an anniversary

Unlabeled but calling for me to look, once a year or so, in my old-technology box of audio and video cassettes, is the Douglas-Tyson fight of February 11th, 1990. It took place in Tokyo because that was the best place for Buster Douglas to get paid; he was supposed to go down in one or two rounds, and no one in America was very interested in that, while in Japan, at least, Tyson drew crowds as a novelty act, like a King-Kong-Mini with boxing gloves.

We all have our moments in the sun. People knew that this was not going to be such a moment for Buster Douglas. What they did expect was for Tyson to punch his lights out. It was only a warm-up for the much bigger payday of Tyson-Holyfield in June. Buster was just grist for the Don King mill.

This was, after all, the same Buster who had practically given up against Tony Tucker three years earlier. The Buster who didn't train hard enough, or care enough, or have enough heart. The underperformer.

The mother of his son was into the hospital with influenza. Buster had bugs of his own, going into the ring sick and medicated. And thinking about his mom, who had died just two weeks before the fight.


Buster was up on the balls of his feet, sticking his jab, being busy. When Tyson came in low, looking to launch his knockout sequence, Buster would punish him. With his left eye turning into a purple egg, Tyson continued to headhunt. Finally, in the eighth round, came the payoff: an inverted bomb of an uppercut that sent Buster tumbling down. But he got up at the count of nine, and then was saved by the bell.

And he did not fold. Instead he came out in the ninth round and hammered away at Tyson, who was by now thoroughly bewildered.

And in the tenth round Buster knocked him out.

The image of a clueless Tyson, groping around on his hands and knees for his mouthpiece, remains one of the sports' most darkly beautiful.

And Buster had his day in the sun. It would not last – he would lose to Holyfield, and then to his weight, some 400 pounds that nearly killed him, courtesy of diabetic coma – but at least he had it.


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