This column, by contributing writer Dave Kindred, first appeared in the Nov. 23, 1992, issue of The Sporting News under the headline, “Playing the fight game”.
Even those of us who admire Evander Holyfield as a fighter and person admit that his class, courage and craftsmanship do not add up to charisma. Those traits, admirable as they are, left him invisible. When Riddick Bowe laughed out loud the other night, the championship belts hanging off his shoulders, he shouted, “I AM THE MAN!” and created more excitement in two seconds than Holyfield did in two years.
The excitement begins with the idea that Bowe’s good work against Holyfield means we’ll see George Foreman again.
The public would never have bought another Holyfield-Foreman, but Bowe-Foreman is attractive on many levels, not the least being that this collision of big men would set seismographs to trembling all around the globe. We’re talking serious whales here, maybe 500 pounds, depending on Foreman’s latest inhalation of double cheeseburgers
The real fight people who see the game as the sweet science may want to see Bowe against the No. 1 challenger, the polite and virtuous Lennox Lewis, whose second-round knockout of Razor Ruddock is evidence he is ready. But the real fight people may have to wait until the real people get what they want, which is what real people always want: the best entertainment.
Right now boxing’s best show is Foreman, the very old and very large gentleman most often seen shoving junk food into his face and knocking out pacifistic kids. When Bowe was 7 years old, Foreman lost the heavyweight championship to Muhammad Ali. Bowe is 25 and now, incredibly, Foreman is ready to take his championship back.
The world’s boxing associations have threatened to strip Bowe of the championship if he doesn’t fight Lewis next. These are meaningless threats because the boxing associations need the champion more than he needs them. If Bowe decides, as Holyfield did, that he can make a ton of money fighting Foreman ahead of the No. 1 challenger, he will do that and who can blame him? That way he gets the $20 million from a Foreman fight, keeps the title and goes for another $20 million against Lewis.
If he should lose to Foreman, it would be no big deal because there would be a rematch. So as a business decision, a Bowe-Foreman fight makes great good sense. Look for it next because Bowe brings to that dance a presence that Holyfield always lacked.
Bowe comes from the mean streets of Brooklyn, the same dark and evil places from which Mike Tyson waged childhood war against the world. The difference is Bowe somehow escaped the shadows of harm and became a whole person full of light. Tyson’s only smiles were smiles done tentatively, the man wary of pleasure, while for Bowe a smile is his signature. Happily, the new heavyweight champion is a man we can like.
Yes, now the genial bulk of Riddick Bowe fills the heavyweight’s throne that, for some people, has sat empty since the jailer’s door clanged shut behind Tyson. Those people seem to have forgotten that Tyson was knocked apart at the seams by someone named Buster Douglas. Indeed, by the time Tyson testified under oath about the efficacy of his courtship techniques, he had all but forgotten how to fight men.
With Tyson in jail, Holyfield gave the heavyweight championship a measure of dignity and excellence it hadn’t seen since the best days of Larry Holmes. The man could fight, and the man would fight for days if need be. In the end, Holyfield’s willingness to take as well as he could give was his undoing. Bowe’s victory in a fight of identical styles was one more proof of the truth that the good big man always will beat the good little man.
The unanswered question is why Holyfield chose to fight Bowe’s style. The champion fought a one-dimensional fight. He never used lateral movement to frustrate the plodding Bowe. He never took advantage of his greater hand speed. Maybe Bowe’s constant pressure left Holyfield unable to make the midfight corrections necessary. Whatever happened, Holyfield did just what Bowe hoped for. He stood in front of him and slugged it out.
Choosing to fight inside with Bowe — fighting from outside, without any lateral movement, was even more dangerous — Holyfield put his lean 205 pounds against Bowe’s thick 235 pounds. Even Hoiyfield’s best shots, the hooks thrown at full velocity, were of little effect. He seemed to be a child slamming his balled-up fists against an oak tree. So strong was Bowe that by the 11th round his jab was enough to buckle Holyfield’s knees.
For the first time in his two years as the champion, Holyfield was in with a young, strong, big man eager to win. Bowe had something to prove. Foreman and Holmes had been there for memories and money. For four years now, Bowe has been sensational as a pro but unable to persuade anyone that he hadn’t just quit in the second round against Lewis in the gold medal fight at the 1988 Olympics.
Whatever stain that Olympic performance left on Bowe has been removed now, because the new champion put a high polish on himself with his performance against Holyfield. Not only did he do the astonishing work of throwing 236 more punches than Holyfield, but Bowe also proved his heart was in the work. In 12 rounds of ferocious combat, Bowe never took a step backward. He was Holyfield’s match in courage, and that’s a high compliment.
Holyfield’s talk of retirement should be discounted because all wealthy fighters speak longingly of retirement after a defeat. Fighting is what Holyfield has done for 20 years, and he still has the tools to make millions of dollars at the work that has defined him. Among heavyweights he is, even if uncharismatic, a marketable commodity. Once a champion, he is in shape and out of jail
So when Riddick Bowe finishes up with George Foreman and Lennox Lewis, who’s left to fight? Evander Holyfield.