Before considering what happened on Feb. 11, 1990, in Tokyo -- that moment summed up so memorably, and yet so inadequately, by
On the night of July 21, 1989, in Convention Hall, 23-year-old undefeated heavyweight champion
Meanwhile, on the undercard that night, 29-year-old
Besides, there was just so much wildly entertaining,
Which, of course, through hindsight, helps explain why Douglas' 10th-round knockout of the 42-1 favorite Tyson in the Tokyo Dome on Feb. 11, 1990, was anything but "unbelievable," no matter what Leonard proclaimed and most observers felt. Indeed, hindsight has helped turn the Tyson-Douglas fight into the urtext of the inevitable upset: Mike was distracted; he wasn't motivated; he was looking past Douglas; he had abandoned his original trainer,
Knowing all that, it is almost impossible to watch the fight fresh today. The original feeling at the opening bell -- that it was just a matter of time (Ninety-one seconds? Ninety-three?) before Iron Mike finished this guy off -- has been replaced by the knowledge that in less than 10 rounds Tyson is going to be crawling around on the canvas groping blindly for his mouthpiece. As a result, Tyson looks somehow reduced from the start, short and comically stumpy. However, if you can look at it with fresh eyes (and, thanks to ESPN Classic and YouTube, you have infinite opportunities), you will see a hell of a fight.
The 6-foot-3½ Douglas, fighting at a for-him-trim 231½ pounds, was anything but plodding. And Tyson, though a touch heavy at 220½ and showing less movement than once did, was still a formidable force. The early rounds feature a lot of action and some real back-and-forth exchanges. Douglas, fighting tall and moving Tyson back with that thudding jab, shows the blueprint for how to beat a fighter who until then everyone assumed was unbeatable. By the fifth round, it was becoming clear that Tyson was taking some real punishment. Yet at the time, almost everyone watching -- listen to the announcers -- assumed it was still only a matter of time before Tyson turned the tide with some huge punch. The truly amazing thing, looking back now, is that he almost did.
In the eighth round, Tyson, battered and tiring, landed a huge right uppercut that dropped Douglas to the canvas. It was the signature moment of the bout for me, one that defied the accepted wisdom about both men -- that the bully Tyson, once backed down, would give up and quit trying to win; and that Douglas, though capable of excellence, would fold when the going got tough. Tyson was never more serious or committed than he was with that uppercut. And Douglas, though clearly rocked, looked more disgusted with himself than discouraged and he beat the count and went right back to work.
Two rounds later, he finished his remarkable job with a devastating combination that put Tyson down and out and prompted Leonard's "Unbelievable!" It may not have been that, but certainly Tyson-Douglas was surprising, revealing and thrilling. It turned boxing on its head and proved to be the dividing line in the career of the sport's most important figure. For all those reasons, it's worth looking back at in every detail. Believe it.