Yes, it’s been almost nine years since Andrew Golota introduced himself to big-time boxing – and Riddick Bowe’s groin.

He looked so good when he kept his game legal, snapping Bowe’s head back with a beautiful jab, throwing combinations up and down and showing skills that not even the sport’s experts figured he possessed.

As he continually rocked the man who at the time was considered the best heavyweight in the world, viewers couldn’t help but think that the sport had, at the least, a bright new prospect on deck.

And, at best, a future superstar.

What they had, though, was a 6-foot-4, 240-pound enigma. And perhaps the biggest heavyweight disappointment since Gerry Cooney.

Golota dropped that first Bowe fight in July 1996, losing by DQ after he drilled “Big Daddy” below the belt so many times that it’s a wonder he was a daddy at all. And, in a bizarre replay of the original debacle, Golota fouled out of the rematch five months later – effectively transitioning from future champ to freak show.

Despite the pair of losses to Bowe, a first-round knockout defeat to Lennox Lewis, a knockout loss to Michael Grant, a knockout loss to Mike Tyson, and a decision loss to John Ruiz, Golota is still a meaningful player in the division – which says all you need to know about the state of boxing’s big men.

The appropriately dubbed “Foul Pole” will get his umpteenth shot at glory when he meets Lamon Brewster tonight for Brewster’s lightly-regarded WBO heavyweight title in Golota’s adopted hometown of Chicago.

But what are a man’s chances when, after more than a decade toiling in the sport, he has never beaten a top contender? You would have to say: not good. Especially when you consider that it was his own self-destructive behavior that led to most of his big-fight downfalls.

Besides the Bowe implosions, he was dominating Grant, at the time a highly-regarded contender, before he inexplicably quit in the 9th round. He also quit against Tyson.

He’s surrendered so many times that you wonder why people continue to pay to see him box.

And his loss to Lewis was memorable if only for Lewis’ dominance and the shell-shocked, bug-eyed expression on Golota’s face after he was humiliated in less than a round.

At least in his latest comeback, he has not contributed to his own demise.

He drew with IBF champ Chris Byrd in April 2004 – a fight a whole lot of experts thought he won. And many others thought he deserved the nod over WBA titlist Ruiz last November as well.

But, officially, he came up short.

Los Angeles’ Brewster, 31-2 (27 knockouts), represents his last – and, amazingly, his best – chance at beating a top contender and winning a title.

Brewster won the WBO crown in April 2004, when he survived an inhumane beating to stop Wladimir Klitchko – yet another talented big guy with mental issues. The upset victory didn’t showcase Brewster’s skills as much as his chin and Klitschko’s chronic SFS – “Sudden Fatigue Syndrome.”

And in his last fight in September, Brewster was the recipient of a questionable decision over Kali Meehan – who has since been blown-out by former champ Hasim Rahman.

There’s a reason Brewster has struggled in his two biggest fights – he’s not very good. He is, however, incredibly tough, a trait that has allowed him to survive the Klitschko and Meehan beatings.

It’s that toughness that could give him an edge over a fighter with the fragile psyche of Golota.

But Golota, 38-5-1 (31 knockouts), has shown marked signs of maturity at age 37. He was patient against the frustratingly slippery Byrd. And against the impossibly-sloppy Ruiz, he maintained his composure through many rough spots.

Both times he went 12 rounds without a hint of his trademark meltdowns.

Further, Golota tends to crack up more readily against big punchers like Lewis and Tyson. And while Brewster is a strong puncher, he isn’t a destroyer – which should help Golota’s self-confidence as he enters the familiar United Center ring as a big hometown favorite.

Look for Golota to box neatly, fire combinations and probably drop Brewster in the middle rounds. Brewster will make his customary late-rounds comeback, but Golota will uncharacteristically keep his cool.

And, in the end, that early-round Golota domination will be too much for Brewster to overcome.

And maybe, just maybe, there will be enough time left for a talented-but-tormented fighter to be the star he was supposed to be in 1996.

Golota by unanimous decision.