NEW YORK -- Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe grew up on the same mean streets of Brownsville, a wasteland of drugs and broken dreams in the borough of Brooklyn. Their homes were separated by only a few city blocks, but, in spirit, the two were worlds apart.
Bowe, then an aspiring amateur boxer priming for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, remembers Tyson, at 21, returning to his old neighborhood as the new heavyweight champion of the world.
Known in the 'hood as "Bummy Ike," Tyson confronted Bowe, 14 months his junior, during his roadwork around a public swimming pool. "You'll never be a fighter," Bowe said were the champion's words of encouragement.
Now, some five years later, Tyson is serving a six-year sentence for rape in an Indiana prison and Bowe has returned triumphantly to New York to make the first defense of his heavyweight crown tonight against Michael Dokes at Madison Square Garden.
For Bowe, 25, who managed to avoid the temptations of ghetto life, it is the culmination of a boyhood dream.
He lives in the upscale Maryland suburb of Fort Washington, where he is building a 13-room mansion complete with an indoor theater for his wife and three young children. But his roots remain in New York, where he was raised as one of 13 siblings in an apartment complex nicknamed "Gunsmoke City" because of the violence.
Bowe recalled talking to an acquaintance one day when shots rang out. "The guy was standing five feet from me," he said. "Seeing him bleeding to death at my feet scared me so bad, I wouldn't have recognized my mama if she walked down the street."
But Bowe proved a survivor, and he is regarded by the city fathers as a super hero after wresting the heavyweight crown last November from Evander Holyfield in a classic heavy weight brawl.
"Over the past few months a lot of my dreams have come true," Bowe said. "First off, winning the title and buying my mama a home in Maryland. And now coming back to New York where it all started for me."
His link with boxing at Madison Square Garden goes back to his adolescent days when he competed in the "Kid Gloves" competition.
Boxing rings were set up in the city's five boroughs, and kids would fight for trophies and medals. Bowe's first prize was a bronze medal for winning several bouts as a 132-pounder in a "Brownsville Shootout."
As he grew in size and skill, Bowe fought in the New York Golden Gloves, winning four consecutive gold medals from 1985 to 1988 while climbing from light-heavyweight to the super-heavyweight class.
And it is why Bowe insisted on making his debut as a world champion here.
"Riddick's ecstatic," said his manager, Rock Newman. "This is where he wanted it, even if it meant less money. He won't walk into the Garden Saturday night, he'll be floating."
Garden executives, with the promise of an 18,000-seat sellout and a record gross of close to $2 million, are rejoicing in having taken a heavyweight match away from the gambling casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, which have monopolized big-time boxing.
"To say the Garden will become the mecca of boxing is foolish," said boxing director Bobby Goodman. "But this proves we can still be in the hunt for major boxing events."
Added Seth Abraham, the president of Time Warner, the parent company of HBO/TVKO that signed Bowe to a six-fight, $100 million deal if he retains the title: "It's about the ghosts of Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Dempsey. There's an aura about [the Garden], and about New York fight fans that makes for wonderful TV."
By fight time, Bowe (32-0, 27 KOs) could be as much as a 15-to-1 favorite over Dokes (50-3-2, 32 KOs), who reigned for nine months as World Boxing Association champion after a stunning one-round knockout of Mike Weaver in December 1982.
Addicted to drugs and alcohol, Dokes lost his title to South Africa's Gerrie Coetzee the following September. He was convicted on a drug charge and served a short time in a Las Vegas jail in 1987.
The Ohio native returned to the ring full-time in 1988 and staged a memorable slugfest with Evander Holyfield in March 1989, before being stopped in the 10th round.
Two years later in the Garden, Dokes' career appeared over when he was knocked unconscious in the fourth round by Razor Ruddock. It took nine minutes to revive him.
But Dokes proved resilient, if nothing else. Starting from the bottom with a $450 purse, he has won nine straight against obscure competition.
Although Dokes is not ranked among the top 10 by the WBA or International Boxing Federation -- the two title belts owned by Bowe -- he was granted a title match and a guarantee of $750,000. Bowe gets the lion's share -- $7 million.
"If people had said a year ago I'd be fighting for the title again, I'd have said, 'You're nuts!' " Dokes said. "Just being here is a coup."
Dokes, who weighed in at 244 pounds, talks a good fight.
"I've got to be consistent, insistent and persistent," he said.
But his eroded skills have most ring experts expecting the scheduled 12-round bout to end inside of five rounds.
"If he makes any mistakes early, rest assured I'll take advantage of it," Bowe said. "I'm not going to mess around with him."
Bowe's trainer, Eddie Futch, will make certain of that. Futch, 82, is recuperating from a heart attack that left him hospitalized in the Poconos two weeks ago.
"If this had been Riddick's second or third title defense, I wouldn't be working his corner," Futch said. "But this is his first title defense, which brings unusual pressure. Plus he's fulfilling his boyhood ambition of fighting in the Garden. That kind of intensity can lead you to make mistakes."
But it will take a huge one for Bowe to stumble over Dokes. As Bowe said of his opponent in a candid moment, "Dokes should have retired a long time ago."
Who: Riddick Bowe (32-0, 27 KOs) vs. Michael Dokes (50-3-2, 32 KOs)
What: For Bowe's IBF and WBA heavyweight titles
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
When: Tonight, 9:30
Purse: Bowe to earn $7 million; Dokes guaranteed $750,000
ATickets: 15,000 sold. Approximately 3,000 remain, priced at $400, $200, $100, $50 and $25
Tale of the tape
1'.. ......... ...... Bowe ...... Dokes
Age ........ ....... 25 ......... 34
Weight ..... ...... 243 ........ 244
Height ..... ...... 6-5 ........ 6-3
Reach ...... ....... 81 ......... 78
Chest (normal) ..... 46 ......... 44
Chest (expanded) ... 50 ......... 46
Biceps ..... ....... 15 ......... 17
Forearm .... ....... 17 ......... 13
Waist ...... ....... 36 ......... 35
Thigh ...... ....... 26 1/2 ..... 25
Calf ....... ....... 16 1/2 ..... 15
Neck ....... ....... 17 1/2 ..... 17 1/2
Wrist ...... ........ 8 .......... 7 1/2
Fist ....... ....... 13 1/2 ..... 12 1/2