It’s still arguably the biggest upset in all of sports. When James ‘Buster’ Douglas knocked out heavyweight champion Mike Tyson back on Feb. 11, 1990, it shocked the world. The victory was Douglas’ high point in his life. In the moments leading up to it, however, Douglas was at his lowest as his mother passed away weeks before the big fight.
Buster Douglas was quite the athlete
James ‘Buster’ Douglas was the son of former professional boxer William ‘Dynamite’ Douglas. His father ran a gym and trained Buster for much of his boxing career. While boxing was in his blood, Buster was a basketball standout.
At Linden McKinley High School in Columbus, Ohio, Douglas played both football and basketball. In 1977, Douglas guided McKinley High to a state title. A power forward, Douglas continued his basketball career at Coffeyville Community College and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame.
In 1979, he attended Sinclair Community College and continued playing basketball. Eventually, he received a scholarship to play at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania. His stay at Mercyhurst was short-lived as he came back home to focus on boxing. Less than two years later, he made his professional boxing debut.
Buster Douglas’ boxing career
Buster Douglas was perceived as a nobody when he fought Mike Tyson on Feb. 11, 1990. Although Tyson was the most dominant fighter of his era, Douglas was an immense underdog. Despite being a 42:1 underdog, Douglas entered the bout with a 29-4-1 record and had just come off a pair of victories against quality opponents.
In his two fights prior to Tyson, Douglas defeated Trevor Berbick and Oliver McCall. Both of those fights were 10-round unanimous decisions. It was the McCall victory that garnered the attention he needed to set up the fight against Tyson for the heavyweight title.
Douglas shocked the world with a 10th-round knockout of Tyson in the Tokyo Dome. Douglas’ career was made because of that fight. He earned respect and a fight with Evander Holyfield to retain the title. Eight months later, Holyfield knocked out an overweight Douglas in the third round. Douglas finished his career with a 37-6-1 record.
Douglas was crushed by the loss of his mother before Tyson fight
While Buster Douglas had enough in him to muster a victory over Mike Tyson, he was struggling inside. Just weeks before the big bout, his mother, Lula, suffered a stroke and died at the age of 46. Douglas was very close to his mother and he was still hurting as he entered the ring for the biggest fight of his life.
“She had been sick for some time, but it just got worse and worse,” Douglas said in an interview with Vlad TV. “Even then, I didn’t know it was as bad as it had gotten. When she came over to my house about a week before I left to talk to me and see how I was mentally, she was really bad then. She was telling her friends before she passed that I was gonna win. Mom’s intuition.”
Douglas then said he received a call. “I got a call that she was going to the hospital,” he said. “When I got over there, she had already passed. I went into the bedroom and she was covered up. I went to pull the cover, but it was tucked up under her. Didn’t really pull it, but I tugged at it a little bit, but I didn’t want to see her anyway. I did, but I didn’t. There were times when I was training, I’d break down. After the workout, I would go into the locker room and my trainer came in there and I’d have the towel over my head and he’d be talking to me. Then when he pulled the towel off, he saw I was just bawling.”
Stats courtesy of BoxRec.