douglas hook and finally, on all fours trying to put his mouthpiece back in backwards and beat the count is still stunning to see three decades later.
The boxing world was universally stunned.
Unfortunately, it was all down hill for Douglas in and out of the ring after.
He sued Don King in Federal Court to break his promotional contract not wanting King to have the rights to multiple fights down the road. Douglas in-turn signed a conditional contract to make his first title defense at The Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Douglas claimed that King breached their contract when he tried to have Douglas’ win against Tyson overturned.
An out of court settlement gave King the right to promote a potential Douglas-Tyson rematch, but that Douglas would first defend against #1 contender Evander Holyfield that October at The Mirage, a promotion in which King would have no direct involvement.
That interest would go to Steve Wynn, then owner of The Mirage, who cut out the middlemen and promoted the fight himself.
To say that Wynn put some money down on this fight for Douglas-Holyfield is an understatement, as Wynn outbid the right to promote the fight by winning a purse bid of $32,100,000, beating out Main Events (Holyfield’s promoter at the time), who bid $29,101,000. The Mirage’s bid is still the largest winning purse bid of all time.
A woefully 15 lb. extra, out of shape Douglas was flattened in the third round by one big Holyfield right and never got up. Although he had made $24 million for the Holyfield fight, Douglas was never back on the big stage, again.
Further, after the loss to Holyfield Douglas’s health deteriorated over the next few years, as he ballooned to almost 400 lb. He eventually ended up in 1994 in a diabetic coma for several days and was near death before making an almost miraculous recovery.
The near-death episode was a wake-up call for Douglas to lose weight and get back in shape and he fought more in the mid-to-late 1990s before retiring.
Now some 20 years later, Douglas is still revered in his hometown of Columbus Ohio.
Having grown up in tough. low income section of Columbus, Douglas was a basketball star who only took up boxing in his late teens. And, that was primarily at the urging of Douglas’ father, a former fighter and his trainer.
Today, Douglas continues working with young fighters at his private gym and also, through the Boys & Girls Club. His weight has continued to fluctuate too well over 300 lb., concerning some about his previous health problems.
Still, this is a day to remember and celebrate what Douglas was able to accomplish that Sunday afternoon in Tokyo against Tyson. A day where he demonstrated that anything in boxing is possible.