INDIANAPOLIS -- Like his idol, Muhammad Ali, Riddick Bowe often leads with his mouth. Just Tuesday morning, he was doing a fast-forward on his career, stopping at an electric night several years hence with a fight against Mike Tyson "for my title."

"Lotta people tell him that," Bowe admitted, "but I mean it. What I say, I back up."

No doubt, the 20-year-old U. S. super heavyweight at the Pan American Games can sling it with anybody. You want lines, he gives you: "When I hit 'em, when they wake up their clothes will be out of style."

Perhaps you favor pugilistic poems. Bowe has 'em in all meters, long and short. The one that packs all his dreams into a single swaggering stanza goes: "I'm on a roll/it's gonna end in Seoul."

Now that Bowe has your attention, he points to what he insists will keep it. He closes his right hand into an impressive fist and looks at it admiringly.

"My small nuclear warhead," he says.

Bowe will be launching this blunt missile toward the body and head of the defending Pan Am champion, Jorge Gonzales of Cuba, in the semifinals Wednesday night.

So far in these 10th Games, the Cubans have developed an near impenetrable defense in their star wars with U.S. boxers. Going into Wednesday night's action, it's Cuba 3, U.S. 1 in head-to-head bouts, with Kelcie Banks the lone U.S. exception.

Nothing new here, Pan Am historians yawn. The Cubans have been cuffing our headgear sideways for quite some time now.

In the 1979 Pan Am Games in San Juan, Cuba left with five boxing gold medals, the United States with four. In Caracas four years later, it got more lopsided. In the nine classes from featherweight on up, the only non-Cuban winners were Americans Louis Howard and Pernell Whitaker.

Morose Monday was the most recent sting; the U.S. coach, Roosevelt Sanders, was still staggering from it Tuesday.

"We're set, okay," he insisted, directing his upbeat remarks to reporters and hoping they would be reinforced by the three U.S. tough guys on his left: Andrew Maynard, Michael Bent and Riddick Bowe, who long ago sent modesty scurrying from the ring.

Sanders went on: "We had a team meeting at breakfast . . . Our condition is still there . . . Have patience. Have faith. We'll be there."

But what of world middleweight champion Darin Allen being flattened by Cuban Angel Espinosa just 95 seconds into the first round Monday? What sort of lingering doubts might that leave?

"The greatest, Muhammad Ali, has been down," Sanders replied. "Joe Louis has been on the floor. We've got to remember that {and that they got up and eventually prevailed}."

In an act he evidently has worked some time on, Bowe sees little trouble in knocking the Cuban superheavy's crown off -- and soon grabbing it.

"An average boxer," Bowe said of Gonzales. "Too slow; not enough lateral movement. That should be a big factor . . . I'm going to hit him six times for every miss, fix it so he has nothing to hit but the canvas."

The 211-pound Bowe even has punches catalogued. He figures to stun Gonzales with the Ghetto Whopper, which is a simple left-right combination. And then?

"I'll use the Cherry Tree Special, which is a left jab, a left hook and sweeping right hand. And if that don't do it, I'll go with the Bo Go. That's what you use at 3 o'clock in the ghetto, only I used it about 5 o'clock.

"It's kind of like the Spinks Jinx."

Let's pretend. Let's say Gonzales snickers at the Ghetto Whopper. Let's say he inhales it and then reacts to the Cherry Tree Special as a sequoia would to a rubber mallet. Let's say the Bo Go doesn't.

Then what?

"If he's still standing," Bowe said, "I'll run."

He started toward the ring about seven years ago, shortly after a teacher showed him a tape of Ali. Amateur boxing kept him from street fighting, he said. That and a wise older brother, Aaron.

"I was never a street kid," said Bowe, who grew up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. If he and Tyson eventually meet, the undisputed championship of P.S. 396 also will be on the line.

They were classmates, though not chums, Bowe said. He did volunteer that Tyson was "knocking out grown men when he was 13."

Bowe's career is 69 bouts old. Of his 65 victories, 47 came by knockout. And the majority of those were via the small nuclear missile.

Actually, Bowe said, only one of those four losses was really a defeat. The others were wrongheaded decisions by the officials. He admits being licked three years ago in Seoul, by a Soviet nine years his elder.

All of this, the Pan Ams and the Olympics, is prelude to Bowe's majestical entry into pro boxing. Three years later, he imagines, he will claim the title Tyson or somebody else had generously held in storage.

"So far," he said, "everything's turned out perfect." Meaning that he believes taking off about a year from competition allowed him to grow in every way.

"My body needed rest," he said of a frame that also was 30-some pounds lighter than now. "From just before '84 till the end of '85, I fought 26 times. In Korea. In Romania. In Indonesia.

"I was fighting Cubans and Russians. Never an easy country, like Finland."

First things first, Bowe wants to impress himself Wednesday night.


"By knocking that Cuban out."

He sees no reason to avoid a pro life that has at least partially beaten so many, including his idol, Ali. Somebody told Bowe that the well-spoken heavyweight bulls-eye, Randall (Tex) Cobb, once said he was "selling a little piece of my brain at a time."

Bowe brightened.

"I won't be doing any of that selling," he said. "I'll make it so they won't have nothing to hit."

Bowe is naive to the point of thanking reporters for their time. He asked for a copy of all stories and provided his home address. Watching notebooks snap shut and recorders click off, he asked: "All finished?"

"Nope," came one reply. "All out of tape."