The Last Great Fight: The Extraordinary Tale of Two Men and How One Fight Changed Their Lives Foreverby Joe Layden
Meticulously researched, wonderfully written; the untold story of a legendary fight and the two warriors who would never be the same again
It is considered by many to be the biggest upset in the history of boxing: James "Buster" Douglas knocked out then-undefeated Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson in the 10th round in 1990 when the dominating and/p>/i>/u>
Meticulously researched, wonderfully written; the untold story of a legendary fight and the two warriors who would never be the same again
It is considered by many to be the biggest upset in the history of boxing: James "Buster" Douglas knocked out then-undefeated Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson in the 10th round in 1990 when the dominating and intimidating Tyson was considered invincible.
THE LAST GREAT FIGHT takes readers not only behind the scenes of this epic battle, but inside the lives of two men, their ambitions, their dreams, the downfall of one and the rise of another.
Using his exclusive interviews with both Tyson and Douglas, family members, the referee, the cutmen, trainers and managers to the commentators and HBO staff covering the fight in Tokyo, Layden has crafted a human drama played out on a large stage. This is a compelling tale of shattered dreams and, ultimately, redemption.
“Joe Layden's meticulously researched study transports us from the Ali to the Tyson era….Layden is the first to take the full measure of the David in this David-and-Goliath storty…he offers a rich portrait of a soft-hearted former basketball standout who would secure the heavyweight crown only a few weeks after his mother died…the author manages to lay bare Tyson's own ambivalence toward the blood sport that would make him one of the most recognizable people in the world….The Last Great Fight succeeds in provoking a sense of tense anticipation about an event that is firmly etched in the memory of every boxing fan. And Layden's even-handed treatment of both the principals and the supporting cast provides a nuanced account of this epic moment.” The New York Times Book Review
“Layden had full access to the main players, and his interviews with the affable, star-crossed underdog provide a compelling perspective on the ultimate coulda-been.” ESPN The Magazine
“In prose that's as sharp as an uppercut, Layden revisits the day Douglas handed Mike Tyson his first loss. A generation of young fans know Tyson as a novelty act and boxing as a niche sport. Layden traces both declines to that night in Tokyo.” Sports Illustrated
“Boxing fans will want to add The Last Great Fight to the vast collection on great books on the Sweet Science, from Hemingway to A.J. Liebling to Norman Mailer. Just file it at the end of the shelf; it's the last book you'll ever need.” Los Angeles Times
“Compelling.” The Boston Globe
“Prose as crisp as a Sugar Ray Robinson jab.” Denver Post
“Layden's account of the crucial fight is tremendous. He has the kind of instinctive understanding of boxing that is rare in British writers: if one had to think of a point of comparison then Hugh MacIlvanney and the late Ian Wooldridge spring to mind.” Telegraph (UK)
“[An] exhilarating and hard hitting account. Boxing fans will want to add The Last Great Fight to the vast collection of great books on the Sweet Science, from Hemingway to A.J. Liebling to Norman Mailer. Just file it at the end of the shelf; it's the last book you'll ever need.” The Houston Chronicle
“Layden has researched and written the most compelling and moving book on the sweet science we've seen in years.” Booklist (starred review)
“A deeply reported, psychologically complex and artfully crafted examination of one of the biggest upsets in boxing history….Layden writes with the soulful, big-hearted tone of a Richard Russo novel.” Times Union (Albany, NY)
“Joe Layden's The Last Great Fight tells you everything you need to know about James” Buster" Douglas' monumental upset of Mike Tyson."The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“Exceptional….Vivid detail….Besides getting interviews with Douglas and Tyson, Layden has interviewed everyone who had any role in the event.” Nashville City Paper
“Joe Layden has talked to all the key figures involved and his account of the fight is compelling.” The Independent (UK)
“Layden should have a Ph. D in street psychology. I challenge anyone even remotely interested in what makes both ordinary and extraordinary people tick to pick this book up and not have trouble putting it down. It grips you and grabs you, as it eloquently describes just how fickle to concept of fame and the consequence of obscurity can be. Not only will you find yourself rooting for Douglas, the quintessential underdog, but also for Tyson, who in his own tragic way is no less of an underdog….It will make you laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page. Most importantly, it will make you think…It was a great fight, not only for its historical significance, but also because of its unrelenting action. This book, however, is better than the fight. You can't get a more starred review than that.” www.thesweetscience.com
“A tremendously moving story about Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas…This book isn't just about boxing, and the sad state it's in today, but it's actually about these two flawed individuals who made boxing history.” The Daily Gazette (Schenectady, NY)
“Tell the truth. You missed the moment when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson for the heavyweight championship of the world. The fight was in Tokyo and Iron Mike was going to destroy this unknown fatso, whack him out blah-blah….What did you know? So now you have a second chance. The all-time upset of boxing upsets is replayed here through the deft, sweet prose of Joe Layden; a ringside seat that shows not only the punches that were thrown but what was behind them. Don't miss it this time. The book is better than the fight and the fight was a wonder.” Leigh Montville, New York Times bestselling author of The Big Bam: The Life and Times of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero
“With rich detail and robust prose, Joe Layden's account of Tyson-Douglas doesn't merely re-create the most unthinkable upset in boxing annals. It takes you into the corners, the locker rooms, the minds of the two protagonists, producing revelations that arrive in combinations and a story that packs a heavyweight punch.” Wayne Coffey, author of the New York Times bestseller The Boys of Winter
“The Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas fight resulted in the most spectacular upset in boxing history, yet it was an epic that has almost been forgotten. In The Last Great Fight, Joe Layden restores the fight to its rightful place in sports legend and fills in the spaces that other historians have missed. This is the best boxing book in the last 25 years.” Allen Barra, sports columnist, Wall Street Journal, and author of The Last Coach: A Life of Paul "Bear" Bryant.
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Read an Excerpt
So exhausted that he lacks even the strength to drive, the big man surrenders the keys to his wife, a woman who has always tried to keep him in line and care for him, who saw potential and goodness where some saw laziness and complacency. Bathed in sweat, he lets out a little groan and slides awkwardly into the passenger seat. This simple act takes all his energy and leaves him gasping for breath. Finally he settles, slumped against the door, a short tangle of dreadlocks spilling over his forehead, his thick legs curled beneath the dashboard.
“Hang in there, baby,” she says. “We’ll be there soon.”
He moans, mumbles something beneath his breath.
“What’s that, honey?”
“I’ll be all right.”
As the flatland of central Ohio whizzes past in a blur, the big man drifts away. His wife talks to him, tries to keep him awake and alert, but the struggle is lost. Funny, isn’t it, that a man who made his living as a fighter—who once, precisely once, battled like no one before—hasn’t an ounce of fight left in him? It’s been that way for months now, maybe years. James “Buster” Douglas was, for a very brief time, the heavyweight champion of the world. He was the conquering hero, the man who beat the unbeatable. But that was more than four years ago. The man in the front seat of the car bears almost no resemblance to the Buster of 1990, the Buster who stepped into a ring in Tokyo, Japan, and provided boxing with the greatest upset it has ever known.
Then he was a sweet-tempered journeyman who preferred basketball to boxing . . . a 42 to 1 long shot (if you could actually find a gaming establishment, legal or otherwise, willing to take your bet) . . . who somehow dismantled and humbled a brutal young fighter almost preternaturally suited to the role of champion.
James Douglas tips the scales at a Sumo-esque four hundred pounds, his belly so swollen that it would snap the championship belts he once owned. His eyes are slits barely visible through veils of flesh, and there is an odor hanging in the air, the sweet, sickly smell of fruit gone bad. It is the smell of diabetes, of a quiet killer shaken from its slumber. By the time they reach the hospital in Columbus, Douglas is unconscious, having lapsed into a diabetic coma.
He dreams . . . and in the dream, he will later explain, his wife, Bertha Douglas, is gone. So is everyone else he knows and loves. He imagines that he is alone in the back bay of an ambulance, strapped to a gurney. In the front, a nurse sits in the passenger seat; an orderly in a crisp white uniform is behind the wheel. They are silent, stoic. It’s dark outside. Rain is falling. Buster struggles to lift his head from the gurney; he peers out the window and sees a light at the end of a long mountain road. They are climbing now. Slowly . . . steadily. He hears the groan of the engine as it strains against the incline, and the rhythmic clicking of the wipers against the window. His head falls back and the dream dissolves away.
Meanwhile, two hundred miles down the road, in Plainfield, Indiana, the most famous resident of the quaintly named Indiana Youth Center—inmate No. 922335—passes another day in captivity. Now more than two years into his sentence for a rape conviction, he has become, by most accounts, a reasonably docile and cooperative prisoner. No more disputes with the guards, no more confrontations with other inmates. For the time being anyway, the bad has been removed from the self-proclaimed baddest man on the planet. Word is that he’s found religion, that he spends peaceful, solitary time with the Koran, and that fighting no longer captivates him the way it once did.
Despite its cheery moniker, which evokes images of robust, energetic kids playing ball under the tutelage of thoughtful, well-meaning mentors, the Indiana Youth Center offers few outlets for the fighter. There are no boxing rings, no gloves, no speed bags or heavy bags. Nothing to promote testosterone and aggressive behavior. So inmate No. 922335 eats, sleeps, and prays. He takes classes in the hope of earning a high school equivalency degree. He tries to stay fit through calisthenics and jogging. Mainly, he says, he reads, grazing endlessly and somewhat aimlessly from a literary buffet table that includes Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Arthur Ashe and Mao Tse-tung (the latter two will be paid tribute through tattoos on the fighter’s biceps), among countless others. Like his counterpart in Columbus, he’s bigger now than on the day they met in the ring. Not really overweight, as he was when he entered prison (at 250 pounds), but thicker. The teenage fighter who used to stand nearly naked in front of a mirror at a dusty, spartan gym in a small town in upstate New York and marvel at his own lines, at his youthful, clean-cut musculature, is long gone, replaced by a grown man hardened by time and circumstance and his own penchant for self-destructive behavior.
Things will get worse, too, before they get better for inmate No. 922335, also known as Michael Gerard Tyson. There will be another “bid,” the counterintuitive term that convicts sometimes use to describe their time behind bars. There will be comic and tragic incidents of rage, snapshots of a life and career gone horribly wrong: a bloody chunk of a human ear, ripped from an opponent in midfight and spat with disdain upon the canvas; a seemingly insane and full-throated promise to eat the children of another fighter; bankruptcy, assault charges, multiple lawsuits, and, ultimately, a series of pathetic encounters with boxers so lacking in skill that they once wouldn’t have dared even step in the ring with him.
In August 1986, at barely twenty years of age, he had become the youngest heavyweight champion in history. By the time he met James Douglas, on February 11, 1990, the erosion had begun, although few people recognized it at the time. He was still undefeated then, a vicious puncher with stunning speed and technical acumen and an almost primeval taste for blood . . . a terrifying fighter who threw every punch with bad intentions, and who seemed worthy of comparisons to the great ones: Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, and Sonny Liston—especially Liston, as it turned out, since his, too, was a life and career punctuated by violence, sadness, and chaos.
And then came Buster, and a single night (afternoon, actually, since the fight, broadcast late in the evening to an American television audience, was fought at lunchtime in Tokyo) that altered the lives and careers of the combatants. In many ways, the most memorable night that boxing has ever known.
They are linked in the public consciousness, Tyson and Douglas, as surely as Louis was linked to Schmeling, Dempsey to Tunney, Frazier to Ali. It is Independence Day, a time to celebrate hard-earned freedoms, and the sad, unmistakable irony is that each man is at this moment a captive, confined to a prison of his own making.
But there was a time . . . Copyright © 2007 by Joe Layden. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
JOE LAYDEN is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist who regularly covered professional boxing during the height of Mike Tyson's championship reign. He lives in upstate New York.
JOE LAYDEN is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer whose work has been honored by the New York Newspaper Publishers Association, the National Associated Press Sports Editors, the New York State Associated Press Association, and the International Reading Association/Children’s Book Council.
Mr. Layden has written or co-written more than thirty books for adults and children, including The Last Great Fight and The Ghost Horse.
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