The hulking and skulking 6'7", 237-pound Cuban was 23-0 with 22 knockouts since leaving his country's national team in Helsinki, Finland, and defecting to the U.S. to turn professional in 1991. Though none of the pro fights was against a bonafide contender, he also carried a 220-13 (169 KOs) amateur record that included a decision over Bowe in the 1987 Pan American Games. He knocked Bowe to the floor two times and forced two other eight counts in that fight.
In the new, capitalist stage of his career, under contract to MGM Grand, Gonzalez had been cast as a boxing villain. He cursed in Spanish. He dressed in black. He wore his hair in a bizarre cut that seemed to come from some Quentin Tarantino barbershop. He promised to annihilate all of his opponents, but centered his most vile thoughts on Bowe. "I'm the lion and Bowe is the hyena," Gonzalez said through interpreters. "I want to eat his heart. His death is coming. He will regret the day his mother gave him birth."
Bowe responded by working harder than he had since his first fight with Holyfield in 1992, when he won a 12-round unanimous decision to become the last undisputed champion the division has seen. If he couldn't respond to this kind of I-will-eat-your-heart motivation, then he couldn't respond to anything. By Saturday night he had a solid plan for what he wanted to do against Gonzalez and a large hyena embroidered on the right leg of his boxing shorts. (Is this a boxing first? Heavyweight champ with hyena on shorts? Researchers are checking even as you read.) He never will look like a bodybuilder, but the 6'5", 243-pound Bowe was in fighting shape.
"Gonzalez," Bowe promised, "is going to meet the biggest, baddest hyena he's ever seen."
Almost as soon as the inspiring prefight HBO feature on Gonzalez, Born to Hate, was finished, the fight was finished. The biggest, baddest hyena put a big, bad right to the lion's noggin midway through the first round, and the lion was slow and awkward and quite tame the rest of the way. Bowe's strategy was to beat him with jabs, to control him, to move him to the ropes and then to pound him down. This was exactly what happened. Gonzalez was wobbly in every round and took the final series of blows, a heavy right off a faked left jab at 1:50 of the sixth, that sent him to the canvas to stay. Lane, the referee, thought of medical assistance rather than finishing the count.
Bowe's contention now is that he is the best heavyweight at work today. There might be three other heavyweight champions at the moment—George Foreman (IBF); Oliver McCall (WBC); and Bruce Seldon (WBA)—plus a certain fighter fresh out of the Indiana state prison system who draws more publicity, but who has had a more impressive recent fight? Who has more promise to fight even better fights? Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, is feuding with all of the parties in charge of all of the other champions, plus the ones running that fighter fresh from Indiana, so the future is murky, but Bowe is a definite big-money attraction again. The proposed schedule has a rubber match with Holyfield in November, but anything could happen.
"It's the man who makes the belt," Newman thundered in presenting Bowe's case. "It's not the belt that makes the man."
Riddick Bowe now makes this belt, at least, look fine.
Twenty months are done. Big Daddy is on the right road again.