LAS VEGAS -- Boxing analysts immediately began sifting through the rubble of a discarded heavyweight championship, looking for clues to explain how James "Buster" Douglas had lost his crown to Evander Holyfield without the semblance of a struggle.
Few critics seemed willing to credit Holyfield, who left a bloated Douglas stretched out on the canvas at The Mirage Thursday night.
It was much easier to blame Douglas, who came in at 246 pounds, 15 more than he weighed in his stunning upset of Mike Tyson in Tokyo in February.
It was a perfect right counterpunch by Holyfield after an amateurish, lazy uppercut by Douglas that ended the scheduled 12-round match at 1 minute, 10 seconds of the third round.
But that was not the hard evidence the analysts sought. Instead, they insinuated that Douglas, satiated by a record $24 million purse, simply had taken the money and meekly abdicated his throne to a smaller, younger, more ambitious man.
This was clearly implied by The Mirage owner Steve Wynn, who was a bigger loser than Douglas. Wynn had gambled heavily on Douglas beating Holyfield, leading to a more lucrative rematch with Tyson at The Mirage next spring.
In a statement, Wynn said: "We compliment Evander Holyfield, who came into the ring well-prepared to give the public a great evening of boxing. However, our attitude is that fight purses should be more along the lines of 'winner take all,' so that the only incentive is victory."
Referee Mills Lane suggested that the champion made no effort to regain his feet. Asked why he kept rubbing his eye, Douglas had said jokingly, "I got a glove caught in it."
Veteran trainer Eddie Futch called Douglas' paunchy condition "disgraceful." Sugar Ray Leonard's manager, Mike Trainer, described the loser as "a piece of garbage."
Douglas was not present at yesterday morning's news conference, and some wise guys said he also was absent from the ring Thursday night. With his manager, John Johnson, also missing, his co-trainers, J.D. McCauley and John Russell, were left to explain Douglas' dismal performance.
"From the bottom of my heart, I felt Buster was ready to fight, but you don't know what is ticking inside a man," said McCauley.
"Conditioning had nothing to do with it. You don't run out of ga in the third round. Buster was reaching for Evander with his jab from the opening bell. You reach at a guy like an amateur, and you'll get your head knocked off. And that's just what happened."
The pointed questions continued until an exasperated Russel shouted: "We're not offering excuses or hanging our heads. Buster just got his butt kicked. Hail, Evander Holyfield, the new heavyweight king."
Indeed. Holyfield has defeated all 25 of his professional rivals but the stoic, soft-spoken Georgian never has been given his due.
Boxing experts recognized his fighting heart, stamina and will
power, but never his skills as a ring tactician. They pictured the chiseled fighter as a real-life Robocop, produced by bodybuilders, nutritionists and ballet instructors. Even computer experts were consulted to present Holyfield with the perfect battle plan to dethrone Douglas.
But Holyfield apparently never doubted that he one day woul be heavyweight champion of the world.
"Evander's aura of invincibility affected everyone in our training
camp," said financial adviser Shelly Finkel. "When he hit Douglas with that right hand, I was sure Buster was going down, no matter what kind of shape he was in."
Holyfield, who likely will more than double his $8 million purse
when he fights next, against former heavyweight champion George Foreman in the spring, said: "I always felt I would win the heavyweight title if I got the opportunity.
"After I won the light heavyweight and cruiserweight championships, people kept saying I was too small to win as a heavyweight. When people say 'can't' to me, that only adds to my motivation."
Holyfield's confidence increased with each new victory over a heavyweight foe.
"It started against Quick Tillis in 1988. They said he was too strong and quick for me, but I beat him to the punch and stopped him in eight rounds. Then I heard how Pinklon Thomas would beat me with his jab, but I out-jabbed him.
"And then there was Michael Dokes, who was supposed to be stronger with real fast hands. But I whipped him inside and made him give ground. I was sick going in against Alex Stewart last November. But I beat him because I was the smarter fighter that night. I realized I had more skills than most heavyweights."
Holyfield now has it all. And, as the new king of the hill, he can dictate to the world boxing organizations, which had made veiled threats about stripping his title unless he followed the dictates of promoter Don King and made Tyson his first title defense.
"We're not going to duck anyone," said Holyfield's promoter, Dan Duva. "We're not going to make any worthy challenger wait forever. In fact, we will sign right now to fight Tyson next if we beat Foreman. Business-wise, it's just better for Evander to fight Foreman first."
All of the boxing groups seemed willing to give ground.
"We're not looking to take anyone's title away, and we never sent Holyfield a memorandum indicating such an action," said Jimmy Binns, legal representative for the World Boxing Association. "We're just seeking unity among the governing bodies, but we've always believed that titles should be won or lost in the ring."
After Tyson's tumultuous reign, marked by fights with his manager, trainer, wife and street toughs, the deeply religious Holyfield is expected to bring order and tranquillity to the heavyweight division.
"Evander will wear his championship belt with professionalism and class," said Duva. "It will be a new day for boxing."