LAS VEGAS -- You talk about this fight, "The Moment of Truth," for more than, oh, six seconds and the conversation is bound to turn to Mike Tyson. Is Buster Douglas, at 246 pounds, in any condition to win a title fight? Is Evander Holyfield anything more than a blown-up cruiserweight? Hey, where's Tyson?

He's not here. He's in Atlantic City training for a Dec. 8 match with Alex Stewart. No matter, even 2,500 miles away, Tyson's presence looms over Douglas's first title defense, Thursday night against Holyfield at The Mirage.

It's not that Douglas-Holyfield will be a bust. For a change, in fact, we know this is one championship fight that will surpass the hype, because there is no hype. Tickets are available. When you pay $1,000 for a ringside seat, or $40 for pay-per-view for that matter, you'd like to think the combatants have at least a healthy dislike for one another. But these guys have been downright chummy. You might say boring.

What this first big pay-for-view test needed was some compelling reason to tune in. Controversy, venom. Nothing doing, though. Douglas and Holyfield come to these posedowns and exchange pleasantries.

"These guys," Tyson said on the phone from Atlantic City, "can't sell diddly. They're a bunch of unknown punks. They can't touch {me} with a ten-foot pole. People are going to see this fight to see how these guys do against me."

Tyson's had a lot to say this week. Too much maybe.

"Regardless of what people think, there is no heavyweight fight without me," Tyson said. "Sure, people will go to see how Holyfield does. But when I fight, everybody comes to take notes."

Ooooh, the ex-champ is surly. Remember when Tyson was young and respectful of opponents? Now, without a belt, he trashes everybody and makes excuses for why he lost, no matter that our most recent memory of him is on all fours groping for a bloody mouthpiece.

"I wasn't in the right frame of mind," Tyson said about his disastrous February loss to Douglas.

"If a guy has quit once, he'll quit again. He'll do it again," Tyson said of Douglas.

"I always like the bigger man," he said assessing the smaller Holyfield.

"I don't see how he beats anybody," he said of unbeaten new Washingtonian Riddick Bowe.

Pressed to say whom he likes, relatively speaking of course, to win Thursday night, Tyson said, "I would love for {Douglas} to win."

Some boxing insiders will tell you Tyson is in a panic right now, that he is dying for Douglas to win. Holyfield, his promoter Dan Duva said, has a contract with George Foreman. Win or lose here.

It was hysterical earlier this week when boxing's alphabet soup governing bodies -- IBF, WBC, WBA -- allegedly announced that the winner of Douglas-Holyfield has no more than 120 days to fight Tyson, hastily proclaimed the No. 1 contender. We use the word "allegedly" because this important announcement was issued on the stationery of, you guessed it, Don King, Tyson's promoter.

There are rumors, some say emanating from Dan and Lou Duva, that King is a little jumpy because he knows he won't be able to deliver a title fight for his man if Holyfield wins. So, Tyson doesn't like Douglas not just because he's the bigger man but also because Tyson stands to make about $20 million in a late winter rematch if Douglas wins here.

Tyson, now working with former Larry Holmes trainer Richie Giachetti, says he's in shape now, his attitude is back. There's no troublesome marriage, no tug of war over the right to lord over his career, nothing to keep him from focusing on regaining a title he claims still belongs to him. "Regardless of the situation, whether I'm there or not, they can never take my title away." Tyson said. "I'll always be on top."

Was that Tyson talking, or Jose Canseco?

Douglas already took his title away. But Douglas apparently didn't learn his lesson in beating an out-of-shape Tyson. Since February when he fought at 231, Douglas has, well, put on a few pounds. He was up to 260, reportedly, and shed just 14 by Wednesday afternoon's weigh-in. Taking the bigger man is one thing; taking the in-shape man is another. Who is his nutritionist, John Williams?

Douglas says we'll all see that this out-of-shape talk is just nonsense once the opening bell rings. The one thing we know for sure is that Holyfield is in phenomenal condition. Douglas, his own people say, is not. It looked as if Douglas held his breath on the scale, so as to keep that tummy from sagging. "At 246," Ray Leonard said, "you won't see the hand speed, the quick combinations, the mobility he demonstrated against Tyson."

Yet boxing experts overwhelmingly had picked Douglas to win -- that of course was before they knew he would enter the ring at nearly 250 pounds.

One thing we should have relearned last week is that bigger and stronger don't always win. If so, the Oakland A's wouldn't be sitting at home sulking. Holyfield's best attribute may be his determination. The longer this fight goes, the better chance Holyfield has of beating Fatso, especially with the temperature in the upper 70s by fight time.

Speaking of weight, a Holyfield upset would give big old Foreman, not Tyson, the next title fight. Tyson would still be telling us, instead of proving, he is still the best. And Don King might not be able to call on enough favors from his alphabet buddies to change it.