LAS VEGAS -- Since challenger Evander Holyfield opened in the betting parlors as a 2-1 favorite three months ago, most of the money has been wagered on heavyweight champion James "Buster" Douglas. By fight time tonight, it figures to be a pick-'em affair.
"I call it the 'Sylvester Stallone Syndrome,' said Russ Culver, who runs the sports book at The Mirage, site of the fight. "It's Hollywood's influence. People have seen so many 'Rocky' movies that they root for the underdog and bet with their heart. They're not looking for value. They're looking for a rooting interest."
* International Boxing Federation welterweight champion Simon Brown and World Boxing Council welterweight king Maurice Blocker are former Maryland stablemates and the best of friends.
But promoter Butch Lewis, who handles Blocker, does not see that as a deterrent to a title clash.
"One day, I told Maurice, 'You and Simon will have to get it on because it is one of the most attractive matches for both of you,' " Lewis said. "Take the money, try and beat the heck out of each other, and then you can hug and make up when it's over."
Lewis also has offered his promotional wisdom to help Douglas, though denying he is trying to ease the champion's manager, John Johnson, out of the picture.
"If I had already been a part of this, Buster would have enjoyed his title more, and I would have saved him a lot of money," said Lewis, referring to the $4 million the champion was forced to pay Don King in a suit settlement.
* Thirteen of 15 former heavyweight champions polled by USA Today favored Douglas to beat Holyfield. Most cited the weight differential. One of the exceptions was George Foreman, who is campaigning to regain the title.
Said Foreman: "Evander is an animal and if he has a few fights left in him, Douglas can't whip him. But Evander has fought so many tough fights, it has to take its toll sooner or later."
* After an uninspired victory over Marlon Starling earlier this year, middleweight champion Michael Nunn seemed to be running out of promoters interested in showcasing him.
First, Bob Arum said Nunn lacked charisma and put boxing fans to sleep. Then Mirage boss Steve Wynn, who had adopted Nunn as his house fighter, forgot to invite him back.
But Nunn displayed new-found aggressiveness in stopping Donald Curry in Paris last week and now seems back in favor. "I thought he was very impressive," said Arum, who saw the match. "I'd take a chance with Nunn again."
But Nunn must be wondering what he must do to please ring critics. After Nunn was chastised for his hit-and-run style, boxing analyst Ferdie Pacheco questioned his wisdom in slugging it out with Curry.
* Andrew Maynard of Laurel, Md., the 1988 Olympic gold medalist who was unbeaten as a professional before being knocked out by former light-heavyweight champion Bobby Czyz this year, is getting a confidence boost on the under card tonight.
Maynard (12-1) has been matched against Keith McMurrey, a Las Vegas journeyman with a 12-9-1 record.
Although Holyfield eventually moved up from light heavyweight to heavyweight, Maynard will not follow his footsteps. "Man, guys like Buster Douglas are just too big for me," he said. "I'm staying just where I am at 175 pounds."
* Unbeaten heavyweight hope Riddick Bowe (19-0), who moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the Washington suburbs, will have Eddie Futch back in his corner tonight when he fights Bert Cooper (22-6) of Philadelphia in the 10-round semifinal. Futch, 77, one of boxing's premier trainers, has recovered from a recent hip operation.
"Riddick's spot on this card was coveted by a lot of champions from smaller weight divisions," said his promoter, Rock Newman. "This fight will be carried on pay-per-view and will mean tremendous exposure for Bowe. Right now, we're trying to get him used to all this media attention.
* Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson denied having difficulties with self-chosen promoter King, but, at the same time, said King was not serving as his surrogate father.
"I'm no homeless guy looking for a family," he said. "They should wish to be part of my family, but I don't need nobody."
* Six-time world champion Sugar Ray Leonard, recently bounced by HBO as a fight analyst, will be the ring announcer tonight. His sole payment reportedly was a two-bedroom suite at The Mirage.
Leonard expects to return to action against WBC junior-middleweight champion Terry Norris in late January or early February. Reno has been added to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, N.J., as a possible site.