WASHINGTON -- Boxing trainers everywhere owe a huge deb of gratitude to James "Buster" Douglas.
Were it not for Douglas thumping Mike Tyson as an infinity-to-1 underdog in Japan a few years ago, favored fighters would have continued to pose problems as far as hard work is concerned during training camp.
"No more," says Eddie Futch, octogenarian trainer for Riddick Bowe, the heavyweight champion who defends his titles against journeyman Jesse Ferguson at RFK Stadium Saturday evening. "Bowe has done his work, and he's ready for anything that might come."
While on the one hand Riddick says, "I certainly respect Jesse," in the next breath it's, "I think it would be nice if we gave the public a true heavyweight championship fight." Presumably soon.
The fighter knows as well as anyone what happened to Tyson in Japan: a 10th-round knockout at the fists of almost-off-the-boards underdog Buster, who never wanted to go around busting noses in the first place. Douglas then lost to Evander Holyfield in short order, and Bowe took Holyfield last November.
But just to make sure, Futch almost daily reminds Bowe "not to believe in odds. Everyone was horrified by what Douglas did, not only beating Tyson, but destroying him. And I can remember when I put Kenny Norton in against a legend, Muhammad Ali. Norton wasn't known much outside California, but he beat Ali, became a champ and they had three great fights."
Still, it's tough for Bowe to look at the 36-year-old Ferguson, who ran out to a 13-0 record in 1983-84-85, then slowed to 6-9 during the past seven years. Most of the time, Jesse was working as a sparring partner until someone came along looking to pad his record.
What all this "suitable opponent" work led to is appearances against Tyson (TKO by, 6) Carl Williams (TKO by, 10), Bruce Seldon (TKO by, 5), Bonecrusher Smith, Oliver McCall, Michael Dokes and Tony Tubbs (all decision losses). Most of these guys don't qualify for inclusion in a punching Hall of Fame, but they do constitute the best the division has had to offer in the last decade.
"You know, Ferguson isn't as dumb as he looks," Bowe says. "He's been to college and in the service. I think what he realizes is if he gives a good account of himself it could lead to other big paydays."
As for the challenger pulling a "Buster," it's almost beyond the realm of possibility, according to Bowe: "I certainly have no plans for giving this thing [the title] up just yet.
"The way I look at it, this fight could be a bomb. At the same time, Ferguson's got himself in the shape of his life, and he's going to give it everything he's got, so it could be something really good. But either way they'll be saying 'And still heavyweight champion . . . ' afterward."
Without prompting and obviously tired of peddling the usual fight bravado -- "I advise Jesse to raise his insurance, pick out a casket and where he wants to get buried" -- Bowe offered, "I'm serious when I say I'd love to fight Lennox Lewis. I hope it can be arranged."
Prior to that and assuming he brushes Ferguson aside, the champ supposedly has an appointment with Holyfield in
September in Las Vegas. Anyone familiar with the fight game, though, knows nothing is absolutely certain until the fighters are actually climbing the steps leading to the ring.
Ferguson, who gained this shot by upsetting an overrated and underworked Ray Mercer, seems properly thankful for this one-in-a-million shot. "It's a great honor for me," he says, "and I'll be very upset if I stink the place up. So I'm not going to do that.
"The belt will be up for grabs once we step into the ring, and I've got a shot. There's no worry in my heart because I've gone against guys who can fight better than Riddick Bowe does."
Admittedly, ticket sales have been slow, the latest tally being well shy of 7,000. But Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, is quick to point out that Washington is a notoriously late buying town, and he's hopeful of "at least 20,000 showing up Saturday." The people running RFK are far more conservative, stating they would be happy with 10,000 showing up.
The show doesn't want for promise on the undercard. Two of the best middleweights extant, unbeaten Roy Jones of Olympic fame and Bernard Hopkins, who bills himself as "The Executioner," are meeting for the vacant IBF 160-pound title. Also on the card are action fighters Andrew Maynard going against Egerton Marcus and Shamba Mitchell taking on Kenny Baysmore.