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March 22, 2019

To Shock the World: The Greatest Upset in Sports History

At the end of a bloody and gruesome 8th round, James “Buster” Douglas sat up from the canvas; dazed and disoriented, he rose to his feet to keep slugging it out with the undefeated Mike Tyson. Douglas, a man viewed as little more than a helpless underdog by the world, had already defied all odds with his demonstration of courage when he made it back to his feet after nearly getting knocked out by the champion. But little did the world know that the biggest upset in sports history was still yet to come. What gave Buster Douglas the strength to fight on that day of all days? After all, Douglas had previously been knocked out by weaker opponents before this fight, and he was generally viewed as a relatively weak fighter. Was it courage, rage, or just an act of fate?1

James Douglas was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1960, to one former pro-boxing William “Dynamite” Douglas. Despite what that might entail about Douglas’ boxing influence, the thing that most people do not know about Douglas is that boxing was not his first love in the realm of sports. During his high school days, he played and enjoyed football and basketball. In 1977, Douglas led his Linden McKinley High School to a state championship. Douglas continued to pursue basketball long after high school, and ended up playing for Coffeyville Community College, where he proved himself good enough to attend Mercyhurst University on a basketball scholarship. Douglas had already proven himself to be an outstanding athlete since high school, with his plethora of achievements, and his recent performance in community college simply tipped the scales in his favor.2

Once college was over for Douglas, he moved back to his home town of Columbus, Ohio, where he found himself wanting to pursue the footsteps of his father in boxing. After a few minor incidents, Douglas eventually made his professional Boxing Debut in 1981 against Dan O’Malley. Douglas turned out to be just as good a boxer as he was a basketball player, and, with a few losses along the way, his career was still good enough to earn him his first ever chance at the Heavyweight title against Tony Tucker in 1987. Douglas started the fight off good and was ahead for the most part, but he quickly became too gassed to maintain the upper hand and was stopped in the tenth round. This failure proved to be a major setback for Douglas, as he was forced to start from nearly the bottom of the ranks in order to get another chance at the title fight. On top of the already heightened odds, his fumble in the ring had totally soiled his overall public reputation.3

In the moment of Douglas’ defeat and doubt, it was ultimately his tight-knit family that encouraged him to keep going and pressing forward, and for the next three years Douglas quickly moved back up the rankings, going through many notable fighters like Jerry Halstead and Trevor Berbick in a desperate attempt to once again be in a position to get a shot at a title fight again. But this time around the person who he would have to defeat was seen as unbeatable, not only for his flawless record, but for the way he brutally treated his opponents without seeming to ever get so much as a scratch on him throughout the entire fight. His name was Mike Tyson, the man made of iron, and he was standing directly between Douglas and everything he had ever wanted. In order to finally realize his dreams, Douglas would have to fight with a fire within him that he had not yet felt. Unlike the public, Douglas was not phased by the monstrous reputation Tyson had created for himself. Douglas was not one to pay attention to things like that, so he just put his head down and got to work with the training he would need if he wanted to become the heavyweight champion of the world.4

The fight was one month away and the hype was not nearly what it had been for other Tyson fights, because this was considered a tune up match to get Tyson ready for his next big fight following Douglas, against Evander Holyfield.  The odds of the fight were released at 42 to 1 in favor of Mike Tyson. There was so little chance of him winning that the fight was set in Tokyo, Japan to keep people from making free money off of the game by betting money on Tyson. Any other person would have taken it as an insult or been discouraged, but Douglas once again turned away from what he saw and returned to hard training. Through the preparation of it all, everyone said that Douglas looked good in his training and preparation. As the fight grew nearer, Douglas claimed that he felt confident and focused on the fight, but, in the midst of his journey to the top of the boxing charts, his path took a devastating sharp turn when his mother suddenly died two weeks before the fight, after suffering from a stroke.5

Douglas had to bury his mother 23 days before the biggest day of his life, and flew out to Tokyo the same night for upcoming press conferences. The two weeks leading up to the fight were very melancholy, and, according to his trainer, Douglas’ training sessions were quiet and relaxed, and showed no real difference from any other fight. When asked a question in an interview about how Douglas felt about the upcoming fight, however, the soft spoken man only said “I’m going to shock the world.”6

Douglas and Tyson fight in the center of the ring at the opening bell | Courtesy of Wikipedia

On November 2, 1990, the two fighters met each other in the ring for the first time. One man stands a champion that seems invincible trying to put away just another ordinary contender, and the other stands with a vicious glare of excitement, one who feels like he doesn’t have much to lose. The ring announcer calls them to the center ring, briefly explains the rules, makes them bump fists and clears out of the ring. Finally, the bell sounds and the fight is on.7

Douglas falls at the hands of Mike Tyson in the 8th round | Courtesy of Wikipedia

From the very get go, the fight was a shock to the world. Buster Douglas, a nobody, found himself toe to toe with the world champion of heavyweight boxing, and it looked like Douglas had the upper hand too, until the eighth round when Tyson landed a lucky hit to Douglas, sending him straight to the canvas. Douglas, who laid on the floor, stunned, had allowed what everyone thought was going to happen to come true. He was knocked down by the champion. But nobody expected him to get back up. At the count of eight, Buster Douglas wobbled to his feet and was saved by the bell at the end of the round. Douglas took time to gather himself in between rounds, and came back out swinging like he had never swung before. The two men went back and forth the entire round. Mike Tyson seemed to be wearing out and appeared to clearly be losing, which was a first for the unstoppable juggernaut. At the end of the ninth round, it was Tyson who had found himself backed up against the ropes.8

Buster Douglas knocks Mike Tyson to the floor in the 10th round | Courtesy of Wikipedia

When the bell signaled the start of the tenth round, the two titans quickly collided. Toe to toe they stood, but this was Douglas’ moment for glory. With a deadly combination, Tyson was sent reeling to the ground. Disoriented, he struggled to put his mouth piece back in, but did not make it to his feet in time to beat the ten second count. James “Buster” Douglas was world heavyweight champion. A man seen by all boxing experts as having a 42 to 1 chance of beating Mike Tyson, a man who had every reason to quit and feel discouraged by what was going on around him, refused to give up and ultimately beat a man who seemed invincible, finally fulfilling his dream of becoming the heavyweight champion of boxing.9

Even though Douglas lost the title in his next fight to Evander Holyfield, he still held an accomplishment that nobody else possessed, and that was his beating of Mike Tyson in his prime. According to the odds and experts, the knockout was never even supposed to happen. It was something that was unquestionably impossible to reproduce, something that could only ever happen once. It’s the story of a man driven by the death of his mother and who refused to lose in honor of her.10

Sports has always been an important part of human culture. We are a competitive species and have been since the time of the Greeks. This lust for competition is especially apparent in our enjoyment of sports, because every game played is a game of chance for the competitors; nothing is certain and this uncertainty spawns interest. We like to see the people and teams we have connections with take their chances and emerge victorious because that makes us, the common people, believe that our team or our athlete is a physical metaphor to overcoming adversities and taking on the chances of every little battle throughout our lives, whether it be seen from a TV screen or in the stands. We are inspired to see other people defy odds and win at the game of chance. James Douglas took his small chance and ran with it, only to create a story that is nothing short of being Cinderella-like. This is why we glorify stories like David and Goliath. It’s us, accomplishing things we were not supposed to be able to accomplish. This is why sports is so important to us as humans, and this is exactly what makes James “Buster” Douglas beating Mike Tyson the greatest upset in sports history.11

  1. John Johnson and Bill Long, Tyson-Douglas: The inside story of the upset of the century (Washington D.C: Potomac, 2007), 176-178.
  2. Ben Houser, 42 to 1 (Dec 11, 2018; Bristol: ESPN), film.
  3. Ben Houser, 42 to 1 (Dec 11, 2018; Bristol: ESPN), film.
  4. Ed Odeven, “Seeing Douglas shock Tyson gave Lewis Confidence,” The Japan Times, Feb 5, 2015.
  5. Steve Kim, “James ‘Buster’ Douglas recounts the biggest upset in Boxing History,” ESPN, Dec 11, 2018.
  6. Steve Kim, “James ‘Buster’ Douglas recounts the biggest upset in Boxing History,” ESPN, Dec 11, 2018.
  7. John Johnson and Bill Long, Tyson-Douglas: The inside story of the upset of the century (Washington D.C: Potomac, 2007), 145-147
  8. Ed Odeven, “Seeing Douglas shock Tyson gave Lewis Confidence,” The Japan Times, Feb 5, 2015
  9. Ed Odeven, “Seeing Douglas shock Tyson gave Lewis Confidence,” The Japan Times, Feb 5, 2015.
  10. Ben Houser, 42 to 1 (Dec 11, 2018; Bristol: ESPN), film.
  11. John Johnson and Bill Long, Tyson-Douglas: The inside story of the upset of the century (Washington D.C: Potomac, 2007), 23-24.

Tags from the story


heavyweight boxing championship

James “Buster” Douglas

Mike Tyson

Recent Comments

Hector Membreno

I am a mike Tyson fan and have always his style of fighting and how ruthless he was towards his opponents but there is just something about a underdog story that makes smile. The fight and pure brute of James “Buster” Douglas just shows just because we are down and dealing with things such as his moms death we still have fight. His story shows that just because we are knocked down by life or an opponent in his case we have to stand up and fight back because life keeps going on.



7:59 am

Jacqueline Mendez

I remember my dad showing me this fight and how excited he was to be able to alive for that moment. He told me how he was little and was in complete shock when he saw that fight. He was rutting for Douglas and how sad he was that he was getting punched with no remorse. But he knew Douglas was going to win. Soon enough my dad jumped up and was so happy he had won. This article brought back a very happy memory with my dad.



7:59 am

Judson Ruddick

Although I don’t agree that it’s the biggest upset of sports, before reading this article I had little to no knowledge of this fight and the outcome. Defeating Mike Tyson in the ring is incredibly hard and equivalent to someone beating Mayweather today. The loss of Douglas’ mother seemed to motivate him to win rather than break him down. It clearly wasn’t a piece of cake to win the fight but by the time the bell ring he was having his hand raised in victory which is an amazing achievement.



7:59 am

Sebastian Azcui

Underdog stories are always the best. Mike Tyson is one of the best boxers in history as he was ruthless, fast, and strong. Underdog stories leave you with a surprised feeling because people always expect for the most recognized and the best to win. There is always a favorite, but when the least favorite and the least expected wins it becomes the best story. I never heard about this story, and never heard of “Buster” Douglas. This seemed to be an epic fight.



7:59 am

Tyler Caron

Before reading this article I had never heard of “Buster” Douglas. Pretty much everyone has heard of boxer legend Mike Tyson, but hearing a story that makes me wonder why other people haven’t heard of him. Everyone was doubting him! Like the article said he had a 42-1 chance to win. He won and became a champion that is incredible! It was a very well written article that not many people have heard about before.



7:59 am

Carly Jimenez

I enjoy reading articles about this particularly because Douglas was an underdog and no one saw him winning the fight with Mike Tyson because Mike was one of the best boxers of all time. People thought that he did not have a chance to win, but he worked hard at the time he wanted to give up. I think it is extraordinary that he came back to win this fight when the odds were 42 to 1 to begin with. It shows that it doesn’t matter who you are it just matters what you bring to the table. Great Article!



7:59 am

Jose Maria Llano Aranalde

Everyone knows about Mike Tyson and how great of a boxer he was. I had never heard of “Buster” Douglas before reading this article. It’s always great to have under dog stories. It gives people the feeling that they can do and accomplish anything they want no matter how big the obstacle. “Buster” Douglas did something that we all dream of doing.



7:59 am

Jacob Silva

As previously stated, I have limited knowledge on anything sports related, but I do know who Mike Tyson is. Mike Tyson is one of the best boxers out there, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s all that would make a great boxer. It’s kinda hard to imagine a world where he wasn’t held at such high regards and even people doubting that he would win. He had been matched up against a “Buster” Douglas where absolutely nobody would’ve thought Tyson would come out on top. Well he did and the rest is history.



7:59 am

Saira Locke

The underdog story in sports is always the best. Mike Tyson is arguably one of the best boxers who have ever lived. He faced a man named “Buster” Douglas on November 2, 1990. Everyone thought this fight was a confidence booster for Tyson but boy was everyone wrong. Douglas mother had died 23 days before the fight, he had the motivation to win this just not for himself.



7:59 am

Andrea Degollado

I had heard the same Mike Tyson before but I honestly did not know who he was, this article did a great way of presenting him. I was able to learn just how great of a boxer Mike Tyson was, and I think this a great story also because it doesn’t show someone who was always at the top. It gives us an underdog story, one in which I feel is more relatable and is abel to connect with the audience more.



7:59 am

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