SI Vault
Pat Putnam
November 05, 1990
Evander Holyfield won the heavyweight title by knocking out a plodding Buster Douglas
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November 05, 1990


Evander Holyfield won the heavyweight title by knocking out a plodding Buster Douglas

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Holyfield, who weighed in at 208 pounds, trained as though he were going to fight a reincarnation of Joe Louis. Contributing to his preparation were three trainers, George Benton, Ronnie Shields and Dan Duva's father, Lou; Houston fitness specialist Tim Hallmark; body builder Lee Haney, a six-time Mr. Olympia; Haney's assistant, Chase Jordan; and Marya Kennett, the owner of a ballet school in Goshen, N.Y., who was hired to stretch and yank Holyfield's chiseled physique into supple shape. A small, tidy woman dressed in black, Kennett worked Holyfield's muscles painfully limber with her thumb. "All my girls run when they see me coming with my thumb," she told delighted audiences.

As a fitness test on Oct. 13 in Reno, where Holyfield trained before moving his camp to Las Vegas, the 28-year-old Holyfield was put through a grueling 12-round session against three sparring partners. Holyfield invited to the workout the members of the church that he attended while in Reno. A representative from CompuBox, the company that charts punches, was brought in and reported that Holyfield averaged 60 punches a round through 11 rounds. In the 12th, Holyfield threw 70, with the last, a hook, knocking out Phil Brown. As Brown fell, a dozen kids from the church leaped to their feet and sang the refrain "I'm not weary yet." Earlier Brown had said, "I'm in the best shape of my life. After the first day in there against him, I knew I had to start running and exercising—or else die." Another sparring partner, Eddie Richardson, had been sent home after twice being knocked out by Holyfield in earlier sessions.

Aided by a detailed CompuBox scouting report, Benton and Duva formulated their fight strategy. CompuBox figures showed that Douglas fought well only when his opponent was largely idle. Against Tucker, who threw 48 punches a round, 26 of them jabs, Douglas landed only 27% of his punches. However, against Tyson, who averaged only 23 punches—and just eight jabs—a round, Douglas connected 52% of the time. "[Douglas] only punches when nothing is coming at him," Benton told Holyfield. "He has a tremendous jab. And the way you beat a jabber is by jabbing. Evander, I want that left hand of yours growing out of his face."

The fight plan was divided into three four-round parts: four rounds of jabbing, followed by four rounds of all-out assault. "And Part 3?" someone asked Lou Duva. "There ain't gonna be no need for Part 3," said Duva with a growl.

For insurance, on the Sunday before the fight Lou Duva attended Mass at the Guardian Angel Cathedral just off the Las Vegas strip. When it was over, he put a $5 bill in the offering box and lit a votive candle. Just as he was leaving, he thought he spotted someone from the Douglas camp also lighting a candle. Duva waited for the man to leave. Then he went over and blew out the fellow's candle.

As it turned out, Part 2 of the strategy was unnecessary as well. For two rounds Holyfield swarmed all over Douglas. In those six minutes, Holyfield connected on a remarkable 66 of his 100 punches. Meanwhile, Douglas, jiggling in retreat, landed but 20 of 69, and none were thrown with ugly intentions.

Then it was over. The punch that had shattered Tyson in Tokyo was a right uppercut, and Holyfield had been drilled to turn that weapon into a trap. In the first two rounds, Douglas threw three upper-cuts, always in tight quarters, where an uppercut is most effective.

In Round 3, though, Douglas made a fatal mistake: He threw an uppercut from a distance. It was Buster's last stand. Feinting twice with his jab, Holyfield saw what he had been waiting for when Douglas dipped his right shoulder. Douglas might as well have held up a sign that read UPPERCUT ON THE WAY. Holyfield took a small hop to his right, a patented Benton move, planted his right foot and watched patiently as the uppercut sailed upward a good 18 inches from Holyfield's slightly turned head. The rest of Douglas followed the wayward punch, and Holyfield met him with a beautifully leveraged right cross to the jaw.

As Douglas crumbled, his left arm flew out and hooked Holyfield's neck; the two men's foreheads cracked together. Douglas landed hard on his left side. He showed no inclination to rise. Three times he wiped his face with his gloves, each time checking his mittens for signs of blood. He was still searching for wounds when referee Mills Lane counted him out.

Lane had picked up the count at two. By four he expected Douglas to start getting up, but by seven, Lane knew his night's work was only three ticks away from being complete. "I don't know if he could have got up, but he sure never tried," said Lane. "I looked into his eyes, and his eyes looked good to me."

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