Another sad verse about to be added to the blues ballad of Riddick Bowe

Boxing plumbs fresh depths as damaged 54-year-old former champion takes to the ring again

13 Nov 1992: Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield trade blows during a bout in Las Vegas, Nevada.

13 Nov 1992: Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield trade blows during a bout in Las Vegas, Nevada.

 

Many, varied and troubling are the verses that make up the blues ballad of Riddick Bowe.

The boy who grew up, the 12th of 13 children, in a Brooklyn housing project known as Gunsmoke City, where stepping over freshly murdered corpses was simply part of the morning ritual.

The undisputed heavyweight champion who slept with a refrigerator by his bed for ease of snacking and ballooned up to 21 stone. The manic multi-millionaire who once bought 26 new cars, then sold 15 of them at a loss before immediately buying 18 more and ending up, inevitably, spectacularly bankrupt.

The husband who, armed with pepper spray, handcuffs and tape, stabbed his estranged wife, then kidnapped her and their children in order to convince her to move back home with him to try to save the marriage.

The patriot who, after retiring from boxing, enlisted in the US Marines to serve his country only to quit 11 days into basic training at Parris Island because he didn’t like being told when to eat and where to sleep. The seriously diminished version of his old self who has been tell-tale slurring his words ever since shipping 408 punches from Andrew Golota one December night in Atlantic City.

Twenty-five years after that bruising fight (Golota was disqualified for repeatedly punching low), Bowe is scheduled to take on Lamar Odom, former NBA star turned bit-part player in Kardashian Inc. on October 2nd, headlining boxing’s latest atrocity exhibition.

Fresh off Evander Holyfield almost getting badly hurt by Vitor Belfort, this 54-year-old has somehow been passed fit to fight despite being diagnosed with brain damage over two decades ago.

Each time you think this sport reaches rock bottom, some charlatan dreams up a promotion that plumbs fresh depths. The contest will be refereed by a YouTuber/cryptocurrency speculator called Bitcoin Rodney. Only fitting.

“He was 6-5; he could box; he could fight inside; he could do anything,” said Eddie Futch, one-time trainer of Joe Frazier who took over Bowe’s corner at 78 because he saw the potential. “He could have been one of the all-time greats.”

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda.

He was 25, boasting a 32-0 flawless professional docket the night he dethroned Evander Holyfield to take the WBC, WBA and IBF versions of the heavyweight crown. The 10th round of the contest had been one for the ages and HBO immediately signed him to a six-fight deal worth a potential $100 million.

The 90s might have belonged to him except that, by the time of the rematch, he’d thrown the WBC belt in a trash can and put on a stone in weight. After losing that fight on a night remembered for the aerial invasion by parachute man, Bowe won their third bout and wrested back the title in 1995. The talent was always there even if the application was too often lacking.

Erratic behaviour

There followed two notorious clashes with Golota (one of which ended in a near riot) and a noticeable deterioration in Bowe’s speech and an increase in his erratic behaviour.

During his trial for kidnapping, an episode that ended when he stopped at McDonald’s and his wife desperately called her sister from the ladies’ bathroom, his lawyer was Johnnie Cochran of OJ Simpson fame. He brought in a forensic psychiatrist to testify Bowe had undergone a personality change due to frontal lobe brain damage sustained in the ring. He ended up serving 18 months.

“I never even heard of no frontal lobe before,” he said, making light of the diagnosis before an ill-fated post-prison comeback in 2004. That his license for the bout in a makeshift outdoor ring out on the Oklahoma Plains was issued by the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Boxing Commission indicated how most in the sport wanted no part of him risking his health.

Yet, all these years later, there’s footage doing the rounds of him training for Odom, the slow-motion shadow-boxing of a palsied man somehow about to get paid to unfurl punches. One more time.

Bowe’s last so-called competitive outing is also online. That was a 2013 Muay Thai tournament at a fairground in Pattaya, Thailand where the combatants didn’t even have dressingrooms. As off-Broadway as it is possible to venture.

Attempting to reinvent himself as an immobile kickboxer at the age of 45, he endured one and a half mortifying rounds against Levgen Golovin, a fit Russian 15 years his junior.

Aside from the fact it took place in a ring and they both wore gloves, the whole farrago had the vibe of a mouthy, ould lad, his fat belly jiggling, taking a kicking outside a pub, not offering a single meaningful punch in riposte, and suddenly regretting his beery bravado.

That depressing episode reeked of a character in search of a purpose and some fast cash. Like so much else in his post-boxing life. A Harlem chicken restaurant that bore his name never took off. A flirtation with long-distance truck driving seemed to garner more media coverage than actual work. His stint as an exercise instructor was always unlikely to endure.

In the meantime, he’s done the rounds of the memorabilia circuit, hawking autographed photos and scribbling his name on gloves for those who remember him in his pomp and all he was supposed to be.

A vibrant memory far removed from what will be on show in Miami next week where the blues ballad of Riddick Bowe adds another verse. Familiar. Haunting. Mournful.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.