Bowe draws his strength from intelligence

Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas on a new outlook for a very heavy heavyweight
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Since intelligence and a strong instinct for self-preservation are qualities usually found in conjunction, smart boxers must accept the probability that they will be held in deep suspicion.

Even today you can come across trainers who think it a problem when a pupil is praised for improvements in vocabulary. "I hope the kid remembers he's going to fight, not read poetry," one of them has been heard to say.

Nobody has ever said that about Riddick Bowe - his intelligence is sometimes considered a drawback, the reason why he does not stand supreme in the heavyweight division. "Too bright for his own good," some people go around saying.

That Bowe is also placid by nature helps to explain why he has frequently been lax when required to regard diet as a fundamental principle of prep- aration. Often, fat has been the most obvious description.

On this subject, Bowe's veteran tutor, Eddie Futch - a man much respected throughout boxing - is an important witness. "In most things, Riddick has never given me a moment's trouble," Futch said this week, when preparing Bowe for tomorrow's contest against Evander Holyfield at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. None of Futch's many champions has been less trouble.

Considering that Bowe took up boxing with the stench of a New York housing project on him, and resisted the temptations that destroyed some of the children he grew up with, Futch's admiration is understandable. But it has not always been easy going.

Before Holyfield regained the World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles from Bowe in their second contest almost exactly two years ago, Futch almost gave up on him. This was because Bowe could be accused of spending more time in supermarkets than the gymnasium. On the scales, Bowe was a big disappointment to his tutor. "No matter how much I preached, he went on gorging himself," Futch recalled.

At one stage, Futch was at the point of departure. Had he not mislaid an air ticket, it is unlikely that they would still be in alliance. "I was almost out of the door when Riddick showed up, pleading with me to stay," Futch added. A strong probability is that without Futch at his side, Bowe, whose career earnings exceed $30m (pounds 19.5m), would have given up boxing. "I don't think there is any doubt about it," said Rock Newman, his voluble manager. "They make a remarkable pair, like father and son."

When Bowe stopped Herbie Hide in six rounds last March to gain the World Boxing Organisation championship, he was overweight and looked so sluggish that his next opponent, Jorge Gonzales, was given more than an outside chance of victory.

Instead, Bowe took Gonzales apart. This was much to Futch's satisfaction. "Not perfect," he said, "but close to the standard I think Riddick can reach. I've always felt that as long as Riddick concentrated fully and watched his weight between fights, he will dominate the heavyweight division and be remembered as one of the all-time great fighters."

Even now, Bowe is not allowed to forget that Lennox Lewis defeated him in the 1988 Olympic boxing finals. The idea of getting them together in the ring again excites Seth Abraham of the cable television network Home Box Office, that puts more than $40m annually into boxing. "It would be bigger than anything we've done in the sport - bigger than the fight between Holyfield and George Foreman, which is our record. Lewis and Holyfield wouldn't be bad, either."

To foster that possibility, Abraham has persuaded Lewis to work for him tomorrow as a reporter in Bowe's dressing- room. "I think it's the first time they will have spoken since the Seoul Olympics," he said.

Following the dramatic collapse of the contest between Mike Tyson and Buster Mathis Jnr that was also scheduled for tomorrow in Las Vegas, the former undisputed champion is guaranteed to be the centre of attraction. In view of the interest evoked internationally by Tyson's return to the ring, you may think it interesting that Bowe-Holyfield was doing better business. "People understood that it was a real fight, not a mismatch," Newman stated. "I had a premonition that the Tyson fight would go away, and it did." In celebration of his prescience, Newman wore a soothsayer's turban when attending a press conference yesterday.

Not that Bowe had paid much attention to Tyson's activities anyway. "Who cared?" he asked, after a light work-out in the sports hall behind Caesars Palace. By the look of him, Futch has no cause for concern. And by the sound of him, if Bowe was running for office, he would surely be elected.

n Lennox Lewis yesterday began his High Court bid to gain an injunction halting the World Boxing Council from sanctioning a title bout between Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson. Lewis, who is the mandatory challenger, is protesting against Bruno's plans to defend his heavyweight crown against Tyson on 16 March in Las Vegas. The hearing continues today.