The 12 days of BM Christmas: A bright new day - Buster Douglas interview

Paul Zanon
01/01/2019 6:31pm

Photo: Al Bello / Getty Images

As we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas we will be bringing you 12 of the best pieces of writing from Boxing Monthly magazine over the last 12 months. On the eighth day of Christmas we bring to you... Paul Zanon's interview with Buster Douglas from our September issue...

Buster Douglas has had a rocky journey after the two biggest fights of his life, the knockout victory over Mike Tyson to become heavyweight champion in February 1990, followed eight months later by a three-round KO defeat against Evander Holyfield.

“It was the ultimate high followed by the ultimate low. It was so rapid,” Douglas told Boxing Monthly while on tour in the UK. “It was a lot to deal with in one time. In fact, there was a lot of things to deal with in my life at that time, you know?”

Douglas, now 58, shook his head when talking about his purse for the upset victory over Tyson in Tokyo. “For the Tyson fight I got $1.3 million,” he said. “After it was all over and done with [minus expenses and tax], I got a little more than a few hundred thousand dollars.”

As the defending champion, Douglas was guaranteed an estimated purse of $25 million (which after deductions would leave him with a career best payday of around $5 million) to defend his titles against Holyfield in October 1990 at the Mirage hotel and casino in Las Vegas.

It is no secret that Douglas lost his way after his defeat to Holyfield. He turned his back on the discipline required for a successful boxing career. As a result, Douglas’ weight ballooned to over 400lbs and he stared death in the face in his early 30s.

“I went into a diabetic coma,” Douglas said. “Going into that coma and waking up from it was an eye-opener for me. That made me realise that I needed to do better in my life and that I had a second chance.”

Douglas made a comeback in 1996, almost six years after the Holyfield loss. “I came back to be world champion again. That was the plan, but unfortunately it didn’t happen,” he said. After a six-fight winning streak, Douglas lost to Lou Savarese on a surprising first-round stoppage.

“Honestly? I just lost. That’s it,” Douglas said. “However, after that fight, I knew that was it. After that fight, I was back into the game of life. I was content after retiring the second time. There was no feeling I wanted to come back again.”

Douglas paused before adding with a laugh: “I always feel I got one more [fight inside him]! Even today, you know? But
that’s just a feeling. But ever since my last fight, it’s all been about moving forward. Upward. Onwards and upward.”

That latest chapter in Douglas’ life is training amateur boxers at the Thompson Community Centre in his Columbus, Ohio hometown. He said it had helped him find inner peace.

“I’m happy to be out of the limelight,” he said. “It was good while it lasted, but I’m really enjoying my station in life now, working with these kids. I kind of feel like the baton has been passed to me. “Let me explain. Originally, I was playing basketball [at Linden-McKinley High School], then I started boxing when I was 10 years old and competed at both sports. Then I stopped.”

At 15, Douglas decided to dedicate himself to his dream of playing in the National Basketball Association. His school team won the state championships when he was 17, but then the lure of boxing proved irresistible. “I loved the basketball, but as time went on, I got the boxing bug and wanted to fight again and went back into boxing wholeheartedly,” he said.

“I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and box professionally.”

Douglas’ father, William Lee Douglas — better known to boxing fans as Billy “Dynamite” Douglas — was a fringe middleweight and, later, light-heavyweight contender. He fought 59 times [with a record of 42-16- 1], including bouts against former world champions Matthew Saad Muhammad and Marvin Johnson, and world title contender Bennie Briscoe.

Douglas Sr was something of a boxing hero in the local community. “Nine months after my dad retired in 1980, I started boxing. It’s like he passed on the baton,” Douglas said.

His father passed away at the age of 59, a few months after Buster had retired in 1999 (his mother died only 23 days before the Tyson fight). Douglas, no longer an active boxer, now had a mission, which was to give back to the sport he loved and inspire a new generation of boxers.

“I really enjoy working with those kids,” he said. “I look forward to being with them every day. I’m back to square one, starting a new journey. But now I’m a coach, like my father.”

Do his students call him “champ” or simply “Coach Douglas”? “Both!” he said. “They do their research and come into the gym and know all about you. But it’s not about that. It’s the satisfaction of helping them. They wanna learn how to box, and me being able to teach them and show them the right way, that’s a great reward.”

Douglas is a very proud family man. “I have four sons and two of them are fighting — my third oldest and the baby,” he said. “They’re fighting in the amateurs. They’re 24 and 12 years old. Their records are 2-3 and 1-3.” Douglas paused before smiling: “But the best is yet to come from them.”

He remains an avid follower of the heavyweight scene. “I think Deontay [Wilder] will come out as victor in the division, but it’s gonna be a tough battle because any one of them guys will put your lights out,” he said.

“Deontay seems to be always ready and in great shape, so I’m leaning towards him out of the current crop. He seems to be more consistent. “But so’s the other champ, Anthony Joshua. He can also put your lights out. [Tyson] Fury is also a big threat. From my understanding, from the word onthe street, he’s supposed to be in better shape and looking to make a real good rise, so we’ll see how true that is.

“Then there’s Big Baby Miller. Big guy! How tall is he? Like 6ft 4in or 6ft 5in? Something like that. And he weighs about 300lbs? At the end of the day, that title can change hands if someone lands big.”

Douglas is in good mental and physical shape. More importantly, he is satisfied with his lot and has a message for anyone facing adversity. “Being able to search, and go through the ins and outs of life and come out on top, that’s
what being happy is,” he said.

“Where I am now, I’m happy with my station in life. I’m totally happy with that. Believe in yourself. That’s where it all starts and ends. Stay strong, work hard, keep your beliefs and stay positive.”

Casting his mind back to the 10th round that day in Tokyo (Douglas was a 42-1 underdog against Tyson, who
was 37-0 at the time), his face lights up. He vividly remembers the six unanswered jabs, the defining right uppercut, followed by the left hook, straight right, and fight-finishing straight left.

“Ooooh, man. It feels like yesterday,” he said. “It was a dream come true, you know. To win the heavyweight title. It’s what you start out for when you turn pro. Eventually, one day you can win the heavyweight championship.”

Douglas wanted to make it clear that there’s no lingering animosity between Tyson and himself. “We’re cool,” he said.