LAS VEGAS -- Over and over, the men who were in charge of training Buster Douglas were asked why their man didn't give a decent account of himself, why he took $24 million and walked into a heavyweight championship bout overweight and underprepared. It was early morning; the hardcore gamblers and the party people in Evander Holyfield's camp were still wearing the same clothes when the morning-after analysis began anew.

Inquiring minds, not to mention the people who paid to watch the fight on TV, wanted answers. It grew ugly, nearly confrontational, just after the first cup of coffee. Steve Wynn, owner of The Mirage and the man who put up nearly $40 million for Douglas-Holyfield, was angry about paying $24 million to Douglas, who didn't even bother to get himself into fighting shape and wound up a knockout victim in the third round.

"What that kid did tonight," Wynn said, "was . . . well . . . I'm not going to say a disgrace. It was wrong. Wrong."

Later in the morning, Wynn followed with a thinly veiled statement that further impugned Douglas's integrity: "We compliment Evander Holyfield for coming into the ring well-prepared. However, our attitude is that fight purses should be more along the lines of winner-take-all, so that the only incentive is for victory."

Douglas did not show for the morning news conference, but his co-trainers, John Russell and J.D. McCauley, did. Both wound up shouting at reporters who asked why Douglas looked so pitiful, with at least one more $25 million payday at stake. When a British reporter asked if they were embarrassed about having a "flabby fighter," Russell shouted, "That's a stupid question."

McCauley was slightly more civil. "Are you trying to make us feel any worse than we feel?" he asked. "How do I explain it? He had a bad night. The flabbiness, or whatever you call it, it might have shown up in the late rounds, not the third round. Holyfield's people, they read something off of us like we did off of Tyson. He got hit."

Later on, though, McCauley began to wear down. He recalled Douglas being so out of shape at the start of camp that he and Russell didn't even put Douglas on a scale.

"We knew he was big and out of shape," McCauley said. "What purpose would it have served to put him on a scale?"

Thursday morning, several hours before the fight, McCauley -- Douglas's uncle -- knocked on his nephew's door. He asked Buster how he felt, if the hullabaloo at the weigh-in bothered him.

"Buster told me he felt fine and that he was ready to have a good fight," McCauley said. "I took him at his word . . . Look, nobody knows what's inside a man, what the heart has left, what's ticking. Not even me, as well as I know him."

But why was Douglas wiping blood off his nose instead of trying to get up? Did he want to get up? What about referee Mills Lane, who said it looked to him that Douglas could have gotten up?

"The referee didn't take that shot," McCauley snapped. "Nobody with a pencil and paper took that Everlast glove in the face. How do you know what was in that kid's heart?"

We don't. But what we do know is that Douglas's heart wasn't committed to keeping the heavyweight title he so gamely took from Tyson last February in Tokyo. If it was, he wouldn't have eaten himself into such a condition that two months in a gym couldn't get him ready.

Probably, it is our fault, not his, for expecting him to all of a sudden transform himself into a champion just because he had one glorious night against an out-of-sorts Tyson. Nothing else in Douglas's nine-year professional career suggested he was truly a champion. He lost to people you never heard of. He quit once, right here in Las Vegas against Tony Tucker with the International Boxing Federation heavyweight title at stake. It is said one reason he parted with his father Billy, a rock of a man was, because dad was too rough, too demanding on his son.

Douglas, after he won the title, went to his grandma's house and ate collards and fried chicken and yams. "Lots of second and third helpings," he said. Many of us do that, some of us frequently. But we don't have anyone throwing $24 million in our laps to be in shape.

You want to understand Buster Douglas and be compassionate on one hand; you want to say to hell with him on the other. He, not his trainers or anyone else, has to take responsibility for what happened Thursday night at The Mirage.

McCauley and Russell went to the grocery store and bought all the right foods, the ones low on fat and high on carbohydrates. They took Douglas off soda and breads and told him to eat baked chicken.

"We worked our butts off for nine weeks in the gym to get Buster Douglas in the best shape we could," Russell said.

McCauley and Russell were being forced to deal with questions they probably already had considered, late at night when they felt they had done all they could. They couldn't put chicken in Douglas's mouth if he wanted pizza. They couldn't look into his heart, either.

"You know what happened?" McCauley asked. "Buster had a bad night. He was flat. He reached for Holyfield all night long. You tell an amateur fighter, 'Don't reach or a guy will knock your head off,' and that's what he did."

More than an hour later, after the anger started to subside, McCauley was asked what he would say to his nephew in their next conversation.

"I've already told him I love him, and I do," McCauley said. "And I'll tell him if he doesn't get his head on straight and do this thing the way it's supposed to be done, put this first and the TV shows and banquets second, I'm gonna tell him to leave {boxing} alone.

"February was the sweet, this is the bitter part. Eight months ago, the day after we beat Tyson, these same people were kissing and hugging us like we were the greatest thing since God created the earth. Now, all of a sudden, we're dogs."