Bowe awaits call to arms

Harry Mullan looks forward to a heavyweight duel heavy with hate
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The Independent Online
JACK DEMPSEY'S daughter Barbara once told me that, until the end of his long life, her father would not permit his children to refer to Gene Tunney in any terms other than "Mr Tunney", such was the respect he held for the man who had beaten him twice in heavyweight title fights nearly 60 years previously. Similar strictures are unlikely to be imposed in the households of Riddick Bowe and Jorge Luis Gonzalez, who meet on Saturday in Las Vegas in what promises to be the worst-tempered heavyweight title fight ever staged.

Already, the build-up has been so explosive that the pair have been banned by the Nevada State Athletic Commission from appearing together at any pre-fight function. They must even weigh in separately, a ruling unique in championship history. The simmering ill-feeling between them, which goes back to their amateur days and a meeting in the 1988 Pan-American Games, threatened to boil over at the press conference following Bowe's win over Britain's Herbie Hide for the WBO title, which is at stake on Saturday. Some of us thought then that the taunting and jacket-pulling was no more than routine hype, but we had to revise that opinion in the week before George Foreman's fight in Las Vegas in April when the pair met again at a reception and started hurling (full) glasses at each other.

That was too much for the Commission, and for the MGM Grand, which has both men on promotional contracts. The hotel could have faced huge compensation claims had any innocent bystanders been injured in the melee. Dennis Finfrock, the MGM executive in charge of boxing there, approved the Commission's ban, saying: "We share the same concern for the safety and well-being of the participants, and all those in attendance. Unfortunately, we cannot control these two athletes because their hatred is so strong, so we will have to let them settle their differences in the ring." Heroically, he resisted the temptation to add "Seats at all prices", but the message was plain enough.

Just in case any doubts lingered, Gonzalez announced: "I want everybody to tell Bowe what I've been saying about him. I'll eat his heart. I'll eat his eyes right in the ring. I'm going to rip his head off on June 17, and after I get rid of Bowe I want to go after Don King and Mike Tyson. I hate 'em both but I hate King more. As for Tyson, with that little fag's voice, I want to spank him in front of the fans."

The MGM are billing the fight as "Mortal Enemies", a singularly tasteless slogan bearing in mind that it is only a month since Jimmy Garcia was beaten to death in a world title fight in the MGM ring. But this is Las Vegas, and with Bowe being paid $7.5m and Gonzalez $1m, seats must be sold.

Hype apart, this is a fascinating heavyweight pairing, maybe the best we'll see this year. It is given extra spice by that amateur encounter when Gonzalez knocked Bowe down four times en route to the Pan-American gold medal. His amateur victims also included Lennox Lewis and a faded Teofilio Stevenson, and it is probable that had Gonzalez not chosen to defect from Cuba for a professional career in America he would have emulated Stevenson's Olympic achievements. The shaven-skulled 30-year-old is the wild card in the heavyweight pack, although he has yet to be seriously tested in winning 23 in a row, 22 by knockout or stoppage.

Bowe, 27, has lost only to Evander Holyfield in 38 fights (which include one no-contest), but has struggled to recapture the hard edge he showed in beating Holyfield in their first fight in 1992. He has earned massively and spent lavishly, though as a genuinely devoted family man his expenditure has been on domestic luxuries rather than the more exotic pleasures favoured by so many of his peers.

He has a considerable advantage in professional experience, but there are clear signs that Gonzalez's psychological warfare is getting under his skin. If Gonzalez has the stamina to survive Bowe's pressure and put his long, jolting left to effective use, there's a fair chance the joker could turn into an ace.