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After 8-Year Layoff, Former Champ Bowe Starts From Rock Bottom

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page E01

SHAWNEE, Okla., Sept. 25 -- "This ain't much of an apartment, is it?" Riddick Bowe said, surveying the one-bedroom tenement in the back of a complex labeled, "Health Services and Elders."

A few blocks away, workers were putting 2-by-12s in place, constructing a boxing ring on the Citizen of Potawatomi Nation's sacred Powwow grounds, so that a man some say should not be fighting could begin his comeback at age 37.

Former undisputed heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe fought last night on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. "This is what I was born to do," he said. (Sue Ogrocki For The Washington Post)

His former manager does not want to see him hurt. Others point to medical evidence of brain damage. His new manager said that was just a ruse to get Bowe a reduced sentence at his trial for abducting his wife and children six years ago. Same with Terri Bowe, his second wife and, as of Thursday, his new promoter.

"I just got to turn this paperwork into the commission and it's all set," she said.

It was late Thursday night, and the former heavyweight champion of the world was readying for his first fight in eight years. His opponent Saturday was Marcus Rhode, a man who had been knocked out in three of his past four fights. Bowe scored four knockdowns before stopping Rhode (29-26-1) at 2 minutes 45 seconds of the second round. Bowe (41-1) came into the ring at an announced 253; his opponent weighed in at 273, but Bowe looked the heavier of the two.

The fight took place before a crowd of about 2,500, who huddled in a dry outdoor field a few hundred yards from a single-story casino with video slots and a bingo hall. The bingo hall is where a small marquee spelled out Bowe's name in black, stenciled letters -- like a grade school advertises a weekend carnival.

Thursday night, on the eve of the weigh-in, Terri poked through a small box of Kentucky Fried Chicken and tried to clear the dwelling of a fishy smell from a two-day old filet. A non-descript heavyweight fight was about to start on television. The cream-and-crimson satin robe and matching oversized Everlast trunks Bowe would wear for his fight rested on the back of the couch.

"You think I'm brain damaged?" Bowe asked. "Am I slurring? Do me a favor. Tell them I'm fine. Tell them don't worry about Dorothy Bowe's boy. Worry about who he's fighting."

The Next Ali

Big Daddy, they called him. The next Muhammad Ali, "that's who they thought I'd be," Bowe said. In his prime, he was glib and he could glide, deftly using both hands to incapacitate men his size (6 feet 5) and larger. He knocked out 28 of his first 31 opponents. At age 25, he defeated Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight title.

Bowe won on points in that memorable 1992 fight, which featured a furious 10th round in which both fighters traded haymakers for the full three minutes. Most ring observers, many of whom witnessed the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier trilogy, rank that round as the greatest in heavyweight history. It is at once the most compelling argument for the sport -- two unbowed fighters, refusing to go down -- and concrete evidence for those who wish to abolish it. Bowe and Holyfield, in the first of their three fights, absorbed many damaging blows to the head.

Bowe would get hit more the next four years, and he retired after his second fight with bruising Polish heavyweight Andrew Golota in 1996. Golota was disqualified twice for low blows in their fights, but it was Bowe, weighing a career-high 252 pounds, who suffered almost 300 power punches to the head in the rematch. He won all but one of his 42 fights (one was ruled a no-contest), but he could no longer react in time to an incoming barrage.

Two months after the second Golota fight, he joined the Marine Corps, lasting only 11 days in boot camp before he quit. His marriage fell apart several months later. His former wife, Judy, took the children to North Carolina. And one sad, desperate day, Bowe hatched a plan to get them back. He coaxed Judy and their five children into a truck out in front of their home in February 1998 and eventually pled guilty to interstate domestic violence and, after a lengthy appeals process, served 15 months at the Cumberland (Md.) Federal Correctional Institute, where he was released from last April.

And now he is here, a few hundred yards from a bingo hall, on an Indian reservation in the middle of the Oklahoma plains, starting over.

"I heard they were beginning to construct a few bleachers, like a junior high school out in a dusty field, behind a bingo hall," said Rock Newman, Bowe's former manager and confidant, in a telephone interview last week. "Juxtapose that with eating dinner with Nelson Mandela in South Africa or having an audience with the Pope at the Vatican in 1993. He was grand marshal of the Macy's Day Parade, a regular on 'The Tonight Show.' Now, Bowe is fighting in a desolate, barren field somewhere? When I heard that, I could not have been more sad."

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