The James "Buster" Douglas of old returned to the ring against Evander Holyfield, and a new heavyweight champion climbed out.
The fighter who shocked the boxing world by knocking out Mike Tyson was nowhere to be seen Thursday night, replaced by the other Douglas, a blubbery journeyman with questionable heart.When an overhand right from Holyfield crashed into his face a minute into the third round, Douglas went to the canvas, where he obligingly stayed on his back as his brief and inglorious championship reign came to an end.
The first big punch of the bout and the fight was over, leaving Douglas, who weighed 246 pounds, destined to go down in boxing lore as a one-fight fluke.
"He just hit me with a great shot," Douglas said. "I tried to pick up the count but I was unable to. If I could have gotten back up, I would have."
Others weren't so sure.
"He could have gotten up, he choose not to," said Eddie Futch, a veteran trainer of several heavyweight champions. "Maybe he had his own reason not to."
The sudden end to the bout before a soldout crowd of 16,350 at an outdoor arena at The Mirage hotel-casino came, ironically, as Douglas tried to throw his first uppercut, a punch that had served him well against Tyson.
Instead of landing it, as he had repeatedly against Tyson, Douglas missed badly and Holyfield stepped in and threw an overhand right that crashed against the champions's temple.
"I knew he was going to throw the uppercut and I was able to step back and counter with the right hand," Holyfield said. "I hit him right as I stepped in."
Douglas went down, then rolled on his back, picking at his nose with his glove as if to see if itound.
"I was just hoping he wouldn't get up," Holyfield said. "I knew I hit him with a good shot, so I got quickly to the neutral corner."
Douglas remained on his back as Holyfield's corner erupted in jubilation, and the challenger's co-trainer, Lou Duva, literally leaped over the fallen champion as he rushed into the ring to embrace his fighter.
As the pandemonium eventually diminished, Douglas rose to his feet, walked to his corner where he put his head on his arm and began sobbing.
"I'm not embarrassed," he insisted. "It's a thing of accepting the challenge each and every time out. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't."
It may not have gone Douglas' way because the 6-foot-4 fighter was badly out of shape, having failed to shed the huge weight gain he had after winning the title Feb. 11 with a shocking 10th-round knockout of Tyson.
"He resigned himself to the fact he was overweight," said Dr. William Berliner, who examined Douglas after the right.
Douglas had appeared shocked at the pre-fight weigh-in, when he tipped the scales at 246 pounds, 14 1/2 more than he weighed when he fought Tyson in Tokyo. And he fought like he felt every pound against Holyfield.
The vaunted jab that had kept Tyson at bay barely presented itself during the brief fight. Instead, it was Holyfield working the jab and Holyfield setting the quick pace.
"I was trying to dictate the pace and make Buster fight at a faster pace, then maybe catch him in the later rounds," Holyfield said.