LAS VEGAS, OCT. 26 -- It looks like Evander Holyfield-Big George Foreman in April.
Foreman, 42, apparently will get his wish: the long shot chance to recapture the heavyweight championship he held as long ago as 1973 and 1974.
This improbable matchup, which probably will be held here in Las Vegas, became reality as a result of Holyfield's stunning third-round knockout of flabby, listless James "Buster" Douglas Thursday night. At 246 pounds, Douglas had no bounce, not even when he hit the canvas.
Holyfield-Foreman means that Mike Tyson, as Holyfield's promoter Dan Duva put it, "will have to get in line."
Tyson's shot at the title will have to come within a year. That is how much time the new champion has to defend against the top-ranked challenger. Should he get past Foreman, Holyfield would meet Tyson later in 1991.
"I've talked with my people," Holyfield said, "and they feel, as far as business, it's better to fight George first."
It will mean two big paydays for Holyfield, much more than the $8 million he got for dispatching Douglas with ease. Holyfield could not care less if people say he is picking on an "old man."
"No matter what you do," said Holyfield's cotrainer, Lou Duva, "you're damned if you do, damned if you don't." Duva and the rest of the Holyfield camp will be laughing all the way to the bank, just as heartily as Duva was laughing this morning when he was wheeled triumphantly to the postfight news conference on a luggage dolly.
"Evander Holyfield is not going to dodge anyone," Dan Duva said. "We're going to fight the best people. We hope to fight George Foreman. But we'll sign right now to fight Mike Tyson if we beat George Foreman."
James Binns, head of the World Boxing Association, indicated that his sanctioning body would happily consider Holyfield's request to fight Foreman. Bob Lee, head of the International Boxing Federation, suggested immediately after Douglas was knocked out that his group also would sanction Holyfield-Foreman. That leaves the World Boxing Council to fall in line.
Another big winner in Holyfield's victory is Bob Arum, Foreman's promoter. Since Arum has been feuding with Steve Wynn, owner of The Mirage, the possibility is that Holyfield-Foreman will take place in April next door at Caesars Palace.
Wynn and Don King are the immediate losers. A disappointed Wynn would have staged the Douglas-Tyson rematch. Now that is moot. Tyson is scheduled to fight Alex Stewart, already a Holyfield victim, Dec. 8 in Atlantic City. It remains to be seen how Tyson will react to the delay in his opportunity to regain the title.
He had been counting on Douglas beating Holyfield so he could atone for his horrendous showing against Douglas in February in Tokyo. Dan Duva suggested the other day that King might be nervous that he can't deliever Holyfield fast enough to suit Tyson.
King still may try litigation. But it appears that Tyson now is faced with the prospect of waiting for a champion who intends to do what he wants to do, or is advised to do.
Holyfield turned down an appearance on Saturday Night Live this weekend to attend a football game involving Alabama A&M, where one of his brothers plays. It was a fight postscript that Holyfield's advisers ballyhooed as one more indication that their man has his priorities straight.
Clearly, Holyfield knew what he wanted to do against Douglas -- and did it almost perfectly. As he had promised, he attacked from the outset. The result was that Douglas never could get started.
"Buster has power coming forward," said Lou Duva, "but he doesn't have power backing up."
Dan Duva said that a "computer analysis" helped guide Holyfield in his preparations. "It showed that when you jab Buster, he stops jabbing," Duva said. "That was a key to us -- to take his jab away."
Duva and cotrainer George Benton also had instructed Holyfield to watch for Douglas's uppercut, which he used effectively against Tyson. But none of them had any idea Holyfield would be able to take advantage so early.
"He dropped his right shoulder," Holyfield said. "I could tell he was getting ready to throw the right. I rocked back and threw my right."
Douglas took the blow flush on the chin and was counted out at 1:10 of the third round. What followed was a great deal of speculation that Douglas could have gotten up -- or at least tried harder. He stayed put, rubbing his eyes with his gloves. "I was trying to focus," he insisted.
Referee Mills Lane suggested that Douglas might have gotten up, although the referee ackowledged that Douglas had been hurt. His pocketbook, though, was as fat as he was. He had been guaranteed $24 million and he could lie there dreaming the dreams of a world-class pizza lover.
"I thought he could have grabbed onto the rope, or Mills," Lou Duva said.
"I thought we had a championship fight," said Mike Trainer, who assisted Wynn with the promotion. "It was disappointing."
But Trainer added that the fight was a pay-per-view television success. Overnight projections indicated that more than one million people had bought the fight, surpassing the highest buy to date of 700,000.
"I'm very happy," said Holyfield, continuing to be as low key as ever. "Being champion means a lot more pressure. You have to compete on that level." But he said he was looking forward to it, beginning with Foreman.
"George is very powerful," Holyfield said. "I'll fight him just as I fought Buster. . . . I'll use my speed and conditioning work and the things I do naturally. I'm not going to come at him, I'll move around him like I did against Buster. Regardless of how badly I wanted to run into him, I was smart enough to do what I was told. Be patient. Jab. The opening would come."
The victory -- one for yogurt and veggies -- must have reassured advocates of running, body-building and stretching exercises. Holyfield had a coach for every move he made, his muscles stretched by a ballet teacher who had never been to the fights, boxing's first choreographer.
Holyfield looked like Mr. Universe while fighting a whole lot better. He has beaten everybody he has faced, 25-0 with 21 knockouts -- none easier than Douglas. The Duvas expect Foreman to fall just as hard.
"For the first time," Lou Duva said, "Evander is going to fight somebody who's older than me and bigger than me."