On June 22 the man who once beat the unbeatable Mike Tyson began his comeback. James (Buster) Douglas was coming all the way back from the dead.
After his stunning knockout of Tyson in February 1990 made him an overnight success, Douglas fell into a careless lifestyle that quickly cost him the heavyweight title. He retired from boxing that same year and eventually ballooned to 400 pounds. In the summer of '94 he lapsed into a diabetic coma and nearly died.
Now, on this night in Atlantic City, Douglas was in the ring for the first time in more than five years. In the other corner was Tony LaRosa, a 5'9", 227-pound Chicago club fighter in only his second heavyweight bout. Douglas didn't need the money—a good thing, considering that the take would be all of $100,000—but he figured that boxing gave his life purpose and helped him keep his weight down. As he waited for the opening bell, he whispered anxiously to John Russell, his trainer, "Oh, s—-, what have I gotten myself into?"
Douglas, who had dropped nearly 150 pounds in the 18 months before the fight, appeared tentative at first, but then he systematically dismantled LaRosa with a snapping left jab and an assortment of potent rights. LaRosa didn't answer the bell for the fourth round.
An hour later Russell secluded himself in a corner of the dressing room and wept over how far Douglas had come back. Douglas applied an ice pack to an ugly bruise over his left eye. "To be honest, I'm relieved that this is over, because I had my doubts about stepping back into the ring after all that time," he said, staring at the floor. "Doubt is always ringing my doorbell. I just open the door and say, 'How you doin', Doubt? Look, everybody, it's my old friend Doubt.' I've come to realize that doubt will always be there."
Surprised to hear such frank words from a boxer, I said, "You know, Buster, you don't act like most fighters. You have a very sensitive view of your life."
Douglas grinned and said, "Could be my problem, huh?"