Bowe's free fight fits his profile

KEN ROSENTHAL

February 04, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- You want a people's champ? Here he comes.

Riddick Bowe makes his first title defense Saturday night in a homecoming bout at Madison Square Garden, and that's just the start.

Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, said yesterday that he wants the heavyweight champion to fight Larry Holmes at RFK Stadium in August -- with tickets distributed free of charge.

Of course, Bowe must defeat Michael Dokes on Saturday and then Ray Mercer on May 21 for the Holmes fight to happen. And, this being boxing, about 400 other things could get in the way.

Still, Newman is serious about staging the first heavyweight championship bout in Washington since Joe Louis beat Buddy Baer in 1941 -- a fight in which Louis got knocked through the ropes.

Bowe lives in Fort Washington, so Washington is his adopted hometown. It's also the city where Newman attended Howard University, became a radio talk-show host and befriended everyone's favorite former mayor, Marion Barry.

As for the free tickets, well, that's just the image Bowe wants to project, a kid from a crack-infested Brooklyn neighborhood who hasn't forgotten what it's like to be poor.

"A lot of people aren't fortunate to have money," Bowe said yesterday at a news conference. "This is another way for me to give something back."

Obviously, Bowe can afford to be generous. Shortly after dethroning Evander Holyfield last November, he signed a deal with HBO for six fights that could earn him $100 million.

His fight against Dokes on Saturday night is not yet sold out, but with a top ticket price of $400, it already has produced the single largest gross in Madison Square Garden history.

And now Newman is talking about a pay-per-view extravaganza in November against Holyfield (yes, he's back), the George Foreman-Tommy Morrison winner or WBC champion Lennox Lewis.

Bowe can never charge for a ticket again and still buy a small country, but that's not the point. Here, finally, is a champion to rally around, not throw behind bars.

It's hard to believe that Bowe is from the same neighborhood as Mike Tyson. The first thing he did upon entering yesterday's news conference was pose with two nuns.

Nuns and boxing.

You know, like peanut butter and jelly.

Anyway, Newman explained that the nuns were from the Franciscan Handmaids of Mary, a group that formed 75 years ago in Georgia to teach black children to read.

They've operated a camp in Staten Island since 1949, but now they're short on funds. Naturally, Bowe and Co. came to the rescue, so there were the nuns yesterday, seated on the dais.

A public relations stunt? Perhaps. But this is a boxer nicknamed "Big Daddy." Bowe, 25, is married with three children. The first person he thanked yesterday was not Don King, but his wife, Judy.

"She's put up with a lot from me over the years, even though she starts a lot of arguments over the phone," Bowe said, joking in the manner of his boxing idol, Muhammad Ali.

Dokes, 34, fits the more stereotypical boxing profile, with a history of cocaine use and two drug-related arrests, one of which led to a 47-day jail term in 1987.

Bowe, the 12th of 13 children in a single-parent home, easily could have traveled the same path. His most beloved sister, Brenda, was stabbed to death by a crack user. A friend of his once got shot to death as they stood chatting on the street.

Somehow, Bowe escaped, and now he's intent on becoming the next Ali. Tyson, of course, had the boxing ability, but turned out to be a thug. Holyfield had decency and humanity, but also a ballet coach. He was too pretty. Few respected him as a fighter.

Bowe might not be that good, either -- he lacked the power to knock out Holyfield, and takes too many punches. But for now, he's a champion worth embracing, a champion with a sense of purpose to go along with his fat purses.

"I tell him about the kind of impact Ali had on me, and he tells me what kind of impact Ali had on him," Newman said. "What I try to remind him is that he has an even greater opportunity. But you have to have a certain responsibility, a certain decorum to adhere to."

Bowe already has pledged $100,000 from his Fila endorsement to the Somalian relief effort, and now he's talking about the free fight in D.C., complete with corporate underwriting.

You root for this guy.

Long live the champ.

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