It seems to be an occupational hazard of fighters that they start telling you how good they are about the time they learn to put the protective cup on without assistance. Riddick Bowe was like that.
The heavyweight champ once explained away a loss in the amateurs for the reason his mind wasn't on the match because of something that happened a month before, a parking ticket or something.
Riddick always seemed to be only about 40 percent of what he professed right up until a year ago when he won the championship in as unrelenting and action-packed a heavyweight slugfest as you're apt to see. It was against Evander Holyfield, however, and, well, there are still legions of fans who regard the ex-champ as no more than a blown-up
Put the premise that Bowe is just another good boxer before Eddie Futch, septuagenarian trainer of a score of champions, and he'll start to bristle. It's as if you're suggesting that Eddie doesn't know of what he speaks.
"Riddick Bowe is the best big man I've ever seen," says Futch without reservation. "And I can't see this second fight with Holyfield [Saturday night in Las Vegas on pay-per-view] being any different than the first."
You'd expect such analysis coming from a cornerman preparing his fighter for a bout. But, historically, Eddie has never been one to jump in and join the usual pre-fight hype. And with Futch, don't forget, we're talking about history dating back to the '30s.
"Bowe advances between fights," says Futch. "He's an astute student, always adding to his arsenal. He makes much better use of his left hand now. He not only uses it more, there's more power. We've had a few minor accidents in training with broken ribs and teeth knocked out, sparring partners likening Bowe's jab to a straight right hand."
Lately, it's been Bowe's speed that has had Futch wondering how he can put it to its best use. "There's been no one around since Louis, that's Joe Louis as a light-heavyweight, who moved a lot and was able to slide and use hand speed like Bowe can," Futch said. "He has the mobility and boxing skill of a light-heavy and a very good punch to go with it."
The thing that put the veteran trainer in the champ's corner for all time was the competitive fire Bowe showed in the first fight with Holyfield last November.
"Some thought he'd fold up [Evander included]," says Futch. "He didn't. The only drawback maybe was he should have had him out of there in the 10th round. He got excited and didn't execute."
But Eddie views this as a minor flaw, one easily corrected, especially when working with a guy who shows a strong propensity for improving.
Throughout training and the months before, there have been stories about Bowe resembling one of those massive balloons found in the Thanksgiving Day parade on the tube. He was said to be not really pushing himself in the gym and on the roads.
"It's all bull, this constant discussion about Riddick's weight," says Futch. "Weight really makes no difference with heavyweights and, besides, Bowe has grown constantly. He won four Golden Gloves titles in four different divisions all the way up to 220 pounds. He was just a kid then. He came to me at 230 and won the title at 235. He's fought in the neighborhood of 245 and won. I don't know why it is always brought up.
"As far as I'm concerned, a guy comes to camp, gets in shape and I get his timing and punching accuracy down. Whatever his weight is then is the weight he fights at."
As for Holyfield, Futch is convinced he'll fight the way he did in the first fight, which means he'll be right there swapping swings.
"I expect him to fight that way because, although he may go out with the intention to change his style, when he gets hit he'll revert back to the things he has always done," Futch said. "No one, in my experience, has changed style in one fight."
Bowe sees it that way, too, pointing out, "Evander Holyfield is a fighter and he's been one for 20 years. He can't change his way overnight. They can work on things in the gym, but the second I pop him, he'll be there to fight."
And Riddick is just too big. At least that's how it's seen by the odds-makers, who have installed the champ as a better than 4-to-1 favorite.
The big noise on the undercard, a bout that certainly will make it onto the PPV pay per view screen, is Tommy Hearns taking on Andrew Maynard. While it's true Hearns has taken way too many punches over the years, he still possesses a right hand that can move a bridge abutment and, to date at least, Maynard has not shown a consistent ability to avoid punches. The Laurel native is getting a chance to fight at his natural weight (182 pounds) for the first time, though, and is very confident.