If champ is quick to play the heavy, dance is canceled.

MIKE LITTWIN

October 25, 1990|By MIKE LITTWIN

LAS VEGAS -- For once, the fight should be better than the hype, which is a good thing because both Buster Douglas and Evander Holyfield think a promotion is when you get a better job.

This is an event where they actually have to sell the 12 rounds inside the ring.

There isn't a villain in sight. (Not even the exiled Don King, who did, however, get a $4 million cut. Only in America is right.) These two fighters, to listen to them, plain like each other. They won't even pretend to hold a grudge. To sum up: Douglas says he's honored to be the champion, and Holyfield says he's excited by the opportunity to be the challenger.

Actually, no one knows what kind of fight is in store tonight. Douglas, according to his detractors, is a fat quitter, the John Williams of the fight game, who'd rather eat chicken necks than train and who often forgets to put in a wake-up call. Even those who like him have to say he's a fat non-quitter, weighing in at 246 pounds.

And Holyfield, says the other side, is an overblown light-heavyweight who gets hit too often and whose finely chiseled body looks better on magazine covers than it does in the ring.

Holyfield, an aggressive fighter who does take a lot of punches, has probably never met anyone as dangerous as Douglas, if he's the Douglas who fought Mike Tyson. Often, a kinder, gentler, indifferent Douglas shows up.

"Douglas has quit before," says heavyweight Riddick Bowe, who is fighting tonight on the under card.

"James Douglas would die in this fight before he quit," says Douglas' manager, John Johnson, who couldn't quite stop himself before insisting that Douglas "hits harder than Muhammad Ali and has a greater variety of punches. He's a bigger Ray Leonard with power."

(Note to Johnson: I know Muhammad Ali, and Buster Douglas is no Ali. I know Ray Leonard, too. I don't know Jesse Ferguson, but I know he's one of four no-names to have beaten Douglas.)

But, whatever you say about Douglas, he did beat Tyson. He got up off the canvas to do it, too, which should say something about his heart, if not his cholesterol count. Maybe in that fight, he had his revelation and found something within himself that even he didn't know existed.

If no one knows which Douglas will appear, we can be pretty sure about Holyfield, who could become our first scientifically produced heavyweight champ.

You knew it would happen, no matter how much you hoped it wouldn't, but boxing, our most elemental sport -- in which we match one mostly undressed man against another in semi-mortal and not-quite-semi-civilized combat -- has gone high-tech. You should not be surprised to hear that Holyfield's red and white muscle fibers have been cross-trained.

In his entourage, Holyfield boasts two trainers, a former body-building champion to supervise weight work, a conditioning coach and Marya Kennett, a ballet teacher whose job it is to help the boxer become more limber and, if necessary, arabesque out of harm's way. Kennett has never even seen a fight, and, in fact, had never met a boxer before Holyfield.

"Would you rather be an elephant or a cobra," Kennett said about her work. "Evander is a cobra."

Needless to say, Douglas is an elephant.

Try to picture Sonny Liston in ballet slippers. In the old days of boxing, training consisted mostly of running in the pre-dawn wearing combat boots (really) and chopping wood. It's a little known fact that before boxing became so big out here that Las Vegas was a virtual forest, all cut down by wood-be champions. Other tips: Eat a lot of steak and abstain from sex. Science was only something you flunked in school.

That's the kind of boxing you still associate with Tyson, whose shadow hangs over these proceedings, and with George Foreman, whose shadow would overwhelm the Mirage hotel's fake, yet giant, volcano.

Douglas said he asked his trainer why his camp hadn't gone high-tech.He was told to keep firing that ax, also the hard jab and the big right hand. I don't think science wins this one, and that's not why anyone will be watching anyway.

The draw in this fight is to see Douglas, the conqueror of Tyson, and find out whether he is a fluke. If it's a matter of desire, I don't see how Douglas can lose. He likes being the champ. "It's more glamorous," he said, "than I ever imagined." He wants to stay champion at least long enough to fight Tyson again.

What this fight won't lack is action. Holyfield will see to that. He is a determined fighter who is not afraid to put his body at risk. Unfortunately, though unbeaten, Holyfield has taken some real punishment, and from lesser fighters than the man who beat Tyson.

Let's assume that the man who beat Tyson -- not the one who lost to Mike White -- is the Douglas who shows up. He uses his superior size and bulk to lean on Holyfield and slow down his advances. He uses the jab to keep a charging Holyfield at bay. Although Holyfield is certain to be the better-conditioned fighter, there is a rule that says a good big man beats a good little man every time. And Douglas ought to be good enough and big enough eventually to catch Holyfield with a right hand that ends the fight. He knows that if he doesn't end it early, the guy with the ballet teacher will still be dancing in the end.

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