Riddick Bowe Is Growing Out of His Past


Like a born politician, Riddick Bowe worked one of the capital's busiest intersections, pressing palms, signing autographs, kissing women and babies, exchanging wisecracks and even doing passable imitations of Eddie Murphy, Stevie Wonder and Muhammad Ali.

After a half-hour, he changed into his work clothes, donning white boxing trunks to skip rope and shadowbox against a few brave volunteers in the crowd.

In the background, a publicity crew hired to hype Bowe's match against former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas at the University of the District Columbia on Friday night, carried signs that read: "Riddick Bowe for Heavyweight Champion."

Two years ago, Bowe was held in such low esteem that he could not have run for dog catcher. Critics suggested he belonged on the other end of the net.

"Ridiculous" Bowe was the tag put on the uninspired Brooklyn-born fighter who was counted out standing up after offering only token resistance in his gold-medal match against Canada's Lennox Lewis in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.

"The reporters called me lazy, crazy and a clown," Bowe said. "(TV fight analyst) Ferdie Pacheco told the world that I was a space cadet. They didn't know the true story.

"It hurt, really hurt. So many people were ready to write me off as being washed up at 20, I started to believe all that negative stuff myself. But I was lucky. There were still a few people, like (manager) Rock Newman and (trainer) Eddie Futch, who still believed in me and gave me a new life. That's why I'm here today."

Today Bowe has an 18-0 pro record that has placed him on the brink of stardom in a talent-poor heavyweight division replete with retreads, like George Foreman, who, at 41 and 270 pounds, has emerged as a folk hero and leading contender.

Thomas, who has fought only sporadically and apparently with little passion since losing his title to Trevor Berbick four years ago, is considered Bowe's first serious test.

But Newman, who says he has invested his life savings in the 6-foot-5, 225-pound heavyweight, says Bowe is a classic success story simply by having overcome the temptations of the same mean streets of Brownsville, N.Y., that produced former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

"I remember the first time I came to talk to Bowe and his mother, Dorothy," Newman said. "He lived in this housing project, and when I get close, I see 35 or 40 people lined up outside the door. I figure they're giving away food or clothes. But they were all looking to buy drugs.

"Riddick's on the sixth floor, and the elevator is broken. I start climbing the stairs, and on every floor there was a lookout with a gun, even some guys with Uzis checking me out. I grew up in Washington but never saw anything like this. It scared the hell out of me.

"... Then I see Riddick living in this little flat with his 11 brothers and sisters, and somehow surviving and holding his head up," Newman said. "He was totally unaffected by his surroundings. That convinced me he was already a winner."

Newman thought enough about the young fighter to look past the accusations that he was "a quitter" when an Olympic gold medal was within his grasp.

"I was one of the only guys who bothered to check on Riddick after he lost in the Olympic finals," Newman said. "I visited him in the locker room and found out that he had been fighting with a bandaged right ankle.

"It was diagnosed as a stress fracture. The team doctor didn't want him to fight, but wasn't about to ruin his dream. And, a week before the Olympics, Riddick's sister, Brenda, was blown away by an addict. Nothing was written about that."

Bowe offered no excuses for his Olympic defeat.

"I learned a long time ago that no one wants to hear excuses," he said. "I had a torn tendon in my right hand besides my sore ankle, but that was nothing compared to losing Brenda. She was my soul sister, and I still wake up crying, thinking about her."

Only Newman saw the depth and understanding in a young fighter who played the court jester for reporters. It was easier that way to mask the pain.

Newman invested $50,000 of his own money and then created an investment group, led by Maryland attorney Jeff Fried, to raise an additional $500,000 to launch Bowe's professional career.

As a radio broadcaster and avid fight fan, Newman had seen a similar financial plan work for Sugar Ray Leonard, who, with the help of attorney Michael Trainer, steered clear of alliances with promoters Don King and Bob Arum and became the ring's wealthiest practitioner.

"My main goal was to keep Bowe independent," Newman said while watching his fighter spar at the Round One gym in Cheverly. "He didn't have the benefit of the Olympic fanfare that Sugar Ray had. After he lost to Lewis, most of the big-time promoters figured he'd come crawling to them on hands and knees.

"But I was determined to stay free of the Kings and Arums. They might have pushed him quicker into big-money fights. But I have a dream, just like Riddick, of him becoming heavyweight champion without help from the establishment."

To pursue his dream, Newman needed the help and wisdom of Eddie Futch, considered boxing's premier trainer, having worked with 15 former world champions, including Joe Frazier and Ken Norton.

Futch, who recently engineered Maurice Blocker's upset of World Boxing Council welterweight champion Marlon Starling, says he shares the skepticism over Bowe's potential.

"I was preconditioned. I'd heard all the same negative stories about him," said Futch, whom Bowe affectionately calls "Papa Smurf."

"I'm 79, and I didn't want to waste time on some spoiled kid. The first time I met him was at the Tyson-Spinks fight in Atlantic City. He walks up to me and says, 'Do you know me?' And I say, 'Am I supposed to?' That kind of stopped him cold."

After constant prodding by Newman, Futch agreed to audition Bowe in Reno, Nev.

"I found out he was really an inoffensive, nice kid," Futch said. "I also found out he was willing to learn and work, even on his own."

Futch put Bowe to a test. "I told him one day I was going out of town, but that he should continue doing his roadwork early in the morning. It was a real cold day, and I drove to the end of this mountain trail where he's supposed to finish up. And there he was, puffing up that hill and surprised to see me."

With his typical patience, Futch has worked to make the once lackadaisical Bowe into a purposeful fighter with obvious ring skills.

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