40-1 underdog James “Buster” Douglas became a worldwide household name on February 11, 1990 – the night he shocked just about everyone by knocking out the seemingly unbeatable “Iron” Mike Tyson in Tokyo, Japan to win the world heavyweight championship. It was one of the finest heavyweight performances of all-time, Douglas was poetry in motion, an artist with dynamite in both hands. Twenty years later, “Buster” Douglas shared some insightful memories about his historic accomplishment:
BoxingInsider: When did you first believe in your own mind you were going to defeat Mike Tyson?
James “Buster” Douglas: “I always thought I had a good chance to beat him. Confident in my abilities. I moved up the rankings and got closer to get another shot at the title. It just grew, you know, it just grew from there.”
BoxingInsider: Do you remember a specific time in your mind when you first believed that you were gonna beat Tyson?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Once I signed to fight him I knew that I could beat him. And then, of course, it intensified as my mom passed and prior to my mother passing, she came over and checked on me – because I was going through a lot in my life – at the time my wife and I were separated – and it was just really bad outside of my boxing career. And then I was really adamant about it with my mom. And she was like, Oh, you’re so mean. From that point on she was confident I was prepared to fight. It was a trying time but through the grace of God I made it through all the things I was going through. There I was preparing for one of the biggest nights of my life, and then all the things in my life were going bad. But I still stayed focused and was able to lean on boxing to bring me through that, that storm. It was really a difficult time in my life, but boxing helped me make it through it because it took my mind off it, you know, my personal life. So, therefore, he (Tyson) was the least of my worries.”
BoxingInsider: When did you first notice that Mike Tyson was beginning to realize he was in trouble with you?
James “Buster” Douglas: “I would say probably about the 5th round or so. Because quite a few people have had a good first round with Mike. But after three rounds, four rounds, five rounds, he took a real good look at me, after about the 5th round, like, DAMMNN [laughs]. You know, one of those kind of expressions. It just continued from there. But the thing I was impressed about Mike was, he fought like a son of a bitch. Because we all thought, once he got five or six rounds behind, that he would be like, Oh, fuck it, things aren’t going my way. But, shit, he stepped it up too. So, you know, it was a helluva thing.”
BoxingInsider: When did you first see the look of defeat etched on his face or in his…(eyes)?
James “Buster” Douglas: “(Cutting me off) I never saw defeat in Mike’s face, never. And that’s, ironically [laughs], in the 8th round, when I wanted to take a, like, reflect, like, Mike, look at this going on…BANG! He caught me with a shot. And that’s when I was like, Oh, better stay serious, because he’s focused. He was focused throughout.”
BoxingInsider: How many times have you watched the video?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Oh, I’ve seen it over, of course, when it happened, quite a few times. But I haven’t watched it much lately. But I still have it definitely [smiles]. Whenever I feel bad or something, I watch it, you know [smiles]?”
BoxingInsider: It was a night of genius you had in Tokyo. How much better did you feel that night than all your other fights in your career?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Well, I could have easily gone out there and given a lackluster performance, or probably try once or twice and say, Aw, the hell with it. And put a face back on, well his mother just died, he was under a lot. But that was the last thing I would allow to happen. Because my mother was such a very strong woman and I couldn’t go out like that. She raised me to be a really strong man. So, really, like I said, that just intensified my training and my last couple of weeks before the fight. There was no doubt in my mind that I could do it. I felt very confident. It was one of the most confident days going to a fight in my career. I always knew I had the ability, that’s why I did it. So I knew I had the tools to do it. It was just sorting a few things out along the way to becoming champion.”
BoxingInsider: I’ve always believed that the way you boxed Tyson that night – how good you looked and moved – like poetry in motion – that you might have beaten anyone in history that night. Your comment?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Oh, after that it was just a whirlwind. It was just an unbelievable experience. Just a lot going on. I felt…I made it, I won the title. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to defend it like I would have liked to have – went in there four or five times and defended the title. Those are true champions. To go through and hold it together the whole time. I had my moment. I knew I could be a heavyweight champion. I accomplished that and that’s it.”
BoxingInsider: What would you say was the greatest moment of your career?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Probably I would say just my career itself. From where it started, where it all began. I started in my father’s basement. I came home after my junior year in college and told him I was gonna fight, become a fighter. And from that point on it started. It was from the beginning. Started at age 10, 10 to 15. Took off. Thought I was gonna be a pro basketball player. That didn’t work. Came back. Turned pro at 21. And that was the beginning.”
BoxingInsider: You most painful moment?
James “Buster” Douglas: “When I lost my mother.”
BoxingInsider: Who was your toughest opponent?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Myself. Because if I was right, I needn’t worry about anyone. It was about me having the right mind-set.”
BoxingInsider: Who were the hardest punchers you faced?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Early in my career, facing guys on the way up like myself. The hard times of driving somewhere, where the odds are against you every fight, made me a better man. That’s how my dad (Bill, former top middleweight in the 1960’s-70’s) did it, too. On the road. Later on they were cream puffs. They had easy opponents, never left home. They had it easy, I came up the hard way.”
BoxingInsider: What was your childhood dream?
James “Buster” Douglas: “I wanted to be a football player. But, looking back, there was always a burning desire to be a champ. When I was 15 I thought about what I’d do to be the heavyweight champion. I thought I didn’t have the desire to do it like my father. He did it by himself, no entourage. He was just a vicious fighter. Did it alone. I’d take him to the airport and he’d get on the plane himself. I thought that was incredible passion for the sport.”
BoxingInsider: Who was your childhood hero, inspiration?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Muhammad Ali, he made such an impact on boxing and he was a beautiful boxer. A beautiful jab. I met him on several occasions. Kicked it with him. Had a ball. It isn’t like it usually is, where your expectations are too high. It wasn’t like that. It was even more than I expected. He liked my style. He told me he was jumping up and down and jumping out of his chair watching the Tyson fight. It was a thrill to bring pleasure to a man who brought so much pleasure to me.”
BoxingInsider: Can you tell about an early memory of your boxing days as a kid?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Oh, several. Boxing with PAL, we traveled a lot, three weekends a month, to places like West Virginia, Detroit and Cleveland. I really enjoyed going to West Virginia, going up in those hills reminded me of Happy Days. And if you didn’t have a punch, you were through. Them guys were tough. It made for a hard night if you didn’t get them out of there early. In Tennessee, I got to see Big John Tate in his amateur heyday back in 1972. Everyone was talking about him, he was huge. I was only 12.”
BoxingInsider: You probably threw thousands maybe a million punches in your career. Is there one that landed, one perfect, memorable best punch that stands out to you?
James “Buster” Douglas: “My favorite fight is when I fought Mike Williams in Atlantic City on the Spinks card. That jab was clicking, man. I was poppin’ him with the jab. Dropped him. Felt really strong, couldn’t miss.”
BoxingInsider: And last, do you have a funny boxing memory or story?
James “Buster” Douglas: “Traveling early in my career with my dad, last-minute fights. We’d get a call at like 10 o’clock that morning – to go to Grand Rapids, Michigan. The promoter from up there Henry Grooms called my dad. Bill, we got a heavyweight up here, he’s 4-4 and we’re looking for a fight, just trying to get him a win, you know? Bill, can you bring somebody up here for us? Hometown kid, I’d just like to get him a win. My dad said, Sure, I’ll bring him up. Grooms said, What’s his name?
“His name – Buster James. He said, Okay Bill, thanks a lot. Appreciate it, love you, man. I’ll give you an extra two or three hundred dollars for bringing him. So we come up there and the guy sees me, Oh, this is bullshit Bill, what are you doing?! No, it’ll be all right, man. So the guy I’m fighting is six-foot-six, 240. His name is Maurice Earl. So Maurice came over and looked at me…It’s okay, it’s okay. So I knock him out in like two rounds. I mean, like, destroy him. Grooms came over before the fight, This is bullshit, you going to get me killed. My dad’s like, Oh man, it’s gonna be all right, man. That was a wild moment. They were flim-flammin’ each other [smiles]. That’s the game of boxing, right?”