In yet another example of life imitating bad art, last
Saturday's rematch between Riddick Bowe and Andrew Golota at the
Atlantic City Convention Center shamelessly ransacked Rocky IV.
Like Rocky Balboa, Bowe is a lovable lug and a former
heavyweight champion who was out to avenge a shellacking. And
like Eastern bloc-head Ivan Drago, the Polish-born Golota is a
scowling cuss. The main difference between fight fact and fight
fiction on Saturday was the ending: Fact turned out to be far
more improbable than anything Sylvester Stallone ever cooked up.
Just as in their first bout on July 11, Golota was handling Bowe
easily in the scheduled 10-rounder: After eight rounds he was
ahead on the cards of all three judges (75-71, 75-73 and 74-72).
And just as in July, the 6'5" Bowe was awarded the victory after
Golota was disqualified for repeated low blows. This time the
final foul--a right-left-right combination to Bowe's groin--came
with only two seconds left in the ninth round. "Golota had the
fight won, he had it won!" moaned his co-trainer, Lou Duva. "I
pleaded with him: 'You're way ahead. Just throw straight jabs
and straight rights. Straight. Straight. Straight. Don't go to
the body.' What made him go low, I don't know. I can't explain
it. And neither can he. Maybe next time I'll have him fight a
Golota has a voice that issues from a mouth seemingly full of
marbles. Sometimes the results are comical. In Atlantic City,
Golota called room service and ordered a pitcher of orange juice
and a pitcher of cranberry juice. A waiter soon arrived with the
two pitchers, a bucket of ice, a bottle of Absolut vodka and a
bill for $183. It turns out Golota had said, "Absolutely no ice."
Inside the ring, the 6'4", 239-pound Golota is a huge, unruly
talent who delivers more cheap shots than David Letterman. His
repertoire last Saturday included rabbit punches, a head butt
and low blows. "I'm called dirty fighter, but I don't agree,"
said Golota in the week before the bout. "A fight is a fight,
not day care."
For weeks Duva had worked on altering the trajectory of Golota's
punches by outfitting a heavy bag with a pair of outsized
trunks. And in Round 2 last Saturday, Golota aimed high with
left-right combinations and flurries of jabs that sent Bowe
crashing to the canvas. Bowe rose, wobbling, and was promptly
head-butted by Golota. That shot cost Golota a point and delayed
the round 20 seconds, during which Bowe was able to recuperate.
It also opened a gash over Golota's left eye: Blood began to
gush down his cheek.
Though Bowe's legs quickly lost their spring, his punches
retained their sting. Fifty-six seconds into the fourth round, a
Bowe right sent Golota down for an eight-count. An enraged
Golota arose to nail Bowe twice with flurries below the belt.
The second, a three-punch combo, cost Golota another point. It
cost Bowe momentum. "That last punch was hard," Bowe said later,
wincing slightly at the unhappy memory. "When you get hit in the
cup, it drains you." For the rest of the fight Bowe's face
carried an expression of seminarcotic wooziness: He staggered
around the ring as if he had been shot with a tranquilizer dart.
While Golota fans waved a POLE-AX 'EM ANDREW! banner and Bowe
offered only token resistance, Duva urged Golota to pounce. "Jab
straight up," he told him before the seventh round. "You're
Early in that round, Golota landed a right to Bowe's face.
Bowe's head sagged.
"Pick up the pace, pick up the pace," Duva shouted from beyond
the ring apron.
Golota backed Bowe into the ropes with a sharp left. Bowe's
hands groped for Golota.
"Keep his ass off the ropes. He's leaning on the ropes." Golota
fired combinations into Bowe's belly. Bowe's body slumped,
"This guy's ready to go down. All you've gotta do is snap your
Golota rocked Bowe with jabs. Bowe's back arched, his knees
buckled. Yet he would not go down.
"Bowe just flat-out refused to fall," said Duva. "He took
punches, he took punches, he took punches."
In their first fight Golota landed 100 more punches than Bowe;
in the rematch, 192 more. "Bowe got hit with everything in the
book," Duva said. "He had every reason to go down, but he didn't."
Before the eighth, Bowe cornerman Thel Torrence threatened to
throw in the towel. "Riddick!" he said. "If you don't start
moving and get your hands up, I'm stopping the fight."
"Thel, I love you," said Bowe, "but if you stop this fight, I'm
going to kick your ass."
Dazed and woozy, Bowe raised his hands and his game. He clung to
Golota for dear life. He hung on until Golota had belted him
below the belt for the clincher.
Unlike the aftermath of the first bout, no one stormed the ring
on Saturday. In July, at Madison Square Garden, Bowe's entourage
had incited a riot that lasted half an hour and injured 22
people, including Golota, who required 13 stitches after being
brained with a walkie-talkie. Even Bowe seemed wiser after that
Plump as a capon, the 38-1 Bowe had oozed into the ring for the
July bout at 252 pounds. Bowe expected Golota, a 10-to-1
underdog despite a 28-0 record, to roll over and play dead. "I
was looking for a quick KO," Bowe conceded last week. "I figured
I was wiser and more experienced. My mentality told me Golota
was a bum."
His mentality told him wrong. Golota taught Bowe that the wisdom
of the ages counts for little in the ring. The more agile Golota
outjabbed and outboxed Bowe, who huffed and puffed for seven
rounds, and won only after a sixth low blow sent him to his
knees. "Golota embarrassed me, humiliated me," said Bowe of
their first fight.
Golota's near victory that night almost KO'd Bowe's reputation.
Longtime trainer Eddie Futch, whom Bowe affectionately called
Papa Smurf, left Bowe's camp, calling him a lost cause. Bowe, he
contended, was not the same fighter who had outpointed Evander
Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1992.
After knocking out Jorge Gonzalez in June '95, Bowe had exceeded
Futch's expectations only in weight. Futch blamed Bowe's lack of
focus on manager Rock Newman, who had been fined $250,000 for
his part in the July postfight melee.
The ugly spectacle of Bowe's being knocked around traumatized
his family. His wife, Judy, had wept at the fight. His mother,
Dorothy, left halfway through. His normally boisterous
10-year-old son, Junior, would hardly make a little Bowe peep.
"Daddy thought he could get by without training," Riddick later
explained to Junior. "But he made a mistake. Don't you try to
take shortcuts. If you cheat on a test in school, the same thing
will happen to you."
Dorothy was more outspoken. One night at the dinner table not
long after the July fight, she announced, "That boy Andrew
Golota kicked your butt." Even more pointed was the needling
Bowe took from his nieces and nephews: "Uncle Riddick, leave us
alone or we're going to call Golota."
It was all Bowe could take. So after Labor Day he went into
purdah. At the time, he was 278 pounds. "I lost all ties with
the outside world and went on a fat-free diet," he says. "I did
circuit training, I lifted weights, I left my family for three
months. In order to get what you want, you have to make certain
sacrifices." By the end of November he had sacrificed 43 pounds.
When Judy saw Riddick she gasped: "It's like you're one of those
people starving in Ethiopia!"
"I ain't Ethiopian," growled Riddick. "I'm just skinny."
Duva had his own skinny on the rematch. "It's all over," he
proclaimed when Bowe tipped the scales at 235 at the weigh-in
last Friday. "Muscle mass! Muscle mass! Bowe's soft. His body
has no definition. I once went on a diet for 14 days, and all I
lost was two weeks." The longer the fight lasted, Duva
predicted, the weaker Bowe would get. "I trained him as an
amateur," Duva said, "and I know his ways. He may think he's
going to jab more, but he'll come out gunning and then give us
four rounds of toe-to-toe. After he's sapped, we've got him."
And they did have him, but then, "Bowe showed courage I never
thought he had," said Duva. "He fought his heart out."
No one questions Bowe's heart anymore. It's his head that's
worrisome. "I proved I'm the best heavyweight out there," he
said at the postfight press conference. "What other heavyweight
could take the punishment I did and still rally?"
But did you really win?
"Of course I won," he said. "I was getting ready to knock Golota
out. That's why he hit me low. He knew what was coming."
There's nothing sadder than a former champ who doesn't know when
to quit. Slow of reflex and with diminished endurance, Bowe now
risks being put out for good. "Ali hung on the ropes and won,"
he argued after the fight. "Why do I have to be any different?
When I'm finished as a fighter, I'll be the first to know it and
acknowledge it." Ali, too, thought his power and quickness could
outlast his youth. But he left the ring old, slow and punched out.
With Holyfield and Mike Tyson tied up in negotiations for their
own rematch next summer, Bowe's likeliest next opponent is the
drastically discounted Lennox Lewis. But what was once a matchup
of top bananas now seems like a closeout sale of bruised
tomatoes. Golota's prospects are less clear, though Duva now
cracks, "Any heavyweight should love to fight this guy. If
things get rough, he'll know Golota's going to lose on fouls."
On Saturday, Golota left the ring in tears. So low and blatant
was that final blow, that not even the most vocal of his
supporters booed when the fight was called. As Golota slouched
on his corner stool, Duva screamed, "How could you be so dumb?
You've only got yourself to blame."
Golota not only blamed himself, he beat himself up. "I stupid!"
he shouted in the dressing room while slapping his temple. "I
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Bowe fled to the ropes after twice being knocked down, but Golota never could put him away. [Andrew Golota punching Riddick Bowe]
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN If he had stuck to jabbing, Golota would not have wandered disastrously south of the border. [Andrew Golota punching Riddick Bowe]
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: MANNY MILLAN Three low blows in Round 4 sent Bowe to his knees; three more in Round 9 left him down and victorious. [Riddick Bowe on his knees; corner crew treating Riddick Bowe with ice pack]