Riddick Bowe was born on August 10, 1967 in Brooklyn. One of 13 children and growing up in Brownsville, Bowe had a similar background to Mike Tyson. Both men gravitated towards boxing, but whereas Tyson was an unstable thug who had to be minded into behaving, Bowe was a gentle giant. Gentle everywhere except inside the ring, that is.
Bowe had a good background as an amateur boxer. He won 4 New York Golden Gloves, a Silver Medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics (on the same team as Roy Jones, Jr. and Ray Mercer), and racked up a record of 104-18.
Bowe should have been a serious prospect as a heavyweight prizefighter, but it was the loss in the final round of the 1988 Olympics that cast a shadow over him. He was stopped in 2 Rounds by Lennox Lewis of Canada, and observers thought they saw Bowe trying to crawl out of the ring. Many questioned Bowe’s courage after that, but the famous Eddie Futch (trainer of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton) took Bowe under his wing. He turned pro against an 0-1 Lionel Butler in March 1989. That marked a bizarre pattern on Bowe’s rise to contention: many of his early names were young fighters, like Bowe, and who would later build names as fringe contenders or trialhorses. Butler would later fight with two other future champions; there were also two fights with Garing Lane, who would years later box with numerous contenders and ex-champs.
Much like Mike Tyson in his early days, Bowe was kept very busy. He was rarely allowed out of the gym, and fought 13 times in 1989, sometimes boxing 3 bouts in a single month. By September 1990, he had only been a pro a year and a half, but was already 18-0 and ready to fight his first faded former champion, Pinklon Thomas. He forced Thomas’s corner to quit in 8 Rounds.
“Big Daddy” was big indeed, the first of the generation of “Super Heavyweights.” In the past there had been huge men, but they had limited talent. Bowe had both. Standing 6’5″ tall with an 81″ reach, a well-conditioned Bowe weighed 235lbs. However, despite his great size, he moved well. Despite having to haul around all that weight, he had good stamina. Bowe could box, had a good jab, packed major wallop, and had a truly awesome right uppercut waiting for anyone who dared try and infight with him.
Coming On: 1991 and 1992
For the next two years, Riddick Bowe carved a path of destruction through the heavyweight ranks. He knocked out big-punching journeyman “Smokin” Bert Cooper in 2 Rounds; stopped Tyrell Biggs in 8; outpointed former champ Tony Tubbs; trashed future belt-holder Bruce Seldon in 1 Round; and cut and stopped the rugged journeyman Everett “Bigfoot” Martin in 5.
It was during this period that an early revelation about Bowe and his camp came. During a bout with Elijah Tillery, Tillery taunted Bowe between rounds. Bowe punched Tillery; Tillery kicked Bowe; Bowe’s diminutive manager Rock Newman got up on the ring ropes and tried to pull Tillery over them and out of the ring. It was an ugly scene, and certainly not the last to characterize Bowe’s career.
Likely Page Break
The stage was set for Bowe’s challenge for the Undisputed World Heavyweight Title against Evander Holyfield. It was the 4th title defense for the 28-0 Holyfield, but the first against a real contender in his prime. Bowe, 31-0, stood 3″ taller and 30 pounds heavier than “The Real Deal.” Bowe was stung by criticism that he had no heart; Holyfield that he was neither a real heavyweight or a real champion. Holyfield started the 1st Round by boxing, but the emotion and drama and his own warrior spirit led him to get sucked into a brawl with the bigger, stronger man. Holyfield surged in the 5th with a series of sharp left hooks to the body, but Bowe re-established himself, and Holyfield’s eyes were puffing up by the 7th. In the 10th, Bowe hurt Holyfield with a hard left hook, and following up with a volley of bombs drove him onto the ropes. Moments later, Holyfield revived and started unleashing his own torrent of bombs, backing Bowe up. It was a short-lived rally: Bowe dropped Holyfield in the 11th. Holyfield got up and survived the fight, but lost a Unanimous Decision. Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe was the Undefeated, Undisputed Heavyweight Champion.
Getting Off on the Wrong Foot
Only a couple of weeks before Bowe vs. Holyfield I, Bowe’s old rival Lennox Lewis had knocked out the highly regarded Donovan “Razor” Rudduck, who had given Mike Tyson such a hard time in his last fights before being convicted of rape. Lewis was now the #1 contender for the WBC title . Bowe, rather than fight Lewis, held a press conference and dumped his green WBC belt in a trashcan, keeping the WBA and IBF belts. His critics had been silenced by his brutal war with Holyfield; now they had plenty to talk about all over again.
To make matters worse, manager Rock Newman decided he wanted his man to be the new Muhammad Ali, so Bowe went on a goodwill tour around the world. Newman and Bowe forgot Ali became a legend for fighting just every major heavyweight of his day at least once, and beating them. Instead of doing that, Bowe trashed a faded Michael Dokes in 1 Round. His next bout was supposed to be against fellow 1988 US Olympian Ray Mercer, but Mercer blew a fight with journeman Jesse Fergusson; Bowe fought Fergusson and destroyed him in 2 Rounds.
By November 1993, it was time for a lucrative rematch with Evander Holyfield. However, no longer so busy in the ring, Bowe had gotten lazy and ballooned up to 286lbs. He lost 40 pounds in training camp, but was nowhere near the peak condition that he had been for his first match with Holyfield, who was a dedicated gym rat. For his part, Holyfield had picked up 10 pounds of good, dense, working muscle. This bout was mostly remembered for the bizarre “Fan Man” stunt, when a parachutist dropped into the ring, only to be mauled by Bowe’s entourage. Holyfield beat Bowe by a close Majority Decision, winning back the WBA-IBF titles.
Bowe’s problem was one similar to Mike Tyson, or some of the heavyweights of the Lost Generation: once he made the big time, he couldn’t keep his focus. In Bowe’s case, it wasn’t drugs or women, but being a cheeseburger-munching couch potato. In August 1994, he fought Buster Mathis, Jr. Mathis was the son of a flabby 1970s era fringe contender, and sometimes something of a chunky fellow himself, but in 1994 he was a 14-0 prospect. Bowe struggled with him, but after knocking him down in the 4th, hit him while he was on his knees. Bowe was lucky to escape with a No Contest for such a flagrant and dirty foul. The only reason he did is because the fight was in New Jeresey, and manager Rock Newman was on good terms with NJ State Athletic Commissioner Larry Hazzard. In December, Bowe clocked undefeated Larry Donald at the press conference, and then outpointed the intimidated 1992 Olympian.
1995 was much better. Bowe met undefeated WBO champion Herbie Hide of Britain, who used speed and skill to outbox Bowe for 2 Rounds. Bowe then caught up with Hide, and knocked him down 7 times en route to a 6th Round knockout. He then crushed an Jorge Luis Gonzalez, an undefeated defector from Cuba who had been another amateur rival of Bowe’s. Bowe had now beaten 4 undefeated prospects in a row, which should have been enough to guarantee him a shot at a world title. However, with Mike Tyson coming back from prison, real contenders like Riddick Bowe found themselves frozen out of the 3 big world titles (WBC, WBA, IBF).
Likely Page Break
No one else wanted to fight Riddick Bowe except for one man: Evander Holyfield. The two met for a third time in November 1995, with Bowe vacating the WBO title to do so. Both men were somewhat below par. Bowe was never in top condition anymore, although he did put in a good training camp for Holyfield, who was suffering from Hepatitis A. Holyfield gave Bowe a hard time, who responded by going low and losing a point. In the 6th, Holyfield floored Bowe with a short, solid left hook. It was the first time Bowe had ever gone down. Holyfield tried to finish his man, but failed, and spent his remaining energy doing so. Bowe came back and stopped Holyfield in the 8th.
1996 was a bad year for Riddick Bowe. First, Hall of Fame trainer Eddie Futch passed away. Then in July, Bowe met an undefeated-but-unheralded Polish heavyweight fighting out of Chicago by the name of Andrew Golota. Golota was supposed to be a mere impressive-looking tune-up, in the same vein as Hide or Donald, while Bowe angled for a big money fight with the comebacking Mike Tyson. Bowe came into the ring at a career high of 252lbs, and would pay badly for his complacency. Golota was a 6’4″, 240lbs man with power, and a thudding double jab to set it up. He took Bowe to school, who had to result to fouling Golota to break up his momentum. Golota, however, was also a dirty fighter, and he retaliated with obvious low blows. The referee deducted points, and finally Disqualified Golota. A riot immediately broke out as Bowe’s entourage charged the ring and attacked Golota and his people in their corner. It was a thoroughly disgraceful affair.
The “win” left a cloud over Bowe, which he sought to erase in a rematch 5 months later. Bowe went down in the 2nd. Golota head-butted him and cut
below the eye. Golota went down in the 4th, but got up and put Bowe down again in the 5th. Ahead on points, but eventually losing his patience, the Foul Pole unleashed a flagrant 3 punch combo at Bowe’s groin, resulting in his own Disqualification.
After the Golota fights, Bowe retired from boxing and joined the US Marine Corps. However, Bowe was not very well-accustomed to taking orders, and quit after 11 days.
Bowe’s 1997 went from bad to worse, and it was all his own doing. First he beat up his sister, then his wife, and then he finally kidnapped his wife and children. He was sent to prison for 17 months. After 7 1/2 years away from boxing, Riddick Bowe began a comeback, but at age 41 he shows little promise.
Riddick Bowe’s record stands at 43-1 (33KOs). He fought a classic heavyweight trilogy with Evander Holyfield, and owns 2 victories over him. Also, his string of victories over Mathis, Hide, and Donald are actually more impressive than is often thought. He stands as a two-time heavyweight champion. Unlike Gonzalez, who was a protected fighter, these three would go on to enjoy long careers as fringe contenders. At the time, no one knew that they would turn out the way that they did: on paper, Hide and Donald in particular looked to be dangerous opponents. Against this, it must be said that Bowe shamefully ducked Lennox Lewis, did not seek out Ray Mercer, and managed to bring his career to an early end through sheer laziness and overeating.
boxrec.com; personal experience; live fight footage; ESPN Classic Sports