Riddick Bowe's schooling didn't end with his fight last Saturday afternoon against Tyrell Biggs. After stopping Biggs near the end of the eighth round of a scheduled 10-round bout in Atlantic City, Bowe trudged upstairs to a small meeting room in Harrah's Hotel and Casino. Along with the press, he listened attentively while Biggs, his face swollen and slightly torn, gently lectured him on his mistakes.
"It could have been easier," said Biggs, the 1984 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, to Bowe, the 1988 Olympic super heavyweight silver medal winner. "I'd like to point out a few things...."
A few feet from where Biggs stood at the lectern, Eddie Futch, Bowe's 79-year-old trainer, nudged his 23-year-old charge. "Listen to him," Futch whispered. "Be aware of what he's saying." Bowe leaned forward.
Bowe, who weighed in at a half pound more than Biggs's 225, has a fine jab, not exceptionally fast but extremely accurate. His mistake is that he hesitates before he throws anything behind it—say, a right hand, his most devastating weapon. "After the jab, I could see the right coming and I could duck it," said Biggs. Bowe nodded in agreement.
"And the head," Biggs went on. "You've got to move the head more. I found it pretty good with the jab." Both fighters smiled, one of them sheepishly.
Futch loved it. "This is the greatest learning experience in the world," he said.
That the fight itself would be a learning experience for Bowe was expected. Since turning pro on March 6, 1989, he has fought often, though he had built most of his 21-0 record against nonentities. The 30-year-old Biggs, winner of his last four fights, including an easy 10-round decision over undefeated Rodolfo Marin last December, was the perfect springboard to a higher level.
"He's no pushover," said Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, before the fight. "Riddick can't help learning from Biggs, who still has one of the best jabs in boxing. Riddick has to learn how to neutralize a jab like that."
Despite his 20 knockouts, Bowe is considered a classic boxer in the Muhammad Ali mold. He says he doesn't want to be known as a big puncher. Newman smiles at that. "No one knows how really powerful he is," says Newman. "His powerfulness is hidden by his gracefulness."
Says Futch, "Now that Riddick is no longer afraid to throw the right hand that he injured as an amateur, I rate his punching power with Sonny Liston's. For pure power, I only put four fighters—Rocky Marciano, Earnie Shavers, Mike Tyson and Joe Louis—ahead of him, and with time and experience he can equal those."
Futch told Bowe to forget boxing against Biggs. One of the oldest rules of boxing says to beat a jab, use a jab; this time Futch broke the rule. "Stay in his face," he ordered. "Pressure him. Don't box him, fight him."
Dutifully, Bowe almost took Biggs out with the first right hand of the fight. Staggered by that first-round blow, Biggs escaped by fighting back fiercely. Finesse was forgotten; the two went into the trenches. In the third round, Bowe got playful—a bad habit—and Biggs stunned him with a savage left hand. "Another lesson," Bowe said later. "In this league, if you play, you pay. I stopped that."
In the corner, Futch offered other advice. "Stop going to the head," he demanded. "Go to the body. And you're throwing too many right hands. He's looking for them. Throw hooks."
For Bowe, it all came together in the eighth round of a close fight. After seven, two officials had him ahead 67-66; one had him in front 68-65. The body shots Futch had ordered slowed Biggs's legs; his hands began to come down. "Now the head," Futch said after the seventh.
Early in the eighth, Bowe countered a lazy right hand with a sharp hook that rocked Biggs. There would be no escape this time: Bowe is ordinarily one of the best finishers in boxing. Trying to fight his way out of trouble, the courageous Biggs was hurt again by a right uppercut-hook combination. A moment later, an overhand right to the temple dropped him for an eight count. When the battle resumed, Bowe connected with another right uppercut, and Biggs backed away, only to be hammered down by another savage overhand right, again to the temple. Stepping in, referee Frank Cappuccino wisely called it off for Biggs, who fell as a fighter and arose as a tutor.
"Riddick needs a few more fights against top opponents," said Biggs at the press conference-cum-lecture. "Before he fights a guy like Tyson, he needs to get into at least one more hard fight, one where he has to dig down. Then he will be fine."
Finding opponents might be harder than fighting them. Bowe has already leaped over the current crop of young contenders: Bruce Seldon, Tommy Morrison and Ray Mercer, all mostly one-dimensional fighters. "We'd love to fight Mercer, but not for any damn WBO title." says Newman, referring to the dubious crown that Mercer wears. Instead, Newman has tried to make a date with Britain's Lennox Lewis, Bowe's conqueror in Seoul. So far, Lewis has said no.
On April 20, Bowe will fight former WBA champion Tony Tubbs at Harrah's, the second of a two-fight package for ABC-TV. Talks with Don King for a June fight against Tyson have broken off. Now Newman suggests that Bowe may fight a co-feature with Tyson in June, with a possible September fight against the former champion. Holyfield's people have expressed an interest in making a fight after Holyfield meets George Foreman in April. "We'll take Holyfield in a heartbeat," says Newman.
"We're in a great position," he adds. "Unless Holyfield and Tyson fight each other, Tyson's biggest money fight is with Bowe. And Holyfield's biggest money fight is with Bowe. They need us."
Newman is also talking with HBO about a multimillion-dollar, multifight deal, with a possible title shot at Holyfield late in 1991. Bowe is in no hurry. "I can wait or I can fight somebody like Tyson tomorrow," he says. "If need be, I'll fight Tyson for nothing."
"No freebies," Newman screams in horror.
"Or I can wait," says Bowe, laughing at his manager. "I'm young and I have a lot to learn. Papa Smurf [Futch] has taught me a lot. And he has a lot more to teach me. All I ask is that I fight often. I don't care who, just often. Anybody but George Foreman."
"Why not George?" somebody asks.
"I like old people," says Bowe.