LAS VEGAS, OCT. 21 -- Thursday night's James "Buster" Douglas-Evander Holyfield heavyweight championship bout will never go down as one of the great matchups of the century.

If Douglas wins, the conclusion will be that Holyfield was too small. If Holyfield wins, it will be said that Douglas is just the ordinary fighter he always was before he upset Mike Tyson to win the title.

But that doesn't mean there isn't interest in the bout, scheduled for 12 rounds. And it doesn't mean that it can't be a good fight. It's a curiosity piece:

Will Douglas be in shape? Has he had to rush too much to take off the excess pounds he accumulated since February? Can Holyfield make up for his lack of size with his wits, fast fists and stamina?

"I've watched Douglas," said George Benton, Holyfield's trainer, "and I've told Evander, 'Now listen, Douglas hasn't always been in the best of shape. Buster has a tendency to run out of gas.'

"We're going to find out if he's in shape. We're going to keep him busy. If he isn't punching -- and if he's punching, he's going to be missing -- then he's going to be blocking and ducking. We want to throw three-punch combinations. Keep him busy, always working. That's the strategy.

"In six rounds, we'll know. If he's in shape, we've got a tough night. If he isn't, we've got a cakewalk."

Douglas doesn't agree. "I feel real strongly that the fight will be in my favor as it goes on," he said, implying that he's in shape, even though he didn't come out of secret workouts until Saturday.

The certainties are these:

Holyfield is in terrific condition and is mentally focused on Douglas, even though Holyfield's wife reportedly initiated divorce proceedings against him Friday, which he declined to talk about.

Douglas, by far, has the physical advantage. The champion, 30, says he will weigh close to the 231 he did against Tyson. Holyfield, 28, may be 210 to 215. Douglas is 6 feet 4 and has an 83-inch reach; he's an inch-and-a-half taller than Holyfield and has a 5 1/2-inch reach advantage. Holyfield has thin legs, an unusual four inches less in the calf than Douglas.

Besides lack of size, Holyfield often is asked about a weakness for getting hit often. Although he is 24-0 with 20 knockouts, he's been stunned. Fighting with the flu, he got into trouble a year ago against Alex Stewart. Holyfield survived, and knocked out Stewart in the eighth round.

Lou Duva, Holyfield's co-trainer, tried to emphasize that his fighter has put on weight gradually, "over the course of four years. That's why he's so solid."

Overhearing a conversation about Holyfield's size, Duva said sarcastically: "After this fight, I'm going to prove Evander's a big heavyweight. I'm going to make this fight -- he's going to fight Woody Allen."

But Holyfield wasn't laughing because he isn't sure which Douglas will show up Thursday. In the past, Holyfield called Douglas a "quitter." Now he's not so certain.

"A man can change," Holyfield said. "He sure proved it in the Tokyo fight. Yes, I touched on him quitting. But that was in the past. You can change your life."

For whatever reason, Douglas endured against Tyson, even after Tyson hurt him. Most say it wasn't the "real" Mike Tyson, that Douglas could see it and realized his opportunity. Tyson himself has said, "It was like Buster winning the Lotto."

Indeed, Douglas's record is checkered: 30-4-1, with 20 knockouts. The four defeats were all disasters in which lack of conditioning or carelessness played a part.

"Lack of conditioning makes a coward out of all of us," Benton said.

With attention centered as much on his paunch as his punch, Douglas went into seclusion five weeks ago. That should be enough time, but the thought persists that if Holyfield survives the early hits and is still around by the eighth round, the rest of the fight will be his.

On the down side for Douglas: Did his months-long lethargy leave him unfit? He reemphasized that he was "depressed" by his struggle to rid himself of promoter Don King -- which he finally did, although temporarily and for a price.

On the up side: Douglas likes being heavyweight champion -- the money, the prestige -- and wanting to keep the title could be his inspiration. He put it very quietly, very simply: "I'm really comfortable with this position."