WASHINGTON -- The first day he shifted his training site fro Hot Springs, Va., to the nation's capital, Riddick Bowe, the heavyweight champion of the world, walked into the gift shop of the downtown hotel serving as headquarters for his title fight with Jesse Ferguson at RFK Stadium on Saturday night.
Bowe, 25, who has earned $20 million as a professional boxer, chose a few toiletries. When the cashier added the charges, Bowe appeared more stunned than he had been by anything Evander Holyfield had thrown at him last November.
"Riddick put each item back on the shelf and left without buying a thing," said Eddie Futch, his trainer and father figure. "He won't let anyone take his money."
Since he won boxing's biggest prize, Bowe has been the target of get-rich-quick hustlers and distant relatives looking to share his new-found wealth.
"You can't believe how many cousins I've had come out of the woodwork," said Bowe, who grew up in a slum in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y. "They all love me. One guy I hardly knew wanted me to buy him a car. I told him, 'When I knew you, you rode the subway. Don't get bad habits.' People just don't realize how hard I worked to get here."
When strangers ask him to invest money or to use his name in a business enterprise, Bowe steers them to his manager-promoter, Rock Newman, and financial adviser Jeff Fried, a Washington attorney.
"I get offers almost every day," Bowe said. "I can understand people trying to get some of my money, but I resent when theytry to be slick. I wasn't born yesterday."
Only last month, a man approached Newman with a "sure-fire" proposition. "He wanted to build a housing project in the desert in Zambia," Newman said. "All he wanted from Riddick was $7 million."
Bowe has been nurtured by Newman, who began working with him after rival promoters turned their backs after his loss to Lennox Lewis in the gold medal match of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul.
"They were calling him 'Ridiculous Bowe,' " Newman said. "All he needed was respect. When I first visited him in Brownsville, I told him, 'If you can survive in these conditions without turning to drugs or crime, you're already a champion in my mind.' "
Convinced that "Rock would watch my back," Bowe signed a professional contract and soon joined Newman -- a former car salesman, college counselor and radio sports personality -- in Washington.
Newman apprenticed as an aide to Butch Lewis, who guided Michael Spinks to the heavyweight crown. To keep Bowe strictly focused on fighting, Newman needed the financial support of 11 investors who pooled $500,000 to underwrite Riddick's pro debut in 1989. The leader of the group was Fried.
All of the investors were paid off with hefty dividends after Bowe defeated Holyfield, but Fried remains Bowe's financial adviser. "We've taken a very careful approach in protecting his money," Fried said. "Naturally, we want him to earn a profit, but we won't take any undue risks.
""He's already got college funds set up for his three kids," Fried said. "He's not going to have to worry about working when he's through fighting."
Last December, Bowe signed a six-fight package worth a reported $100 million with Time Warner Sports, the parent company of pay-per-view network TVKO and the cable network Home Box Office.
"We know it was the biggest deal in boxing history," Time Warner Sports president Seth Abraham said.
Bowe's only substantial investment to date is a $3 million home he is having built on property he owns in Fort Washington, adjoining the house he built for his mother, Dorothy. As Bowe said, jokingly, "I'll only have to leave the house to buy food."
His clean image has led to endorsement contracts with Fila, an Italian sportswear firm, Fruit of the Loom underwear and Nintendo, which features Bowe on a video boxing game.
Arthur Kaminsky of the New York talent agency Athletes and Artists, views Bowe as "consumer friendly," unlike the menacing former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who is serving a six-year sentence in Indiana for rape.
"Holyfield was certainly friendly," Kaminsky told Newsday, "but he was boring. Bowe is entertaining, like a young Ali. It's a nice combination, as long as he keeps winning fights."
Bowe enhanced his image with his goodwill tour to Somalia and South Africa after his first-round knockout of Michael Dokes in February. He donated the first $100,000 he received from Fila to the relief fund in Somalia.
"Seeing all those starving people, especially the kids, showed me how lucky I am," Bowe said. "It made me appreciate what I've got and makes me work all the harder to keep it."