Announced His intention to return to the ring, former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe, 37, who hasn't fought in nearly eight years and was released from prison last May after serving a 17-month sentence for abducting his first wife and their five children. In announcing his Sept. 25 bout against 38-year-old journeyman Jeff Lally (23-23-1) at an Indian casino in Oklahoma, Bowe said, "I truly believe I'm the best fighter out there, especially when I get in good shape. The division is wide open, so why not?"

There's a host of reasons to be skeptical of a Bowe comeback, not the least of which is that he appeared neurologically shaky when he hung up his gloves in 1997. In his last two fights Bowe (40--1; his only loss was to Evander Holyfield) absorbed savage beatings from Andrew Golota, who lost both bouts because he was DQ'd for low blows. Bowe's speech was slurred in interviews afterward, and he was essentially browbeaten into retirement by his handlers. "His strength was diminished, his reflexes were diminished, and he was starting to get hit and dropped in training," says former manager Rock Newman. "I told him he had too much wealth to jeopardize his health."

Bowe made a reported $20 million in the ring and is financially sound. But in 1999, after his abduction conviction, his lawyers said his judgment was impaired by trauma sustained in the ring. Bowe now calls the brain-damage defense a ruse, a claim Newman disputes: "He was told he was impaired, but if he led a normal life it would repair itself." Last week Bowe got a clean bill of health from neurologists hired by the Citizens Potawatomi Nation boxing commission, which is overseeing his bout with Lally. The ex-champ--who lost 70 pounds in prison, bringing him to 255--said he wants to fight 15 times and contend for the title in 18 months. "If he got in the ring I'd root for him," says Newman. "But I'd be scared while I was cheering."

COLOR PHOTOMICHAEL DOWNES/THE OKLAHOMAN/AP (BOWE) FIT TO FIGHT? Bowe (last week and with Holyfield in '92) wants 15 bouts.
COLOR PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (BOWE FIGHTING) FIT TO FIGHT? Bowe (last week and with Holyfield in '92) wants 15 bouts.

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