Leave aside the ‘coulda-been-a-contenda’ variety; too often it’s the champs who finish up like chumps.
The other day we were flicking through the channels when we came across the closing scenes of an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air from 20 years ago. Will, his cousin Carlton and loyal sidekick Jazzy Jeff are on a road trip that lands them in a low-end casino where Carlton becomes addicted to a slot machine. He uses up every dime he has, and just as he leaves it to go round scrambling and begging for more coins, a vaguely-familiar Joe Louis-lookalike figure in a Stetson strolls up to the machine and instantly wins the jackpot.
Riddick Bowe had it all back then. He was heavyweight champion of the world and a popular one, considered the most charming and personable since his idol Muhammad Ali, the perfect antidote to the menacing turbulence of the Tyson years.
He’d visited Somalia and a Concern feeding centre around the time Mary Robinson was brought to tears over there, with Bill Clinton praising him for generously donating nearly $100,000 in food and medicine. He was perceived as a family man, widely known as Big Daddy, was appearing in sitcoms while in the ring he was invariably laying out opponents just like he laid out Will after the Fresh Prince had made a stand for a distressed Carlton.
Watching that re-run, we could only wonder whatever happened to Big Daddy and how he is now.
You probably know he and Evander Holyfield would complete the last great American heavyweight trilogy, Bowe winning two out of three which ain’t bad, but his two clashes with Andrew Golota were.
They were infamous, Golota dominating each fight only to lose them and his marbles by repeatedly hitting Bowe below the belt, prompting disqualification.
The real damage in those fights though was to Bowe’s head. His speech was notably slurred afterwards and the decisions he’d make in the aftermath of those fights were not consistent with someone in control of their faculties.
He’d join the US Marine Corps, claiming he yearned the discipline, but even when he’d been champ he hated training, so not surprisingly he quit after a week. A few months later he was accused of battering his sister and then his wife. The following year he was imprisoned for attempting to kidnap her and their children with a knife and pepper spray. Further domestic assault incidents would follow, placing him under house arrest. On top of that the man who once owned 26 cars and 10 houses would go bankrupt.
It was predictable what he’d do next. He’d return to the ring for a couple of fights in 2004, 2005 and one more in 2008, all of them wins but all of them against nobodies.
All the while he’d declare he was ready for another shot at the title and the Klitschko brothers, but his 280lb frame belied a man who claimed he was training hard.
It would have been fine if a little sad had he left it at that.
But he hasn’t.
Seven weeks ago in Bangkok, after a five-year sabbatical, a 45-year-old, now 300lb Bowe stepped back into the ring. Worse, it wasn’t a boxing ring. Over 60 years after Joe Louis had to resort to wrestling to help get the IRS off his back, Bowe subjected himself to the ignominy of being human meat in his first Muay Thai martial arts fight.
In the other corner was a 30-year-old lean mean Russian called Levgen Golovin.
Bowe didn’t even get to land a punch or a kick. He stood in an orthodox boxing stance, inviting his leg to be demolished, and Golovin duly obliged, dropping him repeatedly with kicks to the shins. It’s on YouTube but spare yourself. All you need to know is the slaughter — you can hardly say the contest — didn’t even last two rounds. Afterwards Bowe had to change in an open-air tent, there being no dressing rooms for a man who once gloved them up in Madison Square Garden.
For his troubles Bowe apparently picked up a tidy $150,000, but clearly it wasn’t enough.
Last Saturday night in a Leicester nightclub Bowe resumed his boxing career, taking on 38-year-old former cage fighter Mark Potter. Though it was classed as an exhibition fight, Lennox Lewis — the man who Bowe avoided fighting by infamously ditching his WBF belt in the garbage — tweeted in advance that the unlicensed bout was “madness”. Ultimately it would prove relatively harmless, the two men emerging unscathed enough after three rounds to go for an Indian together. You can only think though that civil meal was a temporary respite from the anguish that has followed Bowe and soon again he will present himself as human meat.
After throwing away that belt, Bowe seems to have thrown away a lot more. Now he’s the one in the gutter, along with all the other old champs boxing seems to chute down there.