With a thundering comeback in which he was controlled yet ornery, Riddick Bowe has suddenly unified the heavyweight title once again - unified it in the sense that just about every person in boxing knows that Bowe, right now, is the best.
Technically, all Bowe did Saturday night was defend his lightly regarded World Boxing Organization crown in a total domination of his former bete noire, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, in Las Vegas, Nev.
George Foreman, the holder of the International Boxing Federation belt and the generally recognized heavyweight champion, was just a few feet from the action, taking it all in as he provided commentary for HBO.
Afterward, Foreman admitted: “Anyone who faces Riddick Bowe is crazy. I’d have to be crazy. My advice to all other heavyweights is to leave Riddick Bowe alone.”
Even so, for money and pride, Evander Holyfield will take Bowe on in November. Both sides will start talking about a rubber match this week, especially since Mike Tyson, Bowe’s first choice, will surely not test his rusty skills against him.
On view Saturday night was a mature Bowe who knew that his future - in fact, his credibility - rested on a strong showing.
In overwhelming the former Cuban with the lion’s mane, Bowe displayed skills that had only surfaced occasionally in recent bouts. They were skills that he has displayed all at once only in his first fight against Holyfield.
It could be argued that Gonzalez was also unmasked in this fight. At 6-foot-7, he had rocketed through 23 dreary opponents since coming to America and turning professional. He had knocked out 22 of them, often with disdain.
But now, Gonzalez, who enjoys watching nature videos that show predators killing their prey, has a new tape he can use. He simply has to press the play button and watch Bowe - the fighter he defeated eight years ago in the Pan Am games - beat him up for six rounds.
It was over after 1 minute, 50 seconds of the sixth. A booming right - Bowe’s signature punch - was followed by a short left and Gonzalez headed to the canvas. Before he landed, Bowe hit him with one more punch - a short right that shook the lion’s mane. Virtually everything the 6-5, 243-pound Bowe threw landed, including 99 of 120 jabs.
As Bowe stood in the ring afterward, in shape, only 27 years old, he seemed much more commanding than Foreman, at 46, who was wearing a tuxedo and flashing a grin. Foreman, though, is the recognized champ.
Bowe trained seriously for this fight, and listened to advice. The idea, confided Bowe’s 83-year-old trainer, Eddie Futch, was to take away Gonzalez’s confidence by standing up to him.
“We had a meeting on Friday,” Futch said. “I told Riddick we had to beat him at his own game. We had to be faster with the jab. He has a good jab. We had to parry the jab and counterpunch.”
It turned out to be as easily done as said.
Gonzalez thought he could keep his left low, as he had done in peppering his previous opponents. And he thought he could get away with keeping his right low also, since he always punched down at an opponent. But Bowe not only was big, he also wouldn’t let Gonzalez impose his will.
“I think Riddick’s back,” said Futch, who once dreamed the big boxer would reach the pinnacle shared by another of his fighters, Joe Frazier. “He admitted he wasn’t there before.”
What Bowe finally admits is that after winning the unified title from Holyfield in November 1992, he enjoyed the spoils of the kingdom too much. His manager, Rock Newman, has to share the blame, though, for an attitude that alienated many people in boxing.
Bowe held the title for 51 weeks, losing it back to Holyfield. Since then, he had fought a no-decision with Buster Mathis Jr. (knocking out Mathis while he was down on one knee), fought a 12-rounder with one Larry Donald, who ran, and knocked out the smallish Herbie Hide last March to win the WBO belt.