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Yet another fine yellow noon on Marco Island, Florida, and, miracle of miracles, Buster Douglas is already out of bed.
He's wearing what he always seems to wear these days: white canvas boating shoes, loose-fitting gym trunks, a faded striped shirt that never stays tucked in. And he's looking big. Buster's looking like a helium balloon after the gas has been left on too long. About 320 pounds of big, though you'd be hard-pressed to get him to admit that. "I never get on a scale now," he says. "I really don't know what I weigh. I don't care."
At his house by the sea, Buster squeezes into his Porsche 930S Turbo, a convertible, and starts north for Naples, about 16 miles away. Buster has his day planned. First, the tires beneath him need to be rotated. Second, he'll stop by his favorite deli and get something to eat, maybe a submarine, maybe soup. Third...well, there really isn't a third, not that he can remember.
Buster paid $125,000 for the car, and, a few restored clunkers notwithstanding, it's easily the sweetest thing on the road. "Do you take American Express?" he asked the car salesman that day in Beverly Hills, Calif., then promptly handed over a credit card. The Porsche is black except for the places on the doors where Buster had this painted, in purple script: JOKER. You can't miss him as he comes thundering down U.S. 41, the former heavyweight champion of the world hauling ass with the top down, his young dreadlocks looking like the prickly hide of a pineapple. On the stereo the rocker Prince sings in liquid falsetto, providing Buster with the perfect theme music to guide him through yet another day without much to do.
"Wait'll they get a load of me," Buster says as he weaves through traffic. "Wait'll they get a load of...me!"
That's a line from the movie Batman. It's something Jack Nicholson said after a mishap with a vat of toxic waste transformed him into a diabolical fiend. Buster's always quoting from the pictures now that at 33 he has retired from the fight game and movies have become so important to him. Day in and day out he watches them on his big-screen Mitsubishi, imagining himself a movie star.
Along with Batman, Buster likes to quote from Raging Bull, the film about boxer Jake La Motta. Buster imitates Robert DeNiro imitating Jake La Motta imitating Marlon Brando in another movie, On the Waterfront. It gets pretty confusing sometimes. "I coulda been a contender," Buster says. And you don't laugh because it seems to mean something. Buster speaking that line. Also, Buster is giving it his best. His eyebrows dance like snails, and his mouth is a bitter scowl.
By his own estimate Buster has seen Raging Bull 10 times. He especially likes the scene in which DeNiro deposits a bucket of ice down his pants to cool his stubborn passion. Buster's been in that situation himself, having a woman in his room before a big light and wanting to be with her, as they say. She's lying there with a come-hither look on her face, pleading, "Hey, Buzz, come on, baby. Come back to bed." In the movies, as in real life, the fighter does what he shouldn't. Then a few hours later some doctor's waving a penlight in his face, asking how many fingers he's holding up or whether the boxer remembers his name.
For those who have forgotten, James Buster Douglas is the man who beat Mike Tyson in February 1990—the only person on this planet, in fact, ever to have beaten Tyson as a professional. It happened in Tokyo, and people who were there said it resembled the kicker in another boxing film, Sylvester Stallone's Rocky.
There was the undefeated Tyson and his aura of invincibility, and there was Buster Douglas of Columbus, Ohio, and his hard-luck tale. Blister's mother, Lula Pearl, had died just a few weeks earlier; he and his wife, Bertha, were on the outs; and he was battling what felt like the flu. Much of Las Vegas had turned its back on the bout, the odds against an upset being so high. Buster's name might've been Bubba, for all anyone cared.