TOKYO — Sixty-three years after Gene Tunney benefited from a "long count" to defeat Jack Dempsey, boxing has another such incident to debate.
Video replays show that James (Buster) Douglas was down, by stopwatch timing, from 13.52 seconds to 13.65 seconds in the eighth round of his heavyweight championship fight against champion Mike Tyson Sunday afternoon. Douglas went on to knock Tyson out in the 10th round.
What happens now? No one had any idea late Sunday night in Tokyo, as the heads of the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Assn. met to resolve the situation.
The WBC and WBA said their executive committees would meet in a week to 10 days to decide the issue, and both agreed to "suspend recognition" of Douglas as champion until then.
The only group in Tokyo that certified Douglas as the winner was the Japan Boxing Council. "We recognize Buster Douglas as champion, and the referee's count as official," said Kojima Shigeru, JBC president.
The New Jersey-based International Boxing Federation, which was not represented in Tokyo because it isn't recognized by the Japan Boxing Council, will recognize Douglas as champion.
"Right now, we have to recognize Douglas," said Robert Lee, IBF president, by phone from Fanwood, N.J.
"Douglas won the fight in the ring. If there's going to be a change, we would have to review tapes and Tyson would have to request a reversal.
"All Douglas has to do (during the knockdown) is get up before the 10 count and he did that. If the clock is broken or the referee makes a mistake. . . . that's not his (Douglas') fault."
It was reported earlier in the week that Tyson's IBF title wasn't at stake because of the IBF-Japan feud, but Lee said Sunday his organization sanctioned the fight.
It's possible the heavyweight championship could be declared vacant and Tyson and Douglas ordered to stage a rematch. But if that happens, Evander Holyfield's manager, Ken Sanders, might sue everyone in sight. His fighter has been rated the No. 1 contender for more than a year.
"We'd still prefer to fight Tyson June 18, because we'd make more money," Sanders said. "But we'd fight Douglas, if we had to. But what I don't want to have happen is for these two guys to have a rematch. We've waited too long already."
But that's exactly what will happen, according to Jose Sulaiman, WBC president. He said a rematch is "absolutely mandatory."
Unlike the referee in the Dempsey-Tunney fight, who handled his problem correctly, Octavio Meyran of Mexico mishandled this one completely.
Tyson, hurt and on the verge of being knocked out, landed a desperation right uppercut late in the eighth round and dumped the challenger on his back. At that point, Meyran was supposed to look at the ringside timekeeper and pick up his official count.
Instead, Meyran never looked at the white-gloved timekeeper who was indicating his count with his fingers. As he counted "four," Meyran began his count at "two."
Also, Meyran looked around while counting, apparently to see where Tyson was, and that may have delayed the count further. Tyson had gone to a neutral corner after the knockdown.
In boxing, a 10-count is simply that--a count. A knockout is not necessarily 10 seconds, only a human being's 10-count.
More important, through it all, Douglas coolly watched the referee, not the timekeeper, and plainly beat the referee's count.
Tyson's promoter, Don King, was furious afterward.
"We want what's fair," he said. "Buster Douglas was knocked out."
Meyran, the referee in the famed "no mas" Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran fight in New Orleans in 1980, freely admitted his mistake at a news conference.
There is little precedent for a major fight result being reversed due to a referee's error. In 1987, Tomas Molinares hit Marlon Starling about two seconds after the bell ending the sixth round in a welterweight title fight and knocked Starling out.
A protest was filed, but the WBA simply ruled "referee error" and the result stood.
In 1955, Rocky Marciano was knocked down in the second round by Archie Moore in a heavyweight championship fight. The standing-eight count had been waived for the fight, but referee Harry Kessler forgot.
He began a standing-eight on Marciano, got to three, remembered there was no standing-eight, and motioned the two to resume fighting.
Marciano won the fight on a ninth-round knockout but Moore claims to this day that the extra few seconds Kessler gave to Marciano allowed the champion to clear his head.
The WBC assigned Meyran to referee the fight, and Sulaiman, called him a solid referee.
"Octavio Meyran has been a good referee for 22 years, and he is a man of honor," he said. "But he made a 100% human mistake, according to his own words."