30 years ago: Mike Tyson VS James “Buster” Douglas

James -douglas - Mike Tyson (Photo: PuzzlePix Photo Agency)

Mike Tyson VS James “Buster” Douglas, billed as Tyson Is Back!, was a professional boxing match that occurred at the Tokyo Dome on February 11, 1990. The event is historically significant, as the then-undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion Tyson lost by knockout to the 42–1 underdog Douglas. The fight is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Japan paid $6 million to boxing officials for the privilege of staging Mike Tyson’s fight in Tokyo.

From the beginning of the fight it was apparent that Douglas was not afraid. As an initial surprise, Douglas displayed a lot of spring in his body movement and wasn’t cautious in letting his punches fly whenever he saw the opportunity to attack Tyson. He used his quick and accurate jab to prevent Tyson from getting inside, where Tyson was most dangerous. When Tyson tried to get inside, Douglas tied him up, moved away, or would immediately hit Tyson with multiple punches as Tyson came within Douglas’ range. Early on Douglas was more agile than Tyson and outlanded Tyson in exchanges. Douglas finished the second round with a snappy uppercut to Tyson’s chin.


Douglas would still dominate the middle rounds although Tyson managed to land a few of his signature uppercuts. Tyson was wobbled by a chopping right during the fifth round. Soon, Tyson’s left eye would begin to swell from Douglas’ right jabs, preventing him from seeing his opponent’s punches well. Tyson’s cornermen were caught unprepared; they hadn’t brought an endswell or ice packs, usually standard equipment for a fight. Instead, they filled a rubber glove with ice water and held it on Tyson’s eye between rounds. Confusion and panic grew in his corner as the fight went on. Despite Tyson’s inability to execute an effective fight plan, his corner continued to give him the same advice between rounds to move his head, jab his way inside and deliver a right hand. In the eighth round, a round Douglas dominated until the last few seconds.

Within the last 10 seconds of the 8th round, Tyson, who had been backed onto the ropes, landed a big right uppercut that sent Douglas to the canvas. Although the knockdown timekeeper began when Douglas’s backside touched the ring’s surface, the referee was said to have started his own count behind by two beats. Douglas rose as the referee signaled nine, but the bell ended the round. In obvious annoyance at his own lapse, Douglas pounded his left fist on the mat. Tyson promoter Don King would later argue the validity of the referee count in vain.

In the dramatic 9th round Tyson came out aggressively to end the fight and save his title, hoping that Douglas was still hurt from the 8th-round knockdown. Douglas was able to fight off Tyson’s attack and was able to close Tyson’s eye completely. Both men traded punches before Douglas connected on a four-punch combination that staggered Tyson back to the ropes. With Tyson hurt along the ropes, Douglas closed in and unleashed a vicious four-punch attack to try to knock Tyson out. Tyson tried to fight Douglas off but it was in vain. Douglas continued to land hard punches on Tyson as the round came to a close. Tyson withstood the punishment and barely survived the 9th round.

In the tenth round Tyson pushed forward to fight, but he was still seriously hurting from the accumulation of punishment given throughout the match. As Tyson walked forward, Douglas measured him with a few jabs before landing a devastating uppercut that snapped Tyson’s head upward, stopping Tyson in his tracks. As Tyson began to reel back from the uppercut, Douglas immediately followed with four punches to the head, knocking Tyson down for the first time in his career. In a famous scene, Tyson fumbled for his mouthpiece on the canvas before sticking one end in his mouth with the other end hanging out. The champion attempted to make it back to his feet to continue fighting but referee Octavio Meyran counted him out.

Buster Douglas thus became the new undisputed heavyweight champion and the fight became one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. The official scorecards through nine rounds were 87–86 for Tyson, 86–86 even, and 88–83 for Douglas.

Sources: Wikipedia