James “Buster” Douglas defeated “Iron” Mike Tyson by a 10th round TKO to become the undisputed heavyweight champion in one of the biggest upsets in the history of sports 23 years ago this Monday on February 11, 1990 at the Tokyo Dome in Japan.
A then 23-year-old Tyson, a 42-1 favorite to successfully defend his crowns, entered the clash with Douglas sporting an unblemished record of 37-0.
In his heyday, “Iron Mike,” who remains at 20 the youngest man to ever capture the WBC, WBA and IBF heavyweight titles, was one of the most talented prizefighters ever.
Tyson was a physical marvel possessing an amazing combination of quickness, speed and unrivaled power.
Beyond his incredible abilities in the ring, Tyson was a menacing man often able to trump opponents out of fear before the opening bell even rung.
Tyson’s career hit its apex in June 1988 when he brutalized the previously unbeaten Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Following the emphatic knockout victory over Spinks, Tyson’s chaotic personal life and inner-demons began to negatively impact his training efforts and erode his vast ring skills.
Spending time with prostitutes and blazing reefer, it has long been reported that Tyson’s workouts preparing for the Douglas bout were pathetically lackadaisical.
In stark contrast to “Iron Mike,” Douglas, who prior to the Tyson scrap owned a respectable mark of 29-4-1, approached his battle versus the champ heavyhearted and determined.
A mere three weeks prior to the fistfight of his career, Douglas’ mother, Lula Pearl, died suddenly from a stroke.
Instead of understandably sulking, Douglas utilized his mother’s tragic death as a source of motivation to achieve.
“Buster” had undoubtedly always been a gifted boxer.
However, Douglas’ weight problems and apparent disinterest had consistently stunted his progress as a prizefighter.
When Douglas walked to the ring to face Tyson that momentous evening, it was evident “Buster” was in peak condition and mentally prepared to wage battle.
Promoter Rich Cappiello from Brockton, who worked with Kevin McBride (34-6-1, 29 KOs) when the Irishman embarrassed Tyson in 2005, recalled Douglas looking like he was going to “refuse to lose.”
As soon as the contest got underway, Douglas masterfully employed his 12-inch reach advantage over Tyson and landed one powerful jab after another on “The Baddest Man on the Planet.”
Following only five rounds of combat, Tyson’s eye was badly swollen and his vision was obviously impaired.
Despite his hindered eyesight, Tyson managed to floor Douglas with a thunderous blow in the eighth round.
Staggered, Douglas gallantly got off the canvas and regained his footing before being counted out by the referee.
Douglas managed to regain composure and again seize control of the scrap.
“Buster” dominated Tyson from the outset of the fateful 10th round and ultimately finished the titlist with a vicious combo that knocked the champion onto Queer Street with 1:22 remaining.
“There are three things that were proven that night,” said Cappiello, the owner of Cappiello Brothers Boxing gym in Brockton. “One, never underestimate an opponent. Two, never believe that you are invincible as a fighter. Because, as you saw, anyone can be beaten. Three, inspiration can bring you far. Douglas used the sadness he felt losing his mother and channeled it into power.”
In the years following their improbable tussle, Tyson and Douglas watched their personal and professional lives go into tailspins.
Relaxing in the aftermath of the legendary showing versus Tyson, Douglas was entirely unprepared to make his first title defense against Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield (42-10-2, 27 KOs) in October 1990.
Predictably, Holyfield demolished the portly Douglas via a third round knockout to become the rightful titleholder.
In February 1992, Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison for the rape of Miss Black Rhode Island, Desiree Washington.
While Tyson (50-6-0-2, 46 KOs) wasted away behind bars, Douglas (38-6-1-1, 25 KOs) lived off wealth and ballooned to a disgusting 400 pounds.
Tyson and Douglas weren’t the same after their encounter in the Far East.
Tyson failed to become one of the most accomplished pugilists in the annals of the sport.
Similarly, Douglas ate away his potential and natural boxing capabilities.
In retrospect, both men were unmotivated by the prospect of greatness and their failures can be directly attributed to such apathetic natures.
There is an old saying that, “Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with that talent is your gift back to God.”
Provided God indeed exists, neither Douglas nor Tyson returned any gifts for the boxing prowess they were granted.