STATELINE, Nev. -- After a steady, unspectacular heavyweight debut, Evander Holyfield and his handlers said his plans to challenge champion Mike Tyson next year were on schedule.
Holyfield, the undisputed cruiserweight champ, stopped veteran James Tillis in five rounds Saturday night at Caesars Tahoe.
'It was a first step, a big step for my career,' said Holyfield, who weighed 202. 'It wasn't the best, but I thought I got the job done.'
Holyfield's handlers offered more praise.
'I thought he was terrific,' manager Lou Duva said. 'This proves he's a heavyweight to stay.'
But Holyfield is holding his three cruiserweight titles for now. His promoter Dan Duva said they are under no pressure from the sanctioning bodies to give up the 190-pound titles.
Holyfield said: 'I have to take this one step at a time.'
Holyfield carried his 202 pounds well. For his next fight, probably in the fall against Michael Dokes, Pinklon Thomas or Orlin Norris, he wants to weigh about 207 and eventually move up to about 216-220.
Holyfield's agenda calls for a bout against Tyson sometime around June.
'We call this the Omega Project,' Dan Duva said, 'because we feel Evander Holyfield is the last man who can beat Mike Tyson.'
Holyfield looked a long way off from challenging Tyson Saturday night. Although he improved to 19-0 with his seventh straight knockout, his punches were without the impact he had as a cruiserweight. Tillis never went down, although he was rocked repeatedly in the fifth round.
Dr. Edward Dehne stopped the bout with Tillis on his stool after the fifth. For four rounds, though, Tillis took Holyfield's best punches without wavering.
'Tillis has proven his whole career he can take a punch,' Holyfield said. 'I didn't expect him to fall down just because I hit him on the chin.
'But I felt I would have knocked him down eventually.'
Two of the judges gave Holyfield all five rounds, and the other had him ahead 4-1 in rounds.
Tillis, who lost a close decision to Tyson in May 1986, gave Holyfield a high rating.
'He's a little faster than Tyson,' Tillis said. 'If he can move like he moved tonight, he'll give the gorilla trouble.'
Tillis, 38-14-1, said he would retire from boxing. He has fought six world champions but is 8-8-1 over the past four years and has been reduced to a trial horse for young fighters like Holyfield.
But his manager, Beau Williford, said Tillis was as good Saturday night as when he nearly beat Tyson.
'It's the same James Tillis, he hasn't changed his name,' Williford said.
Tillis, a 29-year-old from Tulsa, Okla., turned pro in 1978 and lost his only title bout on a 15-round decision to Mike Weaver in 1981.
Holfyield, a 25-year-old from Atlanta, was a 1984 Olympic bronze medalist.