Bowe's toughest foe could be loneliness in the punchless heavyweight division BOXING


WASHINGTON -- Jesse Ferguson lasted 17 seconds into the second round of his fight against Riddick Bowe at RFK Stadium Saturday night only because they gave him about a minute and a half to gather himself up off the floor at the end of Round One.

And this was the fellow, recall, who completely thrashed Ray Mercer, the man who was supposed to be in the opposite corner from the two-thirds heavyweight champion of the world.

Now, suddenly, they're talking about Tommy Morrison being the next "worthy opponent" for Bowe, if the co-star of "Rocky V" posts a victory over ageless George Foreman in a couple of weeks.

Hey, why not the guy who kicked the tar out of Morrison (uh, Tommy Gunn) in the movie, Rocky Balboa, a.k.a. Sylvester Stallone?

No wonder Larry Holmes refuses to go away, showing up every third week on Tuesday night TV to pummel some guy who obviously has it in his contract that he won't strike back at the 43-year-old former champion or risk forfeiture of his purse.

Maybe Rock Newman, manager of the IBF-WBA champion, wasn't kidding when, during the exultation of Ferguson being scraped off the floor, he was heard screaming, "Bring back Ali; bring back Tyson; bring 'em all back."

Either that or declare a moratorium on championship fights within the heavyweight division until they come up with a match worthy of the billing for a change.

Incidentally, and that's all it qualifies as, incidental information, Foreman and Morrison will be vying for the vacant WBO crown. Actually, that title belongs to Holmes, who easily beat the man previously laying claim to the belt, Ray Mercer. "But I threw away a bill they [the WBO] sent me for something or other, so I'm not recognized," Larry says.

When fights end in about the time it used to take Curt Blefary to circle the bases after hitting a home run, the victor isn't given any time to glory in his accomplishment. Always the first question is, "Who you gonna fight next?"

With each passing success of Riddick Bowe, it's beginning to appear as if the point is moot. Granted, even if they were acting as a tag team or allowed to fight Bowe simultaneously, Riddick's first two title defenses, Michael Dokes and Ferguson, probably wouldn't have lasted past the third round. But with each training session and fight, Bowe is taking on the aura of being unbeatable, at least by any of the men walking around free who are lacing on Everlasts these days.

Bowe has already made about $20 million as a result of his ring skills and TV's willingness to let him write his own ticket. Thus, as his adviser, confidant and manager, Newman is good for 25 to 30 percent of that, but it still comes to only about a penny per word, the way Rock rambles on.

Among all those words, though, there is a time when the verbiage might be coming together in just the right way to form an undeniable truth. Well after the witching hour Saturday, Newman instructed the media and a few thousand of his closest friends in a news conference, "You have to realize what's before you is a massive individual [Bowe] who's head and shoulders over everyone in the fight game."

Massive is right. My notes, such as they were, began "Bowe looks ponderous" as he came out of his corner at the start. He weighed in at 244, probably scaled 250. But he was quick. If anything, his hands are probably faster than they were five years ago when he was an Olympic silver medalist. As for his speed afoot, how fast does a guy have to be when he's coming at you like a battleship with a couple of 5-inch guns blazing?

Bowe, it seems, can stand in the middle of the ring and touch the ropes on all four sides. He gets hit too much, not by Ferguson or Dokes, certainly, but trainer Eddie Futch is doing something about that. Thing is, he can take a heck of a punch.

The power generating from his 6-foot-5, 250-pound physique is obvious, but lately the sting in his punch has appeared to improve twofold. The right hand, the first whack that indicated early retirement was at hand Saturday night, actually landed on Ferguson's left glove, which got pushed back into Jesse's face with such force his eyes crossed.

"In looking to duck under the left jab," Futch noted, "Jesse ran into the right uppercut."

Pick your poison, fella. Bowe unloaded six power punches in little more than two seconds, and four of them landed to finish it.

Word is that Bowe and Evander Holyfield are just about set for November in Las Vegas. That's a long way off and, meantime, Holyfield will take on Alex Stewart next month. Looking to remain active, Riddick may go for something in late summer.

"If Morrison is impressive off a Foreman win," Newman said, "I think a Bowe-Morrison fight would be bigger than Bowe-Lennox Lewis."

Bigger, maybe, but not better. But that matters little these days. Obviously.

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