WASHINGTON -- Joe Louis and Riddick Bowe, two heavyweight champions who made title defenses in Washington ballparks in the past 42 years, shared another common bond -- a "Bum of the Month Club."
Louis, to be sure, was far more active in eradicating journeyman pugs in the early 1940s before enlisting in the Army. But the youthful Bowe, 26, with no war to fight, is doing his bit on the home front in sending washed-up fighters into retirement.
In his first title defense last February, the Brooklyn, N.Y., native now residing in Maryland, starched a drug-damaged Michael TC Dokes in less than one round. Saturday night at lightly populated RFK Stadium, Bowe hardly broke a sweat while knocking out Jesse Ferguson, a career sparring partner, after 17 seconds of the second round.
A 20-1 underdog, Ferguson, 36, had talked a good fight, but seemed overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event.
"I just froze," said the loser, whose aging bones quickly stiffened in the chilly night air with the cable-TV fight starting at about midnight.
"I can knock out anyone who stands in front of me," Bowe shouted from the ring apron. "I wanted to decapitate Ferguson."
But several spectators among the reported crowd of 10,000 were less than impressed with Bowe.
"It was the worst American scandal since Watergate," offered Frank Maloney, manager of England's Lennox Lewis, the World Boxing Council champion who is viewed as Bowe's most attractive opponent. "How can Seth Abraham [president of Time Warner] allow such fights? If I were a stockholder in HBO, I'd be raising serious questions about the caliber of Bowe's opponents.
"No one can truly judge Bowe off this fight," Maloney said. "It was like a champion punching a heavy bag. At least a sparring partner hits back occasionally."
Bowe, duplicating the bravado of the great John L. Sullivan, has flexed his muscles and offered to "fight anyone in the place."
But legitimate challengers for a major fall fight in Las Vegas consist of a short list -- Evander Holyfield, whom Bowe beat for the title last November, or Tommy Morrison, if the latest "White Hope" survives June 7 against George Foreman.
Maloney had talked optimistically of Lewis, who injured his hand while whipping Tony Tucker May 8, recuperating from surgery in time to fight Bowe this fall.
"It won't happen," said Abraham, who signed Bowe to a six-fight cable-TV deal worth $100 million. "If he fights Lewis, it will be in 1994."
Shelly Finkel, the estranged manager of Holyfield, insists Bowe-Holyfield II is a "done deal" for November.
"I don't understand what all the fuss is about?" Finkel said. "Rock Newman [Bowe's manager] agreed to the rematch when Holyfield gave him the title shot."
In the intriguing world of professional boxing, however, nothing is for certain.
Maloney says he will offer Holyfield "a better deal" than Newman to fight Lewis rather than Bowe.
If that fails, Maloney is working the back room with promoter Bob Arum for a possible Lewis-Morrison bout, with Morrison guaranteed a "50-50" split.
"There are other good heavyweight fights out there," said Dan Duva, president of Main Events Inc., who has promotional ties with Lewis and Bowe, helping to delay their confrontation.
"By November, Michael Moorer will be a No. 1 contender, and you've got to figure him into the equation."
Meanwhile, Bowe, 34-0 with 29 KOs, added $3 million (after taxes) to his bankroll. He can sit back and wait for the wheeler-dealers to dig up another live body.
"If Bowe fights Holyfield, Lewis and Morrison in the next year, he'll be more solid financially than the Rock of Gibraltar," predicted veteran manager-trainer Lou Duva. "And if he whips all three, than you've got a heavyweight champion everyone can believe in."
Meanwhile, Newman continued to stretch the truth, acknowledging that Bowe, indeed, had suffered a rib injury during training. Earlier, he had said that story was concocted to cover up a sprained wrist. In any case, Bowe battered Ferguson into submission with both fists.