A 1, 2 commas, 8 zeroes.
No title changes hands quite as fast as that of highest-paid athlete in the world. But now it is the property of one man, and the number is so staggeringly high that not even the mindless spendthrifts of baseball are apt to equal it any time soon.
Riddick Bowe, an escapee from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, a man who literally punched his way out of squalor, has affixed his signature to a contract with Home Box Office and its pay-per-view network, TVKO, that dwarfs such per annum recompenses as Barry Bonds' $7 million, Patrick Ewing's $9 million, David Letterman's $16 million, Madonna's $60 million, Michael Jackson's $80 million.
Bowe is licensed to make a living by clouting other men anywhere from their belt buckles on up, and HBO has agreed to pay him $100 million for his next six fistic ventures.
With one catch. One loss and the deal dies. Bowe has to keep winning.
But if he does, if he wins six in a row, then his total take will reach nine figures. As one perspective point, that would be about $40 million more than Muhammad Ali received in his entire career.
Bowe could do all this in a year and a half. His first fight, the first defense of the heavyweight championship that he took from Evander Holyfield last month, is planned for Feb. 6. He talks of getting the next five over with by June of '94.
That would work out to $5.5 million a month.
And it wouldn't include the lucrative field of endorsements, one in which Bowe could be a big hit. His marketing appeal and potential are considerable. He is young (25). He is very much a family man (wife, three children). He does not drink, smoke or do drugs. He does not project the malevolent menace of Mike Tyson or the hesitant aloofness of Holyfield.
A shrewd marketeer would try to sell Bowe as large and likable, a younger version of George Foreman.
Also, Bowe's story is a compelling one. He made it out of a Brooklyn hellhole known as Gunsmoke City. On the same day he signed his HBO contract in Manhattan, he picked up his mother and moved her into a furnished, six-bedroom house that he had bought for her in Maryland, near his own home.
The only story as astonishing as the journey of Riddick Bowe is the one of the man who has been doing the driving on this implausible journey. Rock Newman is a 40-year-old one-time car salesman and radio talker who saw in Bowe a potential that all the other sharks somehow had missed. He proclaimed himself a manager and latched onto Bowe.
His persistence and his faith now have been rewarded 100 million times over.
Newman's ascendancy is no less remarkable than his fighter's. He was dismissed for years as just another small-time scammer and street-corner con man. He was irascible and loud, frequently yielding to his temper, and often the combat in which he found himself embroiled outside the ropes was more spirited than what his man was engaged in inside the ring.
Riddick Bowe, from time to time, would have to turn his attention from pummeling an opponent to pulling his manager off someone in the crowd. Rock Newman seemed more buffoon than baron.
But there Newman was, in Christmas-bedecked midtown Manhattan, freshly coiffed, his rumpled, baggy wardrobe now replaced by a double-breasted suit that screamed power and influence and wealth.
It was Newman who orchestrated the photo opportunity for his man in London last week. He didn't care for the money offered his man to fight Lennox Lewis, who is the No. 1 challenger in the World Boxing Council rankings. So he alerted the Fleet Street scriveners and assembled the minicams and, with a great show of disdain, his man removed the green-and-gold WBC belt from his waist and deposited it in a trash can. To show who was in charge.
Of course, he knew better. That trash can was lined with a new white plastic bag.
You scrounge all your life, you learn never to throw anything away.