LAS VEGAS -- The morning after one of the strangest nights in sports history, the only certainty was that the heavyweight championship again had changed hands when gritty, determined Evander Holyfield regained the title from Riddick Bowe.
Their electrifying rematch Saturday night at Caesars Palace was upstaged by a sky diver who made an unscheduled landing on the ring apron 1:10 into the seventh round, resulting in several minor injuries to ring-siders and a 21-minute delay before the fight was resumed in the cool desert air.
But Holyfield was able to survive a final rally by Bowe to win the 12-round decision by a total of three points on the cards of judges Jerry Roth (115-113) and Patricia Jarman (115-114), with the third official, Chuck Giampa, scoring it a draw (114-114).
The combination of unrelenting action and the close verdict triggered immediate speculation about a rubber match.
"We can be like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and their great three-fight series, only I don't want to go to Manila," Bowe said, referring to the last meeting between the heavyweights who dominated the 1970s.
Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, said: "A third fight between these guys could produce the biggest pay-per-view audience in history."
Caesars Palace sports director Richard Rose has proposed April 22 as a date.
But Holyfield put all the hype on hold.
"It's not right for me to make a decision now," he said. "I made a decision to retire after losing the first fight with Bowe, then got home and changed my mind.
"But I can go home now and let all my people know that you're not bound by your mistakes and that setbacks make for comebacks.
"Right now, I'd say it's 50-50 that I keep fighting. But after I spend some time with my kids, I might get the feeling to rough someone up again.
"If I decide to fight, I'd like to give Bowe a rematch. I only came back to prove to myself I could fight better than I did in losing to Bowe. Now, if I fight again, it will be more about money."
Dan Duva, president of Main Events, and Holyfield's manager, Shelly Finkel, who had urged the fighter to retire after losing his crown to Bowe a year ago, are in command of Holyfield's future.
Finkel said: "Right now, I'm just going to let Evander savor this victory. But when we get down to negotiating, it will get down to which split [with a title challenger] is best for Holyfield."
Because Duva also has financial ties to England's Lennox Lewis, the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion, he could opt to put Holyfield in a title-unifying match with Lewis next spring.
With England instituting pay-per-view television in February, this match could come close to matching Holyfield and Bowe in income.
And then there is Michael Moorer, who was to have been Bowe's mandatory defense if he had retained his title. Unbeaten Moorer has stepped aside once, allowing Bowe to fight Holyfield again.
Bob Lee, president of the International Boxing Federation, indicated his organization would insist that Holyfield, as its new champion, honor the commitment to Moorer, or Holyfield could be stripped of the IBF title. Holyfield also holds the World Boxing Association championship.
Newman said he and Finkel agreed contractually that Moorer would be next, regardless of who won Saturday's fight.
"That's just Rock talking," said Finkel, suggesting there are always loopholes. It was reported that Moorer would be willing to wait if given several million dollars and a spot on the undercard of Bowe-Holyfield III or Holyfield-Lewis.
Lewis' manager, Frank Maloney, was on hand to open negotiations with Duva.
Lewis has a March date for the new MGM hotel here.
Lewis was to have fought Tommy Morrison, but those plans were ruined Oct. 29, when Morrison was knocked out in one round by Michael Bentt.
Lewis may now have to settle for fighting Bentt or unbeaten Cuban expatriate Jorge Gonzalez.
But Holyfield is again the man in the heavyweight division.
Never boastful, Holyfield had proved critics wrong by beating a bigger man who had dominated him in their first encounter.
With new trainer Emanuel Steward urging him to box rather than rumble, Holyfield fought a smarter fight, using his speed to neutralize Bowe, who, at 246, had a 29-pound advantage.
"I just didn't make the same mistakes," Holyfield said.
"It took a lot of willpower when I got hit not to engage in another war with Bowe. But I was able to pull back from that attitude and stick to my game plan."
Steward, who replaced George Benton as Holyfield's trainer this year, persuaded the fighter that he could box and brawl if he improved his balance and stayed inside Bowe, who needs room to be effective with power punches.
"Going into the fight, Evander had a look of confidence I've never seen in an athlete before," said Steward, who also guided Thomas Hearns to five world titles.
"It wasn't arrogance, just something burning inside him."
And this confidence grew when, after being out-jabbed in the early rounds, Holyfield (31-1) shook Bowe with a solid right in the fourth round.
"I could see something had happened to Bowe," Steward said. "He started looking like the kid who used to serve as a sparring partner for Holyfield."
Before the sky diver's appearance in Round 7, Bowe (34-1) showed signs of fatigue, but said it had nothing to do with his weight, which had ballooned to 280 pounds last summer.
"I'm not going to let that happen again," said Bowe, sporting six stitches over his bruised left eye. "But this had nothing to with my weight. Give the man credit. He just beat me. In our first fight, he'd knock me off balance with a punch. This time, he shook me.
"But I'm going to treat it as a learning experience. Even great fighters like Joe Louis and Ali were beaten. The greatest thing a fighter can prove is that he can come back from adversity."
Bowe should get that chance within the next six months.
But, for now, he could only take his hat off to Holyfield, who proved, like Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano, that a good small man is, indeed, capable of beating a good big man.
SECOND TIME AROUND
Heavyweights who have won back their titles after losing them in the ring:
Champion .. .. .. .. .. Lost title to .. .. .. .. .. Regained title from
Floyd Patterson .. .. Ingemar Johansson, 6/59 .. .. Johansson, 6/60
Muhammad Ali .. .. .. Leon Spinks, 2/78 .. .. .. .. Spinks, 9/78
Evander Holyfield .. .. Riddick Bowe, 11/92 .. .. .. Bowe, 11/93
A breakdown of the punches thrown in Saturday night's heavyweight title fight between Riddick Bowe and Evander
Holyfield, as provided by CompuBox:
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. Bowe .. .. .. .. Holy.
Total punches ... .. 786 ... .. .. .. 514
Punches connected ... 353 .. .. .. .. 253
Pct. connected .. ... 45 .. .. .. ... 49
Jabs thrown .. .. ... 347 ... ... ... 190
Jabs connected .. ... 171 .. .. .. ... 80
Pct. connected .. ... 49 .. .. ... ... 42
Power punches ... ... 439 .. .. .. ... 324
Power connected .. .. 182 .. .. .. ... 173
Pct. connected .. ... 42 ... .. .. ... 53
Knockdowns .. .. .. .. 0 .. .. ... ... 0