LAS VEGAS -- Michael Moorer acts as if he has a chip on his shoulder as big as George Foreman, the only man to have whipped him.
The International Boxing Federation heavyweight champion, who meets World Boxing Association king Evander Holyfield in a rematch here tomorrow night, can act cold and remote in his dealings with the media, daring anyone to find a soft spot behind his icy demeanor.
But as one New York columnist who saw through Moorer's tough guy persona noted, "He speaks in what he thinks are protective riddles, but what really are public confessions. He is an open book trying very hard to be an enigma."
His confrontational manner is mostly the result of what he perceives as a lack of respect for his ring accomplishments.
Despite having been the light heavyweight champion and twice winning the heavyweight title, Moorer (39-1) has never gained the worldwide recognition of a Holyfield or a Mike Tyson.
Most galling is the fact that after beating Holyfield in 1994, his victory was diminished when serious medical questions were raised about Holyfield's heart, plus the loser claiming a shoulder injury.
"That was the biggest victory of my career, and the public and Evander cheated me out of it," he said.
"If he was having a heart attack during the fight, he would have stopped. He wouldn't have put his life in danger. If he had won the fight, you would have heard nothing about it."
Holyfield's heart problems proved a misdiagnosis. Still, critics said Moorer would have never won without the motivational skills of his then trainer Teddy Atlas, who threatened to leave Moorer in the corner and fight Holyfield himself unless he fought with more passion.
Atlas also got credit for pulling Moorer through shaky times against Francois Botha and obscure Vaughn Bean before parting company last March.
Emanuel Steward, who launched Moorer's boxing career out of Detroit's hard rock Kronk Gym, acted as both a trainer and surrogate father to the fighter but admits to never really understanding him.
Said Steward: "Michael is the strangest fighter you'll ever meet in terms of his mental makeup. As he came into his own, I began to realize that deep down, he had a total dislike for boxing.
"He's totally preoccupied with physically not wanting to get hurt. When he gets enraged, he is totally the opposite. He's very inconsistent."
Moorer will not argue the point.
"I could never say boxing has been fun," he said. "I began fighting when I was 13 when my grandfather put gloves on me. I'm not like a George Foreman or Larry Holmes who only know about fighting and don't know when to quit. But making money by boxing helps guarantee the financial future of my son," said Moorer, a father to 5-year-old Mike Jr., who lives with his ex-wife in Detroit.
Now six days shy of his 30th birthday, Moorer is still haunted by his stormy past. Known for his quick temper, he fought in gang wars, had numerous bar brawls and, in 1991, broke the jaw of a policeman in his hometown of Monessen, Pa., an unsanctioned fight that drew a two-year probation.
"I was immature at the time and I apologized to the town for that," he said. "I even bought the police department some guns.
"But people always want to stress the negativity. All they want to talk about is my past. From my few problems, they want to categorize me as being a violent, bad person. But I'm a human being, I've learned from my mistakes. They shouldn't keep hanging them over my head.
"My family and friends know the real Michael Moorer. I'm a private person, but people should try to find out what the real Michael Moorer is like."
When someone asked if he gives credit to God like Holyfield, Moorer said, "I believe in God. I pray. Just because Evander makes his statement to God so public where everyone can embrace him, he thinks no one else prays or believes in God? I thank God every day for my talent and son. God loves everybody, not just Evander."
Both Steward and present trainer Freddie Roach insist that love and humor can be found behind the champion's tough facade.
"He lived with me from the time he was 10 years old," Steward said. "He was like my son, and he'd send me Father's Day cards. Not just a store-bought card, but a handwritten note. He's got a big heart, and he'd give you the shirt off his back."
To outsiders, he may appear sullen and belligerent. But Roach, who replaced Atlas in Moorer's corner, claims it is mostly an act.
Said Roach: "Michael is a very nice guy and has a sly sense of humor. Every day, he'll pull some trick on you, then an hour later he'll smile and say, 'Gotcha!' "
Roach has adopted a training regimen poles apart from Atlas in trying to bring out the best in Moorer, a model of inconsistency.
"Teddy believed in hype and liked being the boss," he said. "But when the bell rings, I know it's Michael who has to do the fighting. If I haven't prepared him in the gym, there is nothing I can do in the minute between rounds.