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The evidence could be put into the VCR on the bus. Riddick (Big
Daddy) Bowe was no different from other fathers on Father's Day
-- strong, invincible, a protector against all things that go
bump in the night -- except, well, this father had the tape to
prove it. His four kids and his wife, Judy, pregnant with their
fifth, could gather around him on his day, in the back of his
$365,000 Beaver Coach Grand Marquis somewhere in Interstate
America, and watch him do all the heroic deeds kids think their
fathers can do.

"What's the bad man in the black cowboy hat saying to you?"
Riddick Jr., 8, or Riddicia, 6, or Brenda Joyce, 4, might ask
while Julius, 1, was dozing.

"He's saying, 'I will kill you,'" Big Daddy could reply.

"What are you saying to him?"

"I'm saying, 'Well, I will kill you back.'"

The tape was courtesy of HBO, handed to Bowe on Saturday night,
after he had finished 5-1/2 rounds of violent heavyweight boxing
work against Jorge Luis Gonzalez at the Las Vegas MGM Grand,
work that left Gonzalez twitching on the floor at the end,
referee Mills Lane stopping his count at seven to remove the
fallen man's mouthpiece. Bowe had not allowed his kids to watch
the fight as it happened, but they could see it now. The bus
ride was his family celebration.

"This is the first fight his kids have come out to see," Bowe's
publicist, Kelly Swanson, explained after the fight. "Not see,
exactly, but be around. With Father's Day the next day, he
wanted them here. This was one of the reasons he bought the bus,
so he could be with his family. If he was flying home, he
couldn't leave until [Sunday]; he'd miss the whole day. This
way, he fought, did the press conference, then everyone got on
the bus. They won't stop, except for gas, until they get home.
Probably sometime Monday."

Three members of Bowe's camp would split the driving. Big Daddy
could relax and watch the bad man fall again and again. No
parties. No interviews. No nonsense. The road stretched all the
way to Fort Washington, Md., and his big house. The first
sunrise of a revitalized future awaited.

Father's Day, 1995. Big Daddy was back in the hero business.
"I've got my head on straight now," Bowe said after improving to
37-1 with his 31st knockout. "I had a costly experience before,
but it was a learning experience. I know what I have to do."

Twenty months of questions had trailed him. Did he still want to
fight? Could he still fight? Would he ever look like the fighter
he once was? Since he lost the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles on
a decision to Evander Holyfield on Nov. 6, 1993, while seeming
out of shape and unconcerned, his dedication had been doubted.
Through the three bouts of his comeback -- a no-contest against
Buster Mathis Jr. (Bowe inadvertently hit Mathis while he was
down), a desultory decision over Larry Donald and even a
six-round knockout of English boxer Herbie Hide for the WBO
title he now holds -- the doubts remained. Gonzalez finally
helped to change opinions.

The hulking and skulking 6'7", 237-pound Cuban was 23-0 with 22
knockouts since leaving his country's national team in Helsinki,
Finland, and defecting to the U.S. to turn professional in 1991.
Though none of the pro fights was against a bona-fide contender,
he also carried a 220-13 (169 KOs) amateur record that included
a decision over Bowe in the 1987 Pan American Games. He knocked
Bowe to the floor two times and forced two other eight counts in
that fight.

In the new, capitalist stage of his career, under contract to
MGM Grand, Gonzalez had been cast as a boxing villain. He cursed
in Spanish. He dressed in black. He wore his hair in a bizarre
cut that seemed to come from some Quentin Tarantino barbershop.
He promised to annihilate all of his opponents, but centered his
most vile thoughts on Bowe. "I'm the lion and Bowe is the
hyena," Gonzalez said through interpreters. "I want to eat his
heart. His death is coming. He will regret the day his mother
gave him birth."

Bowe responded by working harder than he had since his first
fight with Holyfield in 1992, when he won a 12-round unanimous
decision to become the last undisputed champion the division has
seen. If he couldn't respond to this kind of
I-will-eat-your-heart motivation, then he couldn't respond to
anything. By Saturday night he had a solid plan for what he
wanted to do against Gonzalez and a large hyena embroidered on
the right leg of his boxing shorts. (Is this a boxing first?
Heavyweight champ with hyena on shorts? Researchers are checking
even as you read.) He never will look like a bodybuilder, but
the 6'5", 243-pound Bowe was in fighting shape.

"Gonzalez," Bowe promised, "is going to meet the biggest,
baddest hyena he's ever seen."

Almost as soon as the inspiring prefight HBO feature on
Gonzalez, Born to Hate, was finished, the fight was finished.
The biggest, baddest hyena put a big, bad right to the lion's
noggin midway through the first round, and the lion was slow and
awkward and quite tame the rest of the way. Bowe's strategy was
to beat him with jabs, to control him, to move him to the ropes
and then to pound him down. This was exactly what happened.
Gonzalez was wobbly in every round and took the final series of
blows, a heavy right off a faked left jab at 1:50 of the sixth,
that sent him to the canvas to stay. Lane, the referee, thought
of medical assistance rather than finishing the count.

Bowe's contention now is that he is the best heavyweight at work
today. There might be three other heavyweight champions at the
moment -- George Foreman (IBF); Oliver McCall (WBC); and Bruce
Seldon (WBA) -- plus a certain fighter fresh out of the Indiana
state prison system who draws more publicity, but who has had a
more impressive recent fight? Who has more promise to fight even
better fights? Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, is feuding with all
of the parties in charge of all of the other champions, plus the
ones running that fighter fresh from Indiana, so the future is
murky, but Bowe is a definite big-money attraction again. The
proposed schedule has a rubber match with Holyfield in November,
but anything could happen.

"It's the man who makes the belt," Newman thundered in
presenting Bowe's case. "It's not the belt that makes the man."

Riddick Bowe now makes this belt, at least, look fine.
Twenty months are done. Big Daddy is on the right road again.

COLOR PHOTO:V.J. LOVERO Bowe's jab got Gonzalez's attention, setting up the right hand that left him speechless. [Riddick Bowe fighting Jorge Luis Gonzalez]