Happy 25th anniversary to Evander Holyfield.
On Oct. 25, 1990, Holyfield made short work of a rich, satisfied and overfed Buster Douglas to win his first heavyweight title and temporarily transform his home, Atlanta, into a boxing town.
This was the fight that wasn’t supposed to happen – Holyfield had been lined up to face Mike Tyson, until Douglas shocked the world and knocked out Tyson in Japan. This was the fight that hurled Holyfield into the maw of fame, and led the way to the Fan Man fight against Bowe and the ear-bite fight against Tyson and a long list of less eccentric high-profile, high-profit encounters.
It was the fight granted membership to Holyfield to the last generation of heavyweights that the American sporting public cared about in the least. After Tyson, Bowe, Holyfield, George Foreman and Lennox Lewis there was only darkness.
It also was the fight in which a certain sports columnist, younger and far less wise, changed his prediction in between editions.
That’s right, in an early version prediction column – one posted before the official weigh-in – I had chosen Douglas to win. Then he stepped on the scales, and they practically exploded in a hail of springs and gears. Douglas weighed 246 pounds – to Holyfield’s sculpted 208 – 14 pounds more than he weighed in Tokyo. I rushed to the keyboard to re-write before any more damage could be done to my reputation. I did everything but yell, “Stop the presses!”
After the fight, there emerged a story that was classic boxing. Casino owner Steve Wynn, who was handling the promotion of the fight, encouraged the obviously overweight Douglas to hit the sauna as often as possible in preparation. And Douglas did use the hot box. But it rather defeated the purpose when he once ordered up $90 in room service food while he was taking a sweat.
On the night of the fight, this was the dispatch from the hometown perspective:
LAS VEGAS – To the doubts that a true heavyweight could be fashioned from such an efficient body, to the suspicions that he was all looks and no raw power, Evander Holyfield answered with a single punch Thursday night.
One sharp right, delivered to the willing face of Buster Douglas, provided the only answer that boxing requires.
Holyfield is bringing Douglas’s world championship belt back to Atlanta. Of course, he will need to take it in a few notches. And, perhaps, clean it of mustard stains and grease spots.
At 1:10 of the third round – with the overweight, obviously undertrained Douglas missing punches and reaching for air – Holyfield drove the deciding punch into the former champion’s cheek. It was a wild uppercut by Douglas that made him vulnerable, lowering his head into the perfect spot for Holyfield – right there like a ham on a platter.
Gawd, I miss when boxing mattered, and when it was the best assignment someone in this odd profession could draw.