LAS VEGAS -- Oh-oh, it's that time again. Time to answer the age-old question about whether a good little man can beat a good big man.
Or the Goodyear Blimp, if you prefer. Ever since David beat very long odds and, with the aid of a sharp rock planted strategically between the eyes, slew Goliath, the argument has raged.
For sake of discussion, let's assume the current heavyweight champion, Buster Douglas, is a good big man and his performance dismantling Mike Tyson eight months ago wasn't a mirage.
At the same time, let's not scrutinize challenger Evander Holyfield's record too closely, lest we note that a lot of journeymen heavies were able to survive his best whacks for long periods.
Those seem to be the two parts of the problem that must be figured out to arrive at the answer: First, is Buster Douglas for real? Second, is Evander Holyfield a cruiserweight in heavyweight's clothing?
Holyfield, a slight favorite after opening big, has no problem with the 40 pounds and 6 inches of reach he concedes Douglas.
That's right, there figures to be a 40-pound difference in poundage when they enter the Mirage Hotel ring tonight (10:30) after Buster checked in at a pear-shaped 246 at yesterday's weigh-in.
About 2,000 people were on hand in a hotel ballroom despite the fact weigh-ins are notoriously boring affairs. A mighty roar went up when the Douglas weight was announced and numerous high rollers were seen moving quickly to the sports books to make their wagers.
Buster's handlers, uncle J.D. McGauley and John Johnson, said they thought their man would be coming in at 235 or 236. "But it makes no difference," they said in unison, "James has done the )) work and he's in good shape physically and great shape mentally."
Holyfield, with his 32-inch waist and a physique sculpted by the gods, looked like a middleweight standing next to the champ. He checked in at 208.
"To me, fighting is like chopping down a tree," Holyfield said in typically laconic fashion. "It will come down to who throws the most punches. I plan to put pressure on him -- totally relentless pressure."
Holyfield, an unbeaten (24-0) ex-Olympian, is giving away no game plans here. Pressure has been his stock in trade throughout the amateurs and since turning pro as a light-heavy in late 1984.
He has knocked out 20 opponents but, mostly, it was due to an accumulation of blows. Meanwhile, he has shown a propensity for being hit.
"And that's what's good about Buster's weight: I look at it as Holyfield getting hit with 10 more pounds of power," said Johnson, perhaps clutching for a life preserver.
Strangely, Douglas perhaps hadn't been on a scale since he hammered Tyson, McGauley said. "I know he enjoyed himself being champion and he took it to the limit.
"But I've watched my nephew from day one and I know he's done the work that had to be done. He has run 5 miles every morning. He has done the lifecycle. He has worked out a couple of hours a day in the gym.
"I've never seen him more ready to fight. Even more so than Tyson, James wants this guy. It wouldn't have bothered me if he came in at 270."
Ah, 270, the fighting weight of the famed "Ambling Alp," Primo Carnera. One is left to speculate that if the fight had gone on as scheduled Sept. 21, that's what Douglas would have weighed. Holyfield took a $350,000 payoff from the Mirage Hotel to postpone the bout a month so Douglas could get more work in.
Prior to that, Holyfield received $3 million from Tyson and Don King so that they could fight Douglas in Japan. That massive upset by Buster cost Evander a $12 million guarantee (vs. Tyson). But since he's getting $8 million here and considering the additional payoffs, he's nearly up to that price without a glove being laid on him so far.
As for the drudgery of getting into top fighting form, this is no factor for Holyfield since he's in constant training anyway.
Like just about everything else, Buster's weight didn't seem to faze the challenger. He reasoned, "Anyone who's a heavyweight can hit. If you stand there long enough, anybody can get you out of there. I don't plan on standing there."
After a couple of rounds, that might be all Douglas will be able to do, stand there. He has fought at the weight before and he won, outlasting Tex Cobb over 10 rounds in this very city. But rare is it when you will hear Tex Cobb referred to as anything but an oddity in the squared circle.
Boxing history is full of examples of the smaller man winning out in a title bout. Men such as Jack Dempsey, Rocky Marciano, Floyd Patterson and James J. Corbett were always being outweighed, sometimes substantially.
It was the wily old trainer of Marciano, Charlie Goldman, who said, "You don't have to weigh 220 to knock a guy out. You just have to hit him."
Both camps agree that neither man qualifies as a will 'o the wisp. Douglas has predicted it will be "fierce" in there.
It was left for funnyman Ed Schuyler, boxing writer for the Associated Press, to come up with a proposed plan of attack for Douglas considering his size: "Maybe Buster plans on falling on him."
In any case, the matchup pits a guy who is smaller and less experienced and who doesn't hit as hard against a champion not noted for his determination who now has given cause for all to have serious reservations about his dedication.
Prediction: Shortly after mid-fight, Buster will resemble Humphrey, the 40-ton humpback whale that was beached in San Francisco Harbor earlier this week.