ESPN 30 for 30: 42-1 Review

By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 10, 2018)


Buster Douglas is a dog. He’s always been a quitter. – Don King (1990)

Upsets are one of the things that make sports worth watching. If all we had were winners constantly winning, the lack of surprise or unpredictability would make the actual practice of viewing sports far less interesting. It’s the reality of an uncertain outcome that keeps us coming back, because it presents hope for your local team or the possibility for an underdog. We just watched it happen in the NCAA Tournament with Sister Jean and Loyola Chicago, who almost did it.

It can happen. Games aren’t played on paper. And, as we found out in 1990, fights aren’t won before the bell rings.

42-1, ESPN’s latest 30 for 30 effort, is by no means the series’ best, but it returns us to a time when heavyweight boxing was relentlessly compelling. Interestingly, Mike Tyson was fascinating, despite all of his fights being massacres…

…until he fought Columbus, Ohio’s James “Buster” Douglas in Tokyo, Japan as the 1980s had given way to the 90s.

The documentary, directed by Ben Houser and Jeremy Schapp, tells the story of Buster’s unlikely rise to stardom, the difficulties in being the son of a famous prizefighter, and the motivations that led to what many (me included) believe is the biggest upset in the history not just of boxing, but in all of sports.

The title of the film emanates from the odds Jimmy Vacarro placed on Tyson vs. Douglas, as 42-1 was the number that finally got a few people to put money on Buster to win the fight. The odds opened at 27-1, then were adjusted up multiple times and still, no one would bet on Douglas. 42-1 was the sweet spot that drew some action, although Vaccaro mentions in the story someone placing $160,000 on Tyson, which had he won would have only netted a 4K payout.

This is one of the shorter 30 for 30 installments, which isn’t unexpected, as really we’re building to one fight. Douglas’ upbringing wasn’t easy, but he had both a mother and a father and as athlete adversity stories go, his is rather mild. The problems generally focused around being the son of Bill “Dynamite” Douglas, who was a fighter more in the Tyson mold respective to passion and attitude.

At 51 minutes, 42-1 does a good job at telling the story and including a few of Tyson’s fights in their near entirety, because it didn’t take much time to showcase it. There is nothing current from Tyson at all, he’s not interviewed and his comments are only shown in past sit-downs from the promotion to the fight and the years prior, with the highlight being a mild-mannered Tyson in a cardigan on Good Morning America.

While Houser and Schapp do have most of the key players, not having Tyson or anyone from his camp definitely hurts the film. Also, it’s really just a retelling of a story that was only interesting because Douglas won the fight. There’s not a ton of controversy, and even the infamous questions as to whether he answered the count in the eighth round is glossed over quickly. It’s hard to imagine many people finding this 30 for 30 among the best, because it’s very by-the-book and feels as though it never goes beneath the surface.

That said, Buster is very good as he lays out the mentality he walked into the Tokyo Dome with and how his mother’s death less than a month before he fought Mike Tyson presented inspiration he otherwise wouldn’t have had. 42-1 features his brother, his uncle and trainer, his manager, and other key figures and media personalities from that time period. The hour flew by, but once it was over, you’re just left with a feeling that it wasn’t anything special.

42-1 is highly anticipated because we all remember the fight and we all remember where we were when we found out Douglas had done the unthinkable. ESPN is running the Tyson vs. Douglas fight in its entirety after the initial airing, which is smart. One thing I had forgotten was how good the fight actually was, how ferocious Douglas was and how hard Tyson fought back. It was a war, but one Douglas still managed to dominate.

It’s well worth the time to sit down and watch tomorrow night or whenever your schedule permits, but don’t expect to be blown away. There’s nothing standout about it, but it’s perfectly adequate. OJ: Made in America just isn’t going to happen very often, and the story itself is basic. Houser and Schapp tell it well and the archival footage, including ESPN’s Charley Steiner on the SportsCenter set lamenting what would assuredly be a Tyson 30 second knockout was entertaining. It’s not boring. It’s just a ho-hum, average 30 for 30 outing.

Still, I enjoyed reliving that time, and it made me long for boxing that matters again, even if the chances of it happening are slim to say the least.

The narrative surrounding Buster Douglas was he had incredible potential but didn’t like to train, didn’t like to work, and was largely a disappointment compared to his dad.

But “Dynamite” never knocked out a pugilistic deity the likes of Mike Tyson. Even though Douglas would lose eight months after capturing the gold, beginning the real rise of Evander Holyfield, this is one moment in time that will never fade and will never be forgotten. 42-1 is a solid enough trip back to 1990 and gives un insight into Buster Douglas. We know a lot about Tyson, but the documentary could have used more of it in this case, even if much would have been a retread.

42-1 is worth watching on Tuesday night, but measure your expectations. It’s a middle of the road 30 for 30 entry at best.

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