The Greatest Upset Ever in the History of Boxing – Witnessed in Tokyo 26 Years Ago

Buster Douglas knocks out Tyson

He gave up 5 inches in height, over 11 pounds in weight and 12 inches in reach to the contender, but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the 23-year heavyweight champion, Mike Tyson, was going to win, and win easily. Journeyman, Buster Douglas had fought well in previous years to deserve a shot, but little else.

In fact, very few betting houses accepted bets on the fight. One that did had Tyson, the undefeated champion from New York, a 42-1 favorite. But on this day yesterday, February 11, 26 years ago, the son of a boxer from Columbus, Ohio, delighted 40,000 fans at the Tokyo Dome, and shocked the boxing world. As ringside commentator, Jim Lampley said at the end of the fight, “Let’s go ahead and call it the biggest upset in the history of championship fights. Say it now gentlemen, ‘James Buster Douglas – undisputed heavyweight champion of the world’.”

Boxing history was made. But why was it made in Tokyo? According to Japan hand, Robert Whiting, holding the fight in Japan was an attempt to bring excitement to a fight that was expected to be a Tyson massacre, at a time when Japan was the hottest economy in the world.

Buster Douglas knocks out Tyson 2

They held the fight in Tokyo for economic reasons. Most fight fans in the U.S. thought the match with Douglas would be inconsequential — just a warm-up for an anticipated match with Evander Holyfield. Holding it in Japan would generate more interest. Moreover, at that time, Japan was at the peak of its economic power, buying up expensive properties like Rockefeller Plaza and Columbia Studios.

Staging a heavyweight title match would be yet another important status symbol. The Nikkei had just hit its all-time high two months earlier and the yen was the world’s most powerful currency. So it made economic sense for Don King and the rest of the Tyson team to hold the fight there.

Here it is, the end of that incredulous fight. Were you there?