Eddie Futch, the sage of boxing, got a late start; he did not throw a punch until he was 20, after he had asked a friend to teach him how to box so that he could teach the sport at the Detroit YMCA. Last week Futch celebrated his 80th birthday. As he sat in the dressing room in the Atlantic City Convention Center last Friday night with his latest pupil, unbeaten heavyweight Riddick Bowe, Futch opened his huge textbook to the chapter entitled "How to Fight an Underdog with a Big Punch."
"He's got nothing to lose," said Futch of Bruce Seldon, that night's opponent. "He'll come roaring out to try and gamble and get rich quick. Get his attention with a hard jab, and then take him out with a right hand. It should be a short night."
The small, soft-spoken trainer figured four rounds, maybe five. "Inevitable," said Futch.
Bowe nodded in response to Futch's instructions. If Futch had told him that Seldon had two heads, Bowe would have gone into the ring wondering which one he should hit first. "If Papa Smurf says it's so, then it is," says Bowe.
Seldon, the aptly nicknamed Atlantic City Express, came and went in just 1:48 of the first round. Working in front of a TVKO pay-per-view audience, Bowe met Seldon's furious charge with a right hand. He missed. Bowe tried another right and missed again. A third right hand was more of a lunge. Oops, wrong hand, thought Bowe.
Turned by the momentum of Seldon's attack, Bowe threw a hard jab to the head. Two more followed, crisp, hurtful. Down below, Futch smiled. "Now the right hand," he said to himself. Inevitable.
Crack! Bowe's right hand, a fearsome weapon, smashed against Seldon's head, dropping him facedown on the canvas. Referee Joe O'Neill counted to seven. Seldon didn't move. "Eight," said O'Neill, his right hand rising. Up leapt Seldon, startling everyone but Bowe and Futch. "I had seen his act before," said Bowe later.
Bowe peered into his opponent's glazed eyes and smiled. "You're mine." he thought. Bowe, who weighed in at 225¾ pounds, had won 22 of his 25 bouts by knockout. Against a wounded opponent, he is as deadly and as quick as a guillotine. In those moments he becomes cold, swift, slicing steel.
"You have to do more than teach a man how to fight," Futch had said a few days before the fight. "You have to teach him how to think. That is what Riddick is doing now; he is thinking."
"He's looking for the right hand," Bowe figured as he moved in on Seldon, a 220-pound, muscular block of a man. Seldon saw the right hand flicker and he shifted to his right, away from danger. He never saw the left hook that sent him crashing to the floor. "Ten," said O'Neill after watching Seldon twice try to rise, only to fail. The loss was Seldon's second in 20 fights.
"Cancel Christmas," said Bowe, staring down at Seldon.
After 26 bouts in 29 months, a remarkable pace, Bowe has decided to turn his guns, for the moment, in another direction. "I've got a more important fight coming up," he says. He plans to join Dick Gregory in Little Rock, Ark., where the comedian turned activist and nutritionist has been waging a battle against an invasion of drug dealers.
Bowe wore a baseball cap featuring the word DIGNITY, Gregory's battle cry against drugs. "Going to go down and help Dick clean up the dealers," says the 24-year-old Bowe. "I grew up in the middle of that stuff [in Brooklyn], and there is nothing more I would rather see than America getting rid of drugs and drug dealers."
While Bowe wages that war, his manager, Rock Newman, will continue negotiations with Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight champion who came out of retirement in April. The 41-year-old Holmes is scheduled to fight Eddie Gonzales, a slick but light-punching cruiser-weight, in Tampa on Tuesday night. Holmes also has a bout set for later this month in Honolulu.
"We're getting closer on the money," says Newman. "Before tonight a lot of people said they wanted to fight us, but we couldn't get any names on a contract. They say Bowe is afraid of them, but they are always saying it while they are running away. After tonight, I don't know. I just hope Holmes answers his telephone tomorrow."
Happy birthday, Papa Smurf.