Riddick Bowe's disgust was complete. Here on the TV screen before him was Lennox Lewis getting out-jabbed by Frank Bruno. Frank Bruno! Lewis had slipped so far that only a desperate seventh-round punch would save him, and it was dawning on Bowe that he might soon find himself without a proper pay-per-view nemesis. "Rock," he finally cried to his manager, Rock Newman, sitting next to him, "we got to get him quick!"
Of course, this is heavyweight boxing, and nothing happens quick. Bowe, who was in Sacramento to fight an exhibition that evening at the Arco Arena, is in training for a Nov. 6 rematch with Evander Holyfield. And although Bowe complains that Lewis, who holds the WBC title that he forfeited, is further avoiding him by planning a fight with Tommy Morrison, Bowe has Michael Moorer penciled in after Holyfield. The soonest Bowe and Lewis could meet would be late 1994.
Still, Bowe was surprisingly agitated. While Newman was almost gleeful—"Ted Mack's Amateur Hour," he kept hollering—Bowe, watching Lewis struggle, could barely contain his impatience. "I wanted to be the first guy to expose him," said Bowe. "I wish I could get him before Tommy Morrison does. Morrison will take him out with that big hook."
Lewis is the man who beat Bowe for the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, but that is not the source of Bowe's contempt for the British champion. Rather, the tortuous negotiations over a title unification—and comments uttered during those negotiations—have stoked a mutual disrespect that is truly heavyweight. "He's nothing but a wannabe," Bowe said after watching the Bruno fight. "He would do anything in the world to be Riddick Bowe. Holyfield would give him fits."
Some folks are wondering if Holyfield isn't going to give Bowe fits. But reports that Bowe had ballooned to 290 pounds since a pair of desultory title defenses last spring are apparently exaggerated. And veteran trainer Eddie Futch says that in all of his 82 years he has never brought in a fighter out of condition—and won't now. "Why all the fuss?" Futch complains. "He's a heavyweight. Ain't no weight to make." Then, invoking a comparison that undermined his case, Futch added, "Primo Carnera weighed 270!" And by Newman's own account Bowe did weigh a Carneraesque 271 when he entered camp in Lake Tahoe four weeks ago, about the same as when he began training for the first Holyfield match.
Nobody in camp is concerned, but Bowe admits he might do things differently after this light. "To be honest," he says, "this is the first time I ever let myself go. I ate everything put in front of me. I deserved it, but I don't think I'd do it again."
During the exhibition it was impossible to get a read on Bowe's condition. Newman ordered TV cameras turned away, and Bowe, soft but not Buster Douglas-like, kept his T-shirt on. The action was unsatisfying. Bowe and Everton Davis, whose hands were so thickly upholstered he seemed to be waving armchairs around, didn't so much spar as shadowbox, very softly. This is the nature of exhibitions. Still, the boos were so blistering that Futch called a halt after two rounds. "No need for catcalls," he said. Bowe was stunned by the reaction: "They want a championship fight for $10?"
But Bowe, of all people, should understand that impatience. It is exactly what he claimed to feel, watching Lewis and Bruno eat up ring time. It's what every fight fan feels these days. It's always the wrong people in the ring, no matter how much the fans pay.