LAS VEGAS -- The posturing, sparring and in-fighting has already begun between Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis, the two survivors of boxing's heavyweight version of the Final Four.
The wrestling-like mania carried over to the fighters' two managers, Rock Newman and Frank Maloney, with Newman threatening to bypass Lewis in Bowe's first defense after he wrested the title from Evander Holyfield in spectacular fashion Friday night.
Like politics, Bowe, who now resides in Fort Washington, Md., has started a new administration in boxing's version of the Oval Office. And Newman, as his chief financial adviser, is talking of a March match with George Foreman, 44, in Beijing.
The Chinese are hoping to play host to a major sports event prior to bidding for the 2000 or 2004 Olympic Games, and Newman figures he could charge a $20-million site fee for a "Brawl at the Wall."
"Nothing is written in stone," Newman said yesterday. "I have to sit down with [Lewis' promoter] Dan Duva and see what it takes to secure a deal that would make Lennox either Bowe's first or second defense.
"Personally, I don't care a hill of beans about the WBC's threat to strip Riddick if he first doesn't fight Lennox. But Riddick cares. He wants to keep all three championship belts."
It is sad that boxing's tawdry back-room games did not allow time for the fight mob to savor one of the truly great championship matches in the colorful heavyweight history.
The Holyfield-Bowe showdown lived up to the hype and then some.
Ring historians worked feverishly to recall the last heavyweight championship match with such sustained action and dramatic twists and turns.
Most remembered Ali-Frazier III, the 1975 "Thrilla In Manila," and Larry Holmes' stirring triumph over Ken Norton here in 1979 that first made Holmes the heavyweight champion.
Holyfield, who was fighting Bowe for respect more than money, probably earned more worldwide admiration in losing his crown to Bowe by a unanimous decision than he did in winning his previous 28 pro bouts and beating George Foreman and Holmes, two venerable ex-champions.
In an incredible 10th round, after, in Holyfield's own words, "being battered from pillar to post" for close to two minutes, the champion staged a miraculous rally to win the round on one judge's card.
In the 11th, his eye closed, and his face bloodied, Holyfield picked himself off the floor and continued to fight back on guts alone.
"I thought he was crazy for not laying down," said Bowe. "Evander proved he had a huge heart -- the heart of a lion. I told him he had nothing to be ashamed of."
And then there was Bowe, whose reputation for a faint heart and lack of commitment had been with him after his desultory loss to Lewis in the 1988 Olympic Games gold-medal match.
All the slurs were wiped clean with one majestic performance.
"Everything I did, Bowe did better," said Holyfield, who, with his $80 million in ring earnings, said he plans to retire and live the good life. "Bowe proved he was a real champion."
Unfortunately, Bowe, who followed Mike Tyson out of a Brooklyn ghetto to become the undisputed heavyweight champ, did not act the part at the post-fight news conference in the Thomas & Mack Center.
Copying the boorish behavior of Tyson, who now resides in an Indiana prison on a rape conviction, Bowe resorted to street talk, calling the undefeated Lewis, who flattened Razor Ruddock in two rounds last month "a faggot" for sporting a ponytail and earring.
"During the Olympics, Lennox was an OK guy," Bowe said. "But when he turned pro, he started saying negative things about me. He
walks around with my gold medal because he got a lot of help from the referee. I want him so bad, I can taste it. He's not taking anything back to England. Why, even some of my sisters can whip him."
To which Lewis quickly countered, "I beat him before and I'll beat him again. I look into Riddick's eyes, and I see fear. Don't let me call you chicken, Bowe. Bring it on."
But Newman, who supported Bowe after his Olympic failure when the three major promoters -- Don King, Dan Duva and Butch Lewis -- turned their backs on him, obviously has other ideas for Bowe's future.
"The WBC stands for 'Will Be Corrupt,' " said Newman. "We won't be ordered about by that little dictator [WBC president Jose Sulaiman] and a boxing group that continually exploits American fighters. We won't roll over and play dead."
Newman first suggested that Lewis was suffering from an identity crisis. "Even though he had a spectacular victory over Ruddock, my mother still doesn't know who he is," said Newman, a one-time Washington radio sports show host.
"Either does mine," chimed in Bowe, who fashions himself a comic in Ali's mold.
Newman then claimed to be Lewis' benefactor.