|10-12-2009, 09:03 PM||#1|
Slicker than your average
Can Riddick Bowe Answer the Bell?
Can Riddick Bowe Answer the Bell?
iddick (Big Daddy) Bowe is pacing, as if he's warming up before a title fight. A few purposeful steps to the left, then an abrupt turn as if he has reached the ropes. He is not, however, in a 20-foot ring at Caesars Palace. Nor is his left hand sheathed in a 10-ounce glove, ready to inflict damage. No, the left hand of the former heavyweight champion of the world is wrapped in a red sweat rag. It's sweltering inside his 12-car garage, and Bowe, now weighing nearly 300 pounds, daubs perspiration from his brow and stares thoughtfully at his machines: two Mercedeses, a Rolls-Royce Seraph, a BMW 750, a Harley, a Bentley, a vintage 1970 Caddy, a customized Ford Suburban and, Bowe's first car, a 1990 Jeep Cherokee. After a minute, Bowe's small brown eyes widen. He turns to me and flashes the clownish grin -- now made even more impish by the addition of braces -- that delighted and confounded boxing fans just a few years ago.
"How about if I trade in the Rolls and the BMW?" he asks. His speech is raspy and slurred, eerily reminiscent of a 40-ish Muhammad Ali, just at the onset of his Parkinson's. "I never drive the BMW. That's smart, right?"
I shrug, trying to convey neutrality. Bowe tosses me the key to the BMW. "Let's roll."
Bowe rounds up his fiancee, Terri Blakney, and 5-year-old daughter, Diamond, the youngest of his five children, all by his former wife, Judy. They pile into the Seraph, and we're off to the dealership, where a new Rolls Corniche convertible, retailing at $363,000, awaits him.
Stephen Rodrick is a contributing editor for George magazine.
Bowe, it turns out, bought that same Rolls two days before when the dealer slyly told him that Rock Newman, Bowe's now estranged manager, coveted it. But the next day, Bowe, believing that he'd been played, returned the car, vowing never to do business again with the dealer. Now he has changed his mind again. "It's a birthday present," reasons Bowe, who would turn 33 later in the week.
Such behavior might simply be chalked up to the fickleness of the idle rich had Riddick Lamont Bowe not recently been declared brain-damaged in federal court. After Bowe pleaded guilty to abducting his estranged wife
and their children from her North Carolina home in 1998, he could have been put away for more than two years. But based on the testimony of two doctors, last spring a federal judge sentenced Bowe to just 30 days in prison, as well as six months of house arrest.
House arrest doesn't seem to preclude field trips to the Rolls dealer, though. Or, much to my dismay, reaching speeds of up to 105 miles an hour on Washington's Beltway. Bowe, in his Rolls, bobs and weaves through heavy traffic. Not knowing the location of the dealership, I try to keep up in the BMW, passing cars in the breakdown lane. Motorists swerve out of our path. Some recognize the former champ and wave.
After half an hour, we arrive at EuroMotorcars in Bethesda. Matthew Smith, a slight blond man in glasses and tie, greets Bowe warmly. He expertly removes the tags from the cars Bowe is trading in and ushers him inside to fill out paperwork. Smith gives Bowe $175,000 for the Seraph and $70,000 for the BMW; more than $100,000 less than Bowe paid for the two cars a few months earlier. Things go smoothly until the phone rings. It's the used-car lot across the street. There's damage to the BMW from where Bowe's nephew hit a mailbox. Although it has been repaired, Smith now wants to give Bowe only $66,000.
"No way, bro -- you give me 70 or put the tags back on the cars and we're out of here," Bowe says. He folds his arms across his chest and stares down his opponent. Smith caves. He'll give Big Daddy 70 for the Beemer.
Bowe struts out into the sunlight, and with his massive hands, he stretches open his eyelids so I can see his pupils. "Now who they saying brain-damaged?" he whispers triumphantly.
The roll of recent heavyweight champs and contenders could be mistaken for a most-wanted list -- Mike Tyson, Michael Dokes, Trevor Berbick, to name a few. Riddick Bowe was supposed to be different: too smart, too talented, too endearing to fall like the others. But Bowe, who is younger than the current champ, Lennox Lewis, hasn't fought competitively for years and probably never will again. His days are passed inside a two-story suburban house, with a small pond out back that holds Japanese fighting fish named Tyson, Evander and Lennox. The shrubbery spells out "Big Daddy," and there's an enormous rec house complete with video arcade and a regulation-size boxing ring. The walls are a shrine with framed relics from the glory days; championship belts, his 1988 Olympic silver medal and 1997 New York tabloid clippings extolling him for retiring with his brains intact.
Bowe proudly gives me the grand tour, then invites me back the next day with just one request. "Bring videos," he implores. "That's how I pass the time. Comedies, dramas; I watch anything. But don't bring scary. I don't like scary."
Bowe's home holds plenty of places to watch them. There are big screens in the basement, living room and master suite. Next to one of his VCR's, I find some of his old fight tapes. I ask him if we might watch his final bout, against Andrew Golota. Bowe firmly shakes his head: "We don't watch that one. Ever."
Why would he? Who wants to relive the moment his life enters a long, irrevocable spiral?
Like Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe survived the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn. Unlike Tyson, he was never a thug. He was the 12th of 13 children, and early profiles made much of the fact that Bowe would walk his mom, Dorothy, to and from her night-shift factory job. As a teenager, he racked up three straight Golden Gloves championships, then scored a silver in the 1988 Olympics. In 1992, Bowe fought Evander Holyfield in an epic title bout that included one of the single best heavyweight rounds ever (the 10th). Bowe won on a unanimous decision.
"He was 6-5; he could box; he could fight inside; he could do anything," recalls his veteran handler Eddie Futch. "He could have been one of the all-time greats."
Bowe also possessed a charisma not seen in the heavyweight ranks since Ali. Sitting on his stool right before his 10th-round war with Holyfield, Bowe flashed a wide-eyed goofball smile for the camera. "People just identified with him," says Seth Abraham, who as president of Time Warner Sports signed Bowe to a $100 million contract with HBO. "He was huggable and appealed to nonboxing fans like an Ali or a Ray Leonard."
Bowe, third from right, his children and his new wife, Terri, fourth from left. Photograph by Erin Patrice O'Brien for The New York Times.
After the Holyfield conquest, the new champ took a trip around the world, meeting with Nelson Mandela and Pope John Paul II and visiting starving children in Somalia. His manager, Rock Newman, wanted to turn Bowe into a global celebrity like Ali, but it was the beginning of the end. Never fond of training, Bowe had a hard time getting back into shape after the trip. He kept a refrigerator in his bedroom, and his weight swelled to near 300 pounds. For his 1993 rematch with Holyfield, Bowe showed up grotesquely out of shape and lost a close decision
|10-12-2009, 09:04 PM||#2|
Slicker than your average
Then he began acting strange. At the weigh-in for a 1994 fight with Larry Donald, he punched his opponent in the face for no apparent reason. After an impressive knockout of Holyfield in their 1995 rubber match, he emerged bloated for a July 1996 Madison Square Garden battle with Andrew Golota, a product of Warsaw's mean streets, escaping with a victory only when Golota was disqualified for repeated low blows. After the fight, Bowe's crew incited a riot by attacking Golota. Futch quit, declaring Bowe a lost cause.
In the fight's aftermath, Bowe's continued to behave unpredictably. "He began selling off all his boxing possessions," recalls his former wife, Judy. "Boots, trunks, belts, everything. Things he had promised his kids. People were just marching in and out of the house leaving with all of Bowe's stuff. I think he was in trouble then, but I and everybody else were in denial."
Bowe became obsessed with joining the Marine Corps, and when he entered the ring for a December rematch with Golota, his trunks had sergeant stripes on them. The fight was disastrous, nine rounds of butchery. Golota gruesomely snapped Bowe's head back and forth, but the ex-champion wouldn't quit. At ringside, HBO's Jim Lampley raved about "a courageous performance by Bowe, who seems not to have any of his faculties." Incredibly, at the end of the ninth round, Golota was disqualified again for low blows. It didn't matter; he had already hit Bowe 408 times, an amount of punishment unheard of at the heavyweight level.
In a postfight interview with HBO, Bowe's speech was nearly incomprehensible. Two months later, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve. He lasted 11 days. Shortly after, Bowe announced his retirement from the ring. He was 29.
Bowe sits on the floor in the family room as Terri combs out the kinks in his hair. In the VCR is a highlight tape of Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton and Holmes. When vintage Ali pops on the screen, Bowe's face lights up. As the Greatest taunts Frazier, Bowe perfectly mouths the words: "Joe gonna come out smoking, and I ain't going be joking, I'll be picking and poking. Pouring water on his smoking. I might shock and amaze you, I'll destroy Joe Frazier."
The phone rings. Bowe answers: "World's finest, Big Daddy, here. Be brief." He listens a few minutes, grunts, then hangs up. "Guy wants to invest my money," he says. "All day I get these calls." One of the few fighters who seems financially set for life, Bowe doesn't understand the less frugal in his profession. "You make $1million, you tell me you can't live on the 6 percent -- $60,000?" Bowe says. "I once had this brother ask me why I was training so hard. He said, 'You just gonna be back in the ghetto with us.' I'm so afraid of losing my money and seeing him back in the ghetto. It ain't gonna happen."
'You realize you're taking a chance,' Bowe says. 'You may not come out as you went in. You may slur. You may not remember things. That's part of the risk.'
He turns his attention back to the screen, where the former champions are chatting around a table. Except for Foreman, they're all hard to understand. "It's funny: listen to those guys, they're all punchy," Bowe observes. "And they did it to each other, punching each other. Ain't it something?"
For someone with a diagnosis of brain damage, Bowe has a lucid grasp on the realities of his former profession. "You realize you're taking a chance," Bowe says. "You may not come out as you went in. You may slur. You may not remember things. That's part of the risk."
His evaluation of his own career is also dead-on. "Once I won the title and took care of my family, I didn't care as much," says Bowe, who bought homes for nearly all of his siblings. "That's why I respect Ali and Holmes so much: they did it for a long time."
He then asks a question. "I don't talk that bad, do I?" I tell him his voice is thicker and raspier than when he was champ. Bowe pauses. "But that could be caused by a lot of things, right?"
It is only when the conversation turns away from prizefighting that Bowe gets fuzzy. Later in the afternoon, after we watched "Rio Bravo," Bowe suddenly stood up. "Let me ask you a question. How would I go about getting into Spelman College?" I tell him he'd probably have to go to a community college first. "What about the Naval Academy?" I tell him he's too old. He laughs: "Is that right? You don't think they would make an exception for Bowe?"
At Riddick Bowe's sentencing hearing, Dr. Richard Restak, a clinical professor of neurology at George Washington University, was asked to describe the havoc boxing had wreaked on his brain. "You have what we call cerebral reserve where it's almost like any other kind of reserve, financial reserve or whatever," testified Restak. "You write a certain check, all the money is gone. Same thing here. You take a certain number of punches, particularly if they're in close proximity, then you can have a dramatic falloff in a person's ability to cope."
Bowe's coping skills were at issue because of his attempt, in February 1998, to reunite with his family. He and Judy had dated since the age of 14, and while their relationship was always turbulent, it disintegrated when Bowe's boxing career did. Judy finally left after Riddick knocked her unconscious in April 1997. "That was the first time he had ever knocked me out," recalls Judy Bowe. "I remember my youngest boy, Julius, telling the other kids when they came home that 'Daddy killed Mommy.' They had stopped noticing and stopped crying. They were getting used to it way too much."
Judy moved herself and the kids to Cornelius, N.C., outside Charlotte. Bowe tried everything to win Judy back. He hung a huge portrait of her minister in his house and sent her a Mercedes truck. When nothing worked, he and his brother Aaron Wright drove to Cornelius on Feb. 25, 1998, prowling the streets until 6:50 a.m., when Bowe spotted his three oldest children at the bus stop. He ushered them into the Lincoln Navigator and headed to their mom's home. There, Bowe ordered Judy, still in her pajamas, and the couple's two smallest children into the car. On the drive north, Bowe opened a bag filled with duct tape, a buck knife and pepper spray and announced, "I came prepared."
In South Hill, Va., Judy asked Riddick to stop at a McDonald's so that she could get food for their crying kids. In the bathroom, she used her cell phone to call a friend, who notified the police. Judy also called Rock Newman, who promised to check Bowe in for psychiatric testing if she would not have him arrested. The police soon pulled over the Navigator. Judy and the kids were transported home while a limo took Riddick to the hospital.
Federal authorities in North Carolina brought charges against Bowe (though not against his brother). In June 1998, Bowe pleaded guilty to interstate domestic violence and faced 18 to 24 months in prison. Before sentencing, Bowe's lawyers, including Johnnie Cochran, cobbled together a dream team of doctors. They determined that Bowe suffered from frontal lobe syndrome, a form of brain damage that impairs rational thought and impulse control. In court documents, Bowe's I.Q. was listed at 79, a score bordering on retardation. At the hearing, doctors testified that while Bowe did not have problems with simple everyday tasks, his ability to make wise choices was severely hampered.
Meanwhile, the former champ was plotting a comeback, skipping rope and hitting the heavy bag. Thell Torrence, Bowe's trainer for the second Golota fight, was flown in for an evaluation. "He looked real good," Torrence said.
Bowe's backers were Jeffrey Jackson, partner in a Washington securities firm that counts Bowe as an investor, and Cecile Barker, a Washington-area software entrepreneur. On Jan. 3, less than two months before his sentencing hearing, Barker sent a letter to HBO announcing, "Riddick Bowe has decided to end his retirement and return to the ring."
Judge Graham Mullen quashed those plans. While he reduced Bowe's sentence to 30 days, he also banned him from the ring for four years.
|10-12-2009, 09:04 PM||#3|
Slicker than your average
Bowe seems genuinely contrite about his crime. "I made a mistake," he claims. "I just wanted to be with my babies." About his brain damage, he insists, "That's something lawyers concocted."
Of a postprobation return to the ring, Bowe seems certain. "You know, I'll only be 36," he muses. "Four years fly by fast." He sluggishly shadowboxes in front of the television. "I mean, I've never done anything else. What else am I gonna do? Get a job?"
On a rainy Thursday, Bowe plays Mr. Mom. As part of his divorce settlement with Judy, Bowe gets his kids for the summer, holidays and one weekend a month. He joyfully bounces his daughter Diamond on his knee while supervising the older children's chores. When 14-year-old Riddick Jr. does a halfhearted job of mopping the kitchen floor, Bowe sternly asks, "Junior, why you play me like that?" before giving him a hug.
Riddick has decided to marry Terri, and later in the day, he asks me to come with them as they sign the prenuptial agreement. As we drive in his Ford Suburban, complete with a video screen for every seat, Bowe asks if I know anybody in the media who could cover the wedding. "I want everybody to know Big Daddy's doing O.K."
Bowe's wedding is just like the old days. Former members of the entourage whisper into cell phones. Range Rovers and Mercedeses clog his driveway. Adding to the drama, Judy Bowe, there to pick up the kids, is outside, leaning against a van. When Bowe emerges, resplendent in double-breasted black suit and matching alligator shoes, he puts Terri into a waiting limo and saunters over to Judy. For nearly half an hour, as everyone waits and watches, they chat and smile.
As the motorcade heads toward the courthouse, Judy calls me on my cell phone. "Bowe said he'd marry me again if I'd sign a prenup," claims Judy. "He told me he's just getting married because he's bored." (When I tell Bowe this later, he smiles and shakes his head: "Bro, I didn't say that. I was just trying to keep the peace.")
The proceedings are held in a basement before two dozen friends and family. When someone asks Bowe if he's nervous, he answers, "Nah, bro, this is my second rodeo." Everyone laughs.
The reception is at Morton's steakhouse in downtown Washington. After the sirloin and shrimp, Jeffrey Jackson, Bowe's would-be promoter, offers a Champagne toast. "Here's to the once and future heavyweight champion of the world." The room goes wild. Riddick Bowe stands up. "You guarantee me $10 million after taxes and you got it," he promises in a voice hard to understand. He throws a couple of lethargic jabs. "What else I got to do?"
|10-13-2009, 03:01 AM||#4|
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|10-13-2009, 05:01 AM||#5|
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Thanks Kid, interesting read..
Had it not been for his poor self discipline, Bowe would have been an ATG.. I thought he looked better than Lewis at pro level, but wasn't half as dedicated..
It was sad to see him in the ring again, which wasn't so long ago.. The only bell he should be answering these days, is the dinner bell...
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