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Punches Won’t Be Friendly

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 24 rounds of action, Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield have opened cuts and blasted at each other with abandon, ducked para-gliders and exchanged the heavyweight title twice.

And become friends?

Apparently, yes, if the chuckles and grins throughout this week as the two prepared for tonight’s second rematch at Caesars Palace are any indication.

“I think I like you more and more,” a jovial Bowe told Holyfield after Thursday’s weigh-in.

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Joked Lou Duva, Holyfield’s former trainer: “They’re so friendly up there, it looks like they’re going out dancing together tonight.”

Bowe and Holyfield, the dominant heavyweights during Mike Tyson’s prison term, stood together against Tyson and Don King in the battle over this date and could be forgiven if they feel as if they’ve notched a victory already this week.

Tuesday, a broken right thumb caused Tyson to cancel his competing bout against Buster Mathis Jr., triggering several days of celebration by the Bowe-Holyfield promotion, which could have been hit hard by the planned Tyson telecast on Fox.

But Bowe and Holyfield, two generally good-natured fighters who split their two earlier bouts, clearly have a bond that goes beyond the Tyson tension.

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“Bowe’s always saying complimentary things,” Holyfield said. “It’s not about who wins--we’re friends. I understand that too.”

For Bowe and Holyfield, the two 12-round battles they have engaged in, the championships they have won and lost and the battles back from defeat signify their twin status as elite heavyweights who have worked their way to their place in the pay-per-view upper strata.

Holyfield is guaranteed a purse of $8 million for the bout. Bowe’s share will be based on the pay-per-view sales but probably will easily top $10 million.

If the series doesn’t quite measure up to the legendary Ali-Frazier trilogy of the ‘70s, in the current boxing malaise it towers over the rest of the sport’s usual drudgery.

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In November 1992, Bowe was a young and relatively untested challenger who used his 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame to muscle the smaller Holyfield in a unanimous-decision victory to win the undisputed title.

In November 1993, Holyfield outworked the bulkier Bowe (who had ballooned to 280 pounds before the fight and came in at 245), caught a break when the infamous “Fan Man” crashed into the ring ropes during the seventh round and caused a 20-minute delay and earned his own unanimous decision to win the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. titles.

During the delay, Bowe watched his wife, Judy, who was pregnant, be carried out of the arena on a stretcher after fainting when the para-glider crashed near her seat.

After Holyfield lost his titles to Michael Moorer, then ended a short retirement when a congenital heart problem disappeared, now comes Bowe-Holyfield III, scheduled for 12 rounds.

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For various political and practical reasons, this won’t be a title bout (though Bowe holds the lightly regarded World Boxing Organization belt). But in the wake of the Tyson re-emergence and stop-and-start comeback, it might be the most important of the three Bowe-Holyfield bouts.

The winner, clearly, becomes the man Tyson must ultimately face in order to prove his legitimacy.

Bowe weighed in at a surprisingly light 240 pounds for this fight and looked almost stringy with his shirt off, which Bowe says are signs that he prepared for this fight with Holyfield-like determination.

“Everybody can say how good they are, but the track record has to show it,” Holyfield said. “It’s a proven point. We’re the best two heavyweights fighting today.

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“I just want to prove I still have the abilities to beat the best there is.”

Holyfield (31-2, 22 knockouts), for his part, has predicted not only that he will defeat Bowe, but that he will knock him out.

Bowe, 28, says he appreciates Holyfield’s warrior mentality, and desire, as a relatively small heavyweight who came up from the light-heavyweight division, to knock off the bigger man.

“There’s no doubt Bowe is one of the most talented big guys that ever put on the gloves,” said Holyfield, 32. “So when you’ve got a talented big guy with the skills he possesses, I have to be on or get wiped out.

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“He has the skills of a little man and the power of a big man. Yes, I can out-speed him, but at some point I have to come into his power range.”

Holyfield’s stubbornness, matched with his fast hands and heavy punches, are what has made the series special, Bowe says.

“I think it’s styles, it’s the heart, and wanting to be the best,” Bowe said. “We all know that Evander Holyfield has no quit in him, and I’ve tried to show people I’ve got no quit in me, no matter what. Evander, you hit him, he’ll hit you back.

“And you have that big man-little man thing. Evander wants to prove he can be the big guy. And I’m out to prove I can beat them all, big and small.”

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Can Bowe knock Holyfield out?

“Anything is possible,” Bowe said. “But where I made my mistake the last time, I wanted to surpass the first one. I wasn’t even worried about points. I want to fight Evander Holyfield for 12 rounds, and if a knockout comes, it comes.”

The televised portion of the show also features World Boxing Organization junior-featherweight champion Marco Antonio Barrera, who fights frequently in Los Angeles, defending against Eddie Croft; former bantamweight champion Orlando Canizales vs. Julio Portillo; and welterweight contender Luis Ramon (Yory Boy) Campas vs. Anthony Jones.


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