WASHINGTON -- As a fight handicapper, undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield hardly helped promote his next title defense against Riddick Bowe in Las Vegas on Nov. 13.
In Washington yesterday to give a deposition for next month's Senate investigation into professional boxing, Holyfield offered candid opinions of Bowe and the other leading contenders in the depleted heavyweight class.
After avoiding each other in recent years, the top heavyweights will engage in boxing's version of the Final Four this fall.
Before Holyfield tangles with Bowe, ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Council, Donovan "Razor" Ruddock (No. 1) and Lennox Lewis (No. 3) will square off in London Oct. 31, with the winner promised a crack at the survivor of Holyfield-Bowe, rated an even-money bout in the opening Las Vegas line.
But Holyfield had few kind words for Bowe and Ruddock, while rating Lewis the best contender and crediting unbeaten Michael Moorer (No. 11) as "the only challenger with any heart."
Holyfield's ring relationship with Bowe (31-0), who lives in Fort Washington, Md., goes back to 1986, when Holyfield was light-heavyweight champion.
"Riddick was still an amateur, and he served as one of my sparring partners," Holyfield recalled. "I was 175 pounds at the time, and he was 190. Then, a summer later, after I moved up to cruiserweight , he showed up weighing about 235 -- not solid, mostly fat. And I remember saying, 'Who is this guy?'
"If he wanted to be good, he was good. But, sometimes, he just didn't seem interested in fighting. I thought he quit against Lewis in the finals of the  Olympics. When the referee stopped their fight, it was like Bowe said, 'I'm outta here.' But now it's his job, and he might have a different attitude."
Holyfield said he was not overly impressed by Bowe's latest victory, a seventh-round knockout of South Africa's Pierre Coetzer in Las Vegas Friday.
While crediting Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, with steering Bowe into a multimillion-dollar championship match, Holyfield questioned the wisdom of building a title contender without benefit of any significant ring trials.
"I remember having to fight Dwight Qawi [formerly Dwight Braxton] for the light-heavy title after only 11 pro fights," Holyfield said. "Up till then, I'd had an easy time of it. But beating Qawi over 15 rounds proved so tough, I thought that it might not be worth being a champion.
"But, when it's over, you say to yourself, 'I've been through a war once, I can do it again,' and you get a lot smarter as you mature."
Although many fight experts believe Holyfield's toughest test would come against the heavy-fisted Ruddock, who lost two lively battles with Mike Tyson in 1991, the champion disagrees.
"When he fought Tyson, Razor didn't try to win," he said. "He tried not to get hurt. He'd hit Tyson a good shot and then step back. It was like he was saying, 'Please, Mike, don't hurt me!'
"Ruddock has a lot of natural ability, but I've never seen him go all out to try and win. I don't think Ruddock is better than Lewis or Moorer."
In praise of Lewis, Holyfield said: "He's a confident guy who talks with his fists, not his mouth. The thing I like about him is that he gets better each time out. And he works on different things each fight.
"Most fighters came into the pros with a certain style and never changed. You can't stay on top long fighting the same way all the time.
"You've got to learn to fight different ways. As a light-heavy and cruiserweight, I ran over people. But I've changed as a heavyweight. I became a boxer and more defensive, because I'm almost always fighting guys a lot bigger than me."
By late 1993, Holyfield figures Moorer (28-0) may be ready to challenge him.
"I know he'll fight me," the champion said. "He's like me. He just wants to win."
How heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield sizes up the (( principal contenders for his crown:
* Riddick Bowe: "He has quick hands, basic skills and punches hard. But with Riddick, it's mostly attitude."
* Lennox Lewis: "He improves each fight and tries something new each time -- the kind of fighter who can be a champion a long time."
* Michael Moorer: "He's the only heavyweight contender with heart. Even in the trenches, he'll fight you, regardless of the consequences."
* Razor Ruddock: "He doesn't fight to win. He tries not to get hurt."