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Podium Pugilists

Most of the action came before—and after—Riddick Bowe's uninspired decision over Larry Donald

A pity they can't sell tickets to press conferences, televise rules meetings or just strap a camera to Rock Newman's head (the Rock Cam). Why shouldn't the public get to see the really good stuff? Why does the public have to put up with such third-rate entertainment as last Saturday night's heavyweight fight between Riddick Bowe and Larry Donald? If you pay $250 for a ringside scat and have to endure Donald's panicky circling for 12 interminable rounds and Bowe's striking inability to hit a moving target, you should at least get the additional opportunity to accompany, say, the process server as he attempts to deliver Bowe a civil complaint that prompts a postfight melee.

As it was, everything interesting happened before and after the fight, not during it. The bout itself was supposed to be pivotal in the comeback of Bowe, who is struggling for recognition and redemption after losing his WBA and IBF titles in a rematch with Evander Holyfield a year ago. But try as he might (and he might have tried harder), Bowe could not cut off the galloping Donald, and the fight instantly developed into a protracted chase scene. Round and round they went. It was so bad, tickets shouldn't have been sold to anybody with an inner-ear disorder.

If all you saw of it was the clockwise action from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, a fight Bowe eventually won by unanimous decision thanks to a battering but intermittent left jab, you would be correct to complain. Donald, who had no business being in the ring with Bowe at this stage of his embryonic career (though he was 16-0, he had been a pro less than two years), probably fought the only fight he could, considering that he apparently does not possess the power to harm Bowe. Still, it would have been more exciting to see him use his hands a little more than his feet.

"I was trying to wait until fatigue set in," said a puffy-faced Donald afterward. Well, the strategy worked. Maybe not on Bowe, but the rest of us were plenty tired of this display by the fourth round.

But who cares about the actual event when there's as much incidental intrigue as this match supplied. There was, of course, the press conference in Los Angeles five days before the fight, when Bowe suddenly went mental and hit Donald with what Bowe called a "hook-cross." Naturally, it engendered legal action (more about that later), but the principal result of that Hash combination was to focus attention on Bowe's year of frustration.

Bowe's ascension to the crown, led by his manager, Newman, was nettlesome enough to the boxing establishment that his eventual descent became the game's hot ticket. Forget Bowe's independence of promoters like Don King and Bob Arum, who virtually run the sanctioning bodies. How about Bowe, after beating Holyfield for the WBA, WBC and IBF titles in their first meeting, taking his WBC belt and literally dumping it in a garbage can? Bowe bore the brunt of the backlash, even though most of it was intended for the irascible Newman. Arguably the best fighter in the heavyweight division not now in an Indiana prison, Bowe was suddenly bypassed in the major rankings.

Ever since he lost the Holyfield rematch in November 1993 he has been, in the words of one promoter, "in a deep, dark place." King's restoration to power when one of his fighters, Oliver McCall, beat Lennox Lewis to win the WBC title was a complicating factor, as was George Foreman's unseating of Michael Moorer recently for the WBA and IBF crowns. Neither King nor Foreman has plans for Bowe.

Reduced to accepting fights with the likes of Buster Mathis Jr. (another debacle that was declared no contest when Bowe flattened the guy while he was on one knee) and Donald, Bowe stews in his relative inactivity, in his loss of respect. The day before the Donald fight, he slumped in Newman's suite and, almost poignantly, explained what had really set him off at the prefight press conference. It wasn't anything that Donald had said. In fact, Bowe couldn't hear him and doesn't know what Donald uttered. It's just that this kid stood right up there beside him at the dais, jabbering away when Bowe specifically told him to shut up! "Now, why wouldn't he shut up?" said Bowe. "I'll tell you one thing. If Mike Tyson had told him to shut up, he'd have shut up."

Although Bowe initially refused to apologize for his hook-cross, by the end of the fight he was feeling more gracious. He issued a "sincere apology." He even appeared at Donald's press conference to congratulate him, coming up behind him (watch for the hook-cross, for god's sake!) and massaging his shoulders.

However, nobody but Bowe was getting warm and fuzzy in the aftermath. There were still plenty of bad feelings between the two camps. Donald trainer Janks Morton wasn't happy about Newman's insistence that the ring be reduced from the normal 20 feet to 18—a virtual cage match by heavyweight boxing standards. The smaller ring reportedly prompted a shouting match between Newman and Donald's promoter, Arum, earlier that day, during which Arum threatened to pull Donald out of the fight.

Good feelings further dissipated when a process server approached Bowe in the press tent after the fight. The process server, one Harry Callicotte, said he was shocked by the language he heard as he attempted to deliver the complaint in a civil suit, filed by Donald, charging Bowe with assault and battery during the prefight press conference. Predictably, a fracas broke out between the camps, with chairs overturned and security summoned.

Bowe, whose only hope now is to win the WBO title held by Britain's Herbie Hide (the fight was signed for Las Vegas in March), quickly left the press tent and boarded his motor home for the long drive back to Maryland. Like the rest of us, perhaps, he had finally seen enough.



Bowes hook-cross combination at the prefight press conference set up his left jab during the fight.



[See caption above.]