Longshot Encounter

Stars Align For Peterson’s Chance Meeting With Douglas

Local attorney and sports historian Greg Peterson, right, is pictured with Buster Douglas during a meeting in Columbus, Ohio late last month. Submitted photo

Serendipity is defined as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”

ESPN Films will premiere its 30 for 30 film, “42 to 1,” at 9 tonight. The hour-long retrospective will revisit Buster Douglas’ stunning upset of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson nearly 30 years ago.

If you are a boxing fan, but not able to watch it, might I suggest you get in touch with local attorney and sports historian Greg Peterson, because he’ll be able to answer just about any question related to that memorable night in Tokyo.

How so?

Well, much of Greg’s knowledge of that bout in February 1990 came right from Douglas himself after the men sat down for an interview the day after Thanksgiving at the Thompson Community Center in Columbus, Ohio where Douglas now works.

Former heavyweight champion Buster Douglas is pictured during an interview with local attorney and sports historian Greg Peterson in Columbus, Ohio late last month. Submitted photo

How the Lakewood resident and Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame inductee (Class of 2012) connected with the former heavyweight champion of the world is remarkable in its own right.

“You can’t make this up,” Greg said.

It’s still hard to believe.

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Greg’s wife, Cindy, has family who lives in Columbus and she also has business interests there. Not surprisingly — knowing his love for all things sports — Greg had developed a list of athletes who hailed from that neck of the woods.

One of them was Douglas.

“Probably five years ago, I was talking to (Cindy’s) attorney and I asked … about Buster Douglas and if (the former) could arrange for me to meet him,” Greg said.

The request went nowhere.

“Fast-forward (to last month),” Greg said. “Cindy turned 65 and it was clear I couldn’t assemble all the family on her birthday, so the thought was we’d surprise her in Columbus and everybody could come the week before. From Detroit, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., I wanted them all to show up at a restaurant a week before (Thanksgiving).”

There was one problem. How was Greg going to get Cindy there without creating suspicion, especially since she was planning to be there for the holiday the following week anyway. That’s when Greg called his attorney friend in Columbus — the same one he’d asked about Douglas years before — and asked if he would be part of the ruse.

“I told him, ‘You have to tell Cindy that you finally got Buster Douglas for me on Nov. 16 at 2 p.m.,” Greg said.

It was a complete fabrication.

There had been no contact with Douglas, but at least Greg was able to convince Cindy to accompany him to Columbus for the weekend.

The surprise was going to happen.

As it turned out, there would be more than one.

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Upon arriving in southern Ohio, Greg decided he’d do a little detective work and he punched in “Buster Douglas gymnasium” into a search engine on his cellphone.

“Out came an article from two years ago about Buster Douglas at the Thompson Recreation Center in Columbus,” Greg said. “He actually teaches there and is an employee of the city of Columbus.”

That information left Greg encouraged that a connection with Douglas could be made after all.

“I put in my GPS the address and it was only 15 minutes away, so I tool over there,” Greg said. “I found it, but, unfortunately, there was a sign that said, ‘Coach Douglas sick, not in today.'”

Disappointed, but undaunted, Greg talked with people at the center, informing them that he would be returning to Columbus for Thanksgiving the following week and that he would stop by then.

“Friday morning (Nov. 23) I went over there and there (Douglas) was, by himself,” Greg said. ” … I had the whole gym to myself. I couldn’t have set that up in a million years.”

After introducing himself, Greg asked if he could have 15 minutes of Douglas’ time and the interview began.

“That’s when I, frankly, learned about the ESPN 30 for 30,” Greg said. “He talked about it. I was glad I caught him when I did, because after they show this thing (tonight), he’ll be much in demand. He’ll be back in the spotlight.”

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For all the talk about Douglas’ fight with Tyson — at 42 to 1 odds, some have suggested it is the greatest upset in the history of sports — Peterson said there is little in the gym to indicate the former’s accomplishments.

“On his desk was the bell from that match and there were some pictures around, but he doesn’t wear (his success) on his sleeve,” Greg said. “He was a wonderfully humble guy … He was very open to me and I had his undivided attention.”

For Greg, who has interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people through the years, the Douglas “get” ranks among the top question-and-answer sessions he’s ever done.

“I didn’t really think it would ever happen,” he said. “But for the attempt to convince my wife to go to Columbus for this surprise event, it would not have happened. … We had the attorney call Cindy and now (the meeting with Douglas) is theoretically in play. Next thing you know I’m at the gym. Next thing you know I see the 8-by-10 paper that says ‘Coach Douglas, unfortunately, is not in today” and then I check that he will be in the next Friday. Then I show up almost unannounced and nobody is there but him. He’s there alone in the ring.

“You can’t set it up. You’ve got the ring, the champ and me for half an hour.”

Now that’s serendipity.

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