Jim Lampley Recalls Bizarre Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson Broadcast

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By Lyle Fitzsimmons

If you’re a boxing fan of a certain age, it remains an indelible memory.

And whether you watched the broadcast live or blearily scanned for results after a Saturday evening spent elsewhere, the moment a certain six-word phrase hit home was monumental.

“Mike Tyson has been knocked out.”

Ironically, though, the man who delivered those words on Feb. 11, 1990 — as the iron-fisted Tyson was violently overthrown by James “Buster” Douglas — did so while running point on a telecast from Tokyo that precisely no one had anticipated would still stand as seminal nearly 30 years later.

In fact, many boxing types placed it atop their lists of best/biggest/most memorable/most important fights aired by HBO in a 45-year run that ended last year.

“The atmosphere and the silence — the fact that at the beginning of the fight I could literally hear Mike and Buster’s shoes slapping against the canvas as they moved around — all of that combined to cause us ultimately to call the fight as though it was a golf tournament,” said Jim Lampley, then HBO’s blow-by-blow man. “We were speaking in hushed tones.”

The perfunctory mindset was understandable at the start.

After all, Douglas was a prohibitive underdog, Tyson wasn’t the novelty he’d been upon first appearing in Japan two years earlier and on-site crowd estimates pegged the paid attendance as significantly less than it had been in the same building for that 1988 demolition of Tony Tubbs.

Then, as the fight unfolded, Lampley said the comprehensive nature of the beating applied to the unbeaten champion — though surely unexpected — yielded its own brand of mechanical mic work.

“Everything had been easy during that period of time, and now he’s getting waxed by Buster Douglas and, clearly, as each round passes, it’s on merit,” he said. “Everything became this sort of almost surreal, understated, matter-of-fact broadcast for which the final action is me, in the flattest tone imaginable, saying ‘Mike Tyson has been knocked out.’ Again, it was like calling a golf tournament.

“Phil Mickelson has won the Masters. Mike Tyson has been knocked out.”

jim-lampley

Lampley and colleagues Larry Merchant and Ray Leonard spent the broadcast’s final few minutes trying to comprehend what they’d seen, but by the time post-fight viewers were tuning into cinematic classics “They Live” (on the East Coast) and “Police Academy 6” (on the West Coast), the then 40-year-old blow-by-blow man was already getting himself prepared for a hectic workday back home.

He was, among other things, both a news anchor for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles and a sports correspondent for “CBS This Morning” at the time, and he chuckled nostalgically as he turned to the jam-packed 2/11/90 page of a professional appointment journal he’d kept back then.

“It’s an unusual occasion in my life that I remember partially with a sense of humor,” he said. “I had a lot of different gigs at that time. And that day, Feb, 11, 1990, is by far the busiest day.

“I get up in Tokyo, I call Tyson-Douglas, I get on a plane and fly from Tokyo back to Los Angeles, I go to a charity awards luncheon that afternoon in Los Angeles, I anchor the 5 o’clock news, I anchor the 11 o’clock news, I do a business dinner in between and I do a report for CBS This Morning on the weekend in sports – after the 11 o’clock news that night.

“That is the most active day, in terms of doing different professional things, probably in the whole 40-year experience of being a sports broadcaster. And particularly since it took place on two continents.”

* * * * * * * * * *

This week’s legit title-fight schedule:

SATURDAY

IBF mini flyweight title – Los Angeles, California
Carlos Licona (champion/No. 22 IWBR) vs. DeeJay Kriel (No. 7 IBF/No. 14 IWBR)
Licona (14-0, 2 KO): First title defense; Fifth fight in the United States (4-0, 0 KO)
Kriel (14-1-1, 6 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of South Africa
Fitzbitz says: Respected world rankings have the challenger slotted eight positions ahead of the champ, but I’m thinking Licona has a chance to reverse that on an L.A. stage. Licona by decision (70/30)

WBA featherweight title – Los Angeles, California
Leo Santa Cruz (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Rafael Rivera (No. 11 WBA/No. 48 IWBR)
Santa Cruz (35-1-1, 19 KO): Third title defense; Has never lost a fight in Los Angeles (5-0, 2 KO)
Rivera (26-2-2, 17 KO): First title fight; One win in fights scheduled longer than eight rounds (1-2, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: OK, so they all can’t be wars with guys like Frampton and Mares. This is a chance for Santa Cruz to fight in his backyard and pad the record while waiting for a bigger event. Santa Cruz in 8 (99/1)

This week’s garbage title-fight schedule:

FRIDAY

WBA middleweight title – Hinckley, Minnesota
Rob Brant (“World” champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Khasan Baysangurov (No. 8 WBA/No. 38 IWBR)
Why it’s garbage: I’m not suggesting Rob Brant isn’t a world-class fighter. And I’m not saying he’s unkind to animals and doesn’t help old ladies across street corners. But there’s no way – given the presence of a guy like Canelo at 160 – that even he can call himself “champion,” let alone anyone else. So don’t.

Last week’s picks: 3-0 (WIN: Davis, Vargas, Ramirez)
2019 picks record: 11-2 (84.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,023-345 (74.7 percent)

NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body’s full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.

Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.




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