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Mike Tyson, the former heavyweight champion, once paid Jesse Ferguson $2,000 a week to be his sparring partner. Last Saturday night in Washington, D.C., the current heavyweight champion, Riddick Bowe, generous to a fault, paid the 36-year-old Ferguson $500,000 for the same services, and Bowe made him work only three minutes and 17 seconds. Inflation is hell.
When last seen, Ferguson was laid out on the canvas in RFK Stadium, which will hereafter be designated on tourist maps as the Tomb of the Unknown Heavyweight Contender. Ferguson's record since August 1985 is 10 defeats in 16 fights, which probably explains why Bowe made only $7 million for risking his title against the 42-1 underdog from Knightdale, N.C.
Since winning the title from Evander Holyfield in November, Bowe has worked five minutes and 36 seconds. In February he earned $7 million for KO'ing old, flabby Michael Dokes—who had beaten Ferguson last July—in 2:19 of the first round. It's nice work if you can get it, but it's not going to make Bowe too popular with the Save the Whales people.
"This is the biggest scandal in Washington since Watergate," said Frank Maloney, the manager of Britain's Lennox Lewis, who holds the WBC version of the heavyweight title only because Bowe gave it up. Lewis is the man everyone wants Bowe to fight, but that bout won't take place until after Lewis has met his countryman Frank Bruno, another tired contender, in October.
A November rematch with Holyfield is likely to be Bowe's next project, but Holyfield first has a date with Alex Stewart on June 26. A loss or a poor showing by Holyfield would erase him from the picture. The public won't buy a third straight certified victim. "We won't make a decision until after the Holyfield fight," says Seth Abraham, the head of Time-Warner Sports, which is shelling out the millions for Bowe's fights on HBO. "If Evander looks good against Stewart, we will want him in November and then Lewis in the spring. If not, we will most certainly want Lewis in November."
Bowe had said that he wanted to fight again in August, but Abraham said no. Low viewership makes August a bad time for HBO fights, even if the contender looks as though he might last longer than, say, the sixth race at Santa Anita. Although Washington had not hosted a heavyweight title bout since Joe Louis beat Buddy Baer in 1941, the fans were wise enough to stay away from the execution of Jesse Ferguson. Fewer than 9,000 people turned out in the 55,000-seat stadium, and 3,500 of them got comps from Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, who bought $300,000 worth of tickets. Still, the crowd was too large for Ferguson, who is more comfortable sparring in front of a few hundred folks in a gym. "I froze," said the guy whose wife suggested he find another line of work after he lost to Dokes last year.
Maybe now he will listen to her.