When James “Buster” Douglas faced Mike Tyson on February 11th 1990 in Tokyo, Japan, few gave him a chance to be anything more then another knockout on Tyson’s undefeated record. Douglas came into the fight as a 42-1 underdog against a fighter who was thought to be unbeatable. Buster shocked the world and scored one of the biggest upsets in sports history when he knocked out Tyson in the 10th round of the fight to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Today marks 31st anniversary of that upset.
In this “On The Ropes” classics interview I speak with Buster Douglas to get his thoughts on his career and his historic fight with Mike Tyson. Buster talks about how he got into the sport and about the early part of his career. Douglas breaks down in great detail his fight with Mike Tyson and shares his thoughts on the accomplishment of overcoming 42-1 odds. Buster also speaks on the long count controversy from Tyson knocking him down and talks about his career after the fight that included his title defense against Evander Holyfield. Here is what Buster Douglas had to say.
Jenna J: How did you find your way into the sport of boxing?
Buster Douglas: Well I was introduced to the sport of boxing through my father. He was a National Amateur Champion and a light middleweight and a light heavyweight contender, so that was kind of what brought me to it. I decided after my junior year in college to give it a shot. I really felt that I had the desire to go professional and see where it would take me and it led me to the heavyweight championship.
Jenna J: Did you feel any extra pressure following in your fathers footsteps?
Buster Douglas: Well a little bit, because my father fought with a little different style than I did and everybody was expecting me to emulate him I guess. Once I kind of established myself as a fighter/boxer more so than a banger it kind of let itself be known I guess.”
Jenna J: Your first big fight was against Randall “Tex” Cobb on 3 days notice. What did you think of that match?
Buster Douglas: That was a big win because Cobb was a contender. So with the opportunity, John called me and he asked me, ‘What do you think about “Tex” Cobb?’ and I said ‘He can be beat’.
Jenna J: You ended up getting a title shot against Tony Tucker. What do you think happened with that fight?
Buster Douglas: Yeah that was a pretty tough time for me. We were still really, John and I, and J.D, and my dad were still kind of gelling and coming together. There were a lot of problems that we were having in the camp leading up to that fight and I think it just spilled over into the fight. It kind of came out in the fight because we had a lot of problems. That’s why I think that fight didn’t really go like we planned, but then we just had to go back to the drawing board and we restructured our camp. We started fight again until we got another opportunity.
Jenna J: After the loss to Tony Tucker you had to build yourself back to being a contender. How did you deal with that road back?
Buster Douglas: Well you know by then with the loss, everyone was willing to fight me and we had no problems with having the opportunity of getting people back in there to catapult my career back to contender ship. It was up to me to get in great shape and to be ready to fight anybody that would get in there to get back into title contention. So it was a long road back but I was willing to and my group was willing to put forth the effort to get another opportunity to get another shot for the title.
Jenna J: Before your fight with Tyson, you faced off against future champion Oliver McCall in July 1989. What did you think of him as a fighter?
Buster Douglas: Yeah, it was a tough fight. Oliver came to fight. He was kind of an awkward fighter. He’d throw punches from every different angle, unusual angles. The game plan was to just put pressure on him and keep him backing up. We didn’t think he could really fight on his heels backing up so that was the game plan. It was just to keep pressuring him and keep the hands up and it worked out for us.”
Jenna J: Can you tell me a little about your reaction to being offered a fight with a 37-0 34KO “Iron” Mike Tyson?
Buster Douglas: Well I was excited about this opportunity and I knew I had my work cut out for me for sure, because he was destroying everybody that they put in there and it had really been proven that he was the legitimate heavyweight champion because he had beaten some important guys along the way. We really had our work cut out for us and we just put it all together, and worked very hard and got in the best shape, and put it all together that night.
I knew he was going to be a great challenge, but I felt confident that I had the ability to compete. I know John and J.D. were even more confident than I was about the opportunity and we just put it all together and we were blessed enough to have a great performance and win the heavyweight championship.
Jenna J: How did the loss of your mother before the Mike Tyson fight affect you?
Buster Douglas: My mother had come over to see me a couple of weeks before she passed and we had a real long talk. Then once she talked to me and had seen that I was really ready to go in there and put up a great effort against Mike, she was confident enough to tell her friends that I was going to beat him. They were all telling me that she was telling them. They would tell my mother, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe Buster is going to fight this guy!’ She would say, ‘He’s going to win! He’s going to do his thing!’ So she believed in me and I felt very confident going into that fight.
Jenna J: From the opening bell on you were controlling the fight until Mike Tyson knocked you down in the eighth round. What went through your mind when that happened.
Buster Douglas: You know really it seemed like a flash knockdown because I was pushed. I wasn’t hurt. I was very coherent. I picked up the count immediately and took my time with getting up. When I got up I was on solid legs and I was ready to continue to fight. Then the bell just happened to ring and I got the chance to go back and get even more time to recover, but I wasn’t really hurt at all.
Jenna J: Your corner warned you Tyson would come at you hard the next round, how did you prepare yourself for that?
Buster Douglas: Of course I knew he was coming because even though he was pretty much beaten, he had new life once I got dropped and I knew. My corner instructed me and said he was going to come like hell and I was ready for that challenge.
Jenna J: After hurting Tyson in the 9th, you caught him with a great series of punches in the 10th and dropped him. Did you think he was getting up?
Buster Douglas: I did! I thought Tyson was getting up until I had seen him looking for that mouth piece and then I knew that he was really hurt. So anytime you know you only got ten seconds to get up so you aren’t going to worry about anything but just getting up first. So when I had seen him looking around for that mouth piece I knew he was really hurt.
Jenna J: How did it feel to become a world champion?
Buster Douglas: It was a dream come true. It was a childhood dream come true. It was one of the most awesome feelings in my life.
Jenna J: What were your thoughts on the controversy after the fight surrounding the so-called long count and did you think their challenges were going to succeed in taking the victory away from you?
Buster Douglas: You know that was really the sad part about the whole ordeal was the aftermath, because of having to even go to court. It was a dream come true, a fascinating experience, and that it slowly turned into a nightmare because of everything that went on afterwards. It was just a horrible time. It wasn’t where once you win the heavyweight title you get to just kick back and relax and enjoy, and then you prepare for your first defense. It didn’t work out at all like that for me. It was like a fight that I had to continue to keep fighting outside the ring just to even be acknowledged as the heavyweight champion and I think that had a lot to do with leading up to that first defense. That was really a horrible time for me.
Jenna J: You were a 42-1 underdog against Mike Tyson. Do you still get joy today thinking about overcoming odds like that?
Buster Douglas: Oh yeah! Even that 42 to 1, there were no odds on that at all. That was something they created after the fact because the bookies weren’t even taking bets for the fight when we were over in Japan. It wasn’t even on the books. So it was a wonderful great experience with being positive and determined and having a great group of people around me to help fulfill a childhood dream. That was the most awesome experience and feeling that one man could have in his life other than watching my kids being brought into the world, but it was truly a childhood dream come true becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.
Jenna J: When you looked at your career, do you see things you could have done that would have allowed you to perform at that Mike Tyson fight level consistently?
Buster Douglas: Yeah, for sure! I mean to me looking back at it now, we were left alone to train and prepare for this fight with Mike Tyson and we were totally focused. Then going from not being really paid any attention to, to where every move you make you’re under the eye. That was definitely a night and day experience. We did the best we could with trying to deal with that, but the main thing is I did win the title. I know I didn’t go out the way I wanted to go out, but we fought and got there to become the heavyweight champion of the world and we did it at an extraordinary time.
Jenna J: Your first title defense after the Tyson fight was against Evander Holyfield. Did you feel confident you could beat him?
Buster Douglas: I felt that I could win the fight just with the determination I had at the start of my career, but it was a really bad time I’ll tell you. It was bittersweet. It was just a bad time, but we’re back now! John Johnson and I are back together and we’re doing great things and we got a nice kid we’re working with here who has a lot of great ability and talent. We’re just excited about the future.
Jenna J: You were out of boxing for six years after the loss to Evander Holyfield. Why did you choose to come back?
Buster Douglas: It was just a fact of getting back into life, and that was the way that I felt I could get back into life and get some more normalcy about myself. So I got the weight off and gave it another shot and just continued to be positive from that point on. I have been and it’s been working out great for me.
Jenna J: Were you eying a Mike Tyson rematch when you made the comeback?
Buster Douglas: No, I was just trying to get a shot at the world champion with whoever was the world champion at that time. So it was actually getting back into life as well, getting the weight off, getting back healthy, and just moving my life in a more positive direction.
Jenna J: Did Don King ever approach you about another fight with Mike?
Buster Douglas: No, not at all.
Jenna J: You were offered a fight with Roy Jones Junior. Was that a fight you wanted?
Buster Douglas: Yeah, yeah! I was ready to take that with open arms, but I think they decided to go another route. Yeah, it was offered to us but then it didn’t last. It was on the table for a short period of time. We accepted it, but it never came about.
Jenna J: What made you ultimately retire from the sport?
Buster Douglas: Well that was it. I just felt like it ran its course and I just stayed positive and got involved with other things. That was it.
Jenna J: In closing, what are your views on the current heavyweight division?
Buster Douglas: Well you know it’s just kind of different now because you don’t have very many or any American champions now in the division. When I was coming up the top ten was dominated by Americans and today there are a lot of different contenders out there and as far as the world champions they’re all foreigners. It’s different and I look at it as an opportunity for a good American heavyweight to go in there and really do well.