Bowe to see how he fits in ring

Ex-champion answers health questions, will end an absence of 8 years


September 24, 2004|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Since granting Riddick Bowe a license to fight in Oklahoma, state athletic commission chairman Joe Miller says he has shown the ex-champion's magnetic resonance imaging records to more neurosurgeons than he can count on one hand.

"I'm saying, `These are the MRIs of a boxer who has supposed brain damage. Do you see any indications of that?' " Miller said. "So far, they've all said the MRIs are normal."

Once deemed unfit to fight, Bowe, 37, does just that tomorrow night, ending an eight-year absence from the ring against Marcus Rhode in Shawnee, Okla., at the Fire Lake Casino.

"People have said I have brain damage, but I've passed all of my physicals, all of my medicals. They've checked my head so many times it's crazy," said Bowe, sounding clear and coherent during a telephone interview with The Sun in early September. "First and foremost, I love Riddick Bowe more than anybody else could love him. If I wasn't 100 percent sure that I was 100 percent sound [mentally], I wouldn't jeopardize my life by getting back into the ring."

Bowe (40-1, 32 knockouts) plans to make Rhode (29-25-1, 25 KOs) his first win of a 15-fight, 18-month game plan. Bowe eventually wants a shot at one of the four men - John Ruiz, Vitali Klitschko, Lamon Brewster or Chris Byrd - who hold the various versions of the heavyweight crown.

"My main goal is Vitali Klitschko. I figure eight rounds, I nail him with a right hand, a left-right combination and it's a wrap. Chris Byrd is a good fighter, but I put him to sleep in five, seven rounds," said Bowe, whose fight is expected to fill a 6,500-seat outdoor arena. "Lamon Brewster's not a champ, he's a chump: I see him crumbling in two, three rounds. John Ruiz takes everything on the chin, so I'll drop the hammer on him all night long."

Those boasts might have rung true at the height of Bowe's career nearly 12 years ago. Bowe, 6 feet 5 and nicknamed "Big Daddy," was crowned undisputed champion at 25 after defeating Evander Holyfield in their first of three fights.

Legendary trainer Eddie Futch, whose six world champions included Joe Frazier and Larry Holmes, called Bowe "one of the best boxers from the outside, one of the best in-fighters for a big man and [potentially] one of the best heavyweights I ever trained."

Outside the ring, Bowe charmed fans with an affable, camera-friendly personality that included impressions of Ronald Reagan and Muhammad Ali. He achieved enough status to meet the pope and Nelson Mandela.

But that was before Bowe's life unraveled. The six-year downfall included losing his title in a rematch with Holyfield. There were two savage beatings at the hands of Andrew Golota in 1996 - bouts Bowe won on Golota's disqualifications for low blows.

In 1997, his $100 million contract with HBO was canceled. The turmoil climaxed with Bowe's 1999 conviction and 17-month sentence for the 1998 abduction, at knifepoint, of Bowe's first wife and their children.

Bowe said he regrets the actions.

"I pay child support every month, but I miss my kids. Haven't seen them in three years now," he said. "I have daughters who are 9, 14 and 15, and a 10-year-old son I've heard is the spitting image of me."

As part of a plea bargain gone awry, the fighter said, Bowe was barred from the ring for four years. But Bowe's former manager, Rock Newman, said the break was necessary to repair frontal lobe damage suffered from blows in the ring.

Bowe didn't go to prison until last year, after a series of appeals, and was released from Cumberland Federal Corrections Institute on May 17. The court-imposed boxing ban had been lifted before he went to prison.

Bowe no longer has a relationship with Newman, the man who helped him win $20 million. Bowe filed but later dropped a lawsuit against Newman, claiming his manager had stolen money from him. Bowe still says Newman prematurely pressured him into retirement at age 29. Newman denies the charge.

"I have no bitterness toward Riddick, but he's rewriting history by indicating he resisted retiring," said Newman by telephone from his Las Vegas home.

Bowe said his prison regimen of pullups, situps, pushups and three-mile runs reduced his weight from 330 pounds to 270. "They wouldn't let me spar because they thought it would incite riots," said Bowe.

Bowe's training continued while confined to home detention until early June - the same month he "was given a clean bill of health" after a neurological exam by doctors at George Washington University, said his Baltimore-based attorney, Steve Silverman.

Though Bowe said he has kept enough of his boxing earnings to live comfortably, he still wanted to come back to the ring. So, early last month, Bowe called trainer Janks Morton. Morton ran Bowe through workouts in the fighter's gymnasium in his spacious Fort Washington home.

"Maybe I can't throw a hundred punches a round or throw my left hook as effectively, but I'm well-preserved," said Bowe. "I'll maybe have to set guys up better, be more selective about where I throw my shots. That's the wisdom that comes with experience."

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