As a cruiserweight champion Saturday night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Evander Holyfield was formidable. He bludgeoned Carlos (Sugar) DeLeon at will, convincingly won every round but the first and bid farewell to the 190-pound division by unifying its titles. But as a future opponent for heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, the undefeated Holyfield was far less impressive.
The problem was, DeLeon, the WBC titleholder, was whacked hard and often by the WBA/IBF champion but was never knocked off his feet. The end came at 1:08 of the eighth round, when referee Mills Lane stepped in and stopped Holyfield from using DeLeon's battered head as a speed bag. At that point it seemed reasonable to assume that if Holyfield, who had previously announced his intention of moving up in weight and taking on Tyson, was able to hit the 188-pound DeLeon on the head so freely and still not drop him, he would have serious problems against the much heavier and stronger Tyson.
But Lou Duva, Holyfield's training adviser, was making no such assumption. "Sure, if Holyfield still weighed 190 pounds and fought Tyson tomorrow, hell, I wouldn't give him much of a chance either," said Duva. "But we're not talking about tomorrow. We're talking about July of next year, and we're talking about a bigger and stronger Holyfield who will have plenty of experience fighting heavyweights."
Next month Holyfield will begin an intensive conditioning and training program designed to turn him into a genuine heavyweight. R. David Calvo, an orthopedic surgeon who runs a sports medicine clinic in Sugar Land, Texas, will mastermind the sculpting of Holyfield into a 208-pound fighter with much stronger legs, especially in the thighs.
"We don't know how many people we'll bring in for this," says Duva. "There will be nutritionists. Tim Hallmark will do the actual conditioning. All under Dr. Calvo. George Benton will handle the boxing training. And I'll coordinate everything." Duva says he'll make all decisions about Holyfield's future fights. "Call me General Patton—I'm going to be a real bastard," he says. "The only thing that will count is: Is it best for Evander Holyfield?"
The initial test in a ring will come in July when Holyfield faces his first heavyweight, probably James (Quick) Tillis, who lost a 10-round decision to Tyson two years ago. Holyfield will fight Tillis at Caesars in Lake Tahoe. Then Duva will test Holyfield against at least one former champion; he is considering either Pinklon Thomas or Trevor Berbick.
Beyond that, the schedule is uncertain. Duva wants his man to fight shorter, Tyson-type opponents like Orlin Norris and Bert Cooper, but he does not want to give away secrets in public.
"We know how to fight Tyson and so will everyone else when we show it," says Duva. "It makes so much sense it's scary. But why give it away before we fight him? We may fight those smaller guys behind locked doors in actual combat conditions. No headgear, regulation gloves, the whole thing. And fight bigger heavyweights every three months in public. Nothing is set in concrete. This thing can change from day to day."
Holyfield has his own views on how to fight the 21-year-old undefeated champion. "The first thing you got to do is go out and grab his respect," he said a few days before pummeling DeLeon. "And the only way you can do that is to show you're not afraid of him. I've got to show him that I am going to hurt him as much as he is going to hurt me. He's a tough guy, but tough guys aren't so tough against other tough guys."