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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Each is sentenced in his own way now, though the terms are roughly the same. Riddick Bowe must do his time, 18 months, at a minimum-security facility in Cumberland, Md. Evander Holyfield, who figures he's looking at the same stretch, is held on a hill outside Atlanta, at his $20 million estate, the one with lakes and horses and a bowling alley. The contrast in their conditions of confinement aside, one is no freer than the other, not really; both are in lockup, their sentences handed down (little did they know) more than a decade ago when they began one of boxing's most thrilling trilogies. It is not so strange, given the depth of their partnership, that they be conjoined in comparable miseries. Everybody always said they were made for each other.

And how comparable are those miseries, anyway? Pretty comparable. Bowe, long ago battered into retirement, is finally going to jail on a five-year-old charge of interstate domestic violence, filed after he gathered up his estranged wife and five children and, without any more of a plan than that, drove them to a McDonald's, where his wife used a cellphone and called police from the rest room. Holyfield, though righteous and law-abiding and a lot more comfortable financially than Bowe, is manacled just as securely by competitive zeal, an ambition that grows ever more foolish-even alarming—now that he's turned 40. Neither man is allowed contentment. Each is doomed by ambitions that grow ever more unattainable.

Their mostly heroic 32 rounds—a seesaw story of brutal bravery—offer them no parole at this remove, no time off for so violent an exposition of character, in which each fighter was tested (and proved). How did Holyfield come back in the 10th round of the first fight? How did Bowe get back up in the rubber match? The reward they might expect for their courage, amply displayed in all three fights, is instead a penalty. Both men are frustrated in the long aftermath, their rightful glory held in abeyance. Maybe in 18 months is what they're thinking, hoping.

In the days before his confinement began on March 14, Bowe was examining exactly this phenomenon, the further postponement of his happiness. He had decided to work with it; his time in jail would become an extended training camp, the one he couldn't possibly have undertaken on his own. It would be a prelude to his final deliverance. While still indignant that something so pure as his love of family could have been perverted into a federal crime, he was also relieved. "I'm going to be running and eating the right food," he promised, so puffy and bloated that even he recognized that his fitness depended upon judicial decree. "Actually, they're doing me a big favor."

It was a snowy late-winter morning, and neighbors were all outside shoveling sidewalks as Bowe gave a visitor a tour of his compound in suburban Maryland. The snow on his sidewalk alone remained undisturbed. At noon he was easing into the day; his current wife, Terri—they were married in February 2000—had just braided his hair. "I want everybody to know I'm O.K., things of that nature," he said, explaining what he hoped to accomplish with the interview. "That my speech is good, what have you." He Was rightly concerned about the public's overall impression of his health, since his lawyers had offered, at a sentencing hearing, evidence of damage to a portion of his brain. "They say I have the frontal lobes, but I need to express to the world I don't have that," Bowe said. "I speak well, and so on and so forth."

He also worried that his many fans might think that, because of all his legal troubles (which included a divorce from his first wife), he was broke, that his onetime fortune of $20 million was spent. "Don't worry about ol' Bowe," he said. For proof he tramped out to his garage, which is across from his Graceland-style gym, which is not far from the BIG DADDY hedge—all, even the shrubbery, artifacts of his brief and long-ago championship—and counted down rows of shiny and expensive automobiles, 12 of them. "So ol' Bowe's not doing so bad," he said. Then he remembered the Bentley and the Mercedes that were in the shop. He brightened. Ol' Bowe's doing better than even he thought.

"You know what I've missed," he said, suddenly, taking stock of his situation as if for the first time. "I miss talking to guys such as yourself, running with the fellas, being the man, hearing the cheering. 'Hey, champ!' " He surveyed his spread, no longer so cheerful. "I miss the whole kit and caboodle."

Not so far away, in Georgia, is Bowe's collaborator in boxing's best back-and-forth, Holyfield. He also is minus the champion's kit and caboodle, also minus the freedom to fully enjoy his life. With Holyfield, it's different, freedomwise. His jail is virtual and self-imposed. Fresh off yet another defeat (he has won just two of his last seven fights), he entertains a visitor at his palatial estate above a highway of strip malls ( Evander Holyfield Highway). He plots another comeback. He is chained to boxing by his pride. "By 2004," he announces, "I'll be champ again. The end is soon."

He is wealthy beyond imagining, after a career of pay-per-view blockbusters and hilariously skinflint living (palace aside), and he's fitter than ever. But he's also often injured, and his performances are increasingly lackluster, if dangerously determined. He sits sideways, his legs draped over the arm of a leather chair in his "office," a ballroom-sized wing off a hotel-lobby-style entrance. Magazines with his face on the cover ("Looks like a gargoyle," Bowe used to say) are placed neatly on coffee tables. All the cover dates are around 1999. "People don't understand about finishing," Holyfield says. "You are what you finish. I see the finish—not how, but when. Won't be long now."

In other words, with good behavior, both Bowe and Holyfield, old friends, will come out into the sunlight together. Perhaps they will visit each other, as they did in the old days, Holyfield calling Bowe "Reddick," reprimanding him for his fleet of cars, and Bowe standing behind Holy-field, pretending to whack him, his buddies doubling over from laughter until Holyfield turns around—"What the...?"—and finds Bowe looking all innocent, surprised. It would be nice to think that their destinies, pounded out in those Las Vegas fights in a gruel of blood and snot, would finally leave them at peace. Wouldn't it?

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