TUPATALK: Buster and magic

Mike Tupa
Mike Tupa

If I had to recommend just one fight for someone to watch, it would be the 1990 Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas heavyweight battle in Japan.

I lived in a small eastern Nevada town then and my editor invited me to watch the clash with him and his family.

Many of you today can’t really grasp the stark drama of that moment when Douglas dropped Tyson in the 10th round. It couldn’t have been more shocking — in terms of the sports landscape — as if a statue had fallen off a tall building and smashed into the ground with seismic rupture.

To try to compare it to today’s culture, Tyson was like Tom Brady times three; he was like Aaron Judge hitting a homer in every game, not just 62 games; he was like Michael Jordan, Lebron James and Damian Lillard rolled up into one pair of trunks.

Tyson was considered absolutely unbeatable.

Period. Unbeatable.


Not only had he steamrolled to a 37-0 record — and world championship — in 59 months, but he barely been challenged.

Tyson won his first 19 fights by technical knockout or knockout — he had never gone beyond the sixth round and had ended 14 of those scraps in the first or second round.

In his first 37 fights, he won 33 of them TKO or KO, and the other four by unanimous decision.

Buster Douglas was expected to be just another mangled victim as they approached their encounter on Feb. 11, 1990, in the Tokyo Dome.

Douglas was 30 years old — seven years older than Tyson — and owned a 30-4-1 record.

His career had seemed to be dogged by mixed success. He had lost three times, two by knockouts, in the 15 fights prior to the Tyson bout.

Tyson came into the fight not only as the unquestionable favorite by considered by many boxing observers as the greatest heavyweight — if not in any weight — fighter in history. And, he was still only 23.

I wasn’t a Tyson admirer — although like anyone I recognized his incredible ability — and I pulled for Douglas to pull off what many would literally consider a miracle.

It turned out to be a night for such magic.

I could tell in the first 45 seconds something special might be in the air. During that time I had observed Douglas not only stand up to the attack but to give as good as Tyson was dishing out.

The TV announcers, and other media, watched in shock as the rounds piled up. They had expected an early-round massacre.

To me, the pivotal moment took place in the eighth round. Up to that point, Douglas seemed to own the momentum and appeared to be in maintaining the upper hand.

Suddenly, Tyson sent out a smashing right hand that floored Douglas within the final seconds of the eighth. I seemed to sense in the announcer’s voices a tone that suggested sanity was about to be restored to the universe.

But, Douglas, who hit the canvas hard with a hand to signal his disgust with getting knocked down, got up as the referee reached the count of nine.

To myself, I thought between rounds, that was probably it for Douglas. Tyson had seemed to reassert control now that he had tagged Douglas.

I suppose had I been Douglas, my mind might have been swallowed in doubt on whether I could survive the final three rounds.

But, Douglas’ confidence hadn’t been dented. He came out on the ninth with an extra amperage — that kind that only athletes and others pushed to the brink of devastating defeat seem to find within themselves, beyond all exhaustion, all logic and all energy.

Douglas fought back savagely in the ninth, He manhandled Tyson, backing him up to the ropes and unleashing a barrage of five-fingered bombs.

In the 10th, Douglas put on the finishing touches of the miracle — and honored his recently deceased (23 days earlier) mother the best way he knew how.

Douglas knocked Tyson down for the first time in his career and jarred his mouthpiece loose. The obviously stunned Tyson, who was on all fours, reached for his mouthpiece and tried to insert it while the referee counted him out.

Douglas was leading on two of the three scorecards when the fight ended.

Some in the Tyson camp and other supporters questioned Douglas’ win, based on the length of the count in the eighth round after he was knocked down or the absence of Kevin Rooney as Tyson’s trainer and coach.

On the other hand, had Tyson got up to his feet right away in the 10th and not worried about the mouthpiece, the result might have been reversed.

Unfortunately for Douglas, I suppose — if any one us have the right to judge another’s journey — that internal fire and incredible self-discipline in getting ready for the fight seemed to wane afterward.

He had reached the top of the mountain — honestly and grittily. But, there was no permanent lease there available. There never is when it comes to sports and other competitive endeavors.

I appreciate an observation by Henry David Thoreau: “The question is not what you look at but what you see.”

Douglas saw opportunity and stuffed it in his heart to overflowing and fed off it with almost inhuman determination until he shocked the planet.

That was more than 30 years ago now. Time has passed one, several generations of champions have arrived, reigned in the sunlight of their destiny and then faded back into the shadows of yesterday’s glory.

Almost no one can change the world forever, especially in the realm of athletics. But, these former greats can bequeath legacies of unbelievable effort, desire, persistence, stick-to-itiveness, humility, strength and the belief of generating magic and having done something special.

This article originally appeared on Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise: TupaTalk column