MANSFIELD -- Former professional boxer James “Buster” Douglas said he was 10 years old when he had to learn how to stand up to a bully.
“Believe it or not, I experienced that coming up as a child,” he said. “It was my mother who told me to stand up to him — one day I came home crying from school because of kids talking about me and verbal abuse.”
It may be hard to imagine anyone bullying the future heavyweight champion of the world. Alas, it can happen to anyone.
Suffice to say few would take on that mindset after Douglas overcame 42-to-1 betting odds to knock out Mike Tyson in February of 1990 to claim the title of baddest man on the planet.
Since then, Douglas has turned his active pursuits to a less pugilistic nature. The Columbus native has starred in a few films since retiring from boxing in 1999.
He met Mansfield-based producer David Kirst through a mutual friend Joseph Ponder, who is also a movie producer.
Kirst knew Douglas would be a great fit for “The Final Contestant,” a movie written by Mansfielder Kelby King.
“What a perfect guy to support this movie’s message and the absolute wrong way to fight — bullying,” King said. “I see bullying all the time, I have three kids of my own and have seen them suffer through what victims go through.
“That made me passionate and I was inspired to write this because not enough is being done to stop it, there’s not enough consequences or awareness.”
King, co-owner of Heart of Ohio films with Kimberly Miller, said the feature-length film should be in post-production by this summer. Heart of Ohio will also create a shorter version so local schools can show the movie without interrupting the school day.
The film is produced by Heart of Ohio Films and Rominus James Productions, which Kirst owns.
“Buster Douglas can knock out the biggest bully in history, but obviously he still experienced this, so I gave him a call,” Kirst said. “He’s really excited about it, and we think he fits perfectly.”
Douglas plays himself in “The Final Contestant,” in which he hears a group of students bullying another kid on a playground and tells them to stop.
“I heard what you guys were saying to that little girl, and that’s just not cool,” Douglas says in the film. “I spent my life making a living as a fighter, but never like that — that’s not the way to do it.”
Douglas’ scene in “The Final Contestant” was filmed Monday at the Buckeye Imagination Museum on West Third Street.
Director Bobby Lacer instructed the young actors to pretend to be the bullies they’ve all seen or experienced.
“I know all of you guys have either bullied or been bullied,” he said. “I was bullied in high school and back in middle school, I was a bully.”
Eight-year-old Breckelle Miller plays the bullied student in “The Final Contestant,” who Douglas helps on the playground.
In addition to guest starring in area films, Douglas is still in the gym every day working with the Columbus Recreation and Parks boxing program, which he enrolled in at 10 years old.
Douglas said his advice to anyone being bullied is to seek help.
“(Bullying) can be a traumatic experience,” he said. “It’s basically one kid not feeling secure about themselves and wanting to take it out on another kid.
"But stand up, because that kid isn’t as tough as you think he is.”