Douglas bringing slim hopes to ring Boxing return: After eating himself out of a heavyweight title, the former champ is trimming down and coming back.

April 08, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Two years ago, Buster Douglas lay in a Columbus, Ohio, hospital, a 385-pound blob in a diabetes-induced coma.

Now, trimmed down to 265 and with new resolve, Douglas has dedicated himself to avenging the loss of his undisputed heavyweight title to Evander Holyfield in October 1990.

He will end his self-imposed, six-year exile from the ring June 22, at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J., against journeyman Tony La Rosa on the undercard of the Hector Camacho-Roberto Duran middleweight title match.

But this is no ordinary comeback.

"Buster is coming back from the dead," said John Russell, his longtime trainer and confidant. "He almost destroyed himself. If he hadn't been a fine athlete, he wouldn't have lived to see this day.

"After he lost to Holyfield, he just started eating and partying like there was no tomorrow. Frankly, I never believed he would fight again. I didn't talk him back into the gym to fight again. I did it for his health."

Recalling his self-destructive binge, Douglas said at a news conference last week: "I was out of control, just reckless abandon. I didn't think anything could hurt me until I woke up from that deep sleep in the hospital."

Boxing cynics believed Douglas, who earned a then-record $24 million for his first title defense against Holyfield, simply packed it in. Weighing a bloated 246 pounds in that bout, he lasted less than three rounds, finishing the fight on his back with his glove shielding his eyes from the bright ring lights.

In eight months, he had gone from legend to lard-belly, prompting writers to label him a one-trick pony, as if his astounding 10-round knockout of Mike Tyson in Tokyo in February 1990 -- when Douglas weighed 231 -- had been a fluke.

"I could care less what people say about me," said Douglas, who turned 36 yesterday.

"I never had ego problems. And I'm not coming back for the money. I'm very comfortable financially. I invested most of my money in treasury bills and bonds, and I own a lot of property. This comeback is for my own satisfaction.

"I'm not in this for the long haul. It's something my wife, Bertha, knows I want to do. I just want to fight Holyfield again, even if it's only a 10-rounder. Fighting George Foreman would be tempting. Tyson? He's got his own agenda [reunifying the title]. I'm not waiting on him."

Douglas' brief reign as heavyweight champion was bittersweet. After leaving a battered Tyson stretched out on the canvas, he received a hero's welcome on his return to his hometown of Columbus. This led to television appearances with Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Bill Cosby, hobnobbing with Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, the promise of lucrative endorsements and his own 900 number.

"The greatest thing that ever happened to me was having my hand raised in Tokyo and the ring announcer calling me heavyweight champ of the world," said Douglas, who was a 42-1 underdog.

But in the post-fight bedlam, promoter Don King and World Boxing Council president Jose Sulaiman attempted to have Douglas' title removed, claiming he had benefited from a long count by referee Octavio Meyran in the eighth round.

"There were times I wondered if winning the title was worth it," said Douglas, who was forced to pay King and Donald Trump $7 million to end his contractual ties.

"Being heavyweight champion was like being president, everybody wanting to shake your hand or take your picture. I could do without all that. I just wanted to lay back and be myself."

The perks of being champion, along with the sycophants, are long gone. So is longtime manager John Johnson.

Now, it's just Douglas and Russell, reunited in the gym and on the road, the road back to self-esteem.

"It's all coming together again," said Douglas, who resumed training in February.

"Every day, the punching, coordination and speed is getting better. I'm not back yet, but I'm getting there," he said with a smile, patting his shrinking waistline.

Pub Date: 4/08/96

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