TOKYO — For Iron Mike Tyson, unbeaten in 37 fights and thought to be on his way to Rocky Marciano's career heavyweight record of 49-0, the unthinkable happened in Tokyo Sunday afternoon.
Before about 30,000 in the Tokyo Dome, Douglas won nearly every round, closed Tyson's left eye and knocked him out in the 10th round.
Tyson had nearly pulled it out in the eighth round. He dropped Douglas with a hard right uppercut, and whether or not Douglas beat the count at the end of the round was the subject of heated debate afterward.
Tyson's manager, promoter Don King, filed a protest. Two hours after the fight, the heads of the WBA, WBC and the Japan Boxing Federation announced there would be a news conference several hours later.
The president of the Japan Boxing Federation said videotape showed Douglas was down for 12 seconds in the eighth round.
(Videotape replays by The Times showed that Douglas was down for 13 seconds.)
Said King: "Buster Douglas was knocked out. He was down for 12 seconds. All we want is a fair result."
The controversy brought to mind the Long Count that occurred during the heavyweight title fight between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in Chicago Sept. 22, 1927. After being knocked down in the seventh round, Tunney had more than 10 seconds to recover because referee Dave Barry waited for Dempsey to go to a neutral corner before starting the count. Tunney, too, went on to win the fight.
The result seemed fair to Douglas, whose chances were thought to be so hopeless that most Las Vegas casinos posted no odds.
As Tyson lay on his back in Douglas' corner in the 10th round, Douglas raised both hands over his head and walked calmly, not even smiling, back to his corner.
The final scene played out here was almost impossible to believe. There was Tyson, who had his mouthpiece in backward, held upright in the embrace of referee Octavio Meyrom of Mexico.
Then, the stampede.
Douglas' cornermen vaulted over and through the ropes and touched off a wild celebration that resulted in fistfights between Douglas and Tyson cornermen.
Thirty minutes later, Japanese spectators too, after the fighters had left, poured into the ring to have their pictures taken. And 30 minutes after that, the ring itself was gone, efficiently dismantled and packed off for storage, its place in history secure.
Tyson, who was behind on points on virtually everyone's scorecard except one judge at the finish, went out like many of his 37 victims, battered by punches to the head.
Los Angeles judge Larry Rozadilla had Douglas ahead, 88-82. But Japanese judge Ken Morita had Tyson ahead, 87-86, and the third judge, Makazu Uchida, had it 86-86.
As a pro, nothing like this has ever happened to the man some were already calling the greatest heavyweight champion ever. He had never been knocked off his feet, let alone knocked out. His last defeat in the ring was a decision loss to Henry Tillman of Los Angeles, who beat the 17-year-old Tyson twice at the 1984 U.S. Olympic trials.
Tyson, whose knees and legs seemed to be unsteady from the fifth round on, was sent out with a tremendous right uppercut to the chin near Douglas' corner in the 10th. The champion reeled backward, and Douglas was on him instantly. Tyson was defenseless as Douglas smashed him with a right and left, another right and, finally, a long sweeping left hook that put Tyson on his back.
As he hit the blue canvas, his mouthpiece popped into the air. As he was counted out, he groped for it and stuffed it into his mouth backward.
As Meyrom counted him out, Tyson's face was slack and his mouth open, partially gripping the backward mouthpiece. His glazed eyes were aimed toward the baseball stadium's center field fence.
The immediate ramifications of the upset are these:
--The June 18 Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight Donald Trump paid $12 million for, the one that was to pay Tyson $22 million to $25 million and $10 million to Holyfield, is gone.
--Gone is Tyson's seven-fight, $24.5-million contract with HBO, which had two fights left.
Such is the impact of the biggest upset in heavyweight championship history. Bigger than Michael Spinks stopping Larry Holmes at 48-1. Bigger than Cassius Clay stopping Sonny Liston in 1964. Bigger than Max Schmeling knocking out Joe Louis in 1936 when neither man was champion. Bigger than Jimmy Braddock, a 10-1 shot, beating Max Baer in 1935.
Yes, bigger even than Jack Johnson knocking out heavily favored Jim Jeffries in Reno in 1910.
And this is a fight King couldn't sell in the United States. Japanese promoter Akihiko Honda paid Tyson $6 million Sunday and Douglas fought for a sum estimated to be between $1.2 million and $2 million.
Holyfield, sitting impassively at ringside, shed no tears over the $10-million payday he saw fluttering away as Tyson was counted out.