LAS VEGAS, OCT. 25 -- Evander Holyfield bills himself as "The Real Deal." Tonight he could be commended for truth in advertising. True to his word and the odds that made him the favorite, the "little man" knocked out 246-pound James "Buster" Douglas at 1:10 of the third round.
Aggressive as he promised to be, Holyfield at 208 pounds went after a lumbering Douglas from the outset. The intense Holyfield dominated the opening two rounds, especially the first round when he out-jabbed Douglas and scored a number of hooks and straight right hands that went unanswered.
Trying with little success to pick up his pace in the third round, Douglas waded in toward Holyfield but missed a right uppercut. It left an opening as big as all of Douglas, and Holyfield hammered him with a wicked straight right to the chin that toppled the big man like timber.
The crowd of 16,100 in the outdoor stadium of The Mirage hotel-casino gasped as Douglas landed on his left side with a crash. He tried to get up, but fell backward and was counted out by referee Mills Lane. "He has some right hand," Lane said in admiration.
But Lane also said that he thought Douglas could have gotten up. Douglas denied it. "If I could have gotten up," he said, "I would have."
It was at least three minutes before Douglas's entourage allowed Douglas to get to his feet. In fabulous understatement, Douglas said a half-hour later, "He caught me with a good shot."
Holyfield's victory raised the distinct possibility that 42-year-old George Foreman will get his long-awaited title shot. Holyfield has a contract to fight Foreman next, although all three of boxing's sanctioning bodies -- the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation -- indicated this week that tonight's winner would have to defend his title within 120 days against former champion Mike Tyson.
"He'll have to wait in line like everybody else," Dan Duva, Holyfield's promoter, said of Tyson. And Bob Lee, head of the IBF, backed off a Holyfield-Tyson fight next when he said of Duva's wish, "We don't want to short-circuit that."
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Holyfield, who is soft-spoken and has a gentlemanly reputation, quietly celebrated his stunning dispatch of the short-term champion. "It's wonderful," said Holyfield. "It's wonderful. I don't know what else to say." A man of few words, anyway, Holyfield could let the best night of his career speak for itself.
He did say that he wasn't expecting such a quick ending to the scheduled 12-rounder. The strategy was to out-jab Douglas, be quick, avoid trouble -- and Holyfield executed the plan so well Douglas never could get moving or be aggressive as he was when he upset Tyson in February in Tokyo to win the title.
"I threw some jabs well," Holyfield said. "The third round came and everything executed beautifully.
"I trained very hard with both weight and flexibility training. I was in good shape. I trained to the best of my ability and everything worked out."
"I didn't get my rhythm going quick enough," Douglas said. "I was hoping to get some rounds under my belt to get going."
But Douglas denied that the surprising amount of weight that he carried affected the outcome. Georgie Benton, Holyfield's co-trainer, disagreed. "He was too big," Benton said.
"Box him, box him and the shot will come," Benton said by way of explaining their strategy.
"The idea was, let him work, let him work, go to the body and knock him out," said Benton's partner, Lou Duva, father of Dan. "He followed our game plan exactly."
Holyfield attacked Douglas the same way he has his training -- relentlessly. This was his 25th straight victory as a professional, his 21st by knockout. Clearly, he had reached the goal he set many years before.
Holyfield likes to point out that he's been boxing almost 20 years. He was only 8 when he first stood on a stool in an Atlanta gym to reach a light bag. He fought long and hard as an amateur, often absorbing punishment. "But every time I lost," he said, "I learned."
A great disappointment occurred when he took part in the 1984 Olympics. In a semifinal light heavyweight match, he was disqualified after inadvertently knocking out his opponent on a break. He had to be content with the bronze medal.
But that is when Holyfield began to forge his reputation for manners. He did not dispute the referee's verdict even though it would have been almost impossible to stop the blow. Instead, he turned pro -- and worked even harder.
The fights that forged his career included a 15-round war, which he won on a decision, from light heavyweight-cruiserweight Dwight Qawi in 1986, a four-round knockout of Qawi the following year and knockouts of heavyweights Michael Dokes and Alex Stewart in 1989.
Most of Holyfield's knockouts have been fights that were stopped, but Holyfield said that has never affected him and had no bearing on tonight's outcome. But a special request, he said, figured to some degree.
"This was the first time my mother has ever asked me to win for her," Holyfield said. "She said, 'Can you win this one for me?'
"I felt going into this fight that I would be the heavyweight champion of the world."
Douglas showed none of the fire he did against Tyson, when he asserted himself from the outset. "Same old Buster," were the words among many of the paying customers as they filed out of the stadium; in two of his earlier defeats, Douglas had simply quit.
This night he embarrassed himself again. His weight disproved his words of the last few days, that he was in shape and ready. It was Holyfield who now could experience the feeling he said he's often dreamed about -- being heavyweight champion.
"I've thought about it a lot," he said. It felt every bit as good as he had imagined.