Every now and then a few words in a newspaper or on TV take James "Buster" Douglas back 19 years to a Tokyo boxing ring.
He smiles at that memory, and everything he has survived since.
"It's like I made my mark, it's proof that I existed on this planet," he said. "That's a good thing. I'm really, really proud about that."
A happy family man, healthy after nearly dying during a diabetic coma 15 years ago, Douglas spends his days in the present. Still, what took place inside the ropes on Feb. 10, 1990, continues to amaze and confound. Even those who lived it have difficulty believing it.
"To tell you the truth, it's almost something that didn't happen," said J.D. McCauley, Douglas' uncle and corner man. "Then I look at the championship rings on my fingers. It's funny, it didn't seem like it happened. You know what I mean? But it did."
On that winter night in Japan, the largely unknown and mostly ignored Douglas had a broken heart when he touched gloves with the unbeaten and seemingly invincible Mike Tyson.
Iron Mike, long before a spell in prison sent his career and life into a tailspin, was considered a knockout machine. He had a 37-0 record _ decking opponents 33 times. The oddsmakers took one look at Douglas' erratic career and established Tyson as a 42-to-1 favorite. Even that didn't draw much action on the underdog.
Nicknamed "Buster" by his grandmother because of his youthful spunk, Douglas came into the fight shaken by the death of his beloved, doting mother, Lula Pearl, who had died while he was training for the fight.
Douglas, an athletic 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, had shown flashes of skill in compiling a 29-4-1 record, but most observers felt he was too passive _ some even called him too "nice" _ to stay upright for long against the vicious, hard-charging and violent Tyson.
They were so wrong. Instead, Douglas pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
He fought on even terms with Tyson for the first five rounds, gradually gaining in confidence. Then, in the eighth, Tyson caught him with a thunderous uppercut that leveled him. But he got up an instant before the 10 count.
Tyson, overconfident, unfocused or maybe not in top shape, seemed as surprised as the grizzled scribes and announcers at ringside when Douglas continued to hold him at bay. Even those closest to Douglas wondered if he would have the stamina, let alone the heart, to stand up to Tyson because he had had the flu 24 hours before the fight.
Then, in the 10th, it was all over.
Douglas, five inches taller and 11 pounds heavier, flicked jabs in Tyson's face to keep him from pounding away at his midsection and taking head shots, then countered with punches that dizzied the champ. The lingering image is of Tyson crawling on the mat while struggling to find his mouthpiece as referee Octavio Meyran counted down the final seconds of Tyson's invincibility.
Amid the chaos in the ring, Douglas was asked how he had pulled off the massive upset. "My mother," he said, fighting back tears. "My mother."
When Douglas looks back on that magical year, he fast-forwards through the next nine months. There were appearances on late-night TV, lengthy magazine pieces, countless photo ops and business proposals. In the days when a heavyweight champion was among the most recognized faces in the world, Douglas enjoyed himself and lost his focus. He was out of shape and uninspired when he collected $24.5 million in his title defense against Evander Holyfield, who KO'd him in the third round on Oct. 25, 1990, in Las Vegas.
The years after were not kind. He ate and drank too much and the former high school and college basketball player ballooned to more than 400 pounds, nearly dying after going into diabetic shock in the summer of 1994.
He made it through that trauma, but continued to drift. His once close relationship with manager John Johnson, who had guided his boxing career, ended badly.
His little brother, 35-year-old Robert, was killed in a gunfight in a parking lot outside the Orchid Cleaning Center on Columbus' Cleveland Avenue in December of 1998. Less than a year later, his father and mentor, former middleweight Bill "Dynamite" Douglas, died of colon cancer at the age of 59.
It took time, but Douglas again got up off the mat.
He and Johnson have mended fences, occasionally meeting to remember the good days. Douglas and his wife, Bertha, moved to Johnstown, a small town not far from Columbus, to raise sons Cardae, known better as B.J., and Artie. Both play football and run track, while B.J., who is about to graduate from high school, also wrestled. Artie, like his dad, was a basketball player as a freshman.
Now 49, Douglas is content watching his kids' games. He also has a development company that he said will begin construction of retail and housing units next month not far from where he grew up in a tough, downtrodden neighborhood East of Columbus' thriving downtown.
Douglas said he is happy that his one-time adversary, Tyson, has gotten his due with a recent documentary and a prominent cameo in a soon-to-be-released film. He wishes him nothing but the best.
He's also regained his health. He weighs only 20 pounds or so more than he did in Tokyo, and tries to fit in time on a treadmill each day. He even has his diabetes under control and has recently co-written a cookbook, "Buster's Backyard Bar-B-Q Knockout Diabetes Diet."
Nineteen years later, Douglas' remarkable upset of Tyson continues to be mentioned as proof that anything's possible.
"It's been so long ago, but then you look at those rings and you know it happened," McCauley said. "As long as you live, they can never take that away from you."
Occasionally his kids will see a clip of boxing's biggest upset. It's a teaching moment for their father.
"I always tell them, 'You know what? There's nothing that you can't do. Whatever you want to try, try, do it. Because you never know,'" Douglas said with a laugh. "I'm a prime example of that. Never say never, right?"