Mike Tyson vs. Buster Douglas
Febuary 11h, 1990
It wasn’t a competitive fight, but then again it never was supposed to be one in the first place. It was billed to the world as a televised beat down of epic proportions and that is exactly what happened – although the person who was on the other end of the gloved punishment came as a shock to the thousands in the audience in The Tokyo Dome and to million of people (like me) watching on late night HBO boxing. It was the bout that began the epic fall of one the most intimidating (and absolutely bat-shit crazy) forces in the mythology that was heavyweight boxing:
Iron Mike Tyson.
When I was a teenager I was both equally terrified and fascinated by all things that related to Mike Tyson. He was a phenomenon that came out of Hoboken with an unforgiving uppercut and the powerful narrative of a young man who rose from poverty and into the nations sports spotlight. Tyson cruised through the lower ranks of the heavyweight boxing circuit with ease. He left a trail of broken faces in the wake on his accession up the food chain of fighters. Master Tyson was a kid who was unable to legally drink hooch but was able to make humongous grown assed men cower under the menacing shadow of his knuckles. It was inexplicable that I had became one of his most unlikely fans.
Boxing is a sport that shouldn’t appeal to me on any level. I don’t like confrontation and I certainly am reticent to watching greased up egomaniacs bash each other’s heads in. I’m not sure what it was that drew me into watching Mike Tyson fight, but if I had to guess, I think it was because of the theater that accompanied him each time into the boxing ring. With his signature simple black boxing trunks and his patented “I’m going to murder you and then wear your eyeballs as a necklace” look on his face, Mike would often win the fight before the first round bell ever sounded. He was simply terrifying. Mike Tyson was the monster under our beds who came up out of the shadows every few months to feed on his flat-footed brawling kin. I wasn’t a Mike Tyson fan because of his boxing skills – but rather, I was a fan because of the mythology that he was writing with every knockout punch he landed.
Iron Mike became the youngest heavyweight champ of all time at the age of 20 (20!!!) when he knocked Leon Spinx out in only 91 seconds during their title fight in the summer of 1988. I watched that fight from a hotel room in Mexico and even at the age of 13 I knew I was witnessing history. I was staying at a beach resort that still remains the most beautiful place I have ever visited in my life – however the only thing I cared about while I was vacationing under the warm Mexican sun was watching that fight. While the people I was traveling with were taking in the divine beauty that surrounded us, I was bathing under the glow of a cheap television in our paint peeled condo. I couldn’t miss the crowning of one the greatest athletes my lifetime would ever have to offer.
When Tyson won his tile bout I felt like I had just watched the end of a Hollywood movie. He was the champion and he would now mercilessly reign over the heavyweight kingdom. For the next couple of years he fought off all challenges to his belt and it looked like the age of Tyson would last indefinitely – but that, of course, didn’t happen. Something unexpected happened…
Buster Douglas happened.
Tyson was supposed to paint the Japanese landscape with Buster’s grey matter – instead it became one of the biggest upsets in the history of all sports. Nobody saw it coming – even the rolly-polly Mr. Douglas, I imagine. From the genesis of the fight, it was clear that something that nobody could have ever predicted was taking place. Douglas wasn’t afraid of Tyson. In fact, it was Iron Mike who blinked first and showed the first signs of apprehension when Buster had landed a couple of sinister punches in the opening rounds. During the break in between the rounds confusion bred in Tyson’s corner as they worked on trying to ice down his swelling face. This was not something they had planned on. This wasn’t supposed to be happening. Buster Douglas was supposed to be a chump – he wasn’t supposed to be putting up much of a struggle. Out of nowhere Mike Tyson was in the fight of his life.
Through the middle rounds Tyson tried to exert his will on the surging Douglas. Despite rocking his opponent with a series of thundering punches (one of which sent Buster to the canvas) he could not gain control of the fight. Every time Mike nailed Buster with a jab he suffered one back equal or greater than the power of the one he had just thrown. With each passing round that Douglas stood toe to toe with Tyson you could see the desperation growing in the face of the young champ. In the ninth round Buster nearly caved in Iron Mike’s head with a number of vicious punches. It was only the bell that signaled the end of the round that save Tyson from being knocked out.
Between the ninth and tenth round I remember wondering when Tyson was finally going to end this threat to his mystique. I kept thinking that any moment he was going to just “flip a switch” and come alive to finish off his enemy. Despite what had transpired over the previous nine rounds I had no doubt that Tyson was going eventually pull it out and win the bout. This would just be part of his hero’s journey where he was tested to the brink of disaster but was able to save himself just before he plummeted into oblivion. Tyson would be fine.
Then the 10th round happened and all of that positive thinking of mine went to shit.
Tyson was knocked down for the first time in his career. The unsinkable ship was sinking. Mike was stunned. I was stunned. The world was stunned. I still remember the look on his face as he crawled around the canvas with his mouth guard dangling out of mouth while the ref counted him out.
“Stand up!!” I yelled at the TV. “Get the hell up!!”
But he didn’t. He wasn’t able to pull himself up off of the canvas. He never fought back. He surrendered to the pain. It was the first time in his boxing career that he was ever challenged and he folded under the weight of the moment.
It was over.
It only took a few punches and a 10 count to end a legend. After that fight Tyson was never the same. He spent the rest of his professional career in trouble with the law, divorcing various women, losing millions of dollars, eating Evander Holyfield’s earlobe, and never again living up to the boxing legend he once was. Tyson quickly became a punch line and the theme of his story shifted from “rags to riches” to “rags to riches to global villain”.
It always bothered me how quickly the demise of Mike Tyson began to unfold. He had gone from a mythological hero to tabloid flameout in just a brief amount of time. I always wondered how he could he let that happen? How could my boxing hero let a couple of hard punches ruin everything he had worked for? Why couldn’t he come back for being knocked down?
As I learned for myself the undoing of a man can happen very easily. Before I knew what was happening to me I had found myself on the losing end of an ass kicking from a disease that I had once dismissed. I was ruined.
Depression happened and I was no match for it.
I was at the height of my powers (whatever in the hell that was) when depression stepped into the ring with me and shattered my glass jaw all over the mat. Just like Iron Mike I didn’t see it coming. I thought I was simply going through “a down phase” in my life when the first few punches started to land. I kept thinking I just needed to weather the assault for a round or two and try to regain my footing later. The beating never stopped. With every passing round I was becoming weaker and weaker and I could feel the muscles in my legs began to shake under the pressure of depression’s furious right hook.
Before this fight began I had a lot going for me in my life. Amazing wife, beautiful children, and a number of creative outlets that fed my soul. There were no early warning signs that this fight was coming. There were no markers that indicated I was vulnerable to this kind of attack. The darkness came out of nowhere. It snuck under my door like a creeping and shadowy sludge that wanted to feed on me. I’m not sure where depression came from. It’s source is a secret place that I could not locate and destroy. Once I knew that I was in trouble of being eaten by this monster I attempted to throw a couple of counter punches but it was too late – my eyes were swollen shut and I was now blind. I swung my fists wildly – unable to connect with my adversary. With every desperate punch I attempted I would receive four or five back in return. It is a horrible feeling to know that it is only a matter of time before I would be knocked out. I was helpless. I knew that I was going down.
I don’t quite remember the exact punch that sent me to my knees. They were coming so relentlessly that each thump against my face blurred into the next. My eyes were completely closed by this point. I couldn’t see anything but the pitch black. I couldn’t feel anything other than pain.
My body had given up and hit the ground long before my brain could decode the signals from my brain that I had been knocked down. I was drowning before I realized that I was underwater. Depression had sucker-punched me and the fight was over. I closed my eyes and let the ref count me out.
I surrendered to the silent grey army of depression. It had surrounded me and swallowed me up into it’s darkness. Depression had seduced me to join it in the slow grey murk.
There is no explanation that I can come up that will allow somebody who has never experienced depression to effectively describe the feeling of it’s cold grip on the heart. It is the sensation of abject suffering and numbness at the same time. Depression is the one form of misery that does not enjoy company. I could be in the company of family and still feel isolated. It is the horrific feeling of rotting from the inside out. Depression robbed me of time, sunny days, and peace. It forced me to act like I was fine on the outside while the disease ravaged my brain and heart. For about a calendar year I laid on the canvas where depression had gutted and knocked me out.
When I finally woke up I had to use the ropes to pull myself up off of the mat. I am still fairly confused of what actually happened to me. My legs are wobbly and my body aches, but I’m putting on my gloves in anticipation of the rematch. Depression won’t like that I am back on my feet. It will be coming back for me. However, next time I won’t go down so easily. I won’t be eviscerated without a fight. Hope and love are just as powerful as the terror and sadness that serve as the tentacles of depression.
I will not be surprised by it this time. I will not let depression be the turning point in my story. It will not define me. It will not be what kills me. I have no doubt that it will knock me down again, but this time I will be screaming:
“Stand up! Get the hell up!!”
And I will.
Depression will not be my Buster Douglas.