LAS VEGAS GR PHOTO 1 — LAS VEGAS -- In a memorable championship bout that raised the echoes of the Ali-Frazier 1975 "Thrilla In Manila," unbeaten Riddick Bowe wrested the undisputed heavyweight title from Evander Holyfield, who survived the closing rounds on willpower and courage.
The youthful Bowe, who also proved he had the heart to match his obvious ring skills, staggered Holyfield in the 10th and floored him in the 11th. He could not finish the job, but the product of the same Brooklyn, N.Y., ghetto that spawned former champion Mike Tyson won the approval of the three judges by convincing margins.
Dalby Shirley and Jerry Roth each called it 117-110, and Chuck Giambra voted 115-112, giving most of the early rounds to the beaten champion, who, at 30, and with $80 million in the bank, may now decide to retire.
"I think I'm finished," the Atlanta native said. "I don't want a rematch. I feel relieved. Now I can spend more time with my kids. Boxing is just something in my life. It's a game. I realize it can't last forever. I did all I could."
Bowe commended Holyfield's raw courage in avoiding a knockout.
"I thought he was crazy. He wouldn't lay down. He just showed he had a great heart, the heart of a lion," Bowe said.
It was the first professional loss for Holyfield (28-1, 22 KOs), who had often been disparaged by critics as a "cheese champion" for having won the title two years ago by deflating a bloated Buster Douglas and defended it with 12-round decisions over boxing's "senior citizens," George Foreman and Larry Holmes, sandwiched around a knockout of journeyman Bert Cooper.
Bowe (31-0, 28 KOs), with a 30-pound pull at 235 pounds and a three-inch height advantage at 6 feet 5, was simply too big and strong for Holyfield, who has been called a bulked-up cruiserweight and repeatedly has has been accused of using steroids.
Holyfield, who was cheated out of a likely gold medal in the 1984 Olympics when he was disqualified for hitting on a break, was characteristically gracious in defeat.
"In the 10th round, he hit me with a lot of shots, knocked me pillar to post," Holyfield said.
"I thought he would tire eventually, and I'd have a chance to take him out.
"Everything I did, Bowe did better out there. He proved he was a champion."
But it was wishful thinking. Holyfield, who had wondered how Bowe would withstand the pressure of his first championship shot, was the one who wilted first before the near-capacity crowd of 19,000 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
"I thought Bowe would fold a bit," he said. "But he was able to use his jab and leverage. I just kept hoping I could get one good shot in to turn it around."
Holyfield hurt Bowe early in the fight, but his punches quickly lost their steam, and by the middle rounds, Bowe, who now makes his home in Fort Washington, Md., was firmly in command, fighting with bolstered confidence.
Bowe, who has often had his fighting heart questioned after losing in the 1988 Olympic final to Lennox Lewis, also showed courage in surviving Holyfield's early onslaught and seemed to grow in stature with each round.
"Are there any more questions about Bowe's heart?" his manager, Rock Newman, shouted to ring-siders as his protege joyously tried on his three championship belts -- the WBA, WBC and IBF -- for size.
Holyfield had grittily held his own in the first six rounds by scoring repeatedly with rapid-fire combinations, But there was no longer doubt about the outcome when Bowe stunned the champion with a short, chopping right early in the 10th round, causing his mouthpiece to fly across the ring and turning his legs to rubber.
Holyfield staggered drunkenly from corner to corner under a torrent of blows, but amazingly stayed erect. Bowe, reminiscent of George Foreman against Ali in the "Rumble in the Jungle," now seemed to grow arm weary from hitting his foe. The champion regrouped and carried the fight to Bowe in the closing minute of the round.
But he was only buying time. A crunching blow by Bowe behind the champion's ear sent Holyfield sagging to the canvas near his corner. Holyfield regained his feet and managed to survive the rest of the round. But now his crown was already knocked askew, only awaiting the official verdict to validate a new ruler of boxing's biggest prize.
"The difference between me and Foreman and Holmes was that I was bigger and stronger and able to finish the job," said Bowe, who pocketed an estimated $7 million to go with his new crown.
Bowe had dedicated the fight to Tyson, the former champion residing in an Indiana prison on a rape conviction. The new champion lacks the fury of "Iron Mike," but boasts power in both hands, landing 711 punches to Holyfield's 475 during the fast-paced bout and scoring with 357.
If things go according to plan, Bowe will face England's Lewis, who knocked out Razor Ruddock in two rounds last month in the other half of the revitalized heavyweight division's "Final Four" tournament.
Lewis witnessed the bout from ringside as a pay-per-view television commentator. But Newman, Bowe's manager, prefers keeping fight fans in suspense, hinting at a megabucks match for Bowe against George Foreman in China next spring.
"Never has a fighter who won a heavyweight championship been forced to fight a mandatory defense in his next fight," Newman said. "There's no way I'll rush into anything after struggling to get here for four years. We want to give Riddick the opportunity to enjoy it."
Newman said he would confer shortly with promoter Dan Duva and Frank Maloney, the manager of Lewis, before determining his options.
"We want to maximize Riddick's financial possibilities," Newman said. "We know that a Lewis-Bowe fight would have a tremendous amount of interest, but it can only grow with time if we give them both more exposure."
Three minor championship bouts topped the undercard.
World Boxing Organization heavyweight champion Michael Moorer (30-0, 28 KOs) of Detroit, one of the leading contenders for the undisputed title, knockout out overmatched Billy "Rhino" Wright at 1:26 of the second round.
Moorer, who recently split with longtime manager Emanuel Steward, used a four-punch combination to drop Wright, a Utah cowboy. Wright got up on wobbly legs, and the referee stopped the fight.
USBA super middleweight champion Tim Littles (20-0) of Flint, Mich., dominated John Scully (27-3) of Windsor, Conn., for 12 rounds.
Scully sustained a gash along his right eye in the second round, and it bled the rest of the bout. Two judges favored Littles, 119-109, and the third called it 120-108.
Unbeaten USBA bantamweight champion "Poison" Junior Jones (26-0) of Brooklyn, N.Y., one of the best young ring prospects today, needed less than three rounds to dispose of Jose Quirino (32-9, 12 KOs) of San Diego.
Jones, 21, toyed with the shorter Quirino for two rounds before catching him with a chopping right and left hook that put the Latino on his back. Quirino hardly stirred as referee Mills Lane counted him out at 44 seconds of the third round.
Holyfield-Bowe round by round
The two men circled, both missing jabs. Holyfield got in a right and a left to the head at 40 seconds. They tied up. Bowe got in a good jab 10 seconds later. Holyfield landed a grazing right at the minute mark. Bowe got in a stiff jab, then another. Holyfield missed a big left and was off balance, but Bowe didn't take advantage. Holyfield landed a 1-2 at 1:40. Holyfield got in a 1-2, Bowe came back with a jab. Holyfield landed a big right and then a hook. They were toe to toe as the crowd roared, then they parted.
Bowe came right at Holyfield, firing jabs. Holyfield landed a right lead at 20 seconds. He forced Bowe into the ropes, with a lot of mauling before he backed off. Bowe landed a heavy punch and they went toe to toe, almost hitting the ref before they broke. Then the fighters began to maul as the round went past 1 minute. Bowe landed a good right to the head at mid-round, then a hard left jab and another. Neither man was backing off. It was toe to toe and in close. Bowe got in a right uppercut at 2:15. Holyfield landed a good left hook. Neither backed off. Holyfield landed a right, Bowe came back with a right.
The crowd was into the fight. The round opened fairy slowly with jabs. Holyfield missed a big right and then they exchanged punches. Holyfield got in a good hook, Bowe landed a 1-2. Then they went to mauling near the minute mark. It's hard to think this pace can be maintained. Bowe got in a left to the head, a left-right at 1:20, and he landed a low punch and was warned. Bowe got in two left-rights to the head. Bowe landed two stiff jabs at 2 minutes. Both men refused again to back away. Holyfield threw three left hooks in a row and forced Bowe to the ropes with 20 seconds left.
Holyfield appeared swollen around the right eye. Both men jabbed at the center of the ring. Bowe landed a right uppercut at 20 seconds, another 10 seconds later. Both men were winging rTC again. Bowe was against the ropes, landing solid shots to Holyfield's head. They got off the ropes, but stayed toe to toe although not always throwing punches. They slowed near midpoint of the round. Bowe appears to have the better jab. Holyfield was fighting inside. Bowe landed a hard right at 2 minutes, Holyfield landed a jab and a hard right. Then they mauled in close. Bowe landed several rights to the head. A right by Bowe was low and he was warned by referee Joe Cortez at the bell.
The fifth followed the pattern of the first four. Bowe landed a right uppercut, Holyfield landed a couple of left hooks and a right to the head. The pace slowed briefly. It was the slowest first minute of a round so far. The men were grabbing more in this round. Bowe landed a left-right to the head, Holyfield threw a right that sent Bowe to the ropes. Holyfield got in a right uppercut at 1:45, then a left uppercut. Then the pace slowed again. Both were content to jab in the final part of the round.
Bowe landed a jab to the body as they met in the center of the ring. Neither has had trouble finding the opponent so far. Holyfield got in a short right over a jab at 20 seconds. Both were jabbing more in the first minute. Holyfield's corner was 'u complaining of low blows, although Bowe's low punches didn't appear to be doing harm. They were mostly chest to chest. Bowe landed a left to the body and a right to the body at 1:40. Bowe landed two rights to the body while against the ropes. Holyfield was turned against the ropes but wasn't punching. They finally came off the ropes with 50 seconds left. There appeared to be a mouse around Holyfield's right eye. Holyfield landed a low blow, Bowe landed a right to the ribs and a good right to the head at 2:40.
They jabbed to open the round. Holyfield landed a short left hook. Bowe landed a hard 1-2 at 35 seconds, another left and right that wobbled Holyfield. Holyfield was hurt, but Bowe stopped punching. The men tied up and Holyfield seemed recovered. Bowe fired a left-right-left to the head at 1:20, but Holyfield got away. Bowe wasn't punching much but very hard, seeming to pick his spots. They exchanged left hooks, then Bowe landed a short right to the head. Holyfield didn't seem to have the power to hurt Bowe. The action slowed in the last 30 seconds, then Holyfield landed a short right with eight seconds to go.
Both men were on their stools at the bell. They met at the center of the ring. Bowe landed a stiff jab at 20 seconds. Holyfield's face was badly swollen. Bowe landed a right uppercut at the break and was warned. Holyfield was cut over the left eye. Both landed good hooks, Bowe followed with two hooks and two rights. Some in the crowd chanted, "Let's go, Bowe," and others booed. Bowe landed a jab at mid-round. Both men mauled for a while as the round passed 2 minutes. Holyfield landed a short left hook. Holyfield landed a right uppercut, Bowe came back with an uppercut. Bowe was thumbed in the right eye, Holyfield threw a right uppercut as Bowe rubbed his eye. Holyfield landed a short right uppercut as Bowe tied him up.
Bowe's right eye was swollen. He appeared to be thumbed with about 30 seconds to go in the eighth. Both opened the ninth with jabs. Both their faces show the wear and tear. It was a battle of jabs for 30 seconds, then Bowe landed two hard rights that wobbled Holyfield. Both punched to the body and they stood head to head, then both landed short jabs. Holyfield threw a big right, Bowe a big right to the body. Bowe landed a hard right uppercut to the head at 1:20. Both landed rights to the head. Then they went to their jabs. Bowe landed a right to the side of the head at 2 minutes. Holyfield landed a left hook at 2:15. Bowe landed a right to the body and was told to keep them up. They clinched at 30 seconds, then Bowe landed a short right uppercut. Holyfield landed a right to the jaw, took a right uppercut to the jaw in return and another at the bell.
They tied up at the center of the ring, then Bowe landed a hard left jab and a hard right to the head, then a hard left uppercut. A right uppercut hurt Holyfield. Bowe was raining punches, throwing caution to the wind. Holyfield was desperately holding on, going to the ropes. It was a big first minute for Bowe. Holyfield seems completely out of gas, but Bowe might be arm weary. Bowe landed a right uppercut at 1:20. Then the action slowed as it had to. Holyfield got in a good right uppercut, then another and he was attacking. They went toe to toe as the crowd went crazy. Holyfield landed a big right uppercut, Bowe landed two jabs. Both men looked exhausted. Bowe landed two jabs, then Holyfield landed a right to the head and a left hook, both landed rights to the head.
The crowd was in a frenzy as the round opened. Holyfield's right eye was almost closed. Both men landed hard rights, Bowe landed a right that hurt Holyfield. Holyfield went down with another right and was up immediately to take the count. Holyfield went to the ropes in desperate trouble. Then Bowe backed off. It was hard to see what was keeping Holyfield up. Then they clutched and mauled in the middle of the ring. Holyfield's face was a mask of exhaustion and pain. Bowe's face showed marks of war, too. Bowe landed a hard jab at 1:40. Both were very tied. Bowe landed two hard jabs that hurt Holyfield, Holyfield answered with a hard right to the head. Then they clutched and were broken. Both hammered in close. Bowe landed a left to the head that rocked Holyfield with 20 seconds left.
The crowd saluted the fighters as the final round began. They touched gloves, then exchanged jabs for the first 30 seconds, then clinched. Bowe landed a right-left to the head at 45 seconds. Holyfield landed a right to the head at 1 minute, followed by a short right. Bowe landed a right to the head. "Let's go, Bowe" many in the crowd cheered. Holyfield dug a left to the stomach at 1:50. This was the tamest round in some time, but it was a wonder either man had anything left. Both landed a couple of head punches. The crowd was on its feet, and Holyfield landed a big right-left at the bell.