Riddick Bowe

GQ Sport, Oct 2005

Don’t Call It A Comeback: The unlikely return of Riddick Bowe.

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Update: Bowe was upset by this piece. He called me up and said “do me a favor and lose my number!” It’s hard. I like Riddick. He’s one of the nice guys in the sport, he was doing his best. And I know he wanted me to write him a puff piece about what a triumphant comeback it was going to be. And I wish it was. But it wasn’t. This is one of a few stories I did with photographer Chris Floyd. 

At Slanger’s Youth Boxing Club on the drizzly outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky, a small crowd has gathered to watch a big man skip. Or try to. ‘Big Daddy’ Riddick Bowe is in training for the second fight of his comeback, only seven days away now.

“I’m going to shock the world!” he announces, extricating his feet from the rope.

He shocked us once already, back in 1997. This friendly bear of a fighter, the genial joker, the gentle giant, had a meltdown akin to a landslide, gathering momentum as it went – first the alleged brain damage, then divorce, a charge of kidnap, domestic violence and finally, 15 months in prison. Like he says, “everything went crazy”. Since he got out in April 2004, the 37 year old former champion has been trying to recompose his life. Recover his stature. “I figure maybe 15 tune-ups before winning the title,” he says. “Then I’ll defend it five times and retire for good. Yeah.”

So far, things have gone well enough, though these are early days yet. He took less than six minutes to KO his first opponent, Marcus Rhode, in Oklahoma, August 25th. His second is expected to be of a similar calibre – a ‘tomato can’, a luckless journeyman to help build Bowe’s confidence and shed seven years of ring rust. Bowe thinks the guy’s name is Carver. When I called Chris Webb, the promoter, last week, he wasn’t sure if it was “Something Carver or Something Craver”. Webb referred me to his “associate” Randy who turns out to be his boss, Randall Waldman, who has come to watch Bowe skip too. Or try to. “It’s Kenny Craven,” Randy says, handing me a flier for the event, grandly billed as “Redemption.” At 24 wins and 14 losses, Craven is accustomed to getting thumped for money.

Waldman is a thriving local businessman who owns Slanger’s gym, the mini-mall next door and a fight promotion company called Straight-Up Promotions. The name is not intended to be ironic, though I’m always suspicious of claims of honesty in a title, particularly for a business like fight promotion, a racket as scrupulous as selling used cars. Still, ‘straight-up’ is a worthy aspiration and Waldman has high hopes for his new signing. He has done well with convicted heavyweights from the 90s. Only a few months ago, he and Webb – through a company called Straight-Out promotions – staged Mike Tyson’s drubbing at the hands of England’s valiant Danny Williams at the Louisville Gardens. Only after a threat to pull out was Williams paid a cash advance on his purse before the fight. Six months after his momentous win, he is still in litigation to get the rest.

“Our contract says five fights, but hopefully we’ll be with Bowe right up to a title shot,” Randy beams. “I want to hold it here in Louisville, the home of Muhammad Ali!”

Beside Randy stands Team Bowe, all six of them – a far cry from the entourage he had in the 90s, “all the syncophonts and the hangers-oners” as his ex-manager Rock Newman, a former used car salesman, describes them. Today Team Bowe consists of the fighter’s second wife Terri who runs Big Daddy Promotions, which co-promotes all his fights. Terri is accompanied at all times by three bashful, monosyllabic nephews who seem to just hang about. Not present today is Bowe’s unofficial manager, Jimmy Adams, a colourful character from the boxing backwater of Nashville, Tennessee, where he was accused in 1997 of offering homeless people $200 to fill out his undercards (a charge he denies).

Then there’s Bowe’s trainer, Richie Giachetti, a squashed, tubby man of 64, whose 42 years of coaching heavyweights appears to have left him permanently aggrieved. When I ask him how he paired up with Bowe, he says, “Bowe picked me. Because I never pick people, they always pick me. I took Oliver McCall to a title. I worked with Mike [Tyson], I put him in six packs. I had Ernie Shavers, Larry Holmes, I put ’em all in six packs. My track record speaks for itself. I got seven world champions, I worked at 40, 50 title fights. But fighters don’t want to pay me. They forgot how they got there. Like Larry Holmes said in his book, ‘anybody can give me water’. I laughed. No one even wanted him after the Berbick fight. We paid $2000 for him, he stayed in my house for four and a half years…”

As Giachetti grumbles, Bowe has decided to entertain us by predicting the fight Ali-style: “Bowe comes up to meet Carver. Carver starts to retreat. If he backs up any further he’ll end up in a ringside seat!” He does Bill Cosby too, and Ronald Reagan, but Ali is his favourite impression. It was Ali who first inspired him to box, Ali who inspired him to finish high school. When Bowe became champion, he went on an Ali-inspired world tour, meeting Nelson Mandela, the Pope and hugging kids in Somalia.

“Bowe swings with the left, Bowe swings with the right. Look at Bowe carry the fight!”

Look at him skip, though. Or try to. If only he was skipping like Ali, in a blur of rope. Instead he goes about ten clumpy jumps before his feet get tangled. A man calls out “92, man, 92!” to remind Bowe of the year he first became champion and lit up the heavyweight division with his fluid movement and his thunderous combinations. He was 25 then, leaner and quicker. He looked like the Bowe, draped in belts, who appears on the flier for next Saturday’s fight – the picture must be a decade old. The Bowe before me is a quite different prospect. His rhythm is off. He is heavy and lumbering, his sodden shirt clinging to his chest, his face splattered with sweat.

“Man, I’m so pretty.” he says. And he calls it a day.

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No prize in sports has quite the aura of the Undisputed Heavyweight Championship of the World. Without the upper weight limit, it marks a summit for the species – here stands the one man capable of defeating anyone else on the planet in a fist fight. But the superlatives cut both ways – boxing’s richest prize is often also accompanied by its furthest falls and saddest stories. Heavyweight history is full of tragic champions who end up either broke or in jail, brain damaged, bloated or suicidal. Jack Johnson was hounded to his grave, Joe Louis died penniless, Sonny Liston was murdered. But one needn’t search too far back. With the exception of Lennox Lewis, the 90s saw an especially troubled batch, with Mike Tyson at the head of the table. Oliver McCall had a breakdown in the ring, Frank Bruno had a breakdown outside of it. Tony Tubbs was jailed for possession of crack, Trevor Berbick given four years for raping his babysitter.

Heavyweight history supports the hoary wisdom that a fighter’s toughest battles are often outside the ring, and Riddick Bowe is no exception. But Bowe’s story also shows how boxing shielded him from these battles, at least staved them off for a while. Because while he was fighting, he seemed fine – his marriage was intact, his faculties unquestioned, his woes apparently at bay. It was retirement in 1997 that unhinged him.

He had been champion for five years on and off. He had conquered Holyfield in an epic trilogy, he was the darling of HBO and the fans. An affable champion. A hero, not a villain. While Tyson languished in jail, Bowe restored decency to a belt once so dignified by Ali, and there were several huge fights to make on his horizon, not least against Lewis and Tyson, both of whom he might have despatched on the right night. Certainly his record gave no good reason to quit – 41 wins, 0 losses and one no-contest.

But the numbers are deceiving. Bowe’s last two victories against Andrew Golota were Pyrrhic at best. Though the Pole was twice disqualified for low blows, Bowe suffered an ugly bludgeoning in the process, and after their second meeting, his brain damage seemed instant. He slurred so badly in his post-fight interview, the calls to retire came not just from his mother, his wife and his manager, but from ringside pundits and the doctors for the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

So, reluctantly, the undefeated 29 year old hung up his gloves and began casting about for a new vocation. A life spent in gyms as a star athlete had left him ill equipped for this phase of life, especially in the glare of the public eye, and his first choice was disastrous – he applied to become a US Marine at Parris Island in South Carolina. It had long been a childhood dream. But he quit after 11 days on account of how the regime was too strict, he missed his family and the drill instructor was picking on him and making personal comments. Sensitive to a fault, Bowe heard the jeers of the media louder than anyone. He became depressed and broody. His weight ballooned wildly. And then one night, his wife of 18 years fled to North Carolina with their five children. Bowe began to unravel.

There are different versions of what happened on 25th February 1998. But this much is clear: Bowe snapped. He was so desperate to get his family back together, he set off in his Lincoln Navigator, armed with pepper spray, handcuffs, duct tape and a knife. Once he’d picked them up, he headed back home to Fort Washington in Maryland, and somewhere along the way, his then-wife Judy Bowe was cut with the knife. They stopped at McDonalds where she called the police, and weeks later, Bowe was charged with kidnap. He pleaded guilty to interstate domestic violence.

Johnnie Cochran offered a back-handed defence for the fighter, arguing that Bowe had an IQ of 79 and had sustained frontal lobe damage during his career, so he was less equipped to make rational decisions at the time of the crime. His condition was temporary, argued Cochran, and would correct itself if he didn’t fight. And for a while the judge bought it, sentencing him to 30 days of jail and a prolonged probation on the condition that he stay clear of the ring. But on appeal, the shorter sentence was thrown out and Bowe was given 18 months. Five years after he stopped fighting, he had spiralled from heavyweight champion of the world into inmate #13603 at the Cumberland Federal Correctional Institute in Maryland.

“I never shoulda retired,” he says, ruefully. “As soon as I retired, it seemed like my whole life went downhill.”

When fighters make a comeback at the age of 37, it’s usually for money – for the money blown, swindled, lost and drained by out-of-court settlements. But not Bowe. He spent wildly, for sure – he bought seven houses, no end of furs and diamonds and a 26 car garage – but he didn’t spend it all. Of the almost $80 million he earned in purses, he estimates he’s currently worth $21 million, his properties included.

So if not for money, why box again? George Foreman returned to redeem his reputation and Larry Holmes came back to earn the respect he felt he missed the first time. But Bowe admits he was always given the proper credit and he twice became undisputed heavyweight champion, so what’s to prove? For Bowe, this comeback is about purpose. He learned that without boxing he is adrift, listless, unmotivated. “It’s like coming back to life,” he says. “Because what else do I have to look forward to? Nothing. But now with me coming back, I have the world to look forward to. I have everything to look forward to.”

Louisville is at once hallowed and haunted ground for a heavyweight comeback. As the birthplace of Ali, who won the title three times, it bodes well for Bowe who hopes to make it three this time around. But then Ali fought too long and too bravely, as did Greg Page, the Louisville fighter for whom Bowe’s second comeback fight is a fundraiser. Page is a former champion who ended his career on the canvas, here in Kentucky, aged 43 – his legacy in tatters, his brain badly swollen and his wallet empty. For his 75th fight Page was rewarded with $1500 and life in a wheelchair.

There are those, like Rock Newman, who believe that Bowe should heed Page’s lesson – that he should quit and not fight a benefit for a fighter who really should have quit. “I don’t believe Bowe is brain-damaged because he had to pass a battery of tests to get into the marines,” says Newman. “But I saw in the second Golota fight, that his speed has gone, his reflexes are slower. Bowe needs to be careful in there.”

Later that night over dinner, I ask Bowe about his fitness to fight. It’s a sore subject. “Tell me something,” he says. “Do I sound slurry to you?” I tell him “a little” and he looks upset. “Oh you think so? Well, let me explain something to you. I always talked like this. I was slurring after Golota because I had trauma to the head, but not permanent trauma. I’m back to normal now. If I was slurry how come I’m yet to hear you say ‘excuse me, I didn’t understand that’. It’s an oxymoron. The two don’t go together. As an American, I got a right to earn a living. I paid my debt to society, so leave me alone. If George Foreman could do it, why can’t I? I fight better than George. I’m younger.”

This is true. Thirty-seven is a feasible, if improbable age to become heavyweight champion – Jersey Joe Walcott won at 37, Foreman won at 45. And to be fair, he’s right about his voice – looking back at old tapes, Bowe has always had a drowsy way of talking. The way he sees it, the division is wide open these days. “I’d love to fight those Klitchkos,” he says. “They’re all front runners – just hit ’em and they’ll go. And after that, I want Lennox Lewis.” He makes a ribald statement about Lewis’ sexuality and grins, elbowing me in the ribs. “You like that huh? Put that in the article. Maybe he’ll read it and get mad and fight me.”

But what about the frontal lobe damage which was part of his defence against the kidnap charge?

Bowe shakes his head. “No, no, that was just to reduce the sentence. I’m fine. Rock Newman told me to take those tests because he wants to keep me out of boxing. That’s why he’s telling all these doctors to say I ain’t fit to fight, I’m brain-damaged and what have you.”

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As the food is cleared from the table, Bowe checks my tape recorder. “Is this thing on? Because I’m going to tell you exactly what happened when the whole kidnap thing went down.”

OK Riddick, go ahead.

“First Judy’s mom called and said ‘be a man and go get your wife and kids’. So I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Then I gave Judy a call and she said, ‘you’re not going to get no more of this pussy’ and that’s what really triggered me to go get her. Because it seemed like someone else was already in the picture. What people don’t understand is that the pepper spray and the handcuffs and all that was left in the truck. I thought if there was a guy there and he wanted to fight, I would put the duct tape on him and go on about my business. Being in love, man, you’d be surprised what you will do. But I didn’t go in with all that stuff. I just knocked on the door and I said ‘come on Judy let’s go.’

“On our way back to the house, she said, ‘the kids are hungry’, so we stopped at McDonalds. If I wanted to kidnap her, would I have taken her to a public place? She borrowed my cell phone and went into the bathroom. When she came out she told me she had called the police because she changed her mind. I said, ‘OK, whatever.’ The police came, I just gave her the truck and I called a limo service to come pick me up. I was never arrested. Then a month later I get indicted for kidnapping.”

What about Judy’s cut?

“That was an accident. I was just showing her I had a knife, but then we hit a bump and it scratched her. That’s all it was – a scratch. The judge threw it out. He said he had worse cuts in the kitchen cutting a tomato. I mean, I can fight – what do I want with a knife? The reason I had it was for the duct tape. I just wanted to get my family back. And I admit I went about it the wrong way, and I’m sorry for that. But people need to understand that I’m not a mean person. I never had any convictions before or after. It’s just not in my character to hurt anybody.”

Bowe doesn’t seem at all mean in person. Mean was never his style. He and Tyson, though raised in the same Brooklyn slums of Brownsville, were always of opposite temperaments – one menacing and explosive, the other friendly and easy-going. Bowe laughs a lot, he teases Richie incessantly and he calls everybody he meets ‘big guy’, particularly little kids. “Aw I love kids, what you talking ’bout?” he says. “I just like people really. I’m a people person. Like I like doing these interviews. This is what I missed when I was out the game. Talking to guys like you.” He brightens when a waiter asks for his autograph. And when the waiter leaves, Bowe says, “when that stops, that means you dead. And dying ain’t much of a living.”

It’s difficult to reconcile this good-humoured, genial Bowe with kidnap, knives and spousal abuse, but the public face of fighters is rarely transparent and their relationships with women are frequently abusive. In Bowe’s case there have been incidents both prior to and since the ‘kidnap’, though none have resulted in convictions. “All the family I got is right here,” Bowe says, pointing at Terri, who has fallen asleep on his shoulder. And yet he was arrested for assaulting her, first in February 2001, and then again in early 2003, only a week before he went to prison. Both times he vigorously protested his innocence and, according to Terri, he was actually protecting her from assault, first by Bowe’s nephew and in the second incident by his son Riddick Jr. “You want to know about Bowe, you need to understand his family,” says Terri. “I never seen anything like it in my life.”

It’s a Sunday morning in the Louisville ghetto and Team Bowe has arrived for a spot of pre-fight PR. In about ten minutes, they will be distributing turkeys out of the back of a van, posters will be signed, and local TV cameras will shoot the big man goofing around with Richie, scooping up the little kids and whirling them around.

But for now, the mood is grave. They are standing around a cobbled memorial to the latest victim of local gang violence while a community organiser, Christopher 2X, talks about the rising crime rate. Randy says a few words about how “these kids just need to know that someone cares about them, and that’s why we’re here”. Then the cameras turn on Riddick. “This place is just like where I grew up,” he says. “And I’m just here to tell the kids: surround yourself with positive people and work hard and you can be a champion too.”

This is the role that Bowe was supposed to play – not the convict, the abuser, the pepper spray desperado, but the example to ghetto children that however stark your circumstances may be, you can always overcome where you came from. Since his fall from grace, however, the message of Bowe’s story has changed – however privileged your circumstances, you can always be overcome by where you came from. And this is why Bowe’s is one of the saddest stories in boxing.

He grew up as the second youngest of 13 fatherless children in a sixth floor apartment in Brownsville. Armed crack dealers guarded the stairways in his building. Shootings and robberies were commonplace. His older brothers and sisters – some over 20 years his elder – fell variously into drug abuse and crime. But young Riddick let nothing distract him from his boxing. Inspired by Ali, he trained hard at the gym, never got in trouble and became only the second person in his family to finish high school. Every day, on the very streets which Tyson terrorised as a young thug, Riddick would walk his mother Dorothy to her factory job.

“I was happy then,” he says, sounding maudlin. “I thought we were rich. I had all my brothers and sisters looking after me. I was living the life until I had to look after myself.”

His sister Kimberly describes a much rougher childhood, in which Dorothy Bowe, the only parent they ever knew, was a hard drinker and physical with it. “Mama didn’t believe in no belt-whipping,” she says. “It was hands. But she never beat on Riddick. He had it easy.” This might explain why Riddick, as the baby of the family, has fonder memories of his mother. He even cites her as his first role model. “I guess because she worked hard and she didn’t hang out on the street,” he says. “She took a drink or two, but that’s about it.” He has always put the sunniest spin on his childhood, however poor and turbulent. Those were the days when his future was lit by dreams of becoming a champion, and his present secured by the discipline of the gym.

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But boxing could insulate him only so far. The galloping chaos of his family life was always near at hand. Three weeks before the Seoul Olympics in 1988, his closest sister Brenda was stabbed to death with an icepick by a junkie – 18 times in the chest, and 13 times in the back. As he faced Lennox Lewis in the final, Bowe knew that another close sibling, Henry, was dying of AIDS. On reflection, Bowe’s silver was not as ‘Riddickulous’ as some commentators charged. But Bowe took the criticism hard. “Mama was strong,” says Kimberley. “I never saw her drop a tear in her life, but Riddick wasn’t himself after the Olympics. No more laughing and joking. He wanted to give up boxing and join the Marines.”

The Marines would have to wait. For the next eight years, Bowe built one of the most exceptional pro careers in the sport. He seized the championship in a blistering battle with Holyfield – their 10th round stands as one of the best ever in heavyweight boxing. He travelled the world, he made a fortune, he married his high school sweetheart Judy and they raised five children, the first of whom was a boy, Riddick Lamont Bowe Jr. Bowe’s success seemed so complete and wholesome that it had the qualities of a fable. As an independent fighter Bowe could negotiate better purses than many fighters of his day – under Rock Newman’s guidance, he managed to slip the contractual shackles of Don King. So Bowe used his wealth to move his family out of their Brownsville apartment to the relatively upscale suburbs in Georgia, buying four separate houses for his three sisters and his mother. He put them all on monthly allowances. He was rescuing his family from its ghetto past. Or so he thought.

Terri Bowe takes me aside, as Team Bowe head back into their vans. She says, “let me tell you about Bowe’s family. Our house has been broken into several times and it was his family every time. We got broken into so much, our insurers dropped us. His nephew Stefan stole our jewellery – he did three years for that. He’s been to jail for rape, robbery, oh you have no idea. And his another nephew, Abraham stole our furs, about $250,000 worth. He did two years.

“It was shocking to me. I don’t come from a family like that. Can you imagine – he went to jail, and none of them visited him, not once? I never forget when we were driving up to the prison, Bowe called his mom, he said ‘I’m going to put myself in the jail now, mama, but don’t worry about me, I’ll be strong’. And his mother said ‘what about my money?’ That was the first time I saw him cry. Poor baby. He got off the phone and bawled.”

Bowe’s not training today. “Sunday’s for the Lord,” he says. And anyway, he’s hungry, so once the turkeys have been distributed, we head off to an Italian restaurant for dinner. If Bowe has a crutch it’s not liquor, crack or call girls, but food. He lapsed all too often into the see-food diet – he sees food, he eats it. After winning the championship, he even once considered fitting a kitchen into the master bedroom of his first house.

“Don’t be stressing me about my food, Richie,” says Bowe, ordering liberally from the menu. “I’m a heavyweight. When I get on the scales, what’s it say?” Richie grins. “To be continued.”

“That’s right!” Bowe laughs and polishes off his bowl of mussels. “OK, you got your tape recorder ready, big guy? Because I’m going to tell you the whole story right here.”

OK Riddick, go ahead.

And as we eat, he talks and talks, until the bill is paid and we leave to Team Bowe’s humble digs, where he talks some more. He paints a picture of a cheating ex-wife, thieving siblings, a crooked ex-manager, a cold-hearted mother. All his efforts to improve his family’s lot, to move them out of Brownsville and pay their way, appear to have come to nothing. Rather they have backfired. “It’s not easy being me,” he says. “Because of my money, people changed on me. I wished that my money would have brought us closer, and made us stronger as a family, but unfortunately it did just the opposite.”

The litany of dysfunction, bitterness and familial treachery Bowe describes is staggering. It is as though he never left Brownsville after all. The houses he bought his sisters have been threatened with repossession because they haven’t paid the property taxes of $1000 a year. Some have been raided because they allegedly double as stash houses for drug dealers. Now Bowe is kicking them out. “I supported them for 15 years,” he says, “but now they gotta go. I cut off their monthly allowance. You could call it tough love, I guess.” His infirm mother is furious with him for cutting off his siblings, so she passes on whatever she can to support them. “I bought my mother mink coats, diamonds, pearls, a Rolls Royce, you name it,” says Bowe, “and she don’t have none of that stuff now. She just gives it away. I guess it’s a mother’s love.” To stop her from signing her house over to one of his cousins, Bowe has transferred power of attorney to his sister Kimberly. And again, Kimberly describes a harsher scene. “People come in one door, and they steal out the other door,” she says. “Mama got to pay them to take her to the bathroom.”

As for Bowe’s first marriage to Judy, a whole series of Jerry Springer would not suffice. “We got married because we had a baby and I wanted to do right by her. We was in high school,” Bowe says. “And 18 years later I discover that Riddick Lamont Bowe Jr is not my biological son. Two years ago I took a DNA test, right before I went to jail. I was crushed.” The wound is fresh. Bowe has since blackened out a tattoo on his back of Riddick Jr’s face. Judy is trying to sue him for Riddick Jr’s college fees, but Bowe wants no more contact with either her or the boy. He says he has learned of three or four affairs that Judy was having, with former members of his training camp, and even members of his family. “She lied to me for 18 years. I was bewildered,” he says.

Given the carnage of his personal life, the news that Bowe suspects his ex-manager of malfeasance is almost reassuring. It is one of the commonest stories in boxing. And though Newman laughs it off – when Bowe tried to sue him for $55 million, the case was thrown out and he had to submit a formal apology – Bowe himself is undeterred. “I didn’t have the evidence I needed at the time,” he shrugs. “But I will one day. And the whole world’s going to know what kind of poison [Newman] is.” In a week he will call to say that he hasn’t got the proof, but he suspects Rock Newman of having an affair with his ex-wife.

Needless to say, both Rock Newman and a source close to Judy Bowe deny all of the charges above, the affairs, the embezzlement, and so on. They insist that Riddick has become delusional and paranoid; that he shows little remorse for a convicted domestic abuser. And wherever the truth may lie here, a degree of paranoia in a heavyweight champion is not unheard of. Boxing, by its nature, breeds mistrust and suspicion. It’s a world of dirty politics and secret handshakes, wise guys, bullshitters and backstabbers. For a champion, flush with new wealth and celebrity, to constantly wonder which of your friends are real and which are false can be corrosive. And Bowe isn’t the only fighter to sense dark forces colluding against him and then to lash out against his wife. In fact, we’ve heard much of Bowe’s story before – the one about the fighter from the slums who marries the neighbourhood sweetheart and wins the championship, but despite his wealth, success and adulation, becomes intensely jealous and paranoid that his wife is cheating on him. Spousal abuse follows, then divorce in which the wife leaves with the kids. It’s the story of Jake La Motta, the Raging Bull.

As Bowe embarks upon his third act, he would do well to picture the bloated Jake La Motta telling jokes in an empty Florida bar, to remember the perils of indulging his paranoia. And there is no better fighter to remind him of the dangers of making a late comeback, than his old friend and rival, Evander Holyfield, who at 42, is still sadly whittling the majesty of his record and his health. Holyfield has won only two of his last seven fights, and though considerably richer than Bowe and more dedicated to training, he seems dangerously deluded about his potential. Few fighters fell harder after retirement than Bowe, but at least his health is intact. So often champions risk destroying that which made them such awesome fighters in the first place. Roy Jones Jr summed up the attitude best. “I don’t want to lose on my feet because that would have meant I could have done more,” he said. “If you’re going to beat me, damn near kill me.”

Bowe may be fighting again to restore order to his life, to rise above the quagmire of his family relationships as he did in his youth. But there is no evidence beyond his own self-belief to suggest that he might actually win the championship again. His challenge now is to restore his relationship with his children, to transcend the bitterness of his divorce and the whispers of his paranoia. Already the cycle of fatherless dysfunction is beginning to loop. Riddick Jr was arrested for assault in 2003. Reeling from the news that Bowe is not in fact his father, he was charged earlier this year with possession of a concealed firearm. Whatever challenge the hapless Kenny Craven may pose next Saturday, it pales beside the rehabilitation of Riddick Jr.

As it is, the Craven fight doesn’t happen. With only five days to go, Bowe injures his shoulder and calls the thing off. “Well that’s what we were told,” says Waldman, after the event. “You gotta remember that there’s a lot of dishonest people in boxing.” So I call Bowe to ask him about his shoulder. He says, “it’s OK big man, it’s OK. But here’s the thing – those guys in Kentucky didn’t want to pay me right. They guaranteed me $100,000, but then they said 80, 85, I can’t remember. But I’m fine, still with Richie. I’m still going after that heavyweight title.”

It has been four months since Bowe last fought. At this rate, his 15 tune-up bouts will take him till he’s 43. “Tell ’em I’m going to shock the world, big guy. Say that in the piece.”