It was Saturday, October 31, 1992, Halloween night, when heavyweight contenders Lennox Lewis (21-0) and Donovan “Razor” Ruddock (25-3-1) met in a title elimination bout. The winner of Lewis-Ruddock was set to challenge the winner of the upcoming undisputed heavyweight title bout between champion Evander Holyfield (28-0) and top contender Riddick Bowe (31-0).
In some ways it was a reflection back to 1974 when the top four contenders met in two elimination bouts to determine the undisputed champ. It played out as follows. In January of 1974 Muhammad Ali decisioned Joe Frazier to win their rematch, and then in March heavyweight champ George Foreman knocked out second ranked Ken Norton. The winners Ali and Foreman met for the undisputed title in October and it was then and there that Ali's victory over Foreman signified the re-birth of the Ali legend.
Well, in the 90s version of the top four elimination, Lewis demolished Ruddock in two rounds and was assumed to be the next challenger for the Holyfield-Bowe winner. And on Friday night November 13, 1992, 13 days after Lewis-Ruddock, Holyfield and Bowe staged the most action packed heavyweight title bout, one that was voted fight of the year by Ring Magazine, since Larry Holmes won a 15-round split decision over Ken Norton in June of 1978 to claim the WBC title.
Bowe fought the signature fight of his career against Holyfield that night and won a 12-round unanimous decision to become undisputed heavyweight champion. During his title winning effort Bowe displayed HOF skill. It looked as if on that night he could've lived with and competed against any heavyweight who had ever worn the heavyweight crown, that's how good he looked. Riddick displayed a piston like jab, an unconventional but hard and accurate right hand, and his in-fighting for a big man was remarkable. His uppercuts and hooks were tight and compact and really had Holyfield on his heels when he tried to get inside and crowd Bowe during their bout. After beating Holyfield, Bowe was on top of the world and looked as if he was about to get revenge against Lewis who stopped him at the 1988 Olympics in the gold medal round four years earlier.
But it never happened…
A month after winning the title from Holyfield, Bowe threw his WBC belt in the trash and vacated the title instead of meeting Lewis, who was the number one contender. Unfortunately for Bowe, he threw away his chance to be a legitimate hall of famer along with the belt because other than fighting Holyfield, three times in total, there aren't enough quality wins on his resume to deserve induction. Make no mistake about it, Bowe had HOF skill. Riddick had height and reach, he could punch with both hands and could also fight inside and outside. His toughness and heart were questioned after he lost at the Olympics to Lewis, but his showing against Holyfield the first time they fought erased that.
However, other than fighting Holyfield three times, he never fought or beat another elite heavyweight, unless you count a washed up Michael Dokes, Larry Donald, Herbie Hide and Jose Luis Gonzalez. He also fought Andrew Golota twice and won by disqualification both times when Andrew repeatedly fouled him during both bouts. But everyone knows that Golota was also knocking the hell out of Bowe for a majority of both meetings. And the reality is most observers see the two Golota fights as losses for Bowe.
Riddick Bowe 43-1 (33) made a career out of fighting Evander Holyfield. Bowe defeated Holyfield two of the three times they met and stopped him in their final bout after Evander dumped him on the canvas earlier in the fight. But it's not like Bowe owned Holyfield. In their first fight he gave Evander a memorable beating, but he was also worked over and punched around by him too. When they met the second time a year later, Bowe wasn't in the shape he was for their first fight and Holyfield adjusted his style and out boxed Bowe using lateral movement and combination punching to win by decision. When they met in the rubber match, it was much like the rubber match between Ali and Frazier. Both Evander and Riddick had slipped and couldn't get out of each other’s way, and like it was with Frazier against Ali, by the time the third fight rolled around for Holyfield and Bowe…Riddick's height, weight and reach were too much for the smaller Holyfield to overcome.
When looking at Bowe's career in totality, it doesn't measure up with his career rivals Holyfield, Lewis and Mike Tyson when comparing the quality of opposition that they each faced. Riddick fought Evander and there isn’t much after that. Holyfield fought Bowe three times, and owns a win over him. He fought both Tyson and Lewis twice each when he was on the decline more than they were and went 2-1-1. Lewis fought both Holyfield and Tyson when they were past their prime and went 2-0-1 against them. And we know why he and Bowe never fought, because Riddick wouldn't fight him. As for Tyson, he was win-less in three fights with Holyfield and Lewis, but he did fight them. Yes, he and Bowe missed each other because Tyson was in prison for three years and that hurts the legacy of both Tyson and Bowe.
Not only did Bowe never fight two of the big three of his era (Lewis & Tyson) he never fought any other stalwarts and title holders of the era, the likes of Ray Mercer, George Foreman, Michael Moorer, David Tua, Oliver McCall, Razor Ruddock and Tommy Morrison. Bowe's prime was too short and his quality of opposition doesn't make the grade to merit HOF honors.
Had Bowe fought Lewis in the spring of 1993 as it was intended, his career may have unfolded completely differently. After Lewis beat Ruddock and Bowe beat Holyfield for the title, Bowe-Lewis was to the early 1990s what Mayweather-Pacquiao is to this generation regarding anticipation. I remember thinking when they turned pro that it was Lewis who would have the better career as opposed to Bowe. However, Bowe really did blossom under trainer Eddie Futch and by the end of 1992, Riddick looked to be the better and more finished fighter than did Lennox. I always felt that Bowe was unfairly criticized after losing to Lewis at the Olympics. Everyone forgets that Lewis participated at the 1984 games and lost to American Tyrell Biggs. Having already competed as an Olympian before gave him a distinct advantage over Bowe at the 1988 games, and it showed. Lennox was harder mentally and physically than Riddick was at that time. But Bowe was busier and fought better opposition out of the chute as pros than Lewis did and it showed.
Bowe was in his prime circa 1992-93, whereas Lewis didn't fully flower until three or four years later under trainer Emanuel Steward. Had they fought when they were originally scheduled to, I would've picked Bowe. Sadly for Bowe the fight never happened and it is Lewis who went on to become a legitimate Hall Of Famer.
On the night of 11/13/92 Riddick Bowe looked like a can't miss Hall of Fame fighter. The Bowe who fought Holyfield the first time was too much for Evander, and if forced to speculate he probably would've been too much for Tyson and Lewis on their best nights too. The problem is, we just don't know and there weren't enough of those nights after Holyfield I to justify his induction into the Hall of Fame, aside from the fact that he's still alive and can participate and speak during the festivities in June of next year.
Lastly, I'm glad for Riddick Bowe that he'll be inducted into the IBHOF despite thinking he didn't have the longevity and enough quality wins to make the cut, because he's more deserving than some others who have already had their fist cast in stone.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com