"He worked so hard because he wanted me to praise him," said Holyfield. "And he improved. But I told him it was not enough for him to want to be good for me; he had to want to be good for himself. Then I thought, That's what I had been doing, trying to be good to please others. That's when I knew I would come back, but this time to please myself."
He had to work his way back, though, with a June fight against Alex Stewart, once a top contender but by then little more than a journeyman. Holyfield also left the Duva fold and replaced Benton with another veteran trainer, Emanuel Steward, who set about retooling Holyfield's arsenal while worrying about his new charge's mental approach. "It didn't matter who they put in front of him, he wasn't interested," says Steward. "He didn't care. He trained for Stewart, but his mind was on Bowe. He fought Stewart, but he thought about Bowe. He just went through the motions for Stewart."
In a fight that started after midnight, Holyfield won ugly, a boring 12-round decision over Stewart. That night after the bout Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, said that he thought Holyfield should retire for good. "He's awful," said Newman. "He should quit for his own good." Worse things were said and written.
Holyfield waited patiently while Bowe made two title defenses against woeful contenders Michael Dokes and Jesse Ferguson, who together lasted less than three rounds. Holyfield then pressed his claim for a rematch, and the deal was made—one that could earn each man $12 million when all the pay-per-view returns are in.
The odds opened at 6 to 1 for Bowe, who had been spending most of his time adjusting to his new celebrity and eating. "I love being champion," said Bowe as he entered camp to pare down his 286-pound bulk, "but sometimes it can get a little heavy. I've got $15 million in the bank, and I can't go to the drugstore or the grocery store like a normal person. Sometimes I just want to be Riddick Bowe. I don't want to be the heavyweight champion at that moment. I just want to buy my groceries and go home."
Much was made of Bowe's girth. "I never read so much about nothing," said Eddie Futch, Bowe's trainer, a week before the bout. "He's young, and he is just getting bigger. His shoulders are wider. His thighs are more powerful. He just keeps getting stronger. He hit a sparring partner one day and knocked out two teeth and drove four more back under the guy's tongue. We had to send three of these guys home, and he wasn't trying to hurt any of them."
Bowe weighed in last Thursday at 246, 11 pounds more than he had weighed for the first encounter. Then he went to Sophie's Southern Dining in Las Vegas and ate ribs, collard greens and yams, after starting with a bowl of red beans and rice. "I've been eating baked chicken and bowls of fruit," he said. "I've got to make up for lost time."
Holyfield weighed in at 217, also 11 pounds more than he had weighed the night he lost his title, but, though shirtless, he was wearing boots and may even have had something heavy in his pockets. He baffled the experts. "He says this time he is going to box," said one, "and then he puts on weight. Doesn't make sense." Still, the odds had dropped to 2½ to 1.
On Saturday night Bowe came out angry. He likes Holyfield, but some of the things that Holyfield had said before the fight upset him. Holyfield refused to give Bowe credit for his victory in their first fight; Holyfield insisted that he had lost only because he made too many mistakes. As for the rematch, Holyfield said, "All I have to do is correct my mistakes."
"I don't think he respects me," said Bowe. "I like him, we'll still be friends afterward, but I think he has talked himself into a serious ass-whupping."