ESPN recently gave us another thrilling documentary titled 42 to 1. The title represents the odds of James “Buster” Douglas beating Mike Tyson to win the heavyweight crown. As a lifelong boxing enthusiast, the documentary did not cover anything new for me. HBO sports analyzed the match years ago in their acclaimed Legendary Nights series. I was familiar with the unfortunate personal issues that Douglas was going through. The fact that Tyson was knocked down in sparring was something well-known, as well.
The ESPN documentary did uncover something that I had no idea would happen. Probably unbeknownst to ESPN, they gave us a documentary in which some boxing fans can argue that Mike Tyson was overrated. My twitter feed was surprisingly filled with people saying how Tyson was exposed that night. People were arguing that he was someone who was the product of great matchmaking and even better marketing.
As an avid Tyson fan, I cannot begin to tell you how personal I took these comments. Once I settled down, I realized that none of these people had a clue what they were talking about. Mike Tyson wasn’t overrated. As a matter of fact, I would argue that Mike Tyson was one of the greatest heavyweight champions in the history of pugilism. Before you tell yourself that I have no idea what I am talking about, let’s go ahead and look at some numbers.
First, I will start with the age that Mike Tyson won the heavyweight championship. When Tyson beat Trevor Berbick to win the title, he became the youngest champion in history at the tender age of 20 years old. A fitting record as he took that honor from Floyd Patterson who was also trained by the late Cus D’Amato. It is a record that has yet to be broken and from what I can tell, looks to be sitting there comfortably for a very long time. What is even more impressive is some of the names that he beat for that record. Muhammad Ali was 22 years old when he won the title. Joe Louis and John L. Sullivan were both 23 years old. Finally, Jack Dempsey, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, and James J. Jeffries were all 24 years of age when they became champions. Anyone who knows the history of boxing would agree that the names I just mentioned are forever etched in stone as heavyweight boxing royalty. The fact that Tyson is mentioned with these great pugilists proves that he was in no way overrated as a heavyweight champion.
Next, I will point out to his title defenses. From 1986-1989, he made 9 title defenses. Now you may be asking yourself how in the world can such a short reign be impressive. Well, let us compare this with some of the all-time greats that boxing aficionados mention. Jack Dempsey was the most popular champion during the roaring twenties. He was so popular that his fight with Luis Firpo in 1923 became boxings first million-dollar gate. “The Manassa Mauler” reigned as heavyweight champion for 7 years. In 7 years, he only made 5 successful defenses. John L. Sullivan, who became the first champion of the gloved era in boxing, also reigned for 7 years and had 5 title defenses. Rocky Marciano, who is the still the only heavyweight champion to retire undefeated, reigned for three years and made only six defenses of his title. Tyson has the same amount of title defenses as Joe Frazier and Vitali Klitschko. But, all of these great champions had a longer title reign than the former baddest man on the planet. Tommy Burns, with a title reign of only 2 years and 11 defenses, can claim a shorter yet more successful title defense record.
Buster Douglas fought a tremendous fight against Tyson. I am in no way trying to discredit his win back in February of 1990. As a Tyson fan, I will admit that I have been guilty of making excuses for why he lost. Everything from not being with Kevin Rooney to the so-called long count has been uttered from my mouth. The reason for this article is to prove that Mike at his absolute best was one of the most electrifying champions to ever step into the ring. I constantly watch old fights and I get chills seeing him walk into that ring ready to destroy. As someone who has a greater understanding of boxing now, I marvel at the skills he had in the squared circle. The speed and accuracy of his devastating combinations were a thing of beauty. The way he moved his head using the peek-a-boo style taught to him by D’Amato was nothing short of amazing.
The truth is that Buster Douglas did not expose Mike Tyson as a fighter. He just revealed what many people knew by reading the news. Buster revealed that Tyson was losing the discipline and hunger he had to become champion.