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Throughout history, man has struggled to make sense of the world around him, to explain phenomena that are beyond his capacity for understanding. Full eclipses, Halley's comet, plagues, droughts, floods -- you name it -- inspired legends and myths that, at their root, reduced the unfathomable to man's level.
Such has been the case with Buster Douglas' epic victory against Mike Tyson since the fighters met in the ring Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo. To account for an upset of that magnitude -- the sports equivalent of an act of God -- a catalogue of myths was created, nurtured and popularized. But now, 20 years after Tyson was counted out, the public needs to be disabused of its misimpressions. The myths must be dispelled.
Myth No. 1: Douglas was a no-talent bum
On the contrary, James "Buster" Douglas was a fighter of immense natural ability who had been undermined throughout his career only by a chronic lack of dedication. His ample gifts included great size (his hands are enormous), a devastating jab, quickness and power. He defeated four men who were heavyweight champions at some point in their careers: Mike Tyson, Trevor Berbick, Oliver McCall and Greg Page.
Fighting Tony Tucker, who at the time was 34-0, for the vacant IBF heavyweight title in 1987, Douglas was winning the fight through nine rounds before Tucker knocked him out in the 10th. In Tucker's next fight, he went the distance in losing to Tyson.
Myth No. 2: Tyson was out of shape
At the time, some experts thought Tyson had trained not too lightly but too hard. Watch the fight. Tyson's muscles are bulging, and there is no fat anywhere on his frame. He weighed in at 220½ pounds -- just 1¼ pounds more than he had weighed seven months earlier when he knocked out Carl Williams in 93 seconds and only two pounds more than he had weighed 20 months earlier when he had knocked out Michael Spinks in 91 seconds. If Tyson had been in poor shape, he could not have lasted 10 rounds against an opponent who was pummeling him. Mentally, there's no question Tyson was unprepared; it was inconceivable to him that Douglas might win. But that's a different issue, and a champion must always expect an inspired challenger.
Myth No. 3: Douglas got lucky
Luck had nothing to do with Douglas' victory. Sometimes a fighter wins a championship with one random punch (see: Oliver McCall versus Lennox Lewis). But Douglas dominated Tyson. He was better offensively and defensively. He threw and landed more punches. His punches packed more wallop. He battered Tyson with his jab. His height and reach advantage kept Tyson frustrated. Tyson didn't land a punch that hurt Douglas until he knocked him down in the eighth round. Douglas also executed a brilliant plan to perfection. From the opening bell, he refused to allow Tyson to intimidate him. He bullied the bully. Strategically, tactically and physically, Douglas outperformed Tyson.
|The outcry from Mike Tyson's camp after the fight was disingenuous; Buster Douglas clearly beat the referee's count in the eighth.|
Myth No. 4: Tyson knocked out Douglas first
When Douglas got knocked down at the end of the eighth round, he appeared to be clearheadedly following the referee's count. The count was about two seconds behind the timekeeper's, but that's not very unusual, and Tyson was late retreating to a neutral corner. The fighter's sole responsibility is to beat the referee's count -- which Douglas did with ease, deliberately. When the WBA and WBC -- mostly at the behest of Don King -- attempted to deny Douglas his victory because of the count, public outcry forced them to back down.
Myth No. 5: Evander Holyfield proved Douglas' victory against Tyson was a fluke by knocking him out in three rounds
Holyfield's victory proved only that Douglas had reverted to his former, undisciplined self. If Douglas had trained as diligently to fight Holyfield as he had trained to fight Tyson, he might have won. Instead, after Steve Wynn paid him more than $20 million to fight Holyfield, Douglas stopped caring.
He weighed 15 pounds more against Holyfield than he had against Tyson. In the months leading up to the bout, he spent more time boozing, partying and eating than working out. He turned against the manager and trainers who had helped make his victory against Tyson possible, disempowering them. He had no choice, but he also spent too much time in courtrooms fighting King. Douglas' win in Tokyo was a fluke only in the sense that it was the first and last time he performed up to his ability.
ESPN anchor and national correspondent Jeremy Schaap is a host of "Outside The Lines" and "SportsCentury."