Riddick Bowe's life since his boxing peak has been full of loss, the willingness to trust perhaps the most significant
Monday, July 5, 2010
The truest thing Riddick Bowe ever knew was that punch. Despite countless blows to the head, the boxer recalls its purity because his memory, he says, is as sharp as ever. He was just a teenager then, but he still hears its echoes.
"WHAP!" Bowe says, punching a fist into an open palm to punctuate his words. "Just like that. You hear that sound?"
He recalls seeing a guy on the ground, knocked out cold, his teeth jutting in all directions. "I tell you something -- about 30 years later, I've never been able to create that same shot," he says.
So much else in Bowe's strange saga, though, seems open to debate, the passage of time and the violence of his chosen profession not necessarily blurring memories so much as crystallizing the differences.
A former heavyweight champion who has made his home in Fort Washington for nearly two decades, Bowe isn't mentioned in discussions of the best fighters ever. Despite his immense talent -- his record stands at 43-1 with 33 knockouts -- Bowe's achievements are overshadowed by the sideshow he invited into the center ring.
Bowe, a man who made millions as a prize fighter, now seeks paychecks wherever he can find them. Seventeen years after losing his title, he is back amid the heavy bags, though he's not fighting and he's not exactly training future champions.
Instead, he leads exercise classes at LA Boxing gyms in the Washington suburbs for government workers who pop in for a workout after business hours, housewives who squeeze in some gym time while their kids are at baseball practice, young men and women who are trying to keep their bodies from aging.
To a recent class, he brought his world championship belts, his 1988 Olympic silver medal, even his high school diploma. He's proudest, he says, of these mementos from his past life.
Since then, however, life has not been as kind. Today, he says, he doesn't trust people.
He has a new wife but few friends. The fans, family and entourage who seemed so important a decade ago are all gone, he says.
"When the money go, they go. When the money left, whatever the case may be, all that stopped," he says. "Have a million friends. Once the money stop, the crowd goes away."
As a young fighter, Bowe was often favorably compared with Mike Tyson, the tough-to-the-core brawler who also hails from New York. In contrast, Bowe was personable, media-friendly and had a clean record. But after Bowe had reached the peak of his career, winning the belt in November 1992, in the first of three battles against Evander Holyfield, controversy became ever-present, in the ring and outside it.