Bowe, just 25 and five years Holyfield's junior, thought he was superior, not only in size and skill but also in experience. "Remember," Bowe says, "I'd had 31 fights to his 28.1 must say, I didn't have much respect for him."
Nobody else thought it would be so easy. Seth Abraham, then head of Time Warner Sports, remembers ringside voltage as quite high. "I was thinking, Something exciting's going to happen. It was very magical, right before the fight, like something was passing through the crowd."
The fight took both men to the brink, though it was Holyfield who finally went over. He was dumbfounded by Bowe's reserve. "The difference was that walking man," says Holyfield. Walking man? Still sitting sideways in his chair, Holyfield paddles his feet in the air. Did he mean Dick Gregory? "Yeah, the walking man," he says. In fact, the comic-activist had been brought on board as Bowe's nutritionist, and he had pared the fighter down to a weigh-in 235 pounds from 281 two months earlier.
Holyfield admits that he was further unnerved when, after nine grueling rounds, he looked into Bowe's corner and saw him "joking and laughing." Bowe was indeed mugging for the cameras. "He had all this energy," Holyfield says.
The champion's strategy for the famous 10th round was almost Bowesque. "I'd go out and coast, then I'd finish strong," he says. "So I lowered my head to his chest, I was just looking to rest, and all of a sudden he hits me with an uppercut. He hit me so hard, so hard. And then he was knocking me pillar to post. I kept saying, 'Lord, help me.' "
Bowe rained 40 punches on Holyfield during that barrage. "Oh, I put a thing on him," Bowe says proudly. But a minute into the round Holyfield, instead of expiring, regained his composure. "I was thinking maybe I should just get out of there, just quit," says Holyfield. "It seemed like five, 10 minutes. But my whole thing is just not to quit." And then he let loose with a hook, combinations and uppercuts, and Bowe, truly winded, was unable to lend him off.
"How beautiful it is," says Holyfield. "You almost be gone, and then you're landing big punches."
Then—and here's the majesty of that round—Bowe surged back. Having taken a 14-shot fusillade in 15 seconds, he ended the round with his own fury. He suddenly remembered their billing; he was "a big ol' Great Dane from Brooklyn, Holyfield a junkyard dog from Georgia," he says. "If you look at the tape, you can see me talking to him. I'm saying, 'Good dog, good dog.' "
Bowe won that fight on the judges' scorecards by wide margins. Even so, it was he who retired to his room immediately afterward to nurse his bruises in a 45-minute bath, and Holyfield who went dancing at a postfight party. All Bowe could do to celebrate was to watch the fight on tape, every once in a while exclaiming "Yowser!" at the action. Later Holyfield telephoned him to remind him of his new financial position. "He said everyone is going to try and get into my back pocket, and that I should put my money away for a rainy day," Bowe says. "What a gladiator."
"What else could I tell him?" Holyfield says with a shrug. "I really liked Reddick."