SI Vault
Richard Hoffer
April 14, 2003
A decade after their epic ring trilogy, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe are still bound together, hostages to their dreams and delusions
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April 14, 2003

Blood Brothers

A decade after their epic ring trilogy, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe are still bound together, hostages to their dreams and delusions

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But Holyfield could never gather all his titles about him and achieve the send-off for which he was so desperate. He failed, in two fights with IBF and WBC champion Lennox Lewis in 1999, to consolidate the championship, and ever since, he has been nipping about the edges of the heavyweight division, trying to pick off a vacated title here or there. So far he's been held off by the likes of John Ruiz and Chris Byrd, neither a match for him in his prime, and his quest looks more and more hopeless.

When a visitor suggests that time, finally, is running out, Holyfield reacts with puzzlement. "Time run out?" he says. "How do time run out? Time don't run out." The reason he didn't "bust Chris Byrd up," he says, was simple: a shoulder injury. He's since had surgery and is good to go again. Any other characterization of his failure is way off. "Not 'cause I'm old," he insists. "That [fight] was just a bump in the road."

With three titles out there, and one of them held by bulked-up light heavyweight Roy Jones Jr., it would be ridiculous to think that Holyfield will never get another shot at his precious belts, even at 41. At some point, though, it will be just as ridiculous to countenance that shot. "It's time to worry," says Abraham.

If Holyfield is edging toward disaster, trying to recapture history that is becoming dangerously ancient, then Bowe has long since crossed over the line. For his first fight after Holyfield, Bowe gorged to 252 pounds and was savagely beaten about the ring by Andrew Golota. It would surely have been Bowe's second loss had not Golota been disqualified for repeated low blows. Their rematch, with Bowe trimmed too far down, to 235 pounds, was worse. Golota hammered Bowe helpless, more than 300 shots to the head, but lost again after more low blows. Bowe believes he was doped by someone in his camp, bamboozled again. But soon after, at the insistence of Newman, who prepared a HEALTH VS. WEALTH chart to make his case for quitting (he even secured a $1 million goodwill-ambassador contract from HBO), Bowe announced his retirement.

On the virtual eve of his imprisonment, Bowe walks around his gym and addresses his regrets. Number 1: retirement. "I was ill-advised, things of that nature," he says. "I believe if I kept fighting, I wouldn't have been frustrated, a lot of things wouldn't have taken place. My career ended totally different from what I thought. I was just 29!"

Two months after retiring, in a bizarre career swing, Bowe joined the Marine Corps. He had been obsessed with the military for a long time. "Ever since I was a kid," he says, "and saw this John Wayne movie. I remember him ordering, 'Ease out.' That's what I wanted to do." But Bowe thought his drill instructor was zeroing in on him, the commands too personal, and he walked away. He had lasted 11 days. "So," he says, "that's my second regret."

With Bowe brooding at home, his marriage to his childhood sweetheart grew tense, to the point that they separated in June 1997 Judy moved with the children to North Carolina. Bowe retired to his mother's basement. "I sat down there 20 hours a day," he says. "I'd sleep three days at a time." Of all things, he began losing weight—40 pounds in three months. "A bug came up on me," Bowe says.

Finally, Bowe says, "I decided to stop being a punk, what have you, to go down there and pull my family back together." Equipped with pepper spray, duct tape, handcuffs and a knife, he sailed forth in his Navigator to North Carolina, snatched three of his children from a bus stop and then collected Judy at home, in her pajamas, and the two other children for the drive back to Maryland. Bowe admits the plan got hazy after that. "My thing was, They'll see I'm changed, I'm O.K.," he says. "I guess that didn't happen."

At her first opportunity Judy called police, and Riddick fell into a legal quagmire that has lasted five years. In the 1999 sentencing hearing, a defense team including Johnnie Cochran produced testimony that Bowe had sustained brain damage (to the frontal lobe), had a low IQ (79) and suffered from a diminished capacity to make good decisions. The judge bought the argument and sentenced Bowe to minimal prison time on the condition that Bowe not fight. But that sentencing was later set aside on appeal, and an 18-month prison term was finally imposed earlier this year. "So that's my other regret," says Bowe, sitting on his ring apron. "Getting married."

Bowe was eager, though, to begin his term and begin the comeback, his path cased by forced discipline, the kind only the late Papa Smurf had previously provided. "It's a blessing," he says of the sentence. It wouldn't be long before he would once more be enjoying the champ's kit and caboodle, "the excitement of coming from a fight, putting the tape in, watching myself in action. The things you looked forward to, and then they were done. Man, I've missed that."

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