November 24, 2010

Steve Solloway: The night Buster Douglas shocked the world

His face is older, fuller and not as familiar as it once was, 20 years ago. He may go unrecognized on the last leg of his trip Friday from Columbus, Ohio, to Portland. Even the mention of his name might not stir memories.

Buster Douglas was known for not being as aggressive in the ring as he should have been. But for one night in Tokyo, 20 years ago, everything came together. Perfectly.

Contributed photo

James Douglas, the husband, father, and businessman, rings of anonymity. Buster Douglas, the one-time heavyweight champion of the world, certainly does not.

You didn't have to be a boxing fan that day in 1990 to have been shocked at the news.

Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. The fall of one of the world's most intimidating men wasn't the result of a lucky punch.

It was the final act of a 10-round whuppin'. The image of a discombobulated Tyson on his knees groping on the canvas for his mouthguard was stunning in its unbelievability. So little had prepared so many for the sight.

"I was just a guy who had a dream and believed in myself," Douglas said the other day. So many others did not.

Saturday night, Douglas will be at the Stevens Avenue Armory in Portland for the finals of the New England USA boxing championships hosted by Bob Russo and the Portland Boxing Club. Douglas doesn't have a fighter on the 14-bout card.

"I want to give something back. I love amateur fighters. I remember when I was one."

Of course his presence is meant to drive ticket sales. Douglas will be available to meet two hours before the night's first fight at 8.

The Portland Boxing Club is a nonprofit organization and Russo's bigger shows help cover the costs of its spartan gym and travel expenses to amateur tournaments.

But at some levels, boxing is about family more than business. Even when you pay the bills of sweat and sacrifice, the payoff can be meager. Support isn't always counted out in dollars.

Russo was at the national Golden Gloves tournament in Little Rock, Ark., last May with Casey Kramlich, one of his PBC fighters, when he saw Douglas standing alone watching a fight. They talked and when Russo invited Douglas to Maine, the big man accepted.

Douglas always had flashed potential and delivered disappointment. Ten rounds in Tokyo and a new world champion changed all that.

He has been to the mountaintop of fame and fortune. He's also walked through the wastelands of disrespect and despair. Eight months after taking Tyson's heavyweight titles, Douglas lost them to Evander Holyfield in three rounds.

The regret of not having made more of talent and opportunity stung.

His fall was accompanied by binges of food and alcohol that pushed his weight to more than 400 pounds and his body into a diabetic coma. Douglas had a more serious fight on his hands.

His life's lessons are almost Biblical. He lost two brothers to gunshots, one by accident, the other by shootout.

As he trained to fight Tyson, his mother died of a stroke. The mother of his first child was diagnosed with cancer that same month.

The boxing world gave him so little respect, it was almost impossible to find Las Vegas odds on the Tyson fight. It drew so little interest in the United States, promoters moved it to Japan.

A few too many times before, Douglas seemingly had lost interest in his opponents, especially when he was in the ring. His father questioned his motivation, something William "Dynamite" Douglas, a middleweight and light-heavyweight contender, never lacked.

"My father was my hero. He was a national Golden Gloves champion. He was my measuring stick. I watched him fight at Madison Square Garden, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. There were big crowds."

James Douglas was a pretty fair basketball player in high school and junior college, but followed his father into the ring.

But while his father's reputation was built on intensity and explosiveness in the ring, Douglas was known for his laid-back personality. Until that night in Tokyo when he fought for his mother and her dreams for him.

Most of all he fought for himself.

Tyson knocked Douglas down in the eighth with an uppercut and some expected the fight to end there. Another Tyson victim. Instead, Douglas refocused.

It is said that most champions have one, maybe two extraordinary performances in them. This was Douglas' time. It became the moment that stamped him onto the pages of sports history.

Today his diabetes is under control. He's co-authored Buster's Backyard Bar-b-q: Knockout Diabetes Diet.

In 2002 he played an FBI agent in "Pluto's Plight," a science fiction comedy about aliens wanting to make Earth their home but crash-landing on Pluto. No, that one wasn't a hit.

He's partners with a developer with plans to convert a four-acre parcel in Columbus into townhouses and retail. The economy has stalled that.

He has an adult son, another in college and another in high school.

He lives for Ohio State football and has to mention he met the late Woody Hayes, the Buckeyes' legendary coach. Douglas didn't meet LeBron James before James skipped the state to play in Miami.

"But I played golf with Leroy Kelly (the former Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back). "Man, that was something."

I ask Douglas if he enjoys western movies. Very much, he said. Had he watched "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" with James Stewart, John Wayne and Lee Marvin, released in 1962? No, he hadn't.

Too bad. There's an analogy, if not entirely apt. In the movie, Stewart got the credit for killing the cruel outlaw but it was John Wayne, standing in the shadows, whose bullet did the job.

No one stood in the shadows of the ring that night in Tokyo. James "Buster" Douglas was The Man Who Knocked Out Mike Tyson. Holyfield would also beat Tyson, but Douglas did it first.

"I feel blessed by the people remembering and wanting to shake my hand or get their picture taken with me," said Douglas.

"I like reaping the benefits. This makes the blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. This is the most enjoyable time of my life."

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: ssolloway@pressherald.com

 

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