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Original Issue


Nice try, Don King, but you can't steal Buster Douglas's title

Forget Don King. Forget his ranting about how his fighter Mike Tyson was robbed of the heavyweight crown. Let him call everyone in his dirty black book of Favors Owed, and let them all twist the truth into a Mister Salty pretzel.

None of it matters. We know what the score is. James (Buster) Douglas, as colossal an underdog as has ever laced on a pair of gloves, threw Tyson a leather-tasting party in Tokyo on Sunday, and now Douglas is the heavyweight champion of the world—no ifs, ands or butts.

Let King march out all the alphabet-soup boxing commissions he wants. But don't let him ruin this moment. It's too sweet. A fighter whom most casinos wouldn't even give odds on knocked the great Tyson so silly that the former champion was reduced to groping for his mouthpiece on the canvas the way a man in REM sleep fumbles for a ringing telephone.

For two hours there, didn't it feel good? The heavyweight division was alive again. Boxing was alive. In the age of ENORMOUS HYPE for tiny events, it was thrilling to be cold-cocked by history. There was a could-it-be-true feel to it. Had this no-name pug really flattened the champ, or had the wire clerk in Okinawa mixed it up? Greg Page had caused a mild stir by knocking Tyson down during a sparring session in Tokyo. At least we had heard of Greg Page. But Buster Douglas?

And then, within two hours, boxing was back in the gutter. Even as King was busy positioning his many-toothed grin so that it would appear in the celebratory photographs of Douglas, the unctuous workings of his mind were whirring. Within minutes, he had herded his pocket presidents, Josè Sulaimàn of the WBC and Gilberto Mendoza of the WBA—plus the referee, Octavio Meyran—into a room for a two-hour seminar on the rules of boxing, media relations and leadership skills. When King gets two hours and a locked door, people can come out owning stock in Naugahyde ranches.

Over the course of two subsequent press conferences, King charged that when Tyson forced Douglas to sit down hard with a crisp uppercut in the eighth round, Meyran started his count two beats behind that of the knockdown timekeeper, a fellow at ringside wearing white gloves. Meyran checked to make sure that Tyson was in a neutral corner and then he began his own count over Douglas. By the time Meyran's count was at nine, Douglas was rising. Trouble was, at that same time, Mr. White Gloves would have been at 11.

No question, Meyran blew it. He was supposed to pick up the count of Mr. Isotoner at ringside. Evidently, Meyran was unaware of the rule, because in the 10th round he made a similar mistake when Douglas knocked Tyson down with a four-punch combination. Only this time, it took 14 seconds to get to 10.

The difference is, Tyson was a quivering lump whereas Douglas was clearly in possession of his knees and his brain. In fact, he can be seen pounding the mat in frustration after the knockdown, the way an Olympic figure skater pounds the ice after a fall. By Meyran's count of six, Douglas was observing him closely. When the ref got to nine, Douglas stood up. It's a very long bus ride. Why stand when you can sit?

Nowhere do the rules say the fallen fighter has to start scouring ringside looking for white gloves. The only tasks that Douglas was obligated to perform under those circumstances were finding the referee's fingers and tuning in to the referee's voice. It is the referee's count that is official, nobody else's. And as long as Meyran hadn't exhausted all his digits, Douglas knew he was safe. Is boxing now going to strip Douglas of the title just for playing by the rules?

Probably. Boxing is run out of King's right-hand desk drawer, and King has too much to lose with Tyson crownless, starting with $7 million from an HBO contract that has two fights left to go but becomes null and void if Tyson is no longer champion. Far more costly for King is the impending loss of a $70 million Tyson-Evander Holyfield bout on June 18 in Atlantic City. Oh, sure, King will promote Douglas-Holyfield, if it ever comes off; he wormed a three-fight promotional deal out of Douglas—that was the only way Douglas could get the Tyson fight. But the pay-per-view audience for that fight would be relatively paltry. King would much prefer that his pet commissioners declare Sunday's fight a "no-contest" and require a prompt rematch, before June 18.

Here's hoping Douglas tells them all to go stand in front of an express train. Douglas earned that belt, no matter how fast King talks or phony commissioners balk, and he should not be rushed with it. True fight fans should spit in the eye of any heavyweight title fight that doesn't include Buster Douglas's name. So should Holyfield and HBO and even Tyson.

Hey, Mike. Even losing encompasses more dignity than this.