The publicly released version of Playboy’s 25th anniversary oral history of the Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson fight was, much like Douglas on that unforgettable day in Tokyo, trim and focused. But there was another version that looked more like Buster in his calamitous first title defense against Evander Holyfield: overstuffed. (You don’t want to know about the 400-pound diabetic-coma version of the oral history.) Cuts were made to improve the flow of the article and make it fit within the allotted pages, but some of those cuts denied readers compelling insights and anecdotes. At least temporarily.
In celebration of the silver anniversary of what many regard as the most shocking upset in sports history, here are a few of our favorite Douglas-Tyson oral history outtakes:
Mike Tyson, on being labeled “invincible” prior to the Douglas fight:
Well, I knew that nobody is invincible. I watched a lot of fights. And great fighters, greater than myself, got defeated. So I knew the word “invincible” really doesn’t exist. When you’re putting your life on the line, anything’s capable of happening.
J Russell Peltz, on the end of his promotional relationship with Douglas: I promoted Buster for three fights in 1983. He won the first two. The third was against Mike “The Giant” White. He was winning every minute of every round, and then in the ninth round, he just collapsed. I don’t recall him getting hit with any punches; he was just so out of shape and out of gas that he collapsed and was counted out. After the fight, he came up to the room to get paid, and Billy, the father, said, “How about the bonus money?” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “You have to pay us a bonus of $2,500 to pick up the second year.” And I said, “That’s correct, but the contract also says that if you lose, I have the right to terminate. And that’s what I’m doing, I’m terminating.” Billy stared at me. It seemed like he stared at me for five hours, though it was probably like five seconds. Then he shrugged his shoulders and took Buster with him and left the room. Even without the $2,500 I had to pay, it’s doubtful that I would have continued to promote him. Why do I need a guy that just never gets in shape?
A more detailed account of Buster Douglas’ mother’s death and the team’s reaction to it:
John Johnson (Douglas’ manager): Twenty-three days before the fight, his mom — his best friend — died.
Buster Douglas: I was maybe four or five weeks into training when it happened.
J.D. McCauley (Douglas’ uncle and co-trainer): Me and my wife we were laying in bed. I was asleep. And I heard my wife saying something, talking on the phone. And she woke me up talking. I heard, “No, no, no. What? No!” She said it’s Lula, and the emergency squad was on their way, and we need to get over to my sister’s house. It’s about a five-minute or seven-minute drive, and when we got there, she was already gone. It was so sad. Buster was close to his mom.
Douglas: It wasn’t sudden, it was a thing that was lingering. She would have better days, and she would have not-so-good days. But still, it was unexpected.
McCauley: Johnny [Johnson] came to me the next morning, and he said we can take four days off, and then we have to make a decision. And I said, “Let’s make the decision now.”
Douglas: I went over to John Johnson’s house that morning, and we talked, and he said, “So what do you want to do? You want to cancel the fight?”
Johnson: Buster said, “My mom wanted me to fight. My mom wanted me to win.”
McCauley: We never broke camp. Not one day off.
Douglas co-trainer John Russell shares a story from training camp:
One day, it wasn’t long before the fight, I had him in there sparring with James Pritchard, and Pritchard hit him with the hook, and he rocked Buster. So I stopped it. I said I needed to fix his glove or something. Then the next day, James damn near killed Pritchard. I said to Pritchard, “Damn, it looked like you were on rollerskates in there!” And he said, “You get in there with that big son of a bitch!” I knew then that Buster was ready. Getting rocked by Pritchard, it got his attention.
Columbus Dispatch writer Tim May, the lone media member who picked Douglas on to win, on what led him to make the prediction:
John [Johnson] was explaining to me that they had noticed in the video of the Frank Bruno fight that when you hit Tyson, he stopped — he’d sorta drop his guard. So they were bound and determined to throw jab after jab, not one jab and back off and hope he doesn’t get hit with an uppercut. So they explained the strategy to me, and I was going, Shit, this definitely can work! That is, if Buster is brave enough to stay in there. Because it takes a lot of guts to get into a square ring in your underwear and there’s Mike Tyson standing there.
Stories from the final days before the fight indicating how in shape Douglas was:
Aaron Snowell (Tyson’s trainer): There was a time when we were running around the Emperor’s Palace [in Tokyo], and we seen Buster out there running. So I ran up on him. And all of a sudden he just took off like a rocket! And I’m a pretty good runner. I was trying to keep up with him, and he really took off. I says, “Uh-oh.” This was getting close to the fight, and it was like, “Uh-oh. He’s in real shape.”
McCauley: One morning, they were out doing their roadwork, running around the palace in Japan. The loop around it, it was about a 6½-mile run. When they came back around from the run, they kept on going! I said, “What are they doing?” They did the whole loop twice, 13 miles. And when he got back, you know what he said? “I’m gonna kill him.” Those were Buster Douglas’ words. We was having fun. We enjoyed it.
A more detailed account of the betting on the fight:
Jimmy Vaccaro (Mirage Race and Sports Director): The Mirage was the only casino in Las Vegas that posted odds on the fight.
Art Manteris (Las Vegas Hilton Vice President Race and Sports Operations): I did not book the fight. There were only one or two places in Las Vegas that posted a line on it, and that “42-1” number that’s so famous and quoted so frequently, that was put up by a friend of mine, Jimmy Vaccaro.
Vaccaro: I opened the fight at 27-1. Within probably an hour and a half, I had the first bet. I had a guy bet me $54,000 on Tyson to win $2,000. This guy figured he’s going to put up 54 and pick up 56 a minute after the fight started. So I changed the price, I went from 27-1 to 31-1. Next guy to come in bet $93,000 to win $3,000 at 31-1. Naturally, every newspaper, everybody started to call. We had something that was going to draw a lot of attention. So more money, more money, thinking it was just like, “Come pick up your money in a couple hours.” It got to 42-1 if you wanted to bet on Tyson, and the take-back on it was 37-1.
Larry Merchant (HBO boxing color commentator): They were trying to make people bet on Buster Douglas, and I don’t know that very many people did that.
Vaccaro: What we got at the end was a lot of small tickets on the take at 30-something-to-1, so that balanced the book out pretty good. Because we had taken so much money on both sides, in a bookmaker’s parlance it was an “earn” no matter what happened: If Buster Douglas were to win we were going to win about $104,000; if Tyson wins, we were still gonna win a couple dollars. After it’s over, at like 1:00 in the morning, we do all the clean-up work and everything, so I go home and go to sleep. At around 5:00 the phone rings, it was our people at the Mirage saying, “Mr. Vaccaro, you might have to help us, we can’t stop taking phone calls from every major newspaper and every television station in the country.” Because we were the only ones that posted odds on the fight. After about two days of doing these television shows, my assistant comes walking in, she says, “Jimmy, Mr. Wynn wants to see you.” So I walked back to Steve’s office, and he looked at me, he said, “What the fuck are you doing back there in my sports book?” I was stunned. And then he started laughing. He said, “Whatever the fuck it is, keep doing it.” So he got up, gave me a little pat on the shoulder. He said, “You got more publicity for me than I would get in a month.”
Manteris: I was a little jealous because Jimmy got all the headlines on that event, but rightfully so—he took the risk.
Vaccaro: The biggest bet on Douglas was $1,000 at 37-1, he won $37,000. We took thousands of tickets on Douglas at $5, $10, $20.
John Russell, on Douglas dropping Tyson in the 10th round:
Mike went down in our corner, and I was screaming at him to stay down. ’Cause I knew if he got up and the referee let him fight again, Buster coulda hurt him bad. I always liked Mike, and I wouldn’t want any fighter to get hurt unless he’s a complete frickin’ asshole. I remember screaming at him, “Stay down, Mike! Stay down, Mike!”
HBO blow-by-blow commentator Jim Lampley, on his call at the end of the fight:
“Mike Tyson has been knocked out” was simply my attempt to be as straight-forward and understated as I could possibly be. I’m friendly with the greatest actor of his generation, Jack Nicholson. And I once asked Nicholson, “You presented the Best Picture Academy Award the night that Crash got the upset win over Brokeback Mountain. When you walked up there, did you have any inkling that envelope might say anything other than Brokeback Mountain?” And Jack said, “Not a chance, Lamp. Everybody in town knew that was Brokeback Mountain.” I said, “So when you opened the envelope and you saw the word Crash, what did you think to yourself?” And he said, “Same thing I’ve been thinking for years: Don’t overact.” Well, that describes what I was thinking about at the end of Tyson-Douglas: Don’t overact. So that became, “Mike Tyson has been knocked out.”
A more detailed account of Merchant’s famous postfight interview with Douglas:
Merchant: During the interview, I said to myself, “This is show and tell. Shut up.” This is raw emotion and drama. I don’t have to say anything. He wanted, obviously, to be interviewed, although his handlers were saying, “Let’s leave, let’s go back,” because they saw he was overcome with emotion. And I thought, let him gather himself and say what he has to say and let me go from there.
Russell: If you look at the tape, you’ll see me say to him, “You want to go, James?” He’d just broken down. I didn’t know how he felt and I didn’t want him to be badgered if he wasn’t comfortable. But I am glad he stayed.
Merchant: When people ask, I always tell them that’s the best interview I ever did. Having the sense at that moment to let it play.
Douglas: During the fight, my mom didn’t enter my mind. Good thing, because I would have fuckin’ gone down. Oh gosh, that would be a disaster, if I started thinking about my mom during the fight.
Postfight John Russell anecdote #1:
After the fight, we were in the dressing room. I’m an emotional guy. I was just sitting on a bench, and I threw a towel over my head and I just absolutely broke down. It was just the pressure, I think. And I remember somebody sitting down beside me and putting their arm around me, and saying, “Man, that’s a great job you guys did. Be proud of yourself.” And I look up, I pull the towel back to see who it was, and it was fuckin’ Donald Trump. He didn’t have to do that. He’s probably an asshole, but he’s not a bad asshole.
Donald Trump: I recall that. I thought he really deserved congratulations. They did something that nobody else was able to do. Great job.
Postfight John Russell anecdote #2:
I went back to the hotel afterward, I went right to my room, I didn’t want to party or drink, I just wanted to go be by myself. I wasn’t in the room long, and somebody knocks on the door. It was James. So he came in, and I had two beds in my room, I laid on one bed, he laid on the other bed, and he musta spent two hours in there, me and him, and we never talked about the fuckin’ fight. We talked about everything but the fight. Why would he come to my room, just after beating Mike Tyson? Don’t you think you’d want to celebrate a little bit? I would! But he came to my room and I laid on one bed and he laid on the other and we just talked. Buster Douglas is a good man.
Postfight John Russell anecdote #3:
I remember we went to West Virginia for an amateur tournament, maybe a month or two after James beat Tyson. And we went up to Muhammad Ali’s room. Ali told Buster, “You do me one favor: You gotta tell Don King to cut his hair. You tell Don King you’ll sign back with him if he cuts his hair. He’ll do it.” And then he says to James, “You want to see what I did when you beat the brat?” He never called Tyson “Tyson,” he called him “the brat.” So he sat down on the couch, and he says, “When you knocked the brat down,” Ali got up out of that chair and jumped straight out of that chair with both hands above him, he said, “That’s what I did. I was so happy.” He said, “Now people know what I would have done to him too.” I guess he was tired of hearing about how great Mike Tyson was.