LAS VEGAS -- A year ago, Evander Holyfield sat in a conference room at the Thomas and Mack Arena, his eyes swollen, his body aching and his ego sagging.
Some 30 minutes earlier, referee Joe Cortez had raised Riddick Bowe's arm in victory as ring announcer Michael Buffer said, "And the new undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. . ."
Speaking dispassionately, Holyfield said: "I think I'm finished. I don't want a rematch. I did all I could to win and it wasn't enough.
"Now I feel relieved. I can spend more time with my kids. Boxing is just something in my life. I realize it can't last forever."
But time has a way of dulling one's memory and tinkering with the truth.
The more the previously unbeaten Holyfield watched tapes of the Bowe fight, the more he became convinced that the outcome was much closer than indicated by the official scorecards, which had as much as a seven-point spread.
"I looked at the tape very objectively," he said. "I was always in the fight, right in his face. Sure, he threw and landed more punches, but it wasn't as if he demolished me or knocked me out."
Holyfield rationalized that he still would be heavyweight champ if he had fought a more strategic fight rather than trying to prove his machismo against a younger, much bigger opponent.
And so here he is, a 4 1/2 -1 underdog going into a rematch with Bowe on Saturday night at Caesars Palace.
His first move was to dismiss his longtime co-trainers, Lou Duva and George Benton, who no longer shared his belief.
"It's hard to be with me if you don't think I'm a winner," Holyfield said. "When people close to you say, 'You need to retire,' that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
"I'd been with the same bunch [promoter Dan Duva, manager Shelly Finkel, Lou Duva and Benton] since 1984. After eight years, and winning the light-heavy, cruiserweight and heavyweight titles, they thought it went to my head.
"They started questioning my dedication to training. But I'm really very coachable. I just needed someone with the right attitude to give me the spark again."
Through his new adviser, rap star Hammer, Holyfield was teamed with Emanuel Steward, the trainer who guided Thomas Hearns to four world titles.
His return to the ring ended an uneasy retirement.
"I spent more time with my kids, and even coached one of their 80-pound football teams," said Holyfield, who went through a rough divorce several years ago. "But the longer I was away, the more I realized I missed boxing."
He flirted with the idea of starting a new career as an actor, discussing the idea last spring with director Steven Spielberg.
"In the midst of taking acting classes in Los Angeles, I realized it wasn't for me," he said. "I asked myself, 'Why should I do something I'm not good at?'
"Returning to the ring had nothing to do with fame and fortune. Fighting is what I love to do, and I'm good at my job."
Many in boxing agree, but only to a point. They acknowledge Holyfield was a force as a light-heavyweight and even more electrifying as cruiserweight champion, a division for which his style and frame seemed best suited.
"At 190, Evander was probably the best I've ever seen," said ring commentator Bobby Czyz, who held light-heavy and cruiserweight titles.
"He still gives 100 percent every fight, but he's just not a great heavyweight. He won the title because Buster Douglas took the money and quit."
To Czyz, Holyfield was a synthetic heavyweight. His pumped-up body had an Omega Man quality to it.
Holyfield and Steward say fight fans will see a new, improved model in the Bowe rematch, not the tentative ex-champion who looked lackluster last June in beating journeyman Alex Stewart in Atlantic City.
Holyfield, who now weighs close to 215, said he is more comfortable with his new trainer and he will not make the same mistakes against Bowe that cost him his title.
"I beat myself the first time," he said. "My problem was that I went in there thinking this was the same Bowe who used to be my sparring partner. Back then, he was under-motivated and had the reputation of being a quitter."
Steward concedes he has a stubborn pupil in Holyfield, a natural brawler he is trying to re-program as a thinking fighter.
"Evander is one of the strongest-minded people I've met," Steward said. "He likes a good scrap, but he has to stifle the warrior's instinct. He can't expect to run over guys much bigger than him. He has to know when to attack and when to back off."
FACTS AND FIGURES
Who: Riddick Bowe (34-0, 29 KOs), Fort Washington, Md., vs. Evander Holyfield (29-1, 22 KOs), Atlanta
What: For Bowe's International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Association heavyweight titles
Where: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
When: Saturday. The main event will start approximately 11 p.m. EDT.
Distance: 12 rounds
Promoters: Spencer Promotions and Main Events, Inc., in conjunction with Caesars Palace
TV: Pay per view begins at 9 p.m. Fight also can be seen at about 1,000 closed-circuit venues.
Semi-windup: Thomas Hearns (50-4-1, 40 KOs), Detroit, vs. Andrew Maynard (21-5, 18 KOs) Laurel, light-heavyweights, 10 rounds