Buster's belly-up effort deals big blow to King

Phil Jackman

October 29, 1990|By Phil Jackman

There are a couple of ways of looking at the athletic contest last Thursday night in Las Vegas laughingly referred to as a world heavyweight championship bout:

1. Not at all.

2. With restraint.

If you favor No. 1, class dismissed.

Now, there are still two ways at looking at what transpired between Evander Holyfield and Buster Douglas:

First, we could come down genuinely hard on ex-champion Douglas, who showed up looking like Br'er Bear fatted up sufficiently to head for a long winter's hibernation.

Answer: Rin-Tin-Tin, Lassie and Buster Douglas.

What's the question? Name two movie stars and a dog.

On the other hand, and in deference to Buster's overall showing during his 10-year career, it should be pointed out that we're talking about a guy who would be hard-pressed to make the list of the top 500 heavyweights of all time here.

Mike Tyson's pre-fight forecast, "Once a quitter, always a quitter," is probably too harsh. Let's just say Douglas has always had motivational problems, made worse by the fact that he has never really liked fighting.

Buster was not the only one culpable for his performance, which amounted to seven minutes of slowly backing up while launching one right hand. Worthy of indictment are the minions in the Douglas camp who admitted they didn't have the slightest idea what their fighter would weigh until the moment he stepped on the scale the day before the fight.

Years from now, there will be one fight Buster will be able to look back on with pride. It is his effort against Tyson in Tokyo last February that gained him the undisputed title. That night he weighed 231 1/2 . What could he and his gang have been thinking, allowing him to eat his way up to 246 pounds?

"He's been working, running 5 miles every morning," manager John Johnson insisted. Right. Two days before the fight, the day he canceled his final sparring session with no more explanation than he "didn't feel like working out," Buster went out for his morning run and quit after about a mile.

We are left to speculate how severely Buster would have tested the scale and what kind of shape he would have been in had the bout not been pushed back a month from its original date. That was occasioned by Steve Wynn of The Mirage, who took a look at Douglas in early August and came to the immediate conclusion that the champ hadn't done as much as a sit-up since the Tokyo debacle.

But enough of the man's woeful condition. After all, it's not as though it had never happened before.

The great Muhammad Ali, for instance, showed up one night in 1978 and by sheer brilliance in reverse lost the crown to Leon Spinks, taking part in just his eighth pro fight. Leon hadn't even won all his previous fights, being held to a draw by the legendary Scott LeDoux.

And remember how Douglas earned himself the predicament of having $24 million thrust his way in the first place. As a 42-to-1 underdog, he beat the supposedly unbeatable Tyson, whose body was present in Japan, but whose mind must have been at least two solar systems away.

That's recent history. Other implausible reversals suffered by champions include Max Baer losing to Jim Braddock, Jack Sharkey first losing to Max Schmeling on a foul, then to Primo Carnera, and the infamous the sun's-in-my-eyes loss by Jack Johnson to Jess Willard in Havana.

Even a bigger loser than Douglas the other night was his sometimes promoter Don King, which once again proves even the darkest and most forbidding cloud has a silver lining.

King set Buster up on Tyson's modern-day bum of the month tour. Not only did Tyson hand over the title, but the promoter's post-fight actions put him on the outs with Buster, who we are assured is not enthusiastic about fulfilling his contract with King. In other words, he'll probably quit.

King's hole card on behalf of himself and Tyson was to get all of boxing's sanctioning bodies to decree the Douglas-Holyfield winner had to fight Tyson within 120 days. Even before Holyfield pole-axed Buster, the winner's promoter, Dan Duva, was letting everyone know that the words of King's puppets carried little weight.

They barely had Douglas scraped off the deck when two organizations, the IBF and WBA, said a planned Holyfield-George Foreman bout in five months is fine. And, if Evander sees fit, work in a mandatory defense against the No. 1 contender within a year, please.

After receiving the runaround from King for two years -- remember, Holyfield was the No. 1 contender that long -- imagine the unbridled joy of Duva holding a royal straight flush as Don King raises the pot.

King lost his grip on the heavyweight title once or twice before, but always fought back to control with words and money if not action and deeds. He still has the biggest horse in the stakes barn in Tyson. But keeping Mike interested enough to fight Alex Stewart next month and keeping him on the straight and narrow until the Holyfield people give the call to action next year at this time will prove a monumental task.

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