No Sleep Till Football

Like Brooklyn Except It's Football

Book Review: The Last Great Fight

Wanted to shift back towards a sports related book and came across The Last Great Fight by Joe Layden. It’s a book about the Mike Tyson/Buster Douglas fight back in February of 1990. Douglas knocked Tyson out in the 10th round of a 12-round fight over in Tokyo. The fight essentially ended Tyson’s career for the most part. Before Douglas, Tyson was 37-0 as a heavyweight fighter and was widely being considered possibly the greatest boxer of all time. After Douglas, Tyson’s life became a complete disaster away from the ring and even in the ring Tyson was only able to compile a 13-5 after losing to Douglas.

I was drawn to this book because I’m a boxing fan. It’s fairly hard to follow and with the heavyweight division being in complete tatters the sport has somewhat dimmed in the public’s eye, but when Tyson was at his height, it seemed like everyone was in love with boxing. I was just a kid when Tyson started his major move up the heavyweight ladder, but my aunt had HBO and my family would go over for the Tyson fights. I was actually able to see quite a few of Tyson’s fights.

Trying to give an overview of Tyson’s life and upbringing is beyond the scope of this review. By a huge margin. However, Layden does a really good job of dividing the book into 3 parts. The first part deals with a quick overview of the upbringings of both Tyson & Douglas. The really interesting part about this to me was the interplay between Douglas and his father Bill “Dynamite” Douglas who also was a professional fighter. Dynamite was a middleweight/light heavyweight fighter who finished his career with a 41-16-1 record. Not too bad at all. Buster would finish with a 38-6-1 record. Tyson’s upbringing, like I say, is difficult at best. Layden doesn’t go into quite as much detail with Tyson except the things we already know about him moving from Brooklyn to Catskill and living with trainer Cus D’Amato.

Everyone who knows a bit about boxing knows this, but I thought Layden did a really good job of noting how great a techincal boxer Tyson was during his early years under D’Amato. Everyone now thinks of Tyson as a brawler with incredible strength when he was in the ring, but what made him so good was his defensive ability and technical ability. Tyson is probably the best boxing historian of guys who actually boxed. Layden did a great job of dealing with these issues, which are important and also very interesting.

The 2nd part of the book deals with the training of the two boxers before the big title fight and also the fight itself. The training aspect was really good. I thought the relationship between Douglas and trainer John Russell was very interesting. Essentially for whatever reason, Douglas decided to make this the fight of his life (maybe his mother dying gave incentive?) and he trained like a mad man for it. There was never a question of Douglas’ athletic ability, but there was seemingly a question about Douglas’ ability to train hard enough and be interested enough to be a champion. He made it all work for this fight.

As for Tyson, the book essentially paints a portrait of Tyson going through Japanese woman after Japanese woman for a few weeks before the fight and not really doing any real training for his match with Douglas. It certainly showed as Tyson was knocked out in the 10th round.

The last part of the book is the aftermath of the fight for each boxer. Again, we know a lot about what happened with Tyson. He spent time in jail twice, lost to Holyfield and then lost to Lennox Lewis. His life eventually became a tragedy on a Shakespearean level that nobody really thought would happen given his start in the boxing world.

What I found interesting was the aftermath for Douglas. By this time it was obvious that Don King had thoroughly corrupted Mike Tyson and a lot of people think King has a lot to do with the fall of Tyson. King eventually protested the fight because he felt the referee slow counted Douglas in the 8th round when Tyson floored Buster with a vicious uppercut. The appeal didn’t work out but contractual obligations and the appealed fight meant a lot of mental and emotional turmoil for Douglas during the lead to his fight with Holyfield. In 8-months time, Douglas would be knocked out by Evander Holyfield in the 3rd round.

He wouldn’t box again for almost 6-years. Douglas got $24 million for the Holyfield fight and pretty much retired into the abyss afterwards. After almost dying from a diabetic coma, Douglas got his life back on track and is now living in Columbus Ohio.

Overall I thought this was a great book and I breezed through it in only a couple of days. Mike Tyson is a living legend so it’s easy to overlook Douglas, but Layden’s account is pretty awesome in that we get a really good picture of Douglas as a boxer and a person. You can’t help but come away a big fan of Buster Douglas.

As for Tyson, he’s probably still the most prominent man in sports. A lot of people want to talk about Tiger Woods and what not, but be honest, if you knew a press conference was being held with Tiger Woods on one channel and Mike Tyson on the other, which one would you watch? If a documentary was on television. One about Woods and one about Tyson, which one would you watch? If Tyson was in his prime and you could watch Tyson box or Woods play a round of golf in Augusta, which one are you watching?

Tyson was that big. Still is.

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March 17, 2010 - Posted by | Book Review, Boxing, Buster Douglas, Mike Tyson

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