Bowe or Holyfield will end doubts tonight UNBEATABLE PROOF

November 13, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS -- For undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, tonight's title defense against Riddick Bowe is the defining fight of his professional career, a chance to finally gain the respect of critics with an overpowering performance against a young, strong, unbeaten challenger.

For Bowe and his outspoken manager Rock Newman, winning boxing's biggest bauble would offer conclusive proof that it is still possible to win a championship without forming entangling alliances with one of the leading promoters.

"I'm going to knock out that little man you call the heavyweight champion and put some excitement back into the sport," vowed Bowe, who models himself after Muhammad Ali.

For boxing fans and gamblers, it is a dream match between two undefeated fighters with contrasting styles. The 6-5 odds favoring Holyfield are the closest in a heavyweight championship match since Floyd Patterson met Sonny Liston in Chicago's Comiskey Park 28 years ago.

That encounter lasted less than two rounds, with Patterson left twitching on the canvas and embarrassed enough to later sneak out of town with a bearded disguise.

No one expects such a quick ending tonight. The sculpted Holyfield weighed in at 205 pounds, the lightest he has been since his debut as a heavyweight against James Tillis four years ago. Holyfield has registered most of his 22 knockouts by wearing down his rival with a relentless attack.

"Evander is not the type of fighter who uses the ring to keep the other guy off," said his trainer, George Benton. "So what he does, and what he has done every time he's been hurt is to simply jump on the guy's butt. And then he usually knocks the guy out."

Bowe has flattened 27 of his 31 rivals, but his only notable victims were Pinklon Thomas, a washed-up ex-champion and, most recently, South Africa's Pierre Coetzer, a punching bag who lasted seven rounds.

Holyfield, at 30, five years older than Bowe, has been castigated for having defended his crown against two 40-year-old former champs, George Foreman and Larry Holmes.

He also needed to stage a desperate rally in his hometown of Atlanta last year to subdue journeyman Bert Cooper, who scored a near knockout early in the fight before yielding in the seventh round.

But Holyfield said he requires a real challenge to set his competitive juices flowing.

His peers tend to agree. England's Lennox Lewis, waiting in the wings to challenge tonight's survivor, said, "Some guys have to be pushed to be the best, and I feel that's the case with Evander. He fought Foreman harder than he did Holmes because he felt Foreman had the ability to hurt him. And I think he views Bowe the same way."

Bowe has predicted a seventh-round knockout and has promised to restore the electric atmosphere the heavyweight division enjoyed before Mike Tyson entered prison.

"Evander is so boring," said Bowe, the Brooklyn native who resides in Fort Washington. "I feel it's my duty to put some life back into boxing."

The two fighters are hardly strangers. A youthful Bowe served as Holyfield's sparring partner when Evander held the light heavyweight title, and was remembered for his lack of commitment.

"I was just 17 then," recalled Bowe, "a kid from the ghetto trying to earn a few bucks. Do you honestly think I'm the same fighter today?"

Bowe has been patiently molded by Eddie Futch, 81, a master teacher who also helped guide Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Michael Spinks and Holmes to the heavyweight crown.

"If Holyfield fights him, as we expect him to do after the opening rounds, Bowe will knock him out," said Futch. "Evander was life and death against Michael Dokes and Cooper, and even [Adilson] Rodrigues had him in trouble early but didn't know how to finish the job."

Sooner or later, Futch says Bowe will nail Holyfield with a solid right and change the course of the fight.

"I rate his punching power with Sonny Liston's," Futch said. "I only put four heavyweights ahead of him -- Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Earnie Shavers and Tyson -- in terms of power, and, with time, he could equal all of them."

Holyfield, who believes the best defense is an all-out offense, will not hide from Bowe, but Benton says the champion will present all kinds of angles before attacking Bowe, who, at 6 feet 5 and a solid 235, is 2 1/2 inches taller and 30 pounds heavier.

"Bowe's people want to make Evander stand and fight," said Benton. "That's no big secret.

"But I don't fear anything that I see in Bowe. Almost all heavyweights possess knockout power, but we can neutralize it. And if Bowe was such a devastating puncher, Coetzer would have never lasted seven rounds."

Unlike a number of Bowe's detractors, Benton does not question his fighting heart, a carry-over from his uninspiring loss to Lewis in the finals of the 1988 Olympic Games.

"No one can climb into a ring as often as Bowe has and lack heart," said Benton. "Only people who haven't fought judge others as cowards."

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