Buster Douglas

The world heavyweight title fight between ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson and James ‘Buster’ Douglas, which took place at the Tokyo Dome in Bunkyo, Tokyo, Japan on February 11, 1990, produced arguably the greatest upset in boxing history. Tyson, still only 23, was the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion; he had taken just over a minute-and-a-half to stop Carl ‘The Truth’ Williams, albeit under controversial circumstances, in his previous title defence – to take his career record to 37-0, with 33 knockouts – and was widely expected to make similarly short work of Douglas.

Douglas, by contrast, was a 29-year-old journeyman, who had already suffered four defeats – including a tenth-round technical knockout by Tony Tucker in his previous title fight, for the vacant IBF Heavyweight World Title, nearly three years earlier – in a chequered career. His chance was dismissed by the media and the Las Vegas oddsmakers alike; The Mirage, one of the few casinos to offer an odds line, made Douglas a 42/1 underdog to beat the seemingly-invincible Tyson. Douglas also carried the emotional burden of having recently lost his mother, Lula Pearl, who died suddenly, at the age of just 46, days before he left for Tokyo.

Nevertheless, at 6’ 4” and 230lb, and coming into the fight on the back of six consecutive wins – including, most recently, a victory over Oliver McCall by unanimous decision – Douglas was at the peak of his powers. To the surprise of virtually everyone, Douglas dominated the first seven rounds and Tyson, for the first time in his career, appeared fallible. However, in the eighth round, the reigning champion delivered a vicious right uppercut that knocked Douglas to the canvas.

The challenger barely beat the count but, by that stage Tyson’s left eye had begun to swell uncontrollably and Douglas, once again, dominated the ninth round. Finally, in the tenth round, Douglas delivered his coup de grace, a devastating right uppercut of his own, followed by a left, right, left combination, which sent Tyson to the floor for the first time in his career. Disoriented, Tyson was counted out after 1 minute and 22 seconds of the tenth round.

Zinedine Zidane

In his heyday, legendary French playmaker Zinedine Zidane, known to his friends as ‘Zizou’, was the epitome of grace and elegance. However, it should not be forgotten that he also had a hard, no-nonsense edge and was perfectly willing to transgress the laws of the game, if and when the need arose. In fact, he was sent off 14 times during his career, more often than not, he later reflected, as ‘a result of provocation’.

Fittingly, Zidane played his final professional match, as captain of France, against Italy in the FIFA World Cup Final at the Olympiastadion, Berlin on July 9, 2009. He scored a memorable opening goal, too, a Panenka penalty after just seven minutes, but will always be remembered for delivering a powerful headbutt to the chest of Italian centre back Marco Materazzi, which resulted in his dismissal in the second half of extra time.

Following the opening goal, Materazzi had been assigned by Italian head coach Marcello Lippi to mark Zidane. The pair subsequently had a few comings-together in the penalty area, after the third of which Materazzi frowned at Zidane, who responded by saying, ‘I’ll give you my shirt later’. Materazzi replied with a disparaging remark, along the lines of ‘I’d rather have your sister than your shirt, although he may, or may not, have also included the word ‘whore’. Either way, Zidane lost his composure and smashed his head into Materazzi’s breastbone so hard that he knocked the 6’4″ Italian off his feet. Argentinian referee Horacio Elizondo had no hesitation in producing a red card and Zidane was gone, for good, his side eventually losing 5-3 on penalties.

Shergar

Until February, 1983, Shergar was best known as a champion racehorse. Owned by the Aga Khan and trained by Sir Michael Stoute, Shergar enjoyed a hugely successful three-year-old campaign, in which he won the Derby, by an unprecedented ten lengths, Irish Derby and King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes. At the end of his racing career, in October, 1981, Shergar was syndicated for £10 million and sent to stand at Ballymany Stud, in Co. Kildare, Ireland.

However, less than two years later, on the evening of February 8, 1983, Shergar was abducted, along with Jim Fitzgerald, head groom at Ballymany Stud, by a group of armed, masked men and driven away in a horsebox. Fitzgerald was eventually released, four hours later and twenty miles or so away from Ballymany, but warned, upon pain of death, not to contact the Gardaí. Fitzgerald did contact stud manager Ghislain Drion who, in turn, attempted to contact the Aga Khan. It was not until eight hours after the event that the kidnapping was reported to the police service, by which time Shergar was long gone.

British horse racing journalists Derek Thompson, John Oaksey and Peter Campling were called in, at the behest of the kidnappers, to conduct ransom negotiations. However, a series of polaroid photographs of the head of a horse, alongside a copy of the ‘Irish News’, dated February 11, proved insufficient ‘proof of life’ for the owners. In any event, four days after the abduction, the kidnappers made a final telephone call, including the code phrase ‘King Neptune’ – which had earlier been given to Jim Fitzgerald – to inform negotiators that Shergar had died ‘in an accident’.

The only certainties are that Shergar was never seen alive again, his body has never been recovered and no arrests have ever been made in relation to his abduction. His fate remains an abiding mystery, subject to speculation and conjecture. The consensus, though, is that Shergar was kidnapped by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and machine gunned in a stable near Ballinamore in Co. Leitrim after injuring himself.

‘Fan Man’

The boxing history books record that Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield II, a world heavyweight championship rematch staged at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas on November 6, 1993, resulted in an uninspiring points win for Holyfield. However, the bout will always be remembered, not for its outcome, but rather for its interruption, during the seventh round, by the unscheduled arrival of 30-year-old James Miller, a.k.a. ‘Fan Man’.

Propelled by a motorised parasail or, in other words, a powered paraglider, Miller reportedly circled several times before crashing onto the apron of the ring. The suspension lines of his parachute caught in the overhead lights, as a result of which he fell, or was dragged, backwards into the crowd, where he was promptly set upon by security staff and spectators and beaten unconscious. Indeed, Miller later quipped, “It was a heavyweight fight, and I was the only guy who got knocked out.”

In any event, the contest was suspended for twenty-one minutes while the parachute was untangled and, meanwhile, Miller was rushed to hospital. His injuries were only superficial and he was subsequently jailed, briefly, charged with dangerous flying and released on $200 bail. Miller claimed he had landed in the ring by accident, although footage from the circling ESPN blimp strongly suggested otherwise and, at the time, refused to say why he had done so; it was later revealed that his stunt was a personal protest against violence. Whatever his motivation, the ‘Fan Man’ incident was selected as Event of the Year by American boxing magazine ‘The Ring’.

Sadly, deeply indebted as a result of medical bills resulting from coronary artery disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2001, Miller disappeared from his home in Alaska in September, 2002. His body was found, six months later, by bear hunters on the remote Resurrection Pass Trail, on the Kenai Peninsula, just south of Anchorage, where he had committed suicide.