LAS VEGAS -- In professional boxing's golden '50s, middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson toured Europe with entourage that included a masseur, barber and dance instructor.
In the next two decades, heavyweight champion Muhammad Al traveled with his personal army that included trainers, cooks, sparring partners and countless sycophants who served as a Greek chorus for his doggerel and rival-baiting.
But nothing quite compares with the assortment of specialist who serve as a support team for Evander Holyfield, who will challenge James "Buster" Douglas for the world heavyweight championship Thursday night.
The cast includes Dan Duva, promoter; Lou Duva, training cam supervisor; George Benton, head trainer; Ronnie Shields, assistant trainer; Shelly Finkel, financial adviser; Tim Hallmark,
conditioning expert; Chaz Jordan, strength coach; and the most recent addition, Marya Kennett, ballet instructor.
"Evander's body was very tight when I started working with hi three weeks ago," said Kennett, who has a dance school in Goshen, N.Y. "I've just helped him to loosen his muscles and gain more flexibility."
Kathy Duva, publicist for Team Holyfield, likens the molding o the former light heavyweight champion into a full-fledged heavyweight to piecing together a bionic man.
"Remember the introduction to the 'Superman' series?" she said "Well, Chaz Jordan has made Evander more powerful than a locomotive, Tim Hallmark has made him faster than a speeding bullet and now Marya Kennett has made him nimble enough to jump over Buster Douglas after he knocks him out. Evander is our real-life Superman."
Hyperbole aside, Holyfield, 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds of muscle resembles a Greek statue compared with Douglas, the paunchy champion.
"Evander started as a light heavy and ended up Robocop," said
fight analyst Ferdie Pacheco.
Still, fight experts have a tendency to compare Holyfield with
Michael Spinks, who, with the help of a conditioning coach and nutritionist, became the first light heavyweight champion to challenge successfully for the heavyweight title when he upset Larry Holmes in 1985. But, the next year, Spinks was tossed around the ring like a rag doll by Mike Tyson, who quickly knocked him into retirement.
Holyfield insists his imposing musculature is not disguising hollow shell.
"People say I'm a blown-up heavyweight, like someone pumpe air into me," he said. "But it's not like I'm putting sand in my pockets. What are big guys made of anyway? People act likethey are born heavyweights. Usually, babies weigh 7 to 8 pounds.
"I always had a big upper body, even when I was growing up. have broad shoulders and small legs, but my legs get me around and will carry me through a war. With my weight program, I can maintain speed throughout the fight. But my weight won't make a difference. It's how much fight I have inside me."
In transforming Holyfield into Hercules, the first major step wa building his endurance. In his early pro career after winning a bronze medal in the 1984 Olympic Games, he had a tendency to tire quickly in the closing rounds.
"It was mostly a mental thing," Holyfield said. "I'd been fightin three rounds as an amateur for so long, I kind of felt that, after the third round, the fight was over."
To clear this hurdle, Benton used a bit of psychology in
Holyfield's sparring sessions.
"We'd shorten rounds from three to 2 1/2 minutes," Benton said.
"He'd spar more rounds and still feel refreshed, full of fight."
That convinced Holyfield he had the stamina to go 10 hard rounds. It was his stamina that carried him through 15 brutal rounds with Dwight Qawi for the cruiserweight title in 1984.
Benton said, "In that Qawi fight, he went from being a boy to man."
Hallmark was hired to put Holyfield through a rigorous strengt regimen as he graduated to the heavyweight ranks.
"I've put 25 pounds on Evander over the past 4 1/2 years," sai Hallmark. "My responsibility is to make sure he can fight at a
rapid pace for 12 rounds and have a quick recovery rate in the minute between rounds.
"When he first started with me, his heartbeat dropped to 150-15 between rounds. Now, it's down to 140-145. The recovery rate is the true sign of fitness.
"We use a regimen that incorporates kinesiology, menta visualization and cardiovascular conditioning. Evander concentrates on explosive movement with bounding and
"If I can get his legs to where they contract hard and fast, th power movements carry into his punches," Hallmark said. "His neck used to be 17 inches; now it's 19 inches. His chest, shoulders and quadriceps are all bigger."
But for all the special training techniques, it is the size o Holyfield's heart that has helped carry him undefeated through 24 professional bouts and to the light heavyweight and cruiserweight titles.
"People make too big a deal about the weight," said Benton, a old-fashioned trainer who was an outstanding middleweight in the '50s.
"The greatest heavyweights of all time -- Jack Johnson, JoLouis, Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali -- never weighed more than 205 pounds in their prime, and Marciano and Dempsey were both closer to 180.
"The advantage of the smaller heavyweight is that he's quicke and can put more punches together. And Evander throws enough punches to take a man out, or he wouldn't have 20 knockouts on his record."
Holyfield's stoic personality also could help him overcom distractions from the recent firing of longtime manager Ken Sanders and the divorce proceedings initiated by his wife, Paulette, the mother of his four children.
"Evander is a very mature, deeply religious individual," said Da Duva, who negotiated Holyfield's $8 million purse for fighting Douglas. "He is so focused on this fight, it's unbelievable.
"He made a business decision to get rid of Sanders. No one pushed him.
"Naturally, he's deeply disappointed over the divorce action, but the most important thing in his life right now is winning the heavyweight championship, something he's worked toward the past six years. When it's over, then he'll deal with everything else."
Said Holyfield: "This is payoff time. I've been fighting for 1yearas an amateur and pro. Now this is like the final test, and I feel I'm ready for it. Ring the bell, let's get it on."