Riddick Bowe ended his boxing career with a 43-1 record. Of his victories, 33 of them came by knockout.
The American was a silver medalist at the 1988 Olympics, who went on to become a two-time heavyweight champion of the world. He was also the man who ended Evander Holyfield’s perfect record, becoming the first fighter to not only beat the Real Deal but also knock him down.
Yet despite his achievements, both as an amateur and a professional, Bowe’s name will be synonymous with events that left a black mark on the sport that made him famous.
He once staged a news conference in London to drop the WBC heavyweight belt in the bin, having failed to agree terms to face Lennox Lewis.
Boxing Insider confirmed in an article that it was only a toy belt that had been dumped in the trash, and that Bowe’s people actually retrieved it “after the cameras were turned off.” Still, he had made his point in front of the media.
Bowe and Lewis never did face each other in the ring—a scheduled fight in 1994 was derailed when the latter lost the WBC strap to Oliver McCall.
Big Daddy lost a rematch with Holyfield in 1993, though he became a world champion again by stopping Herbie Hide for the WBO version two years later.
A third and final chapter in his rivalry with Holyfield saw Bowe win by TKO in the eighth, though there was no title on the line at Caesars Palace.
Perhaps the most infamous night in Bowe’s career, though, came in his next outing, when he took on Andrew Golota on July 11, 1996.
The Polish heavyweight was 28-0 when he finally got his chance at the big time. While unbeaten, he had never previously faced an opponent of Bowe’s pedigree. Understandably he was a big underdog, though there were signs beforehand that he could cause an upset.
The bronze medal winner at the 1988 Olympic Games made headlines, though not for the right reasons.
For the nearly seven rounds of boxing that took place at Madison Square Garden in New York, Golota landed plenty of shots. The problem, though, was too many of them were below the belt.
Referee Wayne Kelly warned the Powerful Pole early on, but the official’s stern words fell on deaf ears—Golota would have a point deducted in both the fourth and the sixth rounds.
Another was lost in the seventh, and when he caught Bowe with yet another punch south of the border not long after, Kelly decided enough was enough.
With Bowe having collapsed to the canvas in pain, the fight was waved off. Despite being ahead on all three scorecards at the time, Golota had thrown away the opportunity to record the biggest victory of his career to date.
Yet, while the disqualification was the end of the fight, it was not the end of events in the ring.
Several of Bowe’s team, including his manager, Rock Newman, immediately moved between the ropes. Some appeared to remonstrate with Golota, who quickly found himself in a confrontational situation just moments after being disqualified.
Very quickly, things got out of hand. So quickly, in fact, that within seconds the ring was full of bodies, many of them picking fights and looking for trouble. Some were there trying to quell the situation, but they were outnumbered.
An already tense atmosphere reached boiling point, and chaos broke out in the blink of an eye.
Bernard Brooks Sr.—part of Bowe’s entourage—later said, per Gerald Eskenazi of the New York Times (h/t BoxRec), “I went in to make sure Rock was all right. I tried to hold Golota away, but he swung at me with a left,” though the Philadelphia Daily News’ Bernard Fernandez reported Brooks “pushed Golota from behind.”
Jason Harris, another member of Bowe’s camp, quickly arrived on the scene and struck Golota on the back of the head with a walkie-talkie, according to the New York Times’ James Barron.
Lou Duva, who had been working in Golota’s corner on the night, was knocked down during the melee. The 74-year-old was stretchered away, taken to hospital, suffering with chest pains, with his condition updated to stable later in the night, per the Independent.
At one stage it seemed some sort of order had been restored, but trouble soon flared up again. However, it wasn’t just confined to those people who had filled the ring.
Brawls broke out in sections of the crowd at one of the most iconic sporting venues in the world. Madison Square Garden had been home to many a fight, but none were quite like this.
The ring was eventually cleared, and Michael Buffer was able to announce the result in favour of Bowe, who by then had been ushered back to the safety of his dressing room.
New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani visited the scene, saying—per Alan Goldstein of the Baltimore Sun: “This was the product of a few people who acted like criminals.”
Boxing made headline news, just for all the wrong reasons. The sport’s reputation had been badly damaged.
Golota was cast as the pantomime villain, even if he had been so impressive when he kept his focus to only throwing legal punches. His jab, which he often doubled up, was a constant problem for his opponent. The win had been there for the taking, yet for some reason he pressed the self-destruct button.
As for Bowe, he had weighed in at his all-time heaviest (243 pounds) and, unsurprisingly, looked slow and sluggish throughout. He was an easy target to line up and was sagging as each round slipped by.
And yet, despite all the trouble, despite the way the night ended, he still opted to take on Golota again in a rematch, which was staged in Atlantic City in December.
The second fight saw Golota disqualified again, though that is a story for another day.