“Iron” Mike Tyson was known as “the baddest man on the planet,” in the late ’80s through the ’90s, and on Feb. 11, 1990, his nickname was tested when James “Buster” Douglas knocked him out. It was a moment that will live in infamy forever, not only in boxing and in sports but in Black history.
There had never been a fighter like Mike Tyson, ever. Young. Street. Undefeated and athletically violent.
New Era Bad Guy
You can point back to Charles “Sonny” Liston, the feared heavyweight that went on a nine-year tear, or George Foreman, who threw wide-winged punches that landed like bricks to compare Tyson’s aura. Still, both were usurped by the “good guy” in Muhammad Ali at different ends of “The Greatest’s” storied career.
Mike Tyson was a new-era bad guy, a menacingly charismatic anti-hero that you wanted to win explosively. Unlike his predecessors in Liston and Foreman, his defeat wouldn’t come at the hands of the hero for a storybook ending. It came at the gloved fists of a man with four losses before he stepped foot in the ring in Tokyo to face “Iron Mike.”
That man was James “Buster” Douglas.
In his autobiography, “Undisputed Truth,” Tyson gave a peek behind the veil of the life of a young superstar in turmoil.
“On Jan. 8, 1990, I got aboard a plane to fly to Tokyo,” Tyson wrote in the book. “Kicking and screaming. I didn’t want to fight; all I was interested in then was partying and f***ing women. I didn’t consider Buster Douglas much of a challenge. I didn’t even bother watching any of his fights on video. I had easily beaten everybody who had knocked him out.”
Tyson defeated two opponents of Douglas that gave him past losses, Jesse Ferguson, who Tyson beat via TKO in 1986, and Tony Tucker, who Tyson defeated via unanimous decision to retain his WBA and WBC heavyweight titles and win the IBF heavyweight title to unify in 1987. Almost three years later, he would meet the man that would humble him and make him reassess his life choices.
Tyson admittedly was rife with vices like sleeping with hotel maids in Japan and was utterly unfocused coming into the fight. He was heading towards a nasty divorce from actress Robin Givens and his longtime trainer, and familial figure in Cus D’Amato was gone, as he passed away. In his stead was promoter Don King, whose less-than-savory business practices have always veered towards self-preservation above a fighter’s first mentality.
Still, Tyson was the betting favorite at 42-1.
Buster Douglas, a 6-foot-4 agile Ohio heavyweight that was birthed into boxing by his father, Bill Douglas, who went 42-16-1. The son would accomplish the impossible and defeat Mike Tyson.
After Tyson’s cornermen tried to nurse a bad left eye, the proof of the consistent right jabs a determined Douglas gave that wobbled Tyson in the fifth round, the end was near. In the last 10 seconds of the eighth round, Tyson landed a big right uppercut from the ropes that sent Douglas to the canvas. The Tyson everyone expected would arise even amid the difficulties Douglas presented was not in the cards as the tenth round revealed the truth.
Douglas’ jab was spot on, and he launched a vicious uppercut that knocked the mettle out of Iron Mike. He followed up with a few more blows, and eventually, a stumbling Tyson could not beat the referee’s count. Tyson would lose the WBA, WBC, and IBF heavyweight titles.
It is just one portion of a larger and amazingly true life story of Michael Gerard Tyson, the baddest man on the planet who showed the world that even at your height you could take a fall.