I’ll never forget the day I met James “Buster” Douglas for the first time. His fiancé, Bertha, worked for my dad and me in our law office in Columbus, Ohio, and he came straight from the gym to visit her.
Bertha was clearly in love with this guy, and I could see why. He had a great smile and personality, and his highly toned body soared to 6’4”.
But when I later asked her what kind of work her fiancé did, I couldn’t help but laugh at her response. “Oh, he’s a boxer,” she said with true admiration.
“OK, so he likes to box,” I told her with a chuckle. “That’s nice hobby, but what does he do to make a living?”
“He boxes all around the state,” Bertha told me defensively, “and he makes money whenever he wins.”
I could tell I wasn’t going to get anywhere in this conversation, so I just dropped it, noting to her that he seemed like a really nice guy.
Less than a decade after I met this sturdy young man called Buster, he knocked out previously undefeated heavyweight boxing champ Mike Tyson in Tokyo. That was 25 years ago last week.
I guess his boxing “hobby” paid off after all.
There are two important lessons in this story. First, I’m ashamed to admit that I fell into the common trap of not valuing someone’s dreams and aspirations. What are the odds of someone “making it” as a professional boxer? I smugly thought to myself.
According to the odds going into the Tyson-Douglas fight, Buster was a 42-1 underdog. Nobody with any sense would take odds like that. His victory has been called one of the greatest upsets in history in any sport.
You see, success in life is not a matter of statistics and probabilities. According to oddsmakers, none of the trailblazers in history would have had a high probability of success. Think about Christopher Columbus…Abraham Lincoln…Thomas Edison…Steve Jobs…the list could go on and on.
So, the first lesson is this: Be careful about laughing at other people’s dreams—or at your own dreams, for that matter. God is a God who loves to prove the critics and oddsmakers wrong, and He has done so time and time again.
The second lesson is derived from what happened in the months and years after that fateful victory by Buster Douglas in February 1990. Just eight months later, he lost in the third round to Evander Holyfield in a completely lackluster performance.
What had happened in those eight months, between his dazzling victory and his dismal defeat? In the words of the old Rocky movie, Buster had quickly lost “the eye of the tiger.” After achieving his initial success, he was content to take it easy and rest on his laurels. He already had more money than he could have ever dreamed, so why push himself?
In the years after losing to Holyfield, Buster put on more than 100 pounds and experienced serious health issues. At one point, he went into a diabetic coma and almost died. According to some reports, these days he spends much of his time eating and fishing with his buddies.
So, here’s the second crucial lesson: After you win a victory, you must avoid the tendency to get fat and lazy. It’s not just that Buster had to keep winning boxing matches. But perhaps he at least could have been a better steward of his health, his time, and his money. Even if he had lost his zeal to beat up on his boxing opponents, couldn’t he have found new mountains to climb and new victories to win?
As various translations of Proverbs 29:18 point out, when we no longer have any vision, we are likely to “run wild,” “cast off restraint,” or even “stumble all over ourselves.”
I think we all can see ourselves in one aspect or another of Buster Douglas’ life. For example, just because the odds may seem against you today, that doesn’t mean you should quit. With God’s help, you can prove the devil and the naysayers wrong!
And just because you’ve had great success in the past, that doesn’t give you an excuse to quit dreaming now. There are new dragons to slay, new battles to win, new ways to invest your life to advance the kingdom of God and make the world a better place for others.
May God give you fresh vision for your life today! May He enlighten your eyes once again to see the hope of your calling (Ephesians 1:18), so you can win new victories and press on to new heights (Philippians 3:12-14).