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One early morning in 1985, Eugene Roderick (Rock) Newman awoke in his house in Princeton, N.J., with an irresistible urge to go boating. That it was the depth of winter, ice-fishing weather in New Jersey, was only a minor impediment to Newman. "He likes to go boating," says his wife, Demetria, recalling her favorite Rock Newman story, "and he had a jones to go that morning."
The Newmans ended up on the shore of a half-frozen lake, at a place called Bernard's Boat Yard, whose doors were closed for the season. On the beach were canoes chained together and piled on racks. Tracing the chains, Rock found one canoe that had been left untethered, and he promptly wrestled it into the water. He then spotted two canoe paddles crossed above the boathouse door, as decoration, and he climbed up and unfastened them with a screwdriver. "One was cracked and the other was broken," Demetria says. The couple climbed into the canoe, and off" they went. An hour or so later, they were paddling happily around the lake when they heard the roar of an engine and looked up to see a man on a motorcycle careening wildly down the bike path that traced the high embankment above the shore. The rider leaped from his machine and started waving his arms and screaming at them, shouting something about stealing his canoe.
In his various incarnations—from colicky, caterwauling infant to car salesman and radio talk-show host to telephone junkie—Rock Newman had never known a speechless moment. He looked up at the frantically waving motorcyclist, and in his best FM voice, a soft southern timbre acquired in the sticks of Maryland, he intoned, "Bernie? Is that you?"
The hands fluttered down. "Yeah," said the man. "I'm Bernie."
Now feigning exasperation, Newman bobbed his head and said, "Where in the hell have you been?"
"I had to pick up a prescription for my kid," Bernie said.
"I've been trying to find you all morning!" "Oh, I'm sorry," Bernie said. "Where did you get the paddles?"
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever dealt with Newman that after having lifted Bernie's canoe and paddles, he not only put the man on the defensive, but he extracted an apology from him too. The tale is vintage Newman. "Very typical," Demetria says.
Today Newman is the manager of the heavyweight champion of the world, Riddick Bowe, and also his teacher, confessor, protector and Svengali. Since Nov. 13, when Bowe won the undisputed title from Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas, Newman has been blustering here and bluffing there, negotiating this deal and signing that, and mocking his rivals while avenging unforgotten grievances. He is mercurial and articulate, often angry and obstreperous and forever unpredictable.
At times the spectacle has been rather unseemly, as when Newman lunged toward an Associated Press photographer, Douglas Pizac, who was on the ring apron shortly after Bowe won the title. At times it has been low comedy, as when Newman wisely ducked a commitment to the World Boxing Council to fight the winner of the October 1992 Lennox Lewis-Razor Ruddock fight—a commitment he had agreed to keep if Bowe won the title—and then called a press conference in London, Lewis's hometown, where Bowe deposited his WBC belt in a garbage can before the organization had the chance to strip him and give the belt to Lewis. And at times it has been a show of artful dodging, as when Newman deflected the heat he got in the aftermath of February's Bowe-Michael Dokes one-round fiasco by grandly proposing a $32 million, winner-take-all fight contract with Lewis, which he had mined with terms so unacceptable to Lewis's camp that the contract blew up at first touch. In the midst of all this, Newman worked out a six-fight deal with Time Warner Sports (HBO and TVKO) that could ultimately gross $100 million for Bowe. It is potentially the most lucrative individual sports contract in history.