Twenty seven years ago Saturday, the boxing world witnessed one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
On Feb. 11, 1990 a semi-anonymous 29-year-old from Columbus, Ohio named Buster Douglas took down undefeated world champion Mike Tyson in a stunning 10th-round knockout (Here is the Sports Illustrated article from 1990 about the knockout).
It was a result absolutely no one saw coming. Not the oddsmakers who labeled Douglas a 42-1 underdog and certainly not the writers who produced some retrospectively hilarious cold takes.
This line from a Newsday preview of the fight (which included the tidbit that Tyson traveled with copies of Bruce Lee movies) pretty much summed up public opinion at the time:
Most boxing people agree that it should be a short fight, but with Douglas being vanquished with the dispatch of a villain in a Bruce Lee movie.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran an article headlined “Tyson-Douglas in Tokyo: Long way for short fight?” which featured this quote from HBO Sports executive producer Ross Greenburg.
“We’re traveling 12 hours for an event that possibly could last only 90 seconds,” Greenburg says, “but that’s just a fact of life with Mike Tyson.”
In an article headlined “There’ll be no surprisin’ — It’s the era of Tyson,” Columbus Dispatch columnist Dick Fenton looked right past hometown hero Douglas. In fact, he looked right past every contemporary fighter and began comparing Tyson to all-time greats.
Who knows how good Tyson would have been in the most recent of boxing’s recurring golden eras? Would he have been able to outpunch the relentless Joe Frazier? Or fell the massive Foreman? Would the prime-time Ali, stinging and moving, have permitted him, even, to get close enough to launch his missiles? We can only guess.
The fact is, each man lives in his own era, and this is the era of Tyson on the one hand and what we can only describe as the rest on the other. Never, not even in Joe Louis’ Bum of the Month days, has any champion so towered over the field.
But none of those takes approach the audacity or the retrospective wrongness of Tim Sorenson of the The Charlotte Observer. Sorenson’s entire pre-fight column reads like a cold take.
Here’s how it started:
The early odds on tonight`s Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight were 100-1. You could put a dollar on Douglas and win $100, put $100 on Douglas and win $10,000, put $10,000 on Douglas and win $10,000,000.
And you were foolish if you did.
Jack, the kid who gambled his Mom’s grocery money that the magic beans would yield a bean stalk, had a better chance.
Sorenson’s then said that Douglas “has the muscle tone of a water balloon” and that “he can’t win” against Tyson. In fact, he wrote, “Tyson is lucky he can make a great living fighting men like Douglas.”
Like Fenton in the Dispatch, Sorenson spent most of his column pondering how Tyson would have done against previous boxing greats. He also suggested Tyson might be best off righting wrestlers from now on.
Amid this mediation on Tyson’s greatness, Sorenson offered a matter-of-fact take on the Tyson-Douglas fight, presented more as a fact than as a prediction.
“By Sunday,” Sorenson wrote. “Tyson will have a record of 38-0.”
Well, not quite.