Commentary Classics: James “Buster” Douglas Vs. Mike Tyson

The Scene: Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, Japan — February 11, 1990.

Mike Tyson, the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, battles unheralded Ohio man James “Buster” Douglas in the seventh defence of his unified crown. An imperious force, Tyson had been expected to despatch Douglas with ease yet, as we join the HBO commentary team of Larry Merchant, Jim Lampley and Sugar Ray Leonard at the culmination of round 9, Douglas had already given the champion the hardest fight of his career.

Lampley: The most action-filled, heavy punching exchange round of Mike Tyson’s career.

Merchant: And Mike Tyson is hurt, his eye is closing and he is behind in this fight.

Leonard: There is just an incredible surge of… of strength and life in “Buster” Douglas.

Merchant: (watching replay) Let’s take a look. “Buster” Douglas is just going at him and what he’s doing is — what other fighters who have had Tyson in trouble have backed off to admire their work — and when he got him in trouble he went at him.

And Tyson has taken some big punches. James Douglas is not a great puncher. But he’s a 230-pound man throwing some hard stuff… and Tyson, to his credit, has stood in there and taken the punches.

Lampley: Oh what a right hand by Tyson to begin the 10th round. Emphasis on “man” Larry. This has been an inspired, courageous performance by a man whose mother has died within the past month — whose son’s mother is battling a difficult kidney ailment – who had every reason to come into this bout depressed and down-trodden – chosen by no one to have a chance of getting out of the first few rounds – and he has thoroughly dominated Mike Tyson with the exception of the moment when he went down.

Leonard: Well, the other day, John Johnson err, Douglas’s manager, and Douglas himself said: “I am a new person now.” And apparently he is.

Lampley: He’s been a whole different person than the one every boxing expert expected to see here.

Merchant: It appears that Tyson is virtually a one-eyed fighter at this point.

Lampley: A desperate one eyed fighter… brawling willingly just to try to get in the shot that will finish things and…

Leonard: Oh the uppercut!

Lampley: What an uppercut by Douglas! And down goes Tyson.

Referee Octavio Meyran’s count is clearly audible above an eerie silence.

Meyran: 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… 7… 8…

Leonard: He’s… he we… it’s over!

Merchant: It’s over!

Lampley: Mike Tyson has been knocked out!

Leonard: Unbelievable!

Merchant: This makes Cinderella look like a sad story, what “Buster” Douglas has done here tonight.

Lampley: Let’s go ahead and call it the biggest upset in the history of heavyweight championship fights. Say it now gentlemen: James “Buster” Douglas, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.

Merchant: I would be willing to say it’s the greatest upset in boxing history.

Leonard: There seems to be a little pandemonium here…

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.