LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Riddick Bowe is the man who would be Muhammad Ali.
Out of the ring, Bowe practices a brand of humor that includes the standard impressions of a lounge comic: Ronald Reagan, Richard Pryor, Stevie Wonder. Bowe once even sat with Ali and recited a rhyming poem that the former heavyweight champion recognized, in substance and timbre, as one of his own. And like the self-styled "greatest of aaaaaaalll time," Bowe on occasion will sardonically label his opponents with nicknames.
Take Pierre Coetzer, who will meet Bowe here tomorrow in a 12-round heavyweight bout that will put the winner in line for the title. Coetzer is a 30-year-old South African with 39 victories and 27 knockouts, but to Bowe he is simply Jughead.
"You ever see the head on him?" Bowe said the other day. "Big head."
Bowe, 24, is undefeated in 30 fights, 26 of which he has won by knockout, including stoppages against Tyrell Biggs, Bruce Seldon, Bert Cooper and Art Tucker. He is ranked No. 2 by the World Boxing Association (Coetzer is No. 1).
And yet he has never shaken his reputation as a slacker, rooted in the lackadaisical performance Bowe gave against Lennox Lewis of Canada in the super-heavyweight gold-medal bout at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Lewis stopped him in the second round.
But here he is four years later, offering himself as a candidate for revisionist thinking. If he thumps Coetzer (39-2, with 27 knockouts), Bowe might silence his critics for good. And the winner has been promised a Nov. 13 shot here against the heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield. That is a fight that Bowe, who calls himself Big Daddy, sees as his redemption.
"Holyfield is always in condition, and he's determined," Bowe said. "But his weakness is he's just too small for a heavyweight pTC and he takes too many punches. I'll pressure him early and maintain the pressure until he runs into something."
Presumably, that something will have Bowe's gloved fist behind it.