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Rock Newman's master plan began to unravel last Saturday night when Jesse Ferguson, an 18-9 journeyman, smacked around Ray Mercer to win an easy 10-round decision at Madison Square Garden. The day before the bout, Newman, the manager of the WBA and the IBF heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, had spent $10,000 on publicity photographs and on a deposit for a press party to be held at the Waldorf-Astoria on Monday. He had intended to announce at the party that Mercer would earn nearly $2 million for the privilege of being Bowe's next opponent.
An hour after Mercer's loss, Bowe entered the same ring with the detached demeanor of an usher showing a fan to his seat. Across the way, Michael Dokes, 34, a flabby, 244-pound former champion and onetime drug addict, greeted Bowe with hard eyes. The 25-year-old Bowe ignored the glare. Champions do not cross ocular swords with 20-to-1 underdogs. Dokes was a highly suspect contender, and every round he survived would be considered a bonus for the 16,332 fans who had paid $1,603,425 to watch the mugging. The last time Dokes was in the Garden, in April 1990, Razor Ruddock hit him so hard with a hook that he was on his back for seven minutes.
Against Bowe, who was making the first defense of his titles since beating Evander Holyfield in November, Dokes did not survive the first round. Referee Joe Santarpia stopped the punishment at 2:19. After softening Dokes with a hard jab, Bowe dropped him at 1:30 with a straight right. Dokes fell against the ropes, which held him up. Santarpia, correctly ruling it a knockdown, counted off the mandatory eight. A moment later Bowe drilled Dokes with a hook, then landed 18 unanswered punches. "I looked into his eyes and he was gone," said Santarpia later. "His eyes were glassy, and he was falling all over the place."
Shortly after Bowe completed his $7 million workday, a search was launched to find a replacement for the discredited Mercer. Seth Abraham, the president of Time Warner Sports, which has a $100 million HBO-TVKO contract with Bowe, said that only a rematch with Holyfield would qualify as a pay-per-view event. HBO, however, would consider Frank Bruno, Alex Garcia, Alex Stewart, Tony Tubbs or Tim Witherspoon as worthy foes.
Of course, there is still Lennox Lewis, the WBC titleholder-by-acclamation. Bowe relinquished the WBC title in December—dumping the organization's belt in a trash can after having refused the WBC's demand that his first title defense be against Lewis. Bowe insists that he will never recognize the WBC by lighting its champion—"Not Lewis, not anybody," he says.
Perhaps, but while Bowe combs a dismal list of potential opponents, Lewis has signed to fight an actual contender, Tony Tucker, on May 8. After the Dokes fiasco, the pressure is on Bowe to find someone who can last more than a round. "We'll decide soon," says Newman. "Riddick is obsessed with breaking Rocky Marciano's record of 49-0, and he only wants to fight three or four more years. That means we have to fight often."
In a few days Bowe, now 33-0, will begin a round-the-world trip, with stops in South Africa to see Nelson Mandela; in Somalia, where he plans to donate $100,000 to a relief fund; and in Rome to see Pope John Paul II. Says Bowe, "I plan on saying, 'Yo, Pope, pray for me.' "
Perhaps it should be, "Yo, Pope, pray for them."