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?

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Roy_summer vacation_1967 maybe
Roy, sometime between the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympic Games.

On this, the last day of 2015, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my blog – The Olympians. I have posted at least once every day since I started the blog on May 1. Out of about 300 posts, I’ve selected 25 that I personally like, in good part because I’ve had the great fortune to talk with the people mentioned in these stories.

  1. A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style
  2. American Gymnast Makoto Sakamoto and Memories of Home: Post-War Shinjuku
  3. Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku
  4. The Banning of Headgear in Boxing: The Convoluted World of Protecting Our Athletes
  5. Clumsy Handoff, Beautiful Result: A World Record Finish for the American 4X400 Relay Team in Tokyo
  6. Coach Hank Iba: The Iron Duke of Defense Who Led the Men’s Basketball Team to Gold in 1964
  7. Creativity by Committee: The 2020 Olympic Emblem and the Rio Olympic Mascots?
  8. Crowded, Noisy, Dirty, Impersonal: Tokyo in the 1960s
  9. The Dale McClements’ Diary: From Athlete to Activist
  10. Doug Rogers, Star of the Short Film “Judoka”: A Fascinating Look at Japan, and the Foreigner Studying Judo in the 1960s
  11. Escape from East Berlin in October 1964: A Love Story
  12. Escape from Manchuria: How the Father of an Olympian Left a Legacy Beyond Olympic Proportions
  13. Fame: Cover Girl and Canadian Figure Skater Sandra Bezic
  14. Frank Gorman: Harvard Star, Tokyo Olympian, and Now Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame
  15. The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up
  16. India Beats Pakistan in Field Hockey: After the Partition, the Sporting Equivalent of War
  17. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  18. On Being Grateful: Bob Schul
  19. Protesting Via Political Cartoons: Indonesia Boycotts the Tokyo Olympics
  20. The Sexist Sixties: A Sports Writers Version of “Mad Men” Would Make the Ad Men Blush
  21. “Swing” – The Danish Coxless Fours Found It, and Gold, in Tokyo
  22. Toby Gibson: Boxer, Lawyer, Convict
  23. Vesper Victorious Under Rockets Red Glare – A Dramatic Finish to One of America’s Greatest Rowing Accomplishments
  24. What it Means to Be an Olympian: Bill Cleary Remembers
  25. Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion

What would a blog be without a list! Here is my countdown to the Top Fifteen Sports Stories of 2015. Over the next five days, I will share three stories each day that involved the Olympic Games, Olympians or Olympians to be. Here are number 13 – 15, featuring Mayweather, Rousey and Kobe.

Manny Pacquiao-vs Floyd Mayweather-2015-Fight-of-the-Century

FIFTEEN – Olympian Floyd Mayweather Defeats Manny Pacquiao: In the long-awaited match in May, Mayweather won the welterweight championship fight in a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Mayweather is a bronze medal winning champion at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Ronda Rousey Holly Holm tale of the tape

FOURTEEN – Olympian Judoka Ronda Rousey loses to Holly Holm: In an attempt to defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship, Holm ends Rousey’s streak of 12 victories in a row in November. Rousey won a bronze medal for the United States in judo (-70kg).

Kobe Bryant USA_Basketball_Dunk_Wallpaper_Olympics

THIRTEEN – Two-time Olympian Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement: Bryant won gold with the US Men’s basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.

boxing helmets banned

I didn’t know this.

Olympic boxers are now banned from wearing protective headgear….in order to protect them from concussions.

Say what?

According to this article, the International Boxing Association (AIBA) enacted a rule that disallows “elite male boxers who compete internationally” from wearing headgear because “all available data indicated that the removal of headgear in Elite Men would result in a decreased number of concussions.”

Then I recalled a fascinating Freakanomics podcast, the renown show that features the writer Stephen J. Dubner and the economist Steven Levitt. This particular podcast was entitled “The Dangers of Safety“, and it essentially made the same case, citing the NFL as a case in point. Here’s an exchange between Robert Cantu, a professor of neurosurgery at Boston University, and Dubner explaining how the football helmet actually increases risk of injury.

Cantu: The way, for instance, in football in my opinion that we’re going to have to address this problem, is to eliminate the helmet as the initial point of contact in the act of tackling and even to a certain extent in blocking as well. Quite frankly, when people didn’t have the helmets of the security that there are today, didn’t have the face mask, and you had to worry about your nose winding up in your ear, from using your face in a tackle, you didn’t use your face, obviously.

Dubner: So as the safety equipment gets better, our behavior becomes more aggressive?

Cantu: Absolutely. Very much more aggressive, very much more violent. We’ve seen the same thing happen in ice hockey, as well. When you put face and head protection on people they’re not as worried about taking blows to that area. And so the aggressive nature of the activity is greatly enhanced.

freakonomics Dubner and Levitt

The economist Levitt even had a name for it – The Peltzman Effect, named after Sam Peltzman. “…it’s the idea that you can put in a safety device and people can then feel so much safer in the activity they’re engaging in, that they take more and more risk, to the point where you actually have the opposite effect, that by putting in the safety device, you actually lead to more people being hurt or killed. And the classic example people talk about is seatbelts in cars. And the idea would be without a seatbelt, you feel at risk, and with a seat belt you drive with a much more dangerous fashion, and that could lead to more deaths.”

So, does the Peltzman Effect in reverse come into play with AIBA’s decision? When boxers don’t wear protective headgear, are there fewer concussions as a consequence? The jury is still out. But there has been one unintended consequence – the number of cuts and incidences of bleeding has jumped significantly according to this article. Boxers who had always worn headgear now have to deal with facial cuts so bad they’re forced out of tournaments.

The problems of cuts has become such a concern that AIBA actually reconsidered the rule in 2014, but decided in the end to uphold the ban. So at the Rio Olympics next year, boxers for the first time in decades will not wear headgear…for their safety…or maybe…because it makes for better television viewing.

Brody Blair boxer
Brody Blair of Canada during his men’s middleweight fight against Benny Muziyo of Zambia at the Commonwealth Games.

 

From The Seattle Times, October 19, 1964
From The Seattle Times, October 19, 1964

The portrait is sketchy. The image reflects a lack of detail, as well as a dark side of a life that held so much promise.

It’s sometimes frustrating trying to piece together a person’s life on the internet. Toby Gibson was a boxer. He was a legitimate contender for a medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games. He was a husband and a father. He was a lawyer and a deputy prosecutor. He embezzled funds. He committed armed robbery. He served time in prison. And then, one day in March, 1973, he died.

I really don’t know much beyond those milestones in his life.

The picture above accompanied a column by Red Smith. The famed sports writer explained in his article from October 19, 1964, that Gibson was a “highly attractive young sociology student who wants to be a teacher and is always surprised when he knocks somebody out.” No one else was really surprised. Gibson was on a streak, having won 12 straight fights as a lead up to Tokyo, and was favored, along with Joe Frazier, to win gold for the US.

toby-gibson-at-olympic-trials-in-1964
Toby Gibson at the US Olympic Boxing Trials_Sports Illustrated_June 1, 1964

Sports Illustrated cited Gibson as “the most impressive winner” of the US Olympic Boxing Trials, held in May, 1964. The writer described him as “likeable and articulate…a fine boxer and superb puncher.” A professional fight manager was reported to have privately said that Gibson was “the best prospect since Joe Louis.”

In his first bout in the light middleweight class, he made quick work of his Thai opponent, Yot Santhien. Unfortunately, Gibson found himself on the losing end of a controversial judgment in his second fight against Eddie Davis, penalized significantly enough for “ducking” his Ghanian opponent too much. And that was that. No medal.

In the Sports Illustrated article, Gibson was quoted as saying that he didn’t intend to turn pro after the Olympics, that he wanted to be a teacher. As it turns out, he did go pro, but only for five professional fights before entering law school. His hard work not only got him a law degree, but also the distinction of being the first black to be appointed a deputy prosecutor of Spokane County in the state of Washington, according to his obituary in The Seattle Times.

Some time after moving to Seattle to open a law practice in 1977, Gibson got into trouble, and was disbarred. First he was caught misappropriating more than $25,000 of his clients’ trust funds. Then he was convicted of armed robbery and extortion of another law firm in Oakland, and imprisoned for 7 years.

I have searched and searched, but the subtler shades of color between the harsh outlines of his life are hard to fathom, and I am left with a story and a life unfulfilled.

 

NOTE: This article was updated on January 2, 2017

From the book
From the book “XVIII Olympiad Tokyo 1964_Asahi Shimbun”

He came from nowhere. Japan was expecting gold in wrestling, judo and women’s volleyball, but not boxing.

Takao Sakurai (桜井 孝雄) won his first match in the bantamweight class against Brian Packer of Great Britain, but no one outside the Korakuen Ice Palace took notice. He won his second match with ease against Ghanian Cassis Aryee, but there was still no interest. But when Sakurai easily outpointed Romanian Nicolae Puiu, people finally began talking about the kid from Chiba.

Japan experienced glory in boxing for the first time in Rome, when Kiyoshi Tanabe won bronze in the middleweight class. But when Sakurai defeated Washington Rodriguez of Uruguay, Japan had a boxer in an Olympic finals for the first time.

His opponent in the finals was Chung Shin-Cho of South Korea. From the beginning, Sakurai peppered Chung with stinging right jabs and hammered with hard lefts throughout the contest. Chung went down three times before the referee stopped the fight at 1 minute 18 seconds of the second round.

Takao Sakurai on the podium
Takao Sakurai becomes the first Japanese to win gold in boxing, and remained the only one until Ryota Murata did so in London in 2012.

Sakurai was perceived as a very cool competitor, sometimes overly so. When a reporter suggested it was surprising that Sakurai wasn’t brimming with tears of happiness after winning the gold, he replied, “I haven’t had any water to drink, so no tears to cry”.

American lightweight gold medalist, Sam Mosberg, at the 1920 Antwerp Games was a spectator and was quoted as saying that Sakurai was the most outstanding boxer at the Tokyo Olympics. He was “very aggressive and willing to fight,” Mosberg was quoted as saying at the Hospitality Center of the Takashimaya Department Store. Why the 68-year old Olympian was interviewed at a department store, I have no idea. But finally, everybody knew who Takao Sakurai was.

Watch this video on Sakurai. It’s in Japanese, but

 From
Joe Frazier, recovering from surgery to his thumb at a hospital in Philadelphia after returning from Tokyo. From “The Olympic Century – XVIII Olympiad – Vol 16.

What a great picture of Joe Frazier, the butcher from Philadelphia, and gold-medal heavyweight from the Tokyo Summer Games. For years, Frazier was the verbal punching bag of Muhammad Ali, tolerating all sorts of insult regarding his looks. But here, Frazier is looking handsome and cool in his PJs.

You can see the left hand in a cast. At the Tokyo Summer Olympics, he apparently broke his Joe Frazier in Tokyo USA shirtthumb in the semi-final match with Vadim Yemelyanov, the Soviet boxer he knocked out in the second round. He knew something was wrong with his hand as he had trouble gripping with it. But the hand felt better after soaking in cold water, and so he didn’t bother getting x-rays. Frazier went on to gain a 3-2 decision over Hans Huber of Germany to win gold. While he clearly favored his right, he did occasionally throw a left hook. In the locker room, he must have been feeling supremely

Dong Kih Choh, south Korean Featherweight

He just sat there. For nearly an hour. Sulking.

Dong Kih Choh was in the midst of the first round with a Soviet boxer named Stanislaw Sorokin at the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games, when the referee suddenly called off the fight.

According to David Wallechinsky’s “Complete Book of the Olympics,” after 1 minute 6 seconds of the 1st round of his quarterfinal bout against Soviet boxer Stanislaw Sorokin, Dong was disqualified for “holding his head too low”.

I don’t get it. Nothing a few good upper cuts can’t handle….

From XVIII Olympiad Volume 10
From XVIII Olympiad Volume 10
Poster marketing the Ali vs Aoki boxing/wrestling exhibition in Japan
Poster of the Ali vs Aoki exhibition match in Japan

Japan’s head of the Olympic delegation, Olympian Kenkichi Oshima, proclaimed 6 days prior to the start of the 1964 Games that Japan must win at least 15 gold medals. Since Japan’s haul for the 1960 Games in Rome was only 4, Oshima’s declaration was uncustomarily boastful.

As it turned out, Japan won 16 gold medals, part of it due to the entry of Judo to the summer games. But arguably the main reason was Japan’s emergence as a wrestling power, as their wrestlers won a surprising five gold medals. Much credit was given to the team’s coach, Ichiro Hatta, famous for his Spartan training methods and singular mindset on winning.

Equally interesting, at least to me, is that Hatta is the one who introduced Muhammad Ali to Japanese wrestler, Antonio Aoki in April, 1975, setting up a mixed martial arts battle in the Budokan on June 26, 1976. In the end, the battle between Ali and Aoki was a bore, and a low point in Ali’s career. But it certainly sticks in my mind as a quirky sports cultural milestone.