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Futch Sees Bowe-Holyfield III as a Thriller


LAS VEGAS — "Thumbs up" was the running gag Wednesday at Caesars Palace as organizers for Bowe-Holyfield III fought hard to contain their joy in the aftermath of Mike Tyson's decision to pull out of his Saturday fight against Buster Mathis Jr. at the MGM Grand because of a broken thumb.

With that little sideshow out of the way, attentions turned with floodlight focus on Riddick Bowe versus Evander Holyfield--the Rubber Match--which is being shopped here as one of the top heavyweight attractions in recent times.

Comparisons with the third fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975--"the Thrilla in Manila"--might be sacrilege if not for the fact it is being propagated in part by Eddie Futch.

Futch, who trains Bowe, was in Frazier's corner on that historic night. Futch made the painful but necessary decision not to allow a swollen-eyed Frazier out for the 15th round, securing victory for Ali in a fight some consider the century's greatest.

"You've got the two top heavyweights of their time going against each other in their third fight," the 81-year-old Futch said. "What's going to keep it from being a great fight?"

Futch thinks the comparison is not a stretch, although he insists on qualifications.

"Neither one is as good as Muhammad Ali," Futch said. "Neither one has the die-hard drive of Joe Frazier. But they could put up a fight as good as the 'Thrilla in Manila.' "

Of course, any final act of a great trilogy is built on the sum of its parts, and Bowe-Holyfield I and II were worthy enough chapters to warrant reading to the end.

The first fight, in November 1992, saw the young Bowe take the championship from Holyfield in a 12-round decision, leaving boxing to savor one of the best 10th rounds in heavyweight history.

The rematch, a year later, saw a more assertive Bowe abandon his boxing strategy as he went for the quick knockout. Holyfield withstood Bowe's early onslaught, sat through the bizarre incident forever known as "Fan Man" and earned back his title with a majority decision.

"The first fight, he [Bowe] followed my instructions very carefully," Futch said. "He hung on my every word. But once they get more experience, they start thinking of things they can do on their own."

In another great series of which he was part, Futch saw his man, Ken Norton, also use a dubious strategy in his second fight against Ali.

Norton had won the first, breaking Ali's jaw. In the second, Futch said, Norton changed his strategy.

"In the second fight, he wanted to be Joe Frazier the first four rounds," Futch said of Norton.

The result?

"He lost the first four rounds."

And the fight.

Futch said there is no telling what a fighter might do when the bell rings but said he will implore Bowe to "fight exactly the way he did in the first fight."

Futch said keys to a great rivalry are chemistry and the matchup. Bowe, in this case, can stretch loosely into the role of Ali, the fighter who inspired him to take up this career.

Like Ali, Bowe is big fighter, 6 feet 5, who possesses real boxing skills.

And no one can deny Holyfield possesses Frazier's tenacious, never-quit qualities.

Bowe has a better jab than Ali had, Futch said, but doesn't use it enough.

Holyfield versus Frazier?

"Frazier was strictly a fighter," Futch said. "Evander is a boxer-fighter. Frazier went right after you."

When all is said, Futch said, Bowe-Holyfield has a chance to be remembered.

"When you have two fighters who are pretty closely matched and have the same desire, vision, abilities, focus, you're going to get a classic fight every time."

Boxing Notes

Only in boxing: When told there was a likely chance of rain for Saturday's outdoor fight, promoter Rock Newman, proclaimed, "I'm expecting blinding sunshine on Saturday night." . . . Bowe-Holyfield is not a championship bout but is being billed as such by the New York Daily News, which even had its own title belt made to present to the winner. While Riddick Bowe is the World Boxing Organization titleholder, Evander Holyfield refused to fight for the belt because he thought it might hurt his rankings in the other more recognized organizations. Holyfield, a two-time champion, wants badly to join Muhammad Ali as the only three-time heavyweight titleholder.

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