Moorer, who is challenging Evander Holyfield at Caesars Palace here tonight for the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation versions of the heavyweight championship, sounds about as sensitive as a buzz saw, but according to his trainer, Teddy Atlas, the description fits perfectly. 'Deep down there is a different guy,' he said this week. 'Michael is no ghetto fugitive. He was raised in a small town. All that macho stuff is just a cover-up for insecurity, an attempt to prove himself.'
Since Moorer is unbeaten in 34 professional contests with 30 knock-outs (mostly in the light- heavyweight division), it is hard to imagine him squinting nervously in Holyfield's direction, but there is that, too. 'I don't know, he doesn't know which Michael will be going in there,' Atlas added. 'He has the power potential to blast Holyfield right out of there. On the other hand he could freeze.'
Power explains why the odds against Moorer have shortened to 2-1, power that raises a comparison with Rocky Marciano, the most witheringly destructive hitter in history. 'Michael punches like hell,' said Alex Sherer, who trained Moorer for his first 16 professional contests. 'There really is a lot of Marciano there because he's a brute to the body.'
Moorer is no slouch to the head either. In high school he shattered the jaw of an opponent who spat and called him a nigger. Later on, two youths who went for him with two-by- fours ended up in hospital. The incident with a policeman in Moorer's hometown, Monessen, Pennsylvania, was something else. There may be something to Moorer's claim that he has never started a street fight but he certainly knows how to finish one. The cop who pushed him - 'I wasn't a problem to anybody, just minding my own business,' he insists - wound up with a broken jaw, several missing teeth, busted ribs and a wonky back; it cost Moorer more than dollars 100,000 for an out- of-court settlement, two years probation and 100 hours of community work.
Sensitive] 'He really is,' repeated Atlas, the 39-year-old doctor's son who helped train Mike Tyson when the former undisputed champion first came under Cus D'Amato's care. When Atlas got the call to train Moorer he had no idea what he was getting into. 'Of course, I'd seen him fight and obviously there was a lot of natural power there, but I didn't know anything about the man.'
First off, Atlas inquired politely as to when Moorer preferred to do his roadwork. 'In the evening, around six,' came the reply. 'From now on you run at six in the morning,' Atlas said. Moorer got up and ran the very next day. Then there was the question of sparring. 'Don't like too much of it,' Moorer growled. That changed, too. Since he went into training for this contest after linking up with Atlas in October last year, Moorer has sparred 130 rounds. 'I don't think Michael enjoys it, but he gets it done,' Atlas said.
At a press conference this week Moorer declared his respect for Holyfield, coupled with the hope that neither of them gets hurt. It was an odd thing to say and Atlas felt troubled. 'A lot of fights are lost on the dais,' he said. 'Sometimes they get up there and feel smaller than the other guy. They get nervous. I'm not going to lie and say that it didn't go through my mind - I wasn't thrilled about it.' The truth is that Atlas doesn't know which Michael Moorer will be going into the ring. He trains a practising schizophrenic. Moorer goes around in a T-shirt bearing the motto, 'U Have the Right to Remain Violent', but is it all on top? Moorer's utterances are rare, almost restricted to small bulletins about his health. 'Feel fine, no problems, great shape,' stuff like that.
By comparison, Holyfield, a private man, sounds like the great communicator. The champion's ring earnings, including his purse, far exceed dollars 100m but nobody should expect a hand-out. Holyfield parted with Emanual Steward, who trained him for the contest against Riddick Bowe, because he wanted a raise of dollars 100,000. A cuts man, Ace Moratta, was discarded because Holyfield said he was surplus to requirements. 'When my new trainer, Don Turner, said he could handle cuts I didn't need anybody else.'
According to Holyfield's first professional trainer, the garrulous roustabout Lou Duva, this was a big mistake. 'You're talking about a cheap guy,' he said this week. 'In all the time we were together he never picked up a tab. Now nobody can tell him anything. He decides when and where he trains, selects his trainer and sparring partners. He's surrounding himself with yes men and that can be dangerous. What I'd like to know is how Evander will react if the going gets tough. Who will be in the corner to keep him alive? I know him from A-Z and admire him, but he's changed, and not for the better.'
None of this appears to bother Holyfield. 'I've been around business all my life, long enough to know what I'm doing,' he said. He was stretched out on a sofa in a hotel suite looking as relaxed as can be. 'After I lost the titles to Bowe, the Duvas hurt me,' he said. 'They said I'd grown old and that it was time to quit. At first I went along with them, but after a while I felt angry. I'm not old (he is 31), I didn't feel old. What right had they to make up my mind.'
Holyfield is determined not to be lured into a slugfest with Moorer, the mistake he made in that first contest against Bowe. 'It was natural for me to do that but now I can handle another way of winning. Moorer has everything to gain, nothing to lose but he hasn't been there before, I have. There is still a road to travel. There are two boxing things in my mind. To unify the championship and meet Mike Tyson - in the ring.'
That is if Moorer lets him. It is by no means a foregone conclusion. The challenger has better than an outside chance but the fancy is for Holyfield and inside the distance.
----------------------------------------------------------------- TALE OF THE TAPE ----------------------------------------------------------------- HOLYFIELD MOORER 31 AGE 26 214lb WEIGHT 214lb 6ft 2in HEIGHT 6ft 2in 77 1/2in REACH 78in 43in CHEST (nor) 42 1/2in 45in CHEST (exp) 44in 16in BICEPS 17in 12 1/2in FOREARMS 14in 32in WAIST 34in 32in THIGH 26 1/2in 13in CALF 17in 19 1/2in NECK 20in 7 1/2in WRIST 8in 12 1/2in FIST 12in -----------------------------------------------------------------