On 11 February 1990, (wow, 23 years ago) James “Buster” Douglas defeated “Iron” Mike Tyson by a 10th round TKO (technical knockout) to become the undisputed heavyweight champion in one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Incredibly, Tyson, with a record of 37 wins and no losses, was a 42-1 favourite to successfully defend his crowns. “Iron Mike,” possessed a combination of speed and power that was unrivalled by any fighter at the time, and this was accompanied by a menacing presence which often paralyzed opponents before the opening bell of the fight was even rung. For Douglas, however, this was not going to be an issue. There was nothing that Tyson could do to him that would even compare to the pain and loss he was already feeling. He prepared for his battle versus the champion filled with anguish and sorrow and an aching heart. Why? A few weeks prior to the matchup Douglas’ mother had passed away, and thus enveloped in this cloud of pain and loss Douglas paid little attention to the salivating of the world. A world which was eagerly anticipating his impending demolition and destruction by the beast, Tyson. Instead he utilized his mother’s tragic death as a source of inspiration as well as motivation.
On that momentous evening in Japan, when Douglas walked to, and clambered into the ring to face Tyson, he was in peak condition and was mentally ready for war. He had no fear. From the instant the match got underway, Douglas utilised his jab on “The Baddest Man on the Planet,” and after only five rounds of action, Tyson’s eye had begun to swell badly, impairing his vision. However despite this, Tyson still managed to knock Douglas to the canvas with a thunderous blow in the eighth round. Staggered, Douglas got up off the canvas, refusing to allow himself to be counted out by the referee and to lose this fight. He got to his feet, composed himself, and remarkably, again seized control of the fight. “Buster” dominated “Iron” from the outset of the 10th round and ultimately finished the battle off with a vicious combination of punches that knocked the champion and his big, bad ass onto the canvas and out with 1:22 minutes still remaining of the round.
Now there is a reason I remember this event so clearly, and yes, dear reader, this is one of my scenic route tales so bear with me! That night I was meant to go and watch the fight at a friend’s place, but due to the time difference between here and Japan, it was only being televised on our pay channel in the early hours of the morning. So it being a Friday night, and we being young and wild, and wanting to make a party out of the event, we decided to go to a club on the beachfront prior to the fight. After partying the hell out of Friday night at Sandpebbles, we staggered out into the wee dark of Saturday morning to find a taxi. Filled with courage-imbibing alcohol (wonder why it’s often referred to as Dutch courage?) my companion, and most definitely ex-friend, blustered and swaggered alongside me down South Beach’s dark side-streets, all amped for the fight. Then, in a real brainfart moment, as a Metro police vehicle cruised past proceeded, to my horror, to OINK them! To my relief they did not stop and I immediately berated him for being a dumbass. My relief was short-lived though, because they circled the block and, lights flashing and siren wailing, charged up and screeched to a halt in front of us. The two officers literally boiled out of the squad car and were all over my ass like white on rice! Despite my protestations of innocence I was handcuffed, thrown into the back of the car and taken to Point Road Police Station. Now let me enlighten you about Point Road, dear reader: Point Road would have been known as the Red Light District of Durban if only the bulb and the entire light itself hadn’t been stolen. Its police station, in the hierarchy of stations was the Bagdad of stations, it was precinct 13, if you will. Druglords, stripjoints and hookers lived in uneasy harmony with the apathetic, undermanned police station in their midst. Although in 1990 the apartheid government was still in power, maintaining a tenuous grasp on South Africa, the Point Road area, was known a gray area (or to the Afrikaner NGK Church, Sodom, or was it Gomorrah?). A gray area, in spite of the separate areas act of the National Party government, was where races mixed and co-habitated, living in sin and doomed to the fires of Hell in the hereafter.
It was to Point Road Police Station that I was taken where I was booked by a huge, glowering black desk sergeant who told me that I was not being charged but that I was being detained for drunk and disorderly behaviour. If I continued to bitch and whine, he said, I was welcome to spend the entire weekend in jail and take my case up with a judge at CR Swart on Monday morning. Needless to say I shut the hell up and spent the night in a cell in martyr-like silence. To this day I can recall the stench of the faeces on the concrete floor, deposited there from the single overflowing, mossy toilet, the roaches the size of skateboards scuttling about, and the colour of the light in the cell, coming through the bars of the door from the corridor leading to the charge office; nicotine-stained light. I also recall the insane, wild eyes of my cellmate who snapped and snarled at the humid air while spitting out epithets of loathing for homosexuals and the wrath he planned to visit upon them when he got out. I have never been so happy to see dawn’s first light as I was that day. So I am sure you can now see why I remember the event so clearly, the night you spend your first time in jail will kind of stick with you.
Aaaaaand we are back, via my scenic route, to the point I was trying to make: life is hard and people, by and large, suck. You are going to have to deal with a lot of bad things in your lifetime. What makes the difference is in how you allow those bad things to affect you. As trite as the saying is, it is valid nevertheless: if life hands you lemons do you make lemonade or do you walk around with a sour face? Or as in the scenario I have presented to you: do you allow yourself to be broken and subdued by the loss of your mother, buy into what the world says about you and allow yourself to be intimidated by Tyson, and get your head knocked off? OR do you man (or woman) up, stay single-mindedly focused and prepare for battle? Do you steel yourself and take what the Big Bad Tyson can hand out, and then proceed to kick that self same Tyson’s ass? This is what will define you, dear reader, it is what will make all the difference. Keep your chin down, your hands up and your eyes on your opponent, and take the punches life throws at you. Accept that you will get knocked down BUT keep getting up, and most definitely keep throwing your own punches.
Your talent is God’s gift to you. What you do with that talent is your gift back to God.