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All He Needed Was a Mask and Gun

JIM MURRAY

October 26, 1990|JIM MURRAY

LAS VEGAS — What do you want to say was the biggest heist in history?

The Brink's robbery?

John Dillinger's holdup sprees? Bonnie and Clyde's? The theft of a Van Gogh from a Paris art gallery? The looting of the art treasures of Europe by Nazis? The S&L swindles?

How about the Buster Douglas Caper?

James (Buster) Douglas pulled a heist here Thursday that, for its sheer audacity, pales all these others by comparison.

Buster walked off with almost $20 million by the mere expedient of showing up with a satchel (not to mention the one around his middle), scooping up the money and running.

Buster slickered the American sporting public and the promoters as surely as any embezzler who ever took a plane to Rio with the bank's receipts. W.C. Fields would be open-mouthed with admiration. So would anyone who ever absconded with a widows and orphans fund.

You'd have more respect for him if he did it with a gold brick--or a gun. He did it with a smile and a wink. He got almost $20 million for pulling off the most elaborate practical joke and swindle in the annals of the heavyweight fight division.

You see, Buster, for his millions, had made a compact with the public that he would show up in some kind of physical shape and make an honest effort to defend the heavyweight title he won so shockingly from Mike Tyson in February.

Buster Douglas entered the ring looking like something that should be floating over a Thanksgiving Day parade. He ran a crooked wheel, is what he did. He dealt from the bottom.

You know, when an actor agrees to play Hamlet, he doesn't show up and do baggy pants shtick. If a guy agrees to sing "Carmen" and shows up drunk singing Irving Berlin, they throw eggs at him. And refund the money.

It's very clear Buster Douglas had little or no intention of doing any real fighting Thursday night. He came into the ring as out of shape as King Farouk and went through the motions. Jack Johnson put up a better fight against Jess Willard--and that fight was in the bag.

You knew there was going to be no fight when Buster stood on the scales Wednesday afternoon in the hotel ballroom and they topped out at 246 pounds. Now, that's OK for sumo wrestlers or a major league umpire, but it doesn't work when you have to get into the ring with a fighter who looks like something they found in a Greek ruin.

Buster took us, ladies and gentlemen. He made suckers of us all. He just sat there and lapped up the calories and lived the good life and took the suckers for everything they had--or almost $20 million, which is close enough--and laughed all the way to the refrigerator.

He got annihilated by a guy he outweighed by 38 pounds.

Lots of guys drank their way out of the heavyweight championship. Buster ate his way out of it.

He had a compact with the public and he mocked it. In the old days, they would hold up the purse when things like this happened, when one guy showed up in no shape to fight.

Buster has a history of this kind of hanky-panky. You look on his ring record and there is a telltale "NC" on it for a fight in Columbus in 1984. "NC" stands for "No contest" and it indicates a bout where the referee threw both contestants out for not trying or otherwise making a travesty of the sport.

Buster had his second No Contest at the Mirage Hotel here Thursday night. Only this time, his opponent would have none of it. Evander Holyfield came to fight, all right. He cuffed Buster around at will from the opening bell. It was almost as if Buster hadn't shown up, just his shadow. In effect, that was correct. Evander wasn't even breathing hard when the fight came to its sudden but predictable end when Holyfield threw a short but explosive right hand in Buster's fat mouth.

In the shape he was in, Buster probably couldn't have gotten up at 10 if he tripped over his own shoelaces. But if he made any effort to get up, it didn't show. He appeared to find it very comfortable on the floor, like a hammock, and the suspicion lurks he'd spent plenty of his time prone since he won the championship.

Did he just run into a buzz-saw? Well, Evander Holyfield is not exactly The Brown Bomber or the Manassa Mauler himself. He has 20 knockouts in his pro career, but the likes of Tyrone Booze and Eric Winbush have gone the distance with him, to say nothing of Lionel Byarm. Dwight Qawi went 15.

Evander Holyfield liked the sensation of punching a fat old party around. He announced after the fight his next opponent would be George Foreman. It's too bad Elsa Maxwell or Orson Welles aren't with us anymore. They might get a shot.

Still, I guess it was a triumph for clean living, hard work and a lean cuisine. Horatio Alger would approve. So would Frank Merriwell. Buster could have set dieting back 100 years and bankrupted the country's fat farms if he prevailed.

He didn't prevail. The worst part of it was, he obviously knew he wouldn't. He was observed doing roadwork two days before the fight on a golf course and he looked like a guy chasing a slow bus. Buster had the look on his face of a guy dreaming of chicken and gravy.

The only way he could have beaten Evander Holyfield Thursday night was to eat him.

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