Each is sentenced in his own way now, though the terms are roughly
the same. Riddick Bowe must do his time, 18 months, at a
minimum-security facility in Cumberland, Md. Evander Holyfield,
who figures he's looking at the same stretch, is held on a hill
outside Atlanta, at his $20 million estate, the one with lakes
and horses and a bowling alley. The contrast in their conditions
of confinement aside, one is no freer than the other, not really;
both are in lockup, their sentences handed down (little did they
know) more than a decade ago when they began one of boxing's most
thrilling trilogies. It is not so strange, given the depth of
their partnership, that they be conjoined in comparable miseries.
Everybody always said they were made for each other.
And how comparable are those miseries, anyway? Pretty comparable.
Bowe, long ago battered into retirement, is finally going to jail
on a five-year-old charge of interstate domestic violence, filed
after he gathered up his estranged wife and five children and,
without any more of a plan than that, drove them to a McDonald's,
where his wife used a cellphone and called police from the rest
room. Holyfield, though righteous and law-abiding and a lot more
comfortable financially than Bowe, is manacled just as securely
by competitive zeal, an ambition that grows ever more
foolish--even alarming--now that he's turned 40. Neither man is
allowed contentment. Each is doomed by ambitions that grow ever
Their mostly heroic 32 rounds--a seesaw story of brutal
bravery--offer them no parole at this remove, no time off for so
violent an exposition of character, in which each fighter was
tested (and proved). How did Holyfield come back in the 10th
round of the first fight? How did Bowe get back up in the rubber
match? The reward they might expect for their courage, amply
displayed in all three fights, is instead a penalty. Both men are
frustrated in the long aftermath, their rightful glory held in
abeyance. Maybe in 18 months is what they're thinking, hoping.
In the days before his confinement began on March 14, Bowe was
examining exactly this phenomenon, the further postponement of
his happiness. He had decided to work with it; his time in jail
would become an extended training camp, the one he couldn't
possibly have undertaken on his own. It would be a prelude to his
final deliverance. While still indignant that something so pure
as his love of family could have been perverted into a federal
crime, he was also relieved. "I'm going to be running and eating
the right food," he promised, so puffy and bloated that even he
recognized that his fitness depended upon judicial decree.
"Actually, they're doing me a big favor."
April 13, 2003
It was a snowy late-winter morning, and neighbors were all
outside shoveling sidewalks as Bowe gave a visitor a tour of his
compound in suburban Maryland. The snow on his sidewalk alone
remained undisturbed. At noon he was easing into the day; his
current wife, Terri--they were married in February 2000--had just
braided his hair. "I want everybody to know I'm O.K., things of
that nature," he said, explaining what he hoped to accomplish
with the interview. "That my speech is good, what have you." He
was rightly concerned about the public's overall impression of
his health, since his lawyers had offered, at a sentencing
hearing, evidence of damage to a portion of his brain. "They say
I have the frontal lobes, but I need to express to the world I
don't have that," Bowe said. "I speak well, and so on and so forth."
He also worried that his many fans might think that, because of
all his legal troubles (which included a divorce from his first
wife), he was broke, that his onetime fortune of $20 million was
spent. "Don't worry about ol' Bowe," he said. For proof he
tramped out to his garage, which is across from his
Graceland-style gym, which is not far from the BIG DADDY
hedge--all, even the shrubbery, artifacts of his brief and
long-ago championship--and counted down rows of shiny and
expensive automobiles, 12 of them. "So ol' Bowe's not doing so
bad," he said. Then he remembered the Bentley and the Mercedes
that were in the shop. He brightened. Ol' Bowe's doing better
than even he thought.
"You know what I've missed," he said, suddenly, taking stock of
his situation as if for the first time. "I miss talking to guys
such as yourself, running with the fellas, being the man, hearing
the cheering. 'Hey, champ!'" He surveyed his spread, no longer so
cheerful. "I miss the whole kit and caboodle."
Not so far away, in Georgia, is Bowe's collaborator in boxing's
best back-and-forth, Holyfield. He also is minus the champion's
kit and caboodle, also minus the freedom to fully enjoy his life.
With Holyfield, it's different, freedomwise. His jail is virtual
and self-imposed. Fresh off yet another defeat (he has won just
two of his last seven fights), he entertains a visitor at his
palatial estate above a highway of strip malls (Evander Holyfield
Highway). He plots another comeback. He is chained to boxing by
his pride. "By 2004," he announces, "I'll be champ again. The end
He is wealthy beyond imagining, after a career of pay-per-view
blockbusters and hilariously skinflint living (palace aside), and
he's fitter than ever. But he's also often injured, and his
performances are increasingly lackluster, if dangerously
determined. He sits sideways, his legs draped over the arm of a
leather chair in his "office," a ballroom-sized wing off a
hotel-lobby-style entrance. Magazines with his face on the cover
("Looks like a gargoyle," Bowe used to say) are placed neatly on
coffee tables. All the cover dates are around 1999. "People don't
understand about finishing," Holyfield says. "You are what you
finish. I see the finish--not how, but when. Won't be long now."
In other words, with good behavior, both Bowe and Holyfield, old
friends, will come out into the sunlight together. Perhaps they
will visit each other, as they did in the old days, Holyfield
calling Bowe "Reddick," reprimanding him for his fleet of cars,
and Bowe standing behind Holyfield, pretending to whack him, his
buddies doubling over from laughter until Holyfield turns
around--"What the ... ?"--and finds Bowe looking all innocent,
surprised. It would be nice to think that their destinies,
pounded out in those Las Vegas fights in a gruel of blood and
snot, would finally leave them at peace. Wouldn't it?
By 1992 Bowe was regarded as one of the finest physical specimens
ever to come down boxing's pike. He was 6'5" and 235 pounds, the
new carrier class of heavyweight, and he could jab with the best
of them, even fight inside. There had been questions about his
desire, though, ever since his Olympic silver medal finish in
'88, a loss to Lennox Lewis that seemed to suggest there was quit
in him. And his Clown Bomber antics, while crowd-friendly, were
not always reassuring. But mostly there was a sense that the
heavyweight division was about to complete the transition from
Muhammad Ali's era to Bowe's.
Trainer Emanuel Steward was agog at the completeness of Bowe's
package. "I told him he was looking like the perfect, perfect
heavyweight," Steward says. In addition to size and talent, Bowe
had the advantage of Eddie Futch, an old school trainer who alone
was able to inspire Bowe to resist the deadly sins of sloth and
gluttony. Bowe called him Papa Smurf and would do just about
anything for him--even, it was said at the time, roadwork.
Bowe's run-ins with the police over domestic abuse calls (once in
the week before he went to jail) make it hard to characterize him
as entirely happy-go-lucky. But at the time of his ascension, his
goofy good nature was almost a national treasure. His wit was
exaggerated in the press, but his playfulness was, if anything,
underreported. Once, while the referee was trying to raise his
hand after an important victory, Bowe spotted Bill Cosby at
ringside. Immediately he began jiggling his head like a dashboard
dog, the ol' Cos gesture.
And he had a way of reworking reality to fit his Pollyanna needs.
Even though he grew up amid the violence of Brownsville--the same
Brooklyn neighborhood that spawned Mike Tyson--he steadfastly
recalled a Leave It to Beaver childhood. One of Bowe's brothers
died of AIDS, a sister was a crack addict, another sister died
when a junkie tried to steal her welfare check. Riddick was one
of 13 siblings, and as a young amateur he lived in an apartment
complex where anybody interested in visiting him had to negotiate
stairways manned by guards with automatic weapons. There were
such long lines of crack retailing that one of Bowe's prospective
managers thought he had stumbled upon a soup kitchen. Bowe's
recollection? "Oh, we had a lot of fun. If I could just go back
to being between 10 and 16, I'd never grow up."
Bowe put a good face on everything; it was part of his charm.
Tyson terrorized the neighborhood through which Bowe dutifully
walked his mother, Big Dot, to her factory job every night. Yet
when Bowe racks his brain for a picture of the fierce young
hoodlum, he comes up with Huck Finn: "Good ol' Mike. Big for his
age, and he always had a bag of cookies with him."
Everybody loved Bowe, even Holyfield, who used him as a sparring
partner early in their careers. "Not a mean bone in his body,"
says Holyfield, "always clowning around, imitating Ali."
But then they met, both of them undefeated, for Holyfield's
heavyweight title in November 1992. Holyfield, an overachieving,
pumped-up cruiserweight, had been cementing his reputation as a
well-paid warrior with wins over Buster Douglas, George Foreman,
Larry Holmes and Bert Cooper. The rewards had been such--$56
million for those four fights--that he began toying with the idea
of building an estate, something grand. "As a kid, nothing was
big enough," Holyfield says. "Everybody there, table not big
enough, have to sit on the floor on newspapers just to eat."
Holyfield, alone among his contemporaries, did not believe in
debt (or manager's cuts or even high payrolls). He expected to
fully fund, out of Bowe's demise, the construction of a truly
Bowe was hoping for similar rewards. He was not the miser
Holyfield was, and he believed that his slightest sacrifice ought
to be rewarded, usually with a new car. His manager, the
combative Rock Newman, had to subvert many a retirement ("Riddick
retired every single training camp, actually," says Newman, now
estranged from Bowe) with promises of fresh wheels. Glossy
pictures of a burgundy BMW decorated one camp. But what Bowe was
toying with before the Holyfield fight, for which he'd get $8
million to the champ's minimum $15 million, was the purchase of
his own apartment complex in Brownsville. "I remember back in
'87, walking through a complex, thinking, If they ever sold it,
I'd like to buy it for my family," he said. "Put all my brothers
and sisters, everybody close to me, put 'em right there. Like a
big happy family."
That fight would provide for all the dreams of both fighters.
There would be championship belts and money, and their families
would be secure and intact forever. And best of all--ask either
man--the fight would be easy!
"I knew he could fight," Holyfield says now, reconsidering his
complacency, "but I just knew he'd run out of gas. I mean, this
is my sparring partner. I see a kid. And I'm all grown up. I was
extremely confident. I didn't care how hard he worked, I worked
Bowe, just 25 and five years Holyfield's junior, thought he was
superior, not only in size and skill but also in experience.
"Remember," Bowe says, "I'd had 31 fights to his 28. I must say,
I didn't have much respect for him."
Nobody else thought it would be so easy. Seth Abraham, then head
of Time Warner Sports, remembers ringside voltage as quite high.
"I was thinking, Something exciting's going to happen. It was
very magical, right before the fight, like something was passing
through the crowd."
The fight took both men to the brink, though it was Holyfield who
finally went over. He was dumbfounded by Bowe's reserve. "The
difference was that walking man," says Holyfield. Walking man?
Still sitting sideways in his chair, Holyfield paddles his feet
in the air. Did he mean Dick Gregory? "Yeah, the walking man," he
says. In fact, the comic-activist had been brought on board as
Bowe's nutritionist, and he had pared the fighter down to a
weigh-in 235 pounds from 281 two months earlier.
Holyfield admits that he was further unnerved when, after nine
grueling rounds, he looked into Bowe's corner and saw him "joking
and laughing." Bowe was indeed mugging for the cameras. "He had
all this energy," Holyfield says.
The champion's strategy for the famous 10th round was almost
Bowesque. "I'd go out and coast, then I'd finish strong," he
says. "So I lowered my head to his chest, I was just looking to
rest, and all of a sudden he hits me with an uppercut. He hit me
so hard, so hard. And then he was knocking me pillar to post. I
kept saying, 'Lord, help me.'"
Bowe rained 40 punches on Holyfield during that barrage. "Oh, I
put a thing on him," Bowe says proudly. But a minute into the
round Holyfield, instead of expiring, regained his composure. "I
was thinking maybe I should just get out of there, just quit,"
says Holyfield. "It seemed like five, 10 minutes. But my whole
thing is just not to quit." And then he let loose with a hook,
combinations and uppercuts, and Bowe, truly winded, was unable to
fend him off.
"How beautiful it is," says Holyfield. "You almost be gone, and
then you're landing big punches."
Then--and here's the majesty of that round--Bowe surged back.
Having taken a 14-shot fusillade in 15 seconds, he ended the
round with his own fury. He suddenly remembered their billing; he
was "a big ol' Great Dane from Brooklyn, Holyfield a junkyard dog
from Georgia," he says. "If you look at the tape, you can see me
talking to him. I'm saying, 'Good dog, good dog.'"
Bowe won that fight on the judges' scorecards by wide margins.
Even so, it was he who retired to his room immediately afterward
to nurse his bruises in a 45-minute bath, and Holyfield who went
dancing at a postfight party. All Bowe could do to celebrate was
to watch the fight on tape, every once in a while exclaiming
"Yowser!" at the action. Later Holyfield telephoned him to remind
him of his new financial position. "He said everyone is going to
try and get into my back pocket, and that I should put my money
away for a rainy day," Bowe says. "What a gladiator."
"What else could I tell him?" Holyfield says with a shrug. "I
really liked Reddick."
Holyfield was devastated. He had never before been beaten, much
less beaten up. Worse, the scores suggested that "I wasn't even
in the fight," he says. He announced his retirement, canceled
plans for his estate and got involved with his eight-year-old
son's football program.
Bowe, meanwhile, was enjoying the spoils of championship, the
whole kit and caboodle. Newman took him on a world tour, to visit
Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II, the starving children of
Somalia. This was well beyond the usual victory lap. This was
Ali-level excess. Also, Bowe finally financed his compound, which
was just a nice house, with a gym-playroom for himself and his
kids and a 12-car garage for his growing collection of automobiles.
It was a heady time. The summer after he'd beaten Holyfield, Bowe
stood in an upstairs bedroom, contemplating his success. Champion
of the world. "I said to myself, What more can you ask?" he recalls.
From a distance of 10 years, even he can recognize the hubris.
"Now, why did I say that?" he says, laughing.
Newman got him some soft touches, Michael Dokes and Jesse
Ferguson, whom Bowe flattened in a round each, earning $15
million for the two. HBO dangled a $100 million contract, and,
well, what more could you ask? Bowe was riding so high, he no
longer required official sanction of his happiness. At Newman's
instigation, he shed the WBC belt, unceremoniously dropping it
into a garbage can before the assembled press. And you could say
his already marginal self-discipline was further eroded by
success. "To make a long story short," Bowe says, "yes, I did eat
all the Twinkies I could. Not to mention that my momma now lived
down the street and would cook me an apple pie whenever I wanted
it. I deserved it. I worked so hard."
Holyfield did not retire for long. His thing, as he says, is not
to quit-even when logic dictates surrender. He contacted Steward
about training him for a rematch, and Steward did not sugarcoat
it. "He's a better boxer than you," he told Holyfield. "He fights
better inside, weird as that is, and even more incredible, has a
better jab. This will be your most difficult assignment yet."
Pretty much everybody agreed; Holyfield was a 6-to-1 underdog.
Steward, knowing that Holyfield was a nimble dancer, hatched a
plan that would win the rematch and the two remaining heavyweight
titles. It was all footwork. Bowe, having again blown up to more
than 280 pounds before camp, weighed in at 246, 11 more than for
the first meeting almost exactly a year before. But all anybody
remembers from the second fight is Fan Man, a motor-propelled
paraglider who dropped into the outdoor ring behind Caesars
Palace in the seventh round. The paraglider, James Miller, later
complained that even though there were two great heavyweights in
the ring, he was "the only guy who got knocked out." Bowe's
handlers pummeled him good, and, disentangled from his flying
apparatus, Fan Man was removed from the ring on a stretcher.
Looking back, both fighters attribute the disruption to a
conspiracy, although their versions are entirely different. "If
you look at certain individuals around the ring," says Bowe,
"they had walkie-talkies. [Fan Man] knew exactly when to come
into the ring. We get to stand around 20 minutes in the cold, and
here's what kills me: Holyfield's corner has covers, blankets and
sheets. C'mon, man! Please! It took me five minutes to get warm
again. That's not a conspiracy? You tell me, what fight you know,
somebody has a quilt at ringside. I was bamboozled, hoodwinked."
Holyfield has been thinking about it all these years too. "I was
hitting him at will," he says of the pre-Fan Man rounds. "I was
busting him up. And what I heard later was that if I'd knocked
him out early, a lot of people would have lost money. What I
heard, woulda broke the bank. Broke the bank! And you know, he
did float up there a long time. Why he come down then?"
In any case, it was an extremely close fight, with a draw on one
of the cards and Holyfield winning by just one point on the
second card and two points on the third. If it substituted
intrigue and paranoia for the first fight's magnificent 10th
round, this rematch was no less noble. The two men were still
standing at the bell, clawing at each other, their desperation
now obscured in history, but no less real. "An easy fight?" says
Reassured by his $12 million payday and the prospect of other big
ones now that he was champ again, Holyfield broke ground on his
54,000-square-foot house. "They had to dynamite the earth, on
account of the rock," he says. "They had a 30-foot hole dug by
the time I lost to Michael Moorer [five months later]. Couldn't
turn back then."
Bowe's defeat was celebrated in the boxing industry. Not that
anybody wished him ill, but it was now payback time for the
abrasive Newman. Trash a title? The establishment delighted at
Had Bowe retained his belts, he could have run the table. Tyson
was still in prison on his rape conviction, and anybody who
wanted heavyweight respect, not to mention money, would have had
to pass through Bowe. But now? With just one extremely close loss
to a two-time heavyweight champion, Bowe was
unranked--unranked!--by all three of the alphabet organizations.
Explained Don King, who was expected to march Tyson out of prison
and into the rankings over which he had such influence, "Herein
lies an immigrant who is capable of treasonous activity. So he
was deported." King made no mystery of the treasonous agent,
either, blaming Newman. "Any sane man knows [Bowe's] the best.
But he's got this manager, here's a guy who burnt every bridge
and then set dynamite under them." What could you do?
Holyfield was soon out in the cold too. After losing his titles
to Moorer, he was found to have a congenital heart defect. His
next retirement was immediate and final. His estate, possibly a
room or two smaller than planned, would be paid for out of
savings. The prospect of a rubber match with Bowe was dim.
But miracles do happen. In Holyfield's case it involved the
laying on of hands. An actual, nonmetaphorical miracle,
compliments of the evangelist Benny Hinn, whose healing paved the
way for the resumption of his boxing career. The Nevada State
Athletic Commission required a battery of tests from the Mayo
Clinic (not that the commissioners were skeptical) and accepted
the doctors' reversal of Holyfield's earlier diagnosis. He was
cleared to fight.
King, meanwhile, began to gather the heavyweight titles and keep
them on ice for Tyson's return to the ring. Neither Bowe nor
Holyfield fit into his plans, so the two had nobody to fight but
each other. Three years after their first fight, to the week,
they entered the ring together--somewhat reluctantly, as the two
had grown quite fond of each other. "I think I'm starting to like
you," Bowe told Holyfield in that period of time that encourages
prefight hostility. For his part Holyfield told the press he
admired Bowe for his attention to his children. Now he admits it
was more than that. The two boxers were on Arsenio Hall's
late-night show to promote the fight, and Bowe began bragging on
his wife, Judy, his high school sweetheart.
"I looked out there," says Holyfield, "and it was no woman out of
a magazine. She had on these big glasses, kind of homey-like. But
she was beautiful to him. 'That's my girl, I love her so.' I was
thinking, He has loyalty, integrity."
By then they had visited each other countless times and probably
played more pool together than they had boxed. It was impossible
to muster hatred. In one prefight interview, the two seated
together, Holyfield managed to complain of low blows and other
infractions in their two fights. (He was probably still stung by
Bowe's "gargoyle" characterization, which Bowe had defended as
"nothing personal, just an opinion.") Bowe smirked into his mitt.
They had become the Odd Couple.
Behind the scenes, though, it got strange. Bowe decided that $8
million wasn't enough, and he disappeared from camp "for longer
than usual," says Newman. He returned only when Newman agreed to
give him $2 million out of his own cut. "He said, 'What's a
million or two between buddies?'" says Newman.
Holyfield says he was five weeks into training when he began to
"taste iron in my mouth and get chills." A doctor told him he had
hepatitis and advised him to call off the fight. Holyfield said,
"It ain't that bad." But it got worse. He recalls thinking as he
trained in Houston, Now I know why people contemplate suicide. I
never felt so sick.
Holyfield says he didn't spar more than twice in the three weeks
before the fight. Of course, it's well-known that Holyfield
doesn't spar any more than he has to even when he's healthy. It's
also known that Holyfield tends to contract ailments after the
fact, especially after a loss. But he swears he sleepwalked
through training. His fight plan was based on a short fight, one
way or another. "I knew I didn't have time on my side," he says.
The third fight was a fitting capstone to their relationship,
even if neither man was at his best. It was distinguished mainly
by Holyfield's struggle to stay in the fight--he was thinking of
quitting by the fifth round, although HBO's George Foreman
speculated that Holyfield would leave the ring "in a pine
box"--and by his staggering knockdown of Bowe in the sixth. Bowe,
a 3-to-1 favorite after showing up for the fight at a trim 240
pounds, was as much startled as hurt. "I thought, That ain't
right," he says. But he was hurt.
"What I need to tell you," says Bowe, "I wasn't myself for the
next two rounds. I don't remember anything, didn't feel anything,
didn't hear anything. I felt I was in a dream, I guess."
Holyfield thought the fight was over--hoped it was over--after that
lunging left hook flattened Bowe. "I said, Oh, thank you," he
says. "But that seemed like the longest count. And then when he
get up at eight, and it was still early in the round, I got two
minutes to put pressure on him, but I didn't have no energy. It
just leaked out of me." Ringsiders believed a tap on Bowe's
shoulder might have finished him for good, yet Holyfield was
unable to press his advantage. It remains Holyfield's greatest
disappointment, what he believes was a lapse in will. "It showed
me something about myself," he says.
Then, astonishingly, Bowe returned in the eighth round, knocked
Holyfield down once, then again with such finality that the ref
didn't even bother with a count. Their splendid series was over,
and, removed from each other, they seemed to lose their bearings,
bit by bit.
What figured to open doors for Bowe and close them for Holyfield
did the reverse. The loss briefly played to Holyfield's benefit,
while the win seemed to announce Bowe's self-destruction. Their
trilogy continued to offer back-and-forth even after its conclusion.
Holyfield was immediately placed in boxing's anteroom of
retirement. Couldn't finish Bowe? Holyfield was a shot fighter, a
diagnosis confirmed in his next bout, when he struggled mightily
to beat Bobby Czyz in what was supposed to have been a walkover.
But Holyfield refused to retire without his title--all of them,
actually--disappointing everybody but King.
King had been running out of fodder in Tyson's comeback. The
quality of the competition had been dispiriting, almost
fraudulent, and it was important to throw in a quality name for
Tyson's credentialing. Holyfield's marquee value, plus his
obviously diminished skills, jumped him to the top of the list.
He was legit and, better yet, no longer dangerous.
Boxing history followed: Holyfield easily defused Tyson's
bullying tactics in their first fight, in 1996, scoring an
11th-round knockout of the bewildered fighter to win the WBA
crown. Seven months later, in the rematch, Holyfield won by
disqualification when Tyson bit his ear (both of them, actually).
But Holyfield could never gather all his titles about him and
achieve the send-off for which he was so desperate. He failed, in
two fights with IBF and WBC champion Lennox Lewis in 1999, to
consolidate the championship, and ever since, he has been nipping
about the edges of the heavyweight division, trying to pick off a
vacated title here or there. So far he's been held off by the
likes of John Ruiz and Chris Byrd, neither a match for him in his
prime, and his quest looks more and more hopeless.
When a visitor suggests that time, finally, is running out,
Holyfield reacts with puzzlement. "Time run out?" he says. "How
do time run out? Time don't run out." The reason he didn't "bust
Chris Byrd up," he says, was simple: a shoulder injury. He's
since had surgery and is good to go again. Any other
characterization of his failure is way off. "Not 'cause I'm old,"
he insists. "That [fight] was just a bump in the road."
With three titles out there, and one of them held by bulked-up
light heavyweight Roy Jones Jr., it would be ridiculous to think
that Holyfield will never get another shot at his precious belts,
even at 41. At some point, though, it will be just as ridiculous
to countenance that shot. "It's time to worry," says Abraham.
If Holyfield is edging toward disaster, trying to recapture
history that is becoming dangerously ancient, then Bowe has long
since crossed over the line. For his first fight after Holyfield,
Bowe gorged to 252 pounds and was savagely beaten about the ring
by Andrew Golota. It would surely have been Bowe's second loss
had not Golota been disqualified for repeated low blows. Their
rematch, with Bowe trimmed too far down, to 235 pounds, was
worse. Golota hammered Bowe helpless, more than 300 shots to the
head, but lost again after more low blows. Bowe believes he was
doped by someone in his camp, bamboozled again. But soon after,
at the insistence of Newman, who prepared a HEALTH VS. WEALTH
chart to make his case for quitting (he even secured a $1 million
goodwill-ambassador contract from HBO), Bowe announced his
On the virtual eve of his imprisonment, Bowe walks around his gym
and addresses his regrets. Number 1: retirement. "I was
ill-advised, things of that nature," he says. "I believe if I
kept fighting, I wouldn't have been frustrated, a lot of things
wouldn't have taken place. My career ended totally different from
what I thought. I was just 29!"
Two months after retiring, in a bizarre career swing, Bowe joined
the Marine Corps. He had been obsessed with the military for a
long time. "Ever since I was a kid," he says, "and saw this John
Wayne movie. I remember him ordering, 'Ease out.' That's what I
wanted to do." But Bowe thought his drill instructor was zeroing
in on him, the commands too personal, and he walked away. He had
lasted 11 days. "So," he says, "that's my second regret."
With Bowe brooding at home, his marriage to his childhood
sweetheart grew tense, to the point that they separated in June
1997. Judy moved with the children to North Carolina. Bowe
retired to his mother's basement. "I sat down there 20 hours a
day," he says. "I'd sleep three days at a time." Of all things,
he began losing weight--40 pounds in three months. "A bug came up
on me," Bowe says.
Finally, Bowe says, "I decided to stop being a punk, what have
you, to go down there and pull my family back together." Equipped
with pepper spray, duct tape, handcuffs and a knife, he sailed
forth in his Navigator to North Carolina, snatched three of his
children from a bus stop and then collected Judy at home, in her
pajamas, and the two other children for the drive back to
Maryland. Bowe admits the plan got hazy after that. "My thing
was, They'll see I'm changed, I'm O.K.," he says. "I guess that
At her first opportunity Judy called police, and Riddick fell
into a legal quagmire that has lasted five years. In the 1999
sentencing hearing, a defense team including Johnnie Cochran
produced testimony that Bowe had sustained brain damage (to the
frontal lobe), had a low IQ (79) and suffered from a diminished
capacity to make good decisions. The judge bought the argument
and sentenced Bowe to minimal prison time on the condition that
Bowe not fight. But that sentencing was later set aside on
appeal, and an 18-month prison term was finally imposed earlier
this year. "So that's my other regret," says Bowe, sitting on his
ring apron. "Getting married."
Bowe was eager, though, to begin his term and begin the comeback,
his path eased by forced discipline, the kind only the late Papa
Smurf had previously provided. "It's a blessing," he says of the
sentence. It wouldn't be long before he would once more be
enjoying the champ's kit and caboodle, "the excitement of coming
from a fight, putting the tape in, watching myself in action. The
things you looked forward to, and then they were done. Man, I've
A month before he went to jail, Bowe visited the Nevada State
Athletic Commission in Las Vegas to apprise it of his plans.
"Same old Bowe," says Marc Ratner, the executive director,
chuckling. "He wanted to talk about Fan Man. Said it was a
Holyfield, meanwhile, was talking up plans for a title fight with
Jones, who has been mentioning him as a possible opponent,
perhaps lured as much by the dollars that Holyfield's name still
generates as by his degeneration as a contender. Holyfield has
worked this scenario to his advantage before; who's to say he
"You'll see," says Holyfield, still sitting sideways in his
leather chair. "In 2004, when I'm champ again, people will say,
'He been champ five times, took all that long for him to reach
his goal. Look. Now he's happy.'"
The first fight took both men to the brink, though it was
Holyfield who finally went over. He was dumbfounded by Bowe's
The rematch was no less noble. The two men were still standing at
the bell, clawing at each other. "An easy fight?" says Holyfield.
Holyfield is wealthy beyond imagining, after a career of
pay-per-view blockbusters and hilariously skinflint living
Bowe put a good face on everything; it was part of his charm.
"Not a mean bone in his body," says Holyfield, "always clowning
After the knockdown, Bowe says, "I wasn't myself for two rounds.
I didn't feel anything, didn't hear anything. I felt I was in a
Their splendid series was over, and, removed from each other,
Bowe and Holyfield seemed to lose their bearings, bit by bit.