There were moments during their heavyweight bout last Saturday night in Las Vegas when Evander Holyfield and Michael Dokes looked like two men trying to knock down mountains. It hardly seemed relevant to consider that the one who reduced the other to rubble would be rewarded with the grim task of trying to do the same to heavyweight champion Mike Tyson. The fight was more than 28 minutes of unrelenting violence, and surely, after watching Holyfield hammer Dokes to the floor for good in the 10th round, Holyfield's impetuous manager. Ken Sanders, can be forgiven for challenging Tyson to an immediate bout, winner take all.
Holyfield, the 26-year-old former cruiserweight champion, has spent 11 months plotting a course toward a fight with Tyson, and in the first flush of his victory over Dokes, he said he had no objection if Sanders wanted to gamble with his future multimillion-dollar payday. Still, he really ought to have a talk with his seconds on this matter of tossing all of the money into one pot.
After all, Dokes, Holyfield's first real test in three outings as a heavyweight, is no Tyson. Yet, it can be argued that he is the third-best heavyweight in the world, after Tyson and Holyfield. As Marty Cohen, Dokes's 91-year-old manager, said after Saturday's fight, "Michael lost tonight. But it was a heroic loss. Any other heavyweight tonight, except Tyson, he would have knocked dead."
For Dokes, who returned to the ring on Dec. 17, 1987, after a 33-month absence to deal with alcohol and drug problems, the Holyfield fight was to be the climax of a remarkable comeback. Since his return, he has defeated eight forgettable heavyweights and won the Continental Americas championship, which was at stake in Las Vegas on Saturday. In 10 weeks of training for Holyfield, Dokes, the former WBA heavyweight champion, had pushed his 30-year-old body to the limit and beyond, and the 225 pounds he carried into the Sports Pavilion ring at Caesars Palace were solid and finely tuned. "During some of his workouts, the pain was so fierce he'd scream like a banshee," said John Smyth, Dokes's conditioning coach. "But he'd never quit."
Holyfield's people admitted that fighting Dokes was a gamble. Credibility was their goal: Holyfield won his first two heavyweight fights by TKOs over aging journeymen James Tillis and Pinklon Thomas, but neither was knocked off his feet. "Anything happens, blame me," said Lou Duva, Holyfield's career strategist, before the fight. "I picked Dokes. Hey, we keep telling people that Evander is a legitimate title contender, and now we have to prove it. People say we've been trying to do it with mirrors. Dokes ain't no mirror."
At one time, Dokes was a runner. That was when he was a relatively skinny 6'3" heavyweight. When he won the WBA title from Mike Weaver in December 1982, Dokes had a 16�-inch neck and weighed 216 pounds. Less than a year later he lost the title to Gerrie Coetzee of South Africa because, he says, he trained on cocaine and Jack Daniel's. "Now he has a 19-inch neck and the body of a man," said Smyth. "Now he is a big heavyweight and he has to fight like a big heavyweight."
Dokes's plan was to break Holyfield's 208-pound body, starting at the 32-inch waist and then working his way up. "He's going to try and intimidate you." cautioned Georgie Benton, Holyfield's trainer, right before the fight. "Whatever he does, you do it back and you do it better." From the opening bell, the two fighters rocked each other, Dokes with left hooks to the body. Holyfield mostly with hard rights to the head. Dokes had said that he would fight a kamikaze fight, and was prepared to take a brutal beating in order to win. In his eagerness to batter Holyfield's ribs, Dokes sometimes dipped and pivoted too low, and three or four of his first-round hooks caught Holyfield well below the belt.
Near the end of that round. Holyfield retaliated by drilling a hook hard against Dokes's protective cup, and referee Richard Steele allowed Dokes time to recover. "You're a dog, a lousy dog!" Duva screamed at Dokes. At the end of the round, the referee told the fighters, "O.K., you guys are even on low blows. From now on, anything low I deduct a point."
The fighting was savage, with neither man taking a step back. Some had feared that Holyfield, a gentle man outside of the ring, might allow his sympathy for Dokes's comeback to affect his performance. They need not have worried. On Feb. 14, 1987, Holyfield nearly destroyed Henry Tillman, an Olympic teammate and a close friend, knocking him out in the seventh round. Promoter Dan Duva, Lou's son, said to Holyfield then, "I thought Henry was your friend." Growled Holyfield, "Not in the ring, he isn't." Five months later Holyfield was an usher at Tillman's wedding.
In the sixth, Steele caught Dokes hitting low again and took away a point. A moment later, Holyfield opened up a cut over Dokes's left eye. The violent pace never slowed. The eighth round was especially vicious, a seesaw of hurt, in which one man would fire a furious burst, only to be punished by a brutal rally in return.