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Now we know why Evander Holyfield trained like a Spartan warrior. Certainly it wasn't to snuff out fainthearted James (Buster) Douglas, the flabby heavyweight champion. No, that required only about seven minutes of patient fury for Holyfield, a task akin to casually depositing a 246-pound Hefty trash bag curbside before setting off in pursuit of activities more suited to his superb level of conditioning.
Hardly had Douglas been counted out in the third round of last Thursday night's fight at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, when Holyfield was off dancing, first in his dressing room, then at a victory party at Caesars Palace and later at Botany's, a disco, until nearly 3 a.m. Afterward, it was back to his room at the Mirage, but not to bed. Sleep for the new heavyweight champion of the world was still a few thousand miles, three cities and a football game away. After lifting the world. Atlas wanted to hold it in his hands for a few days.
Confident that he would defeat Douglas, Holyfield had signed to defend the title against George Foreman, the ageless blimp, for $20 million, in spite of rumblings by the alphabet powers of boxing that he first defend his title against former champ Mike Tyson. Shortly before the Holyfield-Douglas fight, all three of boxing's major sanctioning bodies, the WBC, the WBA and the IBF, had said they would honor Tyson promoter Don King's insistence that the winner next fight Tyson, who was knocked out by Douglas on Feb. 11 in Tokyo and is scheduled to meet Alex Stewart on Dec. 8. But in the hours after Holyfield's victory, the IBF retreated from that position, and the WBA soon followed suit. Now only the WBC, a staunch King ally, was out of sync with the rest of the world.
"Who cares what they [King and the WBC] do?" said Dan Duva, Holy-field's promoter. "Let them steal it [the title]. We're going to fight Tyson after Foreman anyway, and we'll get it back then."
At his home in Houston, between trips to the refrigerator, the 260-pound Foreman watched the fight via a special ESPN hookup. Afterward, he was patched in to Holyfield's dressing room. "Nobody can stop me," said the 42-year-old former champion to the new champ. "The world says, We're behind you, George. Fm the poor man, you're a rich man now. Fm going to whup you, rich man."
"George, you've had your day," Holyfield said pleasantly. "Don't you think your day is done?"
"I'm going to Baskin-Robbins and eat every flavor," replied Foreman. "When you start pushing and shoving me, you're going to be pushing a whole franchise. My foot weighs more than you."
"It's not the size of the man," said Holyfield. "It's the size of the heart."
Holyfield versus Douglas was supposed to be a battle of hearts. Holyfield's was a given; no one was sure what size pump lay hidden in the 30-year-old Douglas's fat chest. He had quit before, surrendering in the 10th round of a 1987 IBF title bout with Tony Tucker, a fight Douglas could have won.
As it turned out, Douglas had spent the months since he knocked out Tyson trying to outdo Foreman by stuffing himself on his grandmother's pinto beans and chicken necks and everything else that came within reach. "What makes you gain weight?" Douglas was asked before the fight. "Second and third helpings," he replied. Steve Wynn, the Mirage owner who paid Douglas more than $19 million to defend his title against Holyfield (who would earn some $8 million), was concerned enough about Douglas's girth to offer the champion private use of a hotel sauna. Wynn's concern turned to dismay when he discovered that Douglas called room service from the sauna on one occasion and ordered $98 worth of food.