Plump as a capon, the 38-1 Bowe had oozed into the ring for the July bout at 252 pounds. Bowe expected Golota, a 10-to-1 underdog despite a 28-0 record, to roll over and play dead. "I was looking for a quick KO," Bowe conceded last week. "I figured I was wiser and more experienced. My mentality told me Golota was a bum."
His mentality told him wrong. Golota taught Bowe that the wisdom of the ages counts for little in the ring. The more agile Golota outjabbed and outboxed Bowe, who huffed and puffed for seven rounds, and won only after a sixth low blow sent him to his knees. "Golota embarrassed me, humiliated me," said Bowe of their first fight.
Golota's near victory that night almost KO'd Bowe's reputation. Longtime trainer Eddie Futch, whom Bowe affectionately called Papa Smurf, left Bowe's camp, calling him a lost cause. Bowe, he contended, was not the same fighter who had outpointed Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight championship in 1992. After knocking out Jorge Gonzalez in June '95, Bowe had exceeded Futch's expectations only in weight. Futch blamed Bowe's lack of focus on manager Rock Newman, who had been fined $250,000 for his part in the July postfight melee.
The ugly spectacle of Bowe's being knocked around traumatized his family. His wife, Judy, had wept at the fight. His mother, Dorothy, left halfway through. His normally boisterous 10-year-old son, Junior, would hardly make a little Bowe peep. "Daddy thought he could get by without training," Riddick later explained to Junior. "But he made a mistake. Don't you try to take shortcuts. If you cheat on a test in school, the same thing will happen to you."
Dorothy was more outspoken. One night at the dinner table not long after the July fight, she announced, "That boy Andrew Golota kicked your butt." Even more pointed was the needling Bowe took from his nieces and nephews: "Uncle Riddick, leave us alone or we're going to call Golota."
It was all Bowe could take. So after Labor Day he went into purdah. At the time, he was 278 pounds. "I lost all ties with the outside world and went on a fat-free diet," he says. "I did circuit training, I lifted weights, I left my family for three months. In order to get what you want, you have to make certain sacrifices." By the end of November he had sacrificed 43 pounds. When Judy saw Riddick she gasped: "It's like you're one of those people starving in Ethiopia!"
"I ain't Ethiopian," growled Riddick. "I'm just skinny."
Duva had his own skinny on the rematch. "It's all over," he proclaimed when Bowe tipped the scales at 235 at the weigh-in last Friday. "Muscle mass! Muscle mass! Bowe's soft. His body has no definition. I once went on a diet for 14 days, and all I lost was two weeks." The longer the fight lasted, Duva predicted, the weaker Bowe would get. "I trained him as an amateur," Duva said, "and I know his ways. He may think he's going to jab more, but he'll come out gunning and then give us four rounds of toe-to-toe. After he's sapped, we've got him."
And they did have him, but then, "Bowe showed courage I never thought he had," said Duva. "He fought his heart out."
No one questions Bowe's heart anymore. It's his head that's worrisome. "I proved I'm the best heavyweight out there," he said at the postfight press conference. "What other heavyweight could take the punishment I did and still rally?"