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On This Date in Sports February 11, 1990: Buster KOs Tyson

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It what could be the most stunning upset in boxing history, Buster Douglas, an unknown heavyweight knocks out Mike Tyson in the tenth round at the Tokyo Dome to win the undisputed heavyweight title. Tyson came into the fight 37-0 with an air of invincibility. Douglas was a 42-1 underdog with a career record of 29-4-1. Mike Tyson protested the fight claiming a long count when Douglas was knocked down in the eighth round but was denied as Douglas claimed the title. 


At 37-0, Mike Tyson was an unstoppable force in boxing as the 1980s came to an end. Not only was Tyson winning fights, but he was also ending them early as two of his last three matches ended in the first round. While in the ring, Mike Tyson seemed like a machine; his personal life was starting to unravel. His troubled marriage with Robin Givens had come to an end, as did his relationship with longtime trainer Kevin Rooney, as promoter Don King took over more aspects of Tyson’s life. 

As the 1990s began, fans were clamoring to see Mike Tyson defend his title against Evander Holyfield, an unbeaten fighter who was considered the top contender. Tyson and Holyfield had trouble getting a fight as a dispute between promoters Don King and Lou Duva stood as an impediment. The fight appeared to be on track for the end of the year, meaning Mike Tyson needed to stay busy by fighting a lesser-known contender. This led him to accept a $6 million pay date to fight Buster Douglas in Japan. 


James “Buster” Douglas was born on April 7, 1960, in Columbus, Ohio the son of boxer William Dynamite Douglas. Douglas began his professional career in 1981, though Douglas never was the headliner as he usually fought the undercard. This included May 30, 1987, when he was knocked out in the tenth round by Tony Tucker, with the IBF title on the line. The main event saw Mike Tyson knockout Pinklon Thomas in the sixth round with the WBA and WBC titles on the line. Tyson would go on to beat Tucker to unify the heavyweight championship. 

There was little hype surrounding the Mike Tyson match against Buster Douglas, as the fight was shown on HBO and not sold on Pay Per View. Tyson was listed a 42-1 favorite as most experts thought he would barely break a sweat with a first-round knockout. However, when the fight began, it was clear that Buster Douglas was not intimidated by Tyson, as he was in the best shape of his career. In the second round, Douglas appeared to hut the champion with an uppercut that sent shockwaves through the Tokyo Dome. Douglas was in control most of the fight; as Tyson, either distracted by his personal struggles, not respecting his opponent appeared to be not ready for the fight. 


Mike Tyson was bruised and battered, his eye was swelling, and it was clear he was losing the fight. In the eighth round, Tyson landed the best punch of the fight, knocking Buster Douglas to the canvas. As Tyson was ushered into a neutral corner, an official outside the ring appeared to made a ten-count; however referee Octavio Meyran had only reached nine, before Douglas made it back to his feet as the bell to the end of the round rang, giving the challenger a chance to recompose himself. 


After knocking Buster Douglas down in the eighth round, Mike Tyson looked to finish the fight in the ninth but quickly saw that the challenger was not going down easily as he withstood the best the champ had to offer. As the round came to an end, Douglas again began to assert control and had Tyson back on his heel. In the tenth round, Buster Douglas continued to attack Tyson, sending the champion back to the corner with a vicious uppercut, he followed in with four straight blows to the head that knocked Mike Tyson down for the first time in his career. Tyson stunned reached for the mouthguard that had fallen when he hit the canvas and tried to make it to his feet, but Meyran had reached the count of ten, declaring Buster Douglas the winner.

 Had Tyson managed to win the fight, he could have earned a controversial decision, as the two Japanese judges had it 87-86 in his favor, while the American judge had Douglas ahead 88-83. Buster Douglas celebrated with his 11-year-old son, as he was moved to tears thinking about his recently deceased mother. Mike Tyson and Don King would protest, the result arguing the eighth-round count was slow, but only the referee’s count is official, and the fight was not reversed.

Mike Tyson would bounce back with a pair of first-round knockouts of Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart, but there would be no rematch with Buster Douglas. The new heavyweight champion, who made $1.3 million in the Tyson fight, got a $24.6 million payday for his next fight against Evander Holyfield. A fight that Holyfield won with a third-round knockout on October 25, 1990.