James "Buster" Douglas engineered perhaps the most shocking upset in sports history opposite Mike Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990. Twenty years later, many boxing fans are still trying to comprehend what happened that afternoon in Tokyo.
Douglas may have been something of a one-hit wonder to the casual sports fan, but the Ohio native spent most of his career in the top tier of boxing's glamour division. In fact, Tyson was one of four heavyweight champions Douglas defeated, along with Greg Page, Trevor Berbick and Oliver McCall.
Douglas had fought for the title once before, against Tony Tucker for the vacant IBF heavyweight championship on May 30, 1987. After dominating the early rounds, Douglas faded sharply midway through the fight and appeared disinterested when referee Mills Lane stopped the fight in the 10th. The Tucker defeat cemented, at least temporarily, Douglas' reputation as a fighter with extraordinary athletic ability but questionable desire.
In other words, the perfect opponent for Tyson.
Douglas had every reason to be distracted in 1990 as the Tyson fight drew near. His mother died of a stroke 23 days before the fight, his son's mother was battling a severe kidney ailment and Douglas was struck with the flu on the day before the fight. But Douglas rose to the moment and delivered the most memorable upset in the annals of boxing.
After losing the title to Evander Holyfield seven months later, Douglas sank into a deep depression, ballooned to nearly 400 pounds and slipped into a near-fatal diabetic coma. Afterward, Douglas shed most of the excess weight, rediscovered a passion for the sport and embarked on a comeback -- going 8-1 on the second tour before retiring in 1999 with a record of 38-6-1.
Recently, Douglas co-wrote Buster's Backyard Bar-B-Q, an inspirational barbeque cookbook for diabetics that was published in May. You can catch up with Douglas, who is an active user of social media, on his new Twitter account at @iambuster2.
Last Friday, Douglas talked with SI.com about the fight, his championship reign, the state of boxing today and what he's done the past two decades.
SI.com: How was the scene when you left Columbus for Tokyo different from when you returned home?
Buster Douglas: It was night and day. There were maybe 15 of us walking through the airport when we left. We had "James Douglas" jackets on, just walking through the airport, getting paid little or no attention at all. Then coming back -- oh my God -- they were hanging off the rafters, they were hanging out in the parking lot, all over the parking garage. There were so many people, man. People were everywhere.
SI.com: Even more than you expected?
Douglas: My first time realizing the difference was our first layover in Chicago, when we were walking down the jetway. I was walking with a friend of mine and I said, "Man, I wonder what's going on?" because I noticed a lot of people upstairs looking down on the jetway. [Laughs] Then I realized they were there for me!
SI.com: When do you remember first hearing the name Mike Tyson?
Douglas: In the early- or mid-'80s. Everybody was talking about this phenom. A couple people asked me, "When are you going to fight him?" I was like, "Fight him? When's he gonna fight me?" I was a contender at the time, but he was getting all this publicity and stuff. I hadn't really seen him, but I'd heard a little bit about him.
SI.com: Did you approach the Tyson fight any differently compared to your other fights?
Douglas: It was weird. Leading up to that fight, everything was going pretty good. [Douglas had won six straight fights to become the IBF's No. 2 contender.] Then once I got the fight, all hell broke loose. I had so many things going on in my life. And of course the final blow was my mother passing right before I left.
It was ... different. I knew that it was my time because it was like all these things were going on, there's got to be something special. It was just wild that all these things were going on at the same time, it was like one thing after another. I could have easily said it's just not my time, but I was fortunate enough to see through that and stay focused.
SI.com:Was your approach to training any different?
Douglas: That was my second shot at the title, so we went after it a lot differently. We were more focused. Of course, the first time when I fought for the title, I was looked at as having a chance of obtaining that goal. But coming back for the second chance [against Tyson] -- when I was mentally and physically ready -- I was given no chance. At all. But I felt good about my chances and everything was going well as far as the training.
SI.com:That was your first fight outside of the United States. Was that difficult for you?
Douglas: No, that wasn't difficult at all. Going outside and being in public wasn't any different. There was more TV [obligations] and stuff, but it wasn't really different. I had people around. It was cool.
SI.com:Can you describe your fight plan going in? What was your strategy?
Douglas: My main strategy was to survive. Just work off the jab. Be first. Just make slight movements. Don't stand directly in front of him. Don't go back, don't go straight back, come at angles. Sharpshooting. [Trainer] John Russell was very adamant about coming at angles and not standing in front of him and going straight back.
SI.com:Did you dislike Tyson?
Douglas: No. I knew very little of him. It was just looked at as an opportunity to do something great. And by that time it was my second shot at the title and I was totally focused to do just that.
SI.com:So many of Tyson's opponents lost before they even got into the ring. Every fighter must believe he's going to win when he goes up those stairs -- but this must have been different.
Douglas: What really helped me was comparing it to my father's career. [William "Dynamite" Douglas was a highly regarded contender in the '70s.] He was a world-class middleweight and light heavyweight. His whole career, he fought in guys' backyards -- he'd always fight them in their hometown. So growing up, noticing how he had to go out and battle, I was pretty much prepared to do the same thing -- with the mental focus and know that you've got to go in there and dominate the fight. And if not dominate it, then knock the guy out to win. That was very helpful, to have an understanding of where you're at and what's at stake.
SI.com:Afterward, one of the American judges [Larry Rozadilla] had you ahead by a wide margin on his scorecard, which is how most people saw the fight. But the Japanese judge [Masakazu Uchida] had it even and the third judge [Ken Morita, a Japanese-American from California] actually had Tyson ahead. Going in, did you feel like you had to win by a knockout to get a fair shake?
Douglas: I wasn't really thinking along those terms. I just knew that I had to have a dominant showing. I wasn't putting too much stake into, "I gotta knock him out" and all that. It was just being dominant and making a dominant showing, so if there were any disputes [the real winner] would be easy to see.
SI.com:What was it like looking into Tyson's eyes in the moments before the fight?
Douglas: I wasn't really paying him no mind. I was just basically getting limber, breaking a sweat. I know he was doing that intimidation thing. But by that point I'm a professional, I was like, "Whatever." The only thing that's going to change my mind is the fight. I wasn't buying any of that.
SI.com:What do you remember being in the ring that night?
Douglas: The main thing is just a feeling, remembering how good I felt physically. I peaked at the perfect time. All the hard work I put into it, it was right there. Everything just came together as planned with the conditioning. I was just ready to go, ready to do whatever it took to be victorious.
SI.com:Do you remember the knockout?
Douglas: Yeah. Leading up to it when I caught him with that uppercut, I knew that was a good shot. But like my father always said, "You've got to finish him." That's what really did it, because when I hurt him, he was still standing there. He was hurt, but the combination after -- the four-punch combination -- is what really finished it for him. Even then, when I went to the neutral corner, I thought maybe he was going to still get up. But once I saw him looking for the mouthpiece, I knew he was hurt bad. That's about the only time I thought during the course of the fight that I had him.
SI.com:Describe being heavyweight champion of the world.
Douglas: It was like a childhood dream come true. My father was a professional fighter and we had lots of books throughout the house. Growing up, I'd look at the centerfold with the champions with their belts on, posing. That was the moment. That was it for me.
SI.com:Some people have credited the upset to Tyson's lack of preparation. Does that ever make you angry?
Douglas: No. That's B.S. to me. Everybody has their own opinion. He was in shape. If he wasn't in shape, he wouldn't have lasted that long. He was prepared. He took a beating. What I was hitting him with in the first and second round was what I was hitting him with in the ninth and 10th round. You're not still in there and taking shots like that with no conditioning. I hurt him several times throughout the fight, but he always came back. He never showed at any time throughout the fight that he was weakening.
SI.com:Did you feel in any way responsible for Tyson's descent into a figure who, for many years, the public viewed as a tattoo-faced villain?
Douglas: To me, he was always like that. [It was] just another way of getting himself ready or psyched up or whatever. He was always the same. It was just that the invincibility thing was removed: He knew he could be beat because he had been beaten.
SI.com:You lost the title to Evander Holyfield in your next fight. With your place in history already assured, were you still hungry?
Douglas: It was such an overwhelming thing, the way it all came about. We were just consumed with everything going on. The next thing you know, we were in court, flying coast to coast, talking to law firms about how we were going to go about these proceedings. It was really ugly. By the time the [Holyfield] fight came around, I was really in a bad way, because I'd never got a chance to enjoy anything. And once it came around it was just unfortunate. It took me a long time to get over that, too. That was really hurtful. It was nothing like I'd imagined it ending for me.
SI.com:Do you love boxing? Not necessarily the sport, but the act.
Douglas: I love the competition, the competitiveness. It's awesome, man. I really, really enjoyed my time as a fighter. It's just that once I obtained that ultimate goal of being heavyweight champion, it wasn't like I thought it was going to be. It may have been if it had been different circumstances of winning it.
But after winning it against all odds, it was a battle from winning the title just to hold on to it, just to be announced as the heavyweight champion -- because after the fight there was a big thing about maybe they should call it a no contest and do it over again. It was a nightmare from the outset. It was terrible. It was really [messed] up to be honest with you. They made it like, "OK, you won the fight but you're not going to enjoy it," and then I didn't. I never got a chance to really exhale or have a moment to reflect. It was like from one fight to the next fight and after that it was like, "You've got to defend the title." And then it was like, like 90 days to get ready for the next fight. It was really a bad mental ordeal.
SI.com:Do you still follow the sport?
Douglas: Yeah, I still follow it. I like to watch that Pacquiao, man.
SI.com:Who wins a fight between Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather?
Douglas: It's going to be a good fight. I like Mayweather, but it's going to be a good one. I think you're going to be able to tell a lot from this next one -- when they have these two fights. [Pacquiao fights Josh Clottey on Mar. 13; Mayweather fights Shane Mosley on May 1.] When they have to fight each other, I don't know. I'm tempted to lean towards Pacquiao, because he's like no other. But Mayweather is too, so it's going to be one heck of a fight.
SI.com: It's a down period for the heavyweight division but what do you think about the current champions, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko? How do you think they would have matched up against some of the all-time greats?
Douglas: They'd have been in there, that's for sure. They'd have been in there. Give a lot of credit to Emanuel Steward, who's helped them along a great deal and brought them up to speed so to speak. They good champions.
SI.com:Are there any other guys today you would put among the all-timers?
Douglas: Bernard Hopkins is one of the all-time greats, for sure. Him and De La Hoya. Those guys are awesome. Awesome champions.
SI.com:What are your thoughts on mixed martial arts as America's fastest-growing sport?
Douglas: I'm not surprised. I was at first but not now. I could not believe the crowds they draw. It's like the WWF when it first came out. It's huge, man. Wherever they go, they sell out arenas.
I went to one a couple years ago at Nationwide here in Columbus and everybody in that place was on the edge of their seat. I couldn't really understand what was going on, because one guy would be on the ground, the other guy would be trying to punch him, the other guy would be trying to pull him down -- and the next thing you know it was over. But everybody was screaming and hollering and really enjoying it.
SI.com:What was the specific inspiration behind your cookbook?
Douglas: The guy I co-authored it with, Tony Reynolds, and I were talking one day about the experience of being a diabetic. His father was a diabetic and he had to prepare his foods and stuff. And I was telling him about when I was first diagnosed with being a diabetic and I had to start changing my eating ways and eating the foods that I was preparing and how I had to prepare them differently. It was a big difference. I just started experimenting with different ways to preparing the food and that's how it all came about.
SI.com:What's the feedback been like?
Douglas: It's been good. It's been picking up momentum every day it seems like. That's a good thing. Sometimes I just shake my head at some of the things I've been involved with. How life has changed. It's pretty cool. Just hanging in there, man, just rolling with the punches.
SI.com:Have you heard from any fans who have benefitted from it?
Douglas: Not really, but occasionally someone will say they tried a recipe. It's pretty cool.
SI.com:Do you see yourself ever mentoring up-and-coming fighters or getting back into the sport at all?
Douglas: It's a possibility. I've been working with [former manager] John Johnson, with some of his fighters. One time John Russell had some fighters that he was working with and I was working with him. It depends on how quickly things move along. But I'm always open to an opportunity, that's for sure.
I enjoy it. It's cool, I'm earning my stripes to be on the other side. Now I can share some of my wisdom and that's pretty cool. I find enjoyment in that.
SI.com:Just passing it down to someone else like it was passed down to you.
SI.com:How do you want to be remembered?
Douglas: Just as a man who had a dream, went after it and achieved it.