Boxing: Bowe knows he has Holyfield's measure: Heavyweight champion is making light of tonight's ageing challenger. Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas

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THE words from Riddick Bowe's mouth that get recorded for posterity are ones full of confidence. It has been that way since he defeated Evander Holyfield almost a year ago for all that mattered of the heavyweight title, then disdainfully providing the World Boxing Council with an opportunity to make Lennox Lewis their champion. 'I don't see him going the distance,' Bowe said, 'at most, five or six rounds.'

Probably it is how Bowe imagines the outcome of a deferred collision with Lewis, but he was speaking about tonight's rematch with Holyfield at Caesars Palace here. 'You'll see Riddick Bowe at his best,' he added. 'I'm in great shape and I anticipate a terrific fight while it lasts but I feel that I'm bigger and better and can take him out.'

There is size and size. When James 'Buster' Douglas squandered the championship to Holyfield after sensationally defeating Mike Tyson, he was, shamefully, a fat man who had lost interest in boxing. He was a monument to fast food. He called room service from the sauna.

Bowe is big, at 17st 8lb only three pounds lighter than Douglas was on the scales, but to play Falstaff he would have to shove a cushion up his shirt. If the champion's midriff is hardly in the washboard category, he was able to bare his upper body without raising shock in the audience. The silent boast was, 'Look at me, where's the surplus?'

It had been there all right, Bowe ominously ballooning to more than 20st before getting into shape for Holyfield, although according to his famed 82-year-old trainer, Eddie Futch, the excess poundage came off easily.

'It was never a problem,' Futch said. 'In fact, when Bowe fills out completely I expect him to level off at around 255 pounds (18st 3lb).'

This does not correspond with suspicions that gluttony will foreshorten Bowe's career, the problem of getting down to weight becoming more difficult with each contest. He dismisses it lightly.

'I feel comfortable the way I am now,' he said. 'Last time I did a lot of dieting and it depleted me which is why I wasn't able to take Holyfield out.'

With such evidence at hand, and accounting for what appears to be a blissful lack of malevolence, it is hard to imagine Holyfield embarrassing the odds makers who have Bowe as a 5-1 favourite. 'Don't be fooled by Evander's casual air,' is more or less what his handlers keep saying, but some hard facts come into the reckoning.

When Holyfield goes to his corner in an open air arena behind Caesars Palace he will be giving away bundles of weight (wearing trainers and track trousers he came in more than 2st lighter than the champion) to a younger man who also has advantages in reach and power.

The burden on Holyfield grew heavier when he came back to outpoint Alex Stewart in Atlantic City. Coming under the influence of a new trainer, Emanuel Steward from Detroit, he took no chances and looked awful. The crowd booed, and Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, yelled out that he should go back into retirement. 'Actually, the first fight against Bowe they (Lou Duva and George Benton) wanted me to box, but the urge to knock him out was strongest. I went out there and did everything I could to achieve that. Now the plan is to go in and win the best way I can. If I'm in a situation where I have to fight to keep him off, then I will go back to what I know.'

No matter what they have been shown in the gym, however keenly they have listened, when fighters come under pressure invariably they revert to type. Steward insists that he has been able to improve Holyfield, especially his balance, but at the advanced athletic age of 31, he is an old dog trying to learn new tricks.

'Let your mind teach your body how it has to explode,' they have told him. 'In the first fight I just didn't have enough power,' the challenger added. 'Now if I get into a slugging match I feel I can stay there.'

It was about 11 o'clock at night and the contest was only two days off. The challenger had taken a lift to the 13th floor at Caesars Palace and was leaning against a mirrored wall. He had on a black tracksuit with his name emblazoned on the back. He said that if he turned in early he found it difficult to sleep. 'I have to go out there and fight the best fight possible and take whatever comes,' he said.

The first fight was a hard fight, one of the best between heavyweights since the third between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in 1975. The 10th round proved memorable. Almost out on his feet after being pounded around the ring, Holyfield instinctively staged a tremendous rally. Then Bowe came back at him. 'That was the best you are going to get from Evander,' Bowe said, 'the effort took a lot out of him. I don't think he can be the same. Manny (Steward) may have taught him to shoe-shine and shoot from angles, but I don't see him adding to his arsenal. If a guy fighting as long as Evander hasn't learnt something by now, how is Manny going to teach it to him? I just don't see it happening.'

As only two men have regained the heavyweight championship in a rematch, Holyfield cannot draw much encouragement from history. Bowe should beat him inside the distance but is too much being expected of the champion? 'The kid is a great listener and learning all the time,' Futch said, 'but he's nowhwere near his peak.'

Some apprentice. Inside two years Bowe has grossed more than dollars 17m and is splitting dollars 18m ( pounds 12.15m) with Holyfield plus a percentage from pay-per-view television. 'That sort of money is likely to soften fighters,' Futch added, 'take away their motivation. But I don't think it will happen to Bowe. He's got too much ambition and enjoys being champion.' For the time being, anyway.

(Photograph omitted)