Douglas reflects on upset, talks Pacquiao-Mayweather, MMA
Buster Douglas refused to be intimidated the day he knocked out Mike Tyson
Douglas felt he never got to enjoy being champion, which contributed to his fall
The ex-champ still watches boxing, says Klitschkos could compete with the greats
James "Buster" Douglas engineered perhaps the most shocking upset in sports history opposite Mike Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990. Twenty years later, many boxing fans are still trying to comprehend what happened that afternoon in Tokyo.
Douglas may have been something of a one-hit wonder to the casual sports fan, but the Ohio native spent most of his career in the top tier of boxing's glamour division. In fact, Tyson was one of four heavyweight champions Douglas defeated, along with Greg Page, Trevor Berbick and Oliver McCall.
Douglas had fought for the title once before, against Tony Tucker for the vacant IBF heavyweight championship on May 30, 1987. After dominating the early rounds, Douglas faded sharply midway through the fight and appeared disinterested when referee Mills Lane stopped the fight in the 10th. The Tucker defeat cemented, at least temporarily, Douglas' reputation as a fighter with extraordinary athletic ability but questionable desire.
In other words, the perfect opponent for Tyson.
Douglas had every reason to be distracted in 1990 as the Tyson fight drew near. His mother died of a stroke 23 days before the fight, his son's mother was battling a severe kidney ailment and Douglas was struck with the flu on the day before the fight. But Douglas rose to the moment and delivered the most memorable upset in the annals of boxing.
After losing the title to Evander Holyfield seven months later, Douglas sank into a deep depression, ballooned to nearly 400 pounds and slipped into a near-fatal diabetic coma. Afterward, Douglas shed most of the excess weight, rediscovered a passion for the sport and embarked on a comeback -- going 8-1 on the second tour before retiring in 1999 with a record of 38-6-1.
Recently, Douglas co-wrote Buster's Backyard Bar-B-Q, an inspirational barbeque cookbook for diabetics that was published in May. You can catch up with Douglas, who is an active user of social media, on his new Twitter account at @iambuster2.
Last Friday, Douglas talked with SI.com about the fight, his championship reign, the state of boxing today and what he's done the past two decades.
SI.com: How was the scene when you left Columbus for Tokyo different from when you returned home?
Buster Douglas: It was night and day. There were maybe 15 of us walking through the airport when we left. We had "James Douglas" jackets on, just walking through the airport, getting paid little or no attention at all. Then coming back -- oh my God -- they were hanging off the rafters, they were hanging out in the parking lot, all over the parking garage. There were so many people, man. People were everywhere.
SI.com: Even more than you expected?
Douglas: My first time realizing the difference was our first layover in Chicago, when we were walking down the jetway. I was walking with a friend of mine and I said, "Man, I wonder what's going on?" because I noticed a lot of people upstairs looking down on the jetway. [Laughs] Then I realized they were there for me!
SI.com: When do you remember first hearing the name Mike Tyson?
Douglas: In the early- or mid-'80s. Everybody was talking about this phenom. A couple people asked me, "When are you going to fight him?" I was like, "Fight him? When's he gonna fight me?" I was a contender at the time, but he was getting all this publicity and stuff. I hadn't really seen him, but I'd heard a little bit about him.
SI.com: Did you approach the Tyson fight any differently compared to your other fights?
Douglas: It was weird. Leading up to that fight, everything was going pretty good. [Douglas had won six straight fights to become the IBF's No. 2 contender.] Then once I got the fight, all hell broke loose. I had so many things going on in my life. And of course the final blow was my mother passing right before I left.
It was ... different. I knew that it was my time because it was like all these things were going on, there's got to be something special. It was just wild that all these things were going on at the same time, it was like one thing after another. I could have easily said it's just not my time, but I was fortunate enough to see through that and stay focused.
SI.com: Was your approach to training any different?
Douglas: That was my second shot at the title, so we went after it a lot differently. We were more focused. Of course, the first time when I fought for the title, I was looked at as having a chance of obtaining that goal. But coming back for the second chance [against Tyson] -- when I was mentally and physically ready -- I was given no chance. At all. But I felt good about my chances and everything was going well as far as the training.
SI.com: That was your first fight outside of the United States. Was that difficult for you?
Douglas: No, that wasn't difficult at all. Going outside and being in public wasn't any different. There was more TV [obligations] and stuff, but it wasn't really different. I had people around. It was cool.
SI.com: Can you describe your fight plan going in? What was your strategy?
Douglas: My main strategy was to survive. Just work off the jab. Be first. Just make slight movements. Don't stand directly in front of him. Don't go back, don't go straight back, come at angles. Sharpshooting. [Trainer] John Russell was very adamant about coming at angles and not standing in front of him and going straight back.
SI.com: Did you dislike Tyson?
Douglas: No. I knew very little of him. It was just looked at as an opportunity to do something great. And by that time it was my second shot at the title and I was totally focused to do just that.
SI.com: So many of Tyson's opponents lost before they even got into the ring. Every fighter must believe he's going to win when he goes up those stairs -- but this must have been different.
Douglas: What really helped me was comparing it to my father's career. [William "Dynamite" Douglas was a highly regarded contender in the '70s.] He was a world-class middleweight and light heavyweight. His whole career, he fought in guys' backyards -- he'd always fight them in their hometown. So growing up, noticing how he had to go out and battle, I was pretty much prepared to do the same thing -- with the mental focus and know that you've got to go in there and dominate the fight. And if not dominate it, then knock the guy out to win. That was very helpful, to have an understanding of where you're at and what's at stake.
SI.com: Afterward, one of the American judges [Larry Rozadilla] had you ahead by a wide margin on his scorecard, which is how most people saw the fight. But the Japanese judge [Masakazu Uchida] had it even and the third judge [Ken Morita, a Japanese-American from California] actually had Tyson ahead. Going in, did you feel like you had to win by a knockout to get a fair shake?
Douglas: I wasn't really thinking along those terms. I just knew that I had to have a dominant showing. I wasn't putting too much stake into, "I gotta knock him out" and all that. It was just being dominant and making a dominant showing, so if there were any disputes [the real winner] would be easy to see.
SI.com: What was it like looking into Tyson's eyes in the moments before the fight?
Douglas: I wasn't really paying him no mind. I was just basically getting limber, breaking a sweat. I know he was doing that intimidation thing. But by that point I'm a professional, I was like, "Whatever." The only thing that's going to change my mind is the fight. I wasn't buying any of that.
SI.com: What do you remember being in the ring that night?
Douglas: The main thing is just a feeling, remembering how good I felt physically. I peaked at the perfect time. All the hard work I put into it, it was right there. Everything just came together as planned with the conditioning. I was just ready to go, ready to do whatever it took to be victorious.
SI.com: Do you remember the knockout?
Douglas: Yeah. Leading up to it when I caught him with that uppercut, I knew that was a good shot. But like my father always said, "You've got to finish him." That's what really did it, because when I hurt him, he was still standing there. He was hurt, but the combination after -- the four-punch combination -- is what really finished it for him. Even then, when I went to the neutral corner, I thought maybe he was going to still get up. But once I saw him looking for the mouthpiece, I knew he was hurt bad. That's about the only time I thought during the course of the fight that I had him.