New York -- When Michael Dokes enters the ring at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, he will be at least a 12-to-1 underdog and regarded strictly as a steppingstone for newly crowned heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, who already is discussing future bouts with Ray Mercer and Lennox Lewis.
Seeing Dokes, 34, in his present flabby state and cast as "the opponent," it is difficult recalling that 11 years ago he was in a similar position to Bowe -- the reigning World Boxing Association heavyweight king following his sensational first-round knockout of Mike Weaver in Las Vegas.
It is almost as difficult for Dokes to remember his nine-month championship reign that ended with him stretched on the canvas, gazing up at South Africa's Gerrie Coetzee.
All those wild days and late nights are clouded by a drug- and booze-induced fog that ultimately robbed Dokes of his title and a considerable fortune in future purses.
Ask him what he misses most about his championship days, and Dokes says philosophically: "I don't miss nothin'. That was then. This is now. I don't dwell on anything.
"To me, one of the great successes in life is to be able to forget the past and get on with life. Why carry all that baggage from 1982? It isn't going to determine what I'll do in 1993. It won't help me pay my bills."
Dokes talks deliberately, almost slurring his words. But he has an impressive command of the language and, he says, an equally strong grip on his mind and body after fighting a drug addiction from his teen-age days as a gifted amateur in Akron, Ohio.
"Look at me," Dokes tells a group of reporters between bites of linguine and baked sole at his favorite New York eatery. "With all my bleedin' heart I can tell you honestly I believe in myself and my ability.
"I have no qualms, no hang-ups. No remorse. No resentment. No guilt. There's been no missing training. No women. No alcohol.
"This thing with Bowe is only the second biggest fight of my life. I won the big battle over drugs. My conscience is clear. I found the inner strength to deal with my turmoil, and there is nothing greater for a man than belief in thyself."
Comparisons to Ali
A long time ago, a great number of fight people believed in Michael "Dynamite" Dokes. Blessed with incredible hand speed and dazzling boxing skills, he prompted comparisons with Muhammad Ali.
"When he was in his late teens and early 20s, you could envision him becoming an all-time heavyweight great," said veteran trainer Eddie Futch, who guided Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks to the title and is now molding Bowe. "Around Ohio," said Futch, "he was regarded as a wunderkind. But he got caught up in drugs real early, and that, combined with his lifestyle after he became champion, dulled his reflexes and ambition."
Added Madison Square Garden boxing director Bobby Goodman: "There was no telling how good Dokes could have been if he had stayed clean. He had the best speed for a heavyweight I've seen. But when you're young, you think you're invincible."
For Dokes, living for the moment was his only goal.
"I used to stay up all night," he said. "I was afraid I'd miss some thing."
But Dokes discovered that wearing a championship belt was not an instant ticket to maturity and respectability.
"I wondered why everyone couldn't be happy," he said. "But the people around me showed nothing but animosity and jealousy. I couldn't cope with it, so I tried to escape."
The easy money, willing women and drugs had always been available for as long as he could remember. Even as an amateur, Dokes was paid rather handsomely as the main attraction on Ohio cards that drew big crowds.
"If I sold tickets, I got a percentage," he said. "The promoters didn't call it money. They called it gifts."
'Casual user' at 15
At 15, he admitted to already being a "casual user." But the drug habit quickly got out of control. The night he lost his title to Coetzee, ringsiders claim flecks of white powder could be seen around his mustache.
"I once did two kilos of cocaine in nine months," he confided to a Boston Globe reporter not long ago. "That's enough to kill a rhino and a good part of the jungle.
"I used to pour it on a piece of paper on the floor like you would pour flour. With all the things I've done to myself, I should be dead."
His rap sheet shows that he was arrested five times since 1986 for drug use or violating probation.
Finally, in April 1987, his luck ran out when Las Vegas police discovered 17 ounces of cocaine in his home. The prosecutor told the judge that Dokes was a man who "bought drugs like we buy potatoes."
The judge determined he was a user, not a dealer, but still sentenced him to spend 47 days in jail. Upon release, he had to enroll immediately in a rehabilitation program.
"That was the lowest point in my life," Dokes said.
But he was fortunate in that someone always seemed ready to extend a helping hand. In Dokes' case, it was Marty Cohen, an 80-year-old boxing manager who resurrected his career. But, in time, even he became convinced Dokes was incorrigible.
"He started moving in a very fast lane and hanging out with some very bad people," said Cohen. "As soon as he'd go back to Las Vegas, you could expect trouble."
Still, on skill alone, he managed to win 11 straight fights against journeymen before his memorable slugfest with uncrowned Evander Holyfield in March 1989. Dokes rocked the smaller Holyfield repeatedly, before he tired badly and was stopped in the 10th round.
A year later at the Garden, he was brought in as a measuring stick for promising Canadian heavyweight Razor Ruddock. Ruddock caught him with a thundering hook in the fourth round, and it took seven frightening minutes to revive Dokes.
Like a big cat with nine lives, he is back again, this time fighting for boxing's biggest prize.
"I'm in the best shape of my life," he said. "I see myself going in to the ring Saturday night and giving the performance of a lifetime. Hey, after all I've been through, this is really no fight at all."