By Anthony Evans: Since former manager Rock Newman talked the former undisputed world heavyweight champion into retirement in December 1996, life has been pretty rotten for Riddick Bowe. The fighter's embarrassing 11 day stint as a US Marine, the kidnapping of then-wife Judy and their children, the legal battles and eventual 17 month incarceration in a Maryland prison have been well documented.
The beautiful, cruel sport of boxing has been Riddick Bowe's saviour once before. As the seventh son in a family of 13 children, Bowe used boxing as an escape route from the swarming dangers of 250 Lott Avenue, an apartment block known to everyone in the Brownsville ghetto as being 'owned' by crack dealers. Bowe's sister, Brenda, was knifed to death by a dealer near the family home in a building where junkies would stand on sentry duty with machine and shot guns.
As soon as his purses were sufficiently large, Bowe moved his family to Fort Washington, Maryland. Boxing was Bowe's rescuer two decades ago; he hopes it will be again because while his courage in the ring seemed absolutely inexhaustible he hinted the despondency which laid siege to his life following his retirement almost overwhelmed him.
"I'd be sitting alone at home watching fights on TV and I'd miss it so bad I'd just burst out cryin'," he told SecondsOut. "A lot of people are telling me I shouldn't fight and whatever the case may be but you should be able to do what you want to do. I mean, let me do what makes me happy. If it wasn't for boxing what else would I do? I could just go and die someplace and I wouldn't want that to happen. So guys like me and my buddy Evander Holyfield should be allowed to fight for as long as we want to continue.
"As long as I am boxing things go good for me," he continued. "Boxing and my wife (Terri, a fight fan and former fashion marketer he met in 1999 who now doubles as his promoter) are the most important things to me in my life. Boxing is what I live for. I feel I'm still young. I feel that I can still do it and I really want to do it, so why shouldn't I do it?
"I missed it all so much. I never wanted to retire but my manager at the time convinced me to. I knew all I needed was a rest but I got talked into a retirement situation. I really didn't want to, I told everyone I just needed a rest and then keep fighting and that's what I should have done. Once I retired I became so frustrated and my life kept going downhill but now I'm boxing again my life is going back up. Now I can make good on things I should have done in the past."
Bowe then spoke enthusiastically about winning back the undisputed title, helping out poor communities, homeless people, and doing interviews on major talk shows.
"I miss the media attention, going to special occasions and meeting people and getting the chance to help communities. I really miss all that. But the things from the past will come once again."
As mentioned here previously, the plan is for Bowe to fight six or seven times before the end of spring 2005 and then move towards a major fight. Team Bowe say they are taking the comeback tour to the people by boxing off the beaten track in places like Shawnee, Oklahoma, where he scored his inaugural comeback win in September and Louisville, Kentucky, where he is expected to fight in November.
But leading medical opinion is that Bowe is sticking to the side-streets because he is - as his lawyer Johnny Cochran once claimed in an attempt to argue 'diminished responsibility' for the kidnapping incident - brain damaged.
Both the Nevada and New York Commissions have made it clear Bowe would have an excruciatingly difficult time, to say the very least, in receiving a licence to box there and it seems that is why Bowe is swimming in the boxing backwaters.
Both the fighter and his wife/promoter deny that is the case.
"That's some people's opinion but I know I've passed five MRI scans," Bowe said. "If there was something wrong with me, I wouldn't box. Let me tell you something, when I went to court they (Bowe's defence team) tried to make it into a big deal and it wasn't. I saw government doctors and they said I was OK. It was just a lawyer's idea, a trick, that is now unfortunately backfiring on me."
Yet Dr. Margaret Goodman told SecondsOut's Mark Butcher recently: "Anyone can pass these tests... In order to determine if he or any boxer under these circumstances is medically clear, one must compare evaluations from when he was declared to have brain damage to current evaluations, perform current neurobehavioral evaluations, psychiatric evaluations, and review the fighter's films over time."
Bowe argued: "I had two hard fights with Andrew Golota but, really, I am OK. Once people speak to me and see me they know I am OK."
So why not fight in New York, Nevada, New Jersey or anywhere else where he'd have to undergo the types of in-depth evaluations Dr. Goodman spoke of?
"I'm working up to that point," Bowe said. "I just want to be strong and look good for the public before I get there."
"I have one thing in mind and that's to protect my husband," added Terri Bowe. "Riddick is fighting in these places because these are the people who have offered him a place to fight. We're not ducking or avoiding anything, Riddick is 100% sound. He's in excellent condition so there's no reason he can't make a living or do whatever he loves to do and nobody can tell him that he can't. And if they do, we'll put a stop to it. I'm a wife first, and I love him and if something was wrong with my husband he would not be getting in the ring."
But, irrespective of the grave concerns regarding Bowe's neurological health, there are worries about what an eight year lay-off has done to his body in terms of his ability to box.
It was written Muhammad Ali made boxing his moveable feast, but Bowe turned himself into a walking junk food mountain. Immediately after winning the championship in 1992, he ballooned to a reported 260lbs pounds and wouldn't scale his title-winning weight of 235lbs until the second Golota bout. By then years of poor living and worse eating had robbed him of his vast athletic gifts.
Given that he couldn't control his gastronomic impulses even as the ruling heavyweight champion of the world, I wondered how healthy Bowe'd lived as a retired millionaire.
"I went up to around 320lbs," he admitted. "You tell me how healthy I was. Look, I know getting back in shape will be very hard but as time goes by I'll get fitter and sharper."
One wonders. And worries. Despite being miserable for much of the late 1990s Bowe remains an extremely likable guy. Although closing in on 40, the boyish charm and wit which endeared him to so many is still there.
"It's much harder than it was when I was in my mid-20s, how about that?" he laughed. "Richie (Giachetti) is training me very hard, too hard I keep telling him but he won't listen to me. But once I am in shape I'm winning back my title. Klitschko is the best of the sad bunch but he won't go 12 rounds with me."
As I noted after speaking with former WBC champion and underachiever Oliver McCall recently, so many boxing comebacks are motivated by regret and the final realisation that youth is over and there are no more tomorrows.
While Bowe has two memorable wins over a prime Evander Holyfield (including a climb off the floor KO in November of 1995) and is regarded as fine an in-fighter as there has been in the heavyweight division, he never reached the heights his abilities and physicality placed within his compass.
Instead of facing Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, he squandered his athleticism and championship reign by defending his title in microwave meal mismatches against the aged Michael Dokes (w ko 1) and journeyman Jesse Ferguson (w ko 2) before relinquishing the title back to Holyfield weighing fully 11lbs more than for their initial encounter just 12 months previously.
A decade and more on, Bowe has hit a bedrock of regrets.
"I think that's a bit part of it," he confessed. "I didn't do a lot of the things I could have or should have the first time around. The biggest regret is that clown Lennox Lewis wouldn't step up to the plate and fight me and I'm hoping that idiot will finally come fight me. He's not been retired that long and he's got no excuse not to fight me. Absolutely, I want Lennox still."
It is now 16 years since the Olympic super-heavyweight final where a stoppage Lewis win burdened Bowe with preposterous accusations of cowardice that took years to silence. But the shards of the white-hot feud between the two giant finalists still smoulder.
Bowe said: "We were friends once, but Lennox told me after (the 1988 Olympic bout) that the referee shouldn't have stopped the fight and then he went and bragged to everyone that he'd knocked me out. That's when we started having bad feelings for each other; he called me names and so I called him a faggot. Tell him to keep running and drinking his orange juice because this fight can still go on."
But Bowe v Lewis will remain the biggest fight that never happened. At one point it was signed for March of 1995, with Lewis defending his WBC title, but McCall's right hand laid those plans to waste. Then there was an altercation between the pair in a Las Vegas hotel lobby in 1996; the rivals were quickly separated, Lewis walked away towards a guaranteed place in the Hall of Fame while Bowe just drifted towards the shadows.
This bothers Bowe.
"I couldn't believe how Lewis went on to win all this stuff and get called this and that," he said. "I knew all along I'd beat him with ease, and he was so fortunate to come along at a time Holyfield and Tyson was old and he could do what he wanted to do. I believe that until he beats me he can't claim to be the best heavyweight of his era."
The majority would beg to differ. Three weeks ago I asked Lewis what he thought of Bowe's comeback. "Riddickulous," he said.
"Dangerous," say others.
Anthony Evans welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org