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Right On
Richard Hoffer
May 02, 1994
Michael Moorer used a jarring jab to win the heavyweight title
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May 02, 1994

Right On

Michael Moorer used a jarring jab to win the heavyweight title

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The father asks the son if he knows what his daddy does.

"Daddy go boom-boom."

So it would seem. Before the fight at Caesars Palace, it was suspected that Moorer could go boom-boom. He had won all 34 of his fights, 30 of them by knockout. But his main credential—he is a former WBO light heavyweight champion—impressed nobody. Whom had he ever beaten? Although he was given a puncher's chance against Holyfield, in addition to a lefthander's chance, the 26-year-old Moorer was regarded only as an interim payday of about $12 million for Holyfield, while the two-time champion waited to unify the title with the WBC ruler, Lennox Lewis.

Indeed, as the fight approached, Holyfield and much of the boxing world began to look past even Lewis, who had groped through two miserable outings since being granted the WBC crown after Riddick Bowe forfeited it. Holyfield had been so impressive in regaining his titles from Bowe five months ago that it was difficult to think of the heavyweight division without him at its head. Several days before the fight, Holyfield discussed his purpose in life: "I keep asking myself, Why do I keep fighting? Well, I prayed about it... and it seems God meant for me to be in there until Tyson comes out."

The timetable had Holyfield reigning until the Summer Olympics of 1996, which will be held in his hometown of Atlanta. By then, Mike Tyson would have served his sentence for his 1992 rape conviction and would have had time to get into trim for a bout to be staged during the festivities in Holyfield's home city. Tyson would be 30, Holyfield 33. Holyfield's prophesy did not include details of the purse, although some estimated the take at more than $100 million. "I think it's predestined," Holyfield said.

It was a reasonable scenario, at the very least. Having already earned $100 million, Holyfield has remained the ultimate professional. His own entourage tends to include bodybuilders, conditioners—anybody who can devise and enforce new physical regimens. "What continues to intrigue me about boxing," he said several weeks before the fight, as he trained in Houston, "is the work. I love the work."

Moorer, on the other hand, was known as someone who would do almost anything to get out of work, and a succession of trainers could testify to the truth of that reputation. Even Moorer recognized as much, and as the $5 million payday against Holyfield loomed, he asked his management team to seek out a trainer who could push him hard. What about Teddy Atlas, Moorer wondered. Atlas, a Cus D'Amato disciple who had trained Tyson as an amateur until the day he held a gun to the young fighter's head in a dispute, is regarded as a take-no-prisoners trainer. Moorer's manager, John Davimos, wasn't so sure this would be a great pairing. "Michael, he put a gun to Tyson's head! He'll shoot you for sure."

There was no gunplay, but probably only because weapons were unavailable to either party. During training in Palm Springs, Calif., Atlas was constantly on edge, awaiting every confrontation. "I can never back down," Atlas said. "If I am going to lead him through these lands, I have to be real." Hearing that his charge did not intend to train one day, Atlas went to Moorer's room and stood toe-to-toe with the larger man. Moorer tried to move past him, and Atlas shuffled in his way. It was childish and wearying. On the other hand, Moorer trained every day.

"It's not that he's lazy or crazy," said Atlas at the time. "It's the fear and pressure. He's unsure of himself." Confronting fear was the central theme of D'Amato's approach to training fighters, and while Atlas has discarded some of D'Amato's teachings as "hogwash," he has seized on the old man's insistence on emotional control. A fighter must deal with the natural fear of getting into a ring and recognize any self-destructive behavior—drinking, say, or refusing to train—as a way of avoiding that fear. Atlas allowed Moorer to avoid nothing.

Still, perhaps because Atlas talks so freely about a fighter's fear, there was concern that Moorer had more of it than most. Offhand comments seemed to fan this speculation. Davimos, for example, said that Moorer should beat Holyfield easily. "But you never know," he added. "Michael could get in there and freeze." Even the day before the fight, Atlas wondered if Moorer would be able to "initiate," take the fight to Holyfield instead of waiting on the outskirts, coming to violent life only when he had to, in a highly reactive way. "It's part of that silent contract," Atlas explained. "I won't hurt you if you won't hurt me."

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