Bowe isn't first to litter title path with tomato cans


The phone was ringing . . . three, four, five times. I picked it up. Dial tone. It's hell when you've lost a step.

Oh well, easy come, easy go. I didn't want a shot at the WBA, IBF and HBO (not listed in order of importance) version of the heavyweight championship anyway.

Sorry, Riddick, find another overweight, over-the-hill impostor for your next title defense, scheduled May 21 on the premium cable channel.

Let's not be guilty of a rush to judgment following Riddick Bowe's easy-breezy stroll past Michael Dokes Saturday might. Two minutes and 19 seconds it dragged on. Heck, that's like the Hundred Years War compared to some of Mike Tyson's fights, notably against Carl "The Truth" Williams and Michael Spinks, which barely broke the 90-second barrier.

But don't blame Bowe . . . yet.

The nature of the fight game, especially in the junkyard (heavyweight) division, is to toil in the vineyards, learning the trade but never flashing any real ability for fear of scaring prospective opponents off. This is done mainly by acting as a sparring partner.

Then, when the time comes, spring the trap and take the giant leap toward gold and glory. Sonny Liston thought Cassius Clay was a loudmouth joke. He learned. Muhammad Ali lost his title to a guy whose idea of good training was to ram a car into a tree. But, of course, Ali loved the challenge of giving the crown away, then winning it back. Joe Frazier assumed George Foreman wasn't ready to fight him when Old George bounced him around a Jamaican ring for six minutes, and Larry Holmes couldn't see himself losing to a light-heavy like Spinks.

As soon as a guy gets the title, if he's smart or his promoter is, he cashes in. Everyone has done it, including the inimitable Ali with his Jean-Pierre Koopmans, Richard Dunns and the writhing wrestler Inoki, and Joe Louis with his famed "Bum of the Month" tour.

It's to be expected. Lately, we've had Evander Holyfield and his version of the Senior PGA Tour (P standing for Punch), Buster Douglas being satisfied with one big payday after catching Tyson napping and Iron Mike doing a number on his life outside the ring.

So let's give Riddick Bowe his Michael Dokes and maybe one more day at the beach. After all, the junkyard is full of guys named Tony Tubbs, Tim Witherspoon and Bonecrusher Smith, and there's not a whole lot there to test you.

Ultimately, though, he has to go against a Lennox Lewis, a Razor Ruddock, a Holyfield or, hopefully, a young fighter with potential. Michael Moorer?

Actually, such a plan would not only be beneficial to the dwindling number of folks who still classify themselves as boxing fans, but to the development of skills Bowe still appears to need work on. Easy, hard, easy, hard, that's the type fights the Bowe camp should be looking to schedule.

Instead, Ray Mercer was listed to be Riddick's next opponent -- they had already ordered the coffee and Danish for the announcement today -- before Mercer got clobbered by journeyman Jesse Ferguson on the Madison Square Garden undercard Saturday night.

That was the reason phones were ringing off the hook yesterday, everywhere but in the camps of the aforementioned competitive fighters.

Chances are, Tommy Morrison will next wear the mantle of challenger to Bowe as the old "great white hope" theme is dragged out of the closet and dusted off. As Bowe himself has put it: "Morrison goes two or three rounds and he's winded. You take away his left hook and he's back in the amateur ranks."

Still, he would be a more appealing opponent than the usual cast of suspects being mentioned, especially with WBC champ Lewis picking over the same irregulars, misfits, damaged goods and odd-lot specimens.

These days, it seems, the most important aspect of putting a heavyweight title fight together is the adoption of a promotional theme. The show in New York the other night was dubbed "The Homecoming," because Bowe grew up in the city, the Knicks and Rangers weren't using the Garden, and, besides, it had been years since the former "mecca of boxing" played host to a big fight.

Despite nearly 17,000 fans showing up and paying top-of-the-line ticket prices, it still hasn't. It was both comical and sad watching Dokes being blasted from pillar to post before the bout was stopped and asking afterward, "Did I look incoherent in there?"

Unfortunately, Michael, the answer was yes -- before, during and after.

Perhaps as guilty as anyone for the horrible state of the junkyard is HBO, which has a six-fight deal with Bowe and two appearances remaining on a three-fight deal with Foreman, the soon-to-be sitcom star who doubles as a fight commentator.

It's human nature that Riddick Bowe will protect that deal, in no rush to put himself in a position to lose his title. At the same time, time will pass so that "legitimate" tests against Lewis or Holyfield again have a chance to, uh, fester and whet the appetite of the gullible.

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