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ESPN’s ’42 to 1′ is the Greatest Underdog Story Ever Told

Before the United States Olympic hockey team beat the former Soviet Union in 1980 deemed the Miracle on Ice, the betting line was 3 to 1. Boxing has a bigger upset storyline and it’s all brought to you by James “Buster” Douglas. In February 1990, Mike Tyson was the most famous athlete in the world. Douglas was labeled a quitter with the best days behind him. 

So why did this fight even happen in the first place? Tyson needed a tune up fight before he was to face Evander Holyfield to continue his undefeated reign as the undisputed heavy-weight champion. Las Vegas had so much faith in Douglas that they gave him 42 to 1 odds to beat Tyson. This story is arguably the biggest upset in the history of sports.

To put it in perspective, you would have to bet $42,000 to make $1000 if Tyson won the fight. The fight’s odds were originally set at 27 to 1. No one was betting on the underdog Douglas until it hit 42. The highest someone bet on Tyson was $162,000 with very few bets otherwise. No one wanted any part of this fight. Including American audiences. At that point Tyson was 37-0 and had never even hit the canvas. The fight was moved to Tokyo to raise ticket sales as Tyson was an international celebrity. 

No one believed in Douglas. Except maybe his mother. That is the point of this great documentary. The best thing about the 30 for 30 franchise is that it continues to find under-documented stories and tie them to what we like about sports in the first place. We like when athletes overcome adversity. We like when no one gives them a chance. We’d like to think an average, or in this case out-of-shape, guy can take down the Goliath’s of the world. These stories are older than the Bible. 

What makes the story of Douglas so compelling is the depth that is explored here. Many have heard Buster’s name and maybe even vaguely remember he was the first to knock down and beat Mike Tyson. But little remember the angst that he suffered through to get out of the shadow of his boxing father. Little remember that Buster’s mother died just three weeks before the fight. The person that supported him more than anyone had passed and in her absence gave him the ultimate motivation to forget the odds and take on any challenge. 

There is a little Buster in each in every one of us. We all have incredible (if at times untapped) potential. It’s on these monumental stages, when we have ever reason to quit, we have to option to respond with determination and grit. If it’s anything like Buster, we can change any outcome and any preconceived notion. 42 to 1 is the telling of the greatest underdog story you may never heard of. ESPN executes the storytelling with the exact precision of the jab Douglas used to take down Tyson. Move over Rudy, you’ve got nothing on Buster Douglas.

30 for 30: 42 to 1 is available on demand on ESPN.