All this made the fight enough of a mystery that even Atlas began looking for signs. He lay awake one night last week wondering about numbers—what sounded more correct, 34-1 or 35-0? He admits that he was waiting for some kind of vision; why did Holyfield get to have all the visions? So against his instincts he crept down to the roulette table in the casino and placed $25 on 35. He didn't even see the ball bounce around the wheel, but he did hear the croupier announce the winning number. Atlas picked up $875 and went back to bed.
And yet there was nothing especially mystical about what happened Friday night. Moorer, who definitely did not freeze, did initiate the action, sticking his right jab into Holyfield's face whenever he wanted. It was not a marshmallow jab, either. Holyfield's head regularly recoiled, and each time he seemed surprised. Lou Duva, who has trained both fighters but who was more closely associated with Holyfield over the years, was astonished as he watched. "It was like this was the first he knew of Moorer being lefthanded," he said later.
As the fight wore on and as Holyfield started to bleed from a cut above his left eye during the fifth round, it began to appear that the defending champion had made some administrative mistakes coming into the fight. He had refused to rehire Emanuel Steward to supervise his corner when Steward, who had engineered Holyfield's comeback win against Bowe, demanded a cut of the purse. "A man should be happy to have $250,000 for six weeks' work," Holyfield said in explaining why he rejected Steward's bid for a payday that might have run to $500,000. And then he refused to part with $25,000 to retain cutman Ace Marotta, who had been in his corner for most of Holyfield's career.
Instead, he hired Don Turner, formerly Larry Holmes's trainer, to assume both duties. His mouth full of cotton swabs, Turner was able to do very little coaching on Friday night. And for whatever reason, Holyfield did not adapt during the fight. Perhaps it is the veteran boxer's prerogative; after all these years, he knows best. But in this case it was flawed thinking. After the fight, Holyfield went to the hospital, where it was revealed that he had a serious injury to his left shoulder, and stayed overnight. He told his promoter, Shelly Finkel, that the injury had occurred in the second round. Yet during the fight his corner never suggested, nor did he take it upon himself to initiate, a change in strategy.
And Moorer's jabs continued to pile up over Holyfield's apparently useless left arm. Moorer threw 309 jabs and connected with 180 of them, only 14 fewer punches than Holyfield landed all night.
Lewis, who watched from afar as a mega-payout disappeared, commented the next day on the goings-on in Holyfield's corner: "I was surprised to see he had no real game plan. Then the cut happened, and the corner was busy taking care of the cut and not talking to him. Then they started telling him, 'God is with you,' and not giving him any water. I knew he was in trouble."
Still, it was no shutout. Holyfield floored Moorer in the second round, something more than a flash knockdown, and was at times able to become his brawling self. But as long as Moorer kept pushing his jab out front, Holyfield was foolish to close in.
Occasionally Moorer reviewed his old silent contract and hung back, waiting. But if he thought he was going to get away with this in Las Vegas anymore than he had in Palm Springs, he was badly mistaken. Atlas knew that if he didn't build points with his jab, Moorer would have to win by knockout. "That's like winning the lottery," Atlas says. So as he returned to his stool after the eighth round, Moorer was surprised to find Atlas sitting on it. "You don't want to do what it takes to become champion, let me do it," Atlas yelled at him. "You can go outside and watch." Atlas, vowing he will never do anything like that again, says, "What if Michael had taken me up on that?"
Perhaps by then anybody could have beaten Holyfield. His enormous resolve seemed to have departed him when he was staggered in the fifth round, and he found himself getting flipped around, turned and repeatedly stunned by that jab. "When did you ever see Evander Holyfield flounder like that?" asked Duva. "Did you see Moorer throw him across the ring? Who ever did that to Evander Holyfield?"
And still, Holyfield nearly won. Or rather, almost didn't lose. Judge Dalby Shirley called the fight even, Chuck Giampa scored it 116-112 for Moorer, and Jerry Roth had it 115-114 for him. Roth scored the knockdown round even, which was not as odd as it might seem, because Moorer had hammered Holyfield for most of the round. Had Roth made it 10-9—knockdowns often mean 10-8 rounds—for Holyfield, the decision would have been a majority draw, and Holyfield would have retained his title.