Heavyweight fortunes on line in Las Vegas tonight Questions cloud Douglas-Holyfield

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LAS VEGAS -- The fortune teller peers into her crystal ball and confidently responds to questions about the Middle East crisis, the budget crunch and Elvis' latest sighting. But she shakes her head when asked to predict the winner of tonight's James "Buster" Douglas-Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship match at The Mirage.

"Such a big question for such a little ball," the gypsy says.

Yes, so many questions:

* Was Douglas' upset of Mike Tyson in Tokyo last February a one-fight fluke?

* Is Holyfield an overblown cruiserweight masquerading as a heavyweight?

* Is Douglas overweight and under-trained?

* Is Holyfield bothered by his pending divorce?

* Can Douglas function with his dominating father, Billy, hovering at ringside?

* Does Holyfield have too much courage and too little defense?

All these questions have made this an even-money fight supported by lively wagering

at the betting parlors.

If Douglas enters the ring as a slight underdog, it will be the first time the champion has not been favored since Tyson, a challenger, was 4-1 to beat Trevor Berbick for the World Boxing Council title four years ago.

But Douglas, 30, who is being paid a record $24 million by Mirage owner Steve Wynn for his first title defense, says he is not troubled by a lack of respect. He bristles when it is suggested he was fortunate to have caught Tyson preoccupied and overconfident.

"That must have been one hell of a lucky day for me," Douglas said. "It's not like I knocked him out with one lucky hook. I did what nobody else could do to Tyson. I exposed him. He didn't know how quick I was.

"People still question my ability, but that only helps motivate me. One day, I want to be mentioned along with the great ones -- Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Muhammad Ali -- and beating Holyfield could do that for me."

Douglas, who at 246 pounds will have a 38-pound advantage over Holyfield, scoffs at the notion that the former light-heavyweight and cruiserweight king can wear him down with his relentless attack.

"That's a losing battle plan," the Columbus, Ohio, native said. "Once the bell rings and I keep popping leather in his face, he'll go back to his corner and say, 'It's not working, fellas,' and that's when he'll pack it in himself."

But Douglas' weight raised questions about his motivation fo this fight. His weight had been treated as a top secret. Douglas and his trainers predicted he would be close to the 231 1/2 pounds he weighed in toppling Tyson.

"I thought Buster would be 235, tops," said trainer J.D McCauley, "but I don't consider weight as being a factor. I'm more concerned with Buster's mind and focus. It's really simple. If you don't have the right horse, you don't win. And they don't have the right horse."

Lou Duva, who oversees Holyfield's training regimen, als downplayed the weight disparity.

"I only worry about my guy," said Duva, "and Evander, at 208, i close to where we figured he'd be."

Douglas' inflated waistline may weigh more heavily on the mind of bettors than Holyfield's ability to absorb a big punch.

Holyfield, 28, from Georgia, has been labeled a "face-fighter," brawler willing to lead with his chin and absorb punishment for the chance to land a few telling punches of his own.

Such bravado has worked to date in compiling a 24-0 record, but he was shaken in bouts against journeyman Adilson Rodrigues, a fading Michael Dokes and, most recently, Alex Stewart. It has led to speculation that Holyfield will not be able to withstand the heavier punches of Douglas, who also has the ability to keep him at bay with a left jab.

Still, Holyfield remains confident.

"There really is not that much difference in size," he said. "He's 6-4, and I'm 6-2, and my weight also makes me heavier than a lot of previous champions. Anyone who's a heavyweight can hit.

"I feel that attacking Douglas is like chopping down a tree. Som just take more chops than others. Buster quit before and I saw it. So I know he'll quit again. All I have to do is find a way to make him do it."

Douglas showed heart in picking himself off the floor in th eighth round in Tokyo after catching an uppercut from Tyson, then coming back to knock out the champion in the 10th round.

But instead of quickly capitalizing on his sudden fame as true-to-life "Rocky," Douglas was forced into an eight-month layoff by lawsuits initiated by promoter Don King and Atlantic City casino baron Donald Trump, both claiming separate promotional agreements.

Douglas paid an estimated $4 million to settle the case out ocourt. During his inactivity, his weight reportedly ballooned to 260 pounds. He also was bothered by constant bickering with his manager, John Johnson, and his father, Billy, a former middleweight, with whom he has had a love-hate relationship.

Douglas says spirit and body are trouble-free, but a number o fight experts still doubt his commitment to keeping his crown.

"The Tyson fight was an aberration," said Herb Lambeck, the boxing consultant for Leroy's Horse and Sports Palace. "Douglas will quit like he did against Mike White and [Tony] Tucker. Holyfield has too much heart for him."

Asked why, in that case, Douglas had so much support fro bettors, Lambeck said: "That's Wynn's doing. He's built all his TV publicity around Douglas."

Tyson, awaiting his chance to return to the pinnacle, has labeled Douglas and Holyfield "a couple of choirboys" lacking public appeal.

But the temporary, 16,350-seat arena in The Mirage parking lot will be filled with high rollers tonight, anticipating one of the most competitive heavyweight fights in a long, long time.

Douglas' record

1981 May 31 Dan Banks, Columbus, Ohio KO 3

July 23 Michael Lear, Columbus, Ohio W 4

Sept. 27 Mike Rodgers, Columbus, Ohio KO 3

Oct. 14 Tommy Stevenson, Indianapolis KO 3

Oct. 23 Johnny Clark, Toledo, Ohio KO 3

Nov. 6 David Bey, Pittsburgh L 2

Dec. 23 Donny Johnson, Canton, Ohio KO 3

Jan. 23 Hubert Adams, McConnelsville, Ohio KO 1

Feb. 14 Donnie Townsend, Erie, Pa. W 6

Feb. 15 Marvin Earle, Kalamazoo, Mich. KO 2

March 25 Ric Enis, Indianapolis W 6

April 26 Mel Daniels, Johnstown, Pa. KO 1

Oct. 13 Stefan Tangstadt, Chicago D 8

Nov. 20 Tim Johnson, Columbus, Ohio KO 1

March 9 Jessee Clark, Niles, Ohio KO 2

March 29 Leroy Diggs, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 7

April 16 Jesse Clark, Grand Rapids, Mich. KO 2

April 29 Henry Porter, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 2

July 5 Dave Johnson, Atlantic City, N.J. W 10

Sept. 28 Eugene Kato, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 1

Dec. 17 Mike White, Atlantic City, N.J. L 9

1984

July 9 Dave Starkey, Columbus, Ohio NC 1

Nov. 9 Randall "Tex" Cobb, Las Vegas W 10

1985

March 27 Dion Simpson, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 1

May 9 Jesse Ferguson, Atlantic City, N.J. L 10

1986

Jan. 17 Greg Page, Atlanta W 10

April 19 David Jaco, Las Vegas W 10

Sept. 6 Dee Collier, Las Vegas W 10

May 30 Tony Tucker, Las Vegas L 10

for IBF heavyweight title)

Nov. 20 Donny Long, Columbus, Ohio KO 2

Feb. 24 Pernell Davis, Duluth, Minn. TKO 10

April 16 Jerry Halstead, Las Vegas TKO 9

June 27 Michael Williams, Atlantic City TKO 7

Feb. 25 Trevor Berbick, Las Vegas W 10

July 21 Oliver McCall, Atlantic City, N.J. W 10

1990 Feb. 11 Mike Tyson, Tokyo KO 10

(Won world heavyweight title)

W30, L4, D1, NC1, KO20.

Holyfield's record

1984 Nov. 15 Lionel Byarm, New York W 6

1985 Jan. 20 Eric Winbush, Atlantic City, N.J. W 6

March 13 Freddie Brown, Norfolk, Va. KO 1

April 20 Mark Rivera, Corpus Christi, Texas KO 2

July 20 Tyrone Booze, Norfolk, Va. W 8

Aug. 29 Rick Meyers, Atlanta KO 1

Oct. 30 Jeff Meachum, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 5

Dec. 21 Anthony Davis, Virginia Beach, Va. KO 5

1986 March 1 Chisanda Mutti, Lancaster, Pa. KO 2

April 6 Jesse Shelby, Corpus Christi, Texas KO 3

May 28 Terry Mims, Metairie, La. KO 5

July 20 Dwight Qawi, Atlanta W 15

(won WBA cruiserweight title)

Dec. 8 Michael Brothers, Paris KO 3

1987 Feb. 14 Henry Tillman, Reno, Nev. KO 7

(retained cruiserweight title)

May 15 Rickey Parker, Las Vegas KO 3

(won IBF cruiserweight title)

Aug. 15 Ossie Ocasio, St. Tropez, France KO 11

(retained WBA-IBF cruiserweight titles)

Dec. 4 Dwight Qawi, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 4

(retained WBA-IBF cruiserweight titles)

1988 April 9 Carlos DeLeon, Las Vegas KO 8

(Won world cruiserweight title)

July 16 James Tillis, Lake Tahoe, Nev. KO 8

Dec. 9 Pinklon Thomas, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 7

1989 March 11 Michael Dokes, Las Vegas KO 10

July 15 Adilson Rodrigues, Lake Tahoe, Nev. KO 2

Nov. 4 Alex Stewart, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 8

1990 June 1 Seamus McDonagh, Atlantic City, N.J. KO 4

W24, L0, KO20.

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