LAS VEGAS -- Tonight, when boxing fans gather for the Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield championship rematch at Caesars Palace, they will inevitably recall the electrifying 10th round in their first brawl when the two heavyweights took turns staggering each other, with only their intense pride and willpower keeping them erect.
When the bell sounded, ringside commentator Al Bernstein screamed, "That wasone of the greatest rounds in heavyweight history. Period!"
Those spectacular three minutes of action were worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as the 14th round of Ali-Frazier III in Manila, and the brutal 15th and final round of the Larry Holmes-Ken Norton match for the vacant title in 1979.
The younger Bowe had dominated the fight by using his superior size and strength, and when he caught Holyfield flush on the chin with an uppercut early in the 10th, he quickly moved in for the kill.
"Riddick thought he was within a punch of becoming champion, got over-anxious and started throwing bombs," said Bowe's venerable trainer, Eddie Futch, who molded Bowe into a champion in three short years. "I've lectured him on this a dozen times. He should have taken his time and set him up instead of throwing punches willy-nilly."
Bowe seemingly grew arm weary in pummeling Holyfield on the ropes. Drawing strength from some untapped reservoir, Holyfield fought back savagely and had Bowe in serious trouble. But it would be the champion's last stand.
"The fans may have loved that 10th round," Holyfield said, "but for me, it wasn't impressive at all. It was the worst round of my life. I fell asleep on the job. It was like the boss waking you up.
"I came out for the 11th round thinking, 'I've got this guy.' But I got a a rude awakening. He caught me with a hook behind my head. It wasn't a legal punch, but it knocked me down. And that sealed it [the decision] for him."
Oddsmakers are convinced that Bowe will have an easier time tonight, making him a solid 5-1 favorite in the sports books. They remain skeptical that Holyfield, an instinctive warrior, can make good on his commitment to turn boxer and regain the title with a strategic battle plan.
"I know [trainer] Emmanuel Steward wants Evander to box more, move in and out, but that's just not his style," said Futch. "And if they wanted him to be quicker, why did they bulk him up to 217 for this fight? Once he gets caught with a good shot, he reverts to form."
Generally, trainers can find faults with their fighter's opponents easier than finding spots on a dalmatian. But even Steward talks of Bowe in glowing terms.
"Bowe is a big man with a lot of skills," said Steward. "You can't say that about a lot of heavyweights. He is one of the most complete big men in a long time."
These thoughts are echoed by Angelo Dundee, who served as Muhammad Ali's chief cornerman.
Said Dundee, "Bowe is a kid who is going to continue to sprout. He already has the size and strength. He's not a cumbersome guy. He may not be a ballet dancer, but he has good balance.
"He's also growing into his role as heavyweight champ," Dundee said. "I can't see him becoming another flop like Buster Douglas. He's having too much fun being on top to give it up."
For a man branded an insecure clown as amateur, Bowe, 26, has become supremely confident in his boxing ability. His first two title defenses resulted in lucrative purses and quick knockouts of MichaelDokes and Jesse Ferguson.
The native of Brooklyn, who is now building a $7 million home for his family in Fort Washington, Md., has more respect for the soft-spoken Holyfield, but still insists, "Ninety-nine out of a 100 times I whup Evander. . . . Everyone knows he has seen his better days."
But Holyfield, 31, who earned more than $80 million while wearing the light-heavyweight, cruiserweight and heavyweight crowns, is a man on a mission.
"This has nothing to do with money or championship belts," said RTC the gentleman from Atlanta.
"It's only about changing the memory of that last fight. I could tell everyone back home, I believe I'm a better fighter than Riddick Bowe, but that kind of talk don't mean a thing unless you prove it."
Holyfield, never considered a true heavyweight, faces a Hurculean task against a young slugger coming into his prime.
The two fighters recently appeared together on the Arsenio Hall show.
"I made a lot of mistakes the first fight," Holyfield told the host.
"Your only mistake was showing up," countered Bowe, who figures to have the last word again tonight.