In the end, that was all the plan Douglas had: not to be afraid of Mike Tyson. That he was able to stick to it was remarkable. As Tyson entered the ring, again he appeared to be a primeval force, made for inflicting great harm. He paced between two ring posts against a backdrop of a huge American flag. His cornermen, Aaron Snowell and Jay Bright, were similarly functional and low-rent, wearing gray sweatshirts that advertised Anaconda Kaye Sports, a sporting goods company in Schenectady, N.Y. Tyson, despite the six-month layoff since the Williams fight, was a firm 220 pounds, as muscled as ever. At ringside, Holyfield, disappointed that someone had gotten to challenge Tyson first, nevertheless admired the way Douglas strode forth into the maw of disaster. "For once Tyson wasn't fighting a guy who was afraid of him," he said.
And, for once, strange things began happening. Douglas started hitting Tyson with right hands. Tyson had always been hittable, but never to this extent. For the first time, an opponent's height and reach advantage—Douglas is 6'4" to Tyson's 5'11"—seemed important. Certainly Douglas's hand speed was a factor. When Tyson coiled to leap inside, Douglas invariably beat him to the punch with his long right.
This initial surprise played out for two rounds, with Douglas finishing the second with a snappy uppercut to Tyson's chin. Then, in the third, Tyson seemed to regain his form and smacked Douglas with a punishing left to the body. Douglas looked to his corner at that punch, but saw nothing more reassuring than the mild hysteria that held sway there throughout the fight. "Ain't no iron in Mike!" hollered trainer J.D. McCauley, who is also Douglas's uncle.
The challenger's corner grew wilder in the fifth when Tyson was wobbled by a chopping right. Soon, Tyson's left eye began to swell. "I didn't see his punches real well," Tyson said afterward. Nor could he put any kind of combination together against Douglas.
The eighth round opened with Douglas again getting the better of Tyson, but it closed with a sudden, classic Tyson right uppercut that dropped Douglas to the canvas with six seconds left. It was the only time that Douglas got careless, and it nearly cost him his eventual stunning upset. Worse, though, was referee Meyran's shabby handling of the count, which, if promoter Don King has his way, may serve to deprive Douglas of the crown that he rightfully deserves. At the moment Douglas's backside touched the surface of the ring, the knockdown timekeeper began his count. Instead of picking up that cadence, Meyran began his own count, two beats behind.
As generations of felled fighters have done before him, Douglas kept his attention fixed on the referee's hands. As Meyran signaled nine, Douglas rose, but the bell ended the round. If there was any doubt that Douglas was clearheaded and could have risen to his feet on the timekeeper's count, it had been erased right after the knockdown when Douglas pounded his left fist on the mat, in obvious annoyance at his own lapse.
Yet King, who saw his world tour coming to a screeching halt about three continents short of his grand plan, would later seize on the discrepancy in the counts as grounds to bully others into awarding Tyson a victory by knockout. But there was no debating what happened in the ninth round, when Douglas closed Tyson's eye completely. Pushing Tyson into the ropes, Douglas then launched four punches that shook Tyson, whose head flopped backward loosely on its pillar of a neck.
Then came that 10th, with Tyson utterly helpless in the face of Douglas's assault and finally toppling to the mat. At that stage of the fight, it was no longer a shocking development—except to two of the three judges, whose scoring was at best inexplicable. Judge Larry Rozadilla from California had Douglas far ahead, 88-82, but judge Ken Morita, also from California, somehow had Tyson ahead 87-86 and Masakazu Uchida of Japan scored it even. But the point was dramatically made even before Meyran bear-hugged the helpless Tyson, who rose at nine, his mouthpiece sticking grotesquely out of his mouth: Tyson was not invincible, but just a pretty good heavyweight with a nice run behind him and an uncertain future ahead. "Greater fighters than I have lost," said Tyson, ever the boxing historian, hours later.
But King was not willing to allow his investment in the franchise called Mike Tyson to take the hit that inevitably comes from losing a title fight. King summoned officials from two of the major sanctioning bodies, the WBC and WBA, and representatives from the Japan Boxing Commission to a small room off the arena. Emerging two hours later, King called a press conference to announce that tapes of the bout clearly showed that "two knockouts took place, but the first knockout obliterates the second. Buster Douglas was knocked out, and the referee did not do his job and panicked. As the promoter of both fighters, I'm only seeking fair play."
Two hours after that declaration, King again summoned the press. This time, he brought along Meyran, who said, "I don't know why I start my count and make my mistake. Yes, he was down longer than 10 seconds." Also in attendance was the fallen champion. His swollen left eye hidden by dark glasses, he said, "I thought I knocked him out. I thought he was counted out."