Bowe stems the tide of emotion

BOXING: Heartbreaker Holyfield is stopped in the eighth. Ken Jones reports from Las Vegas
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The Independent Online
Intrigue is so much a way of life in heavyweight boxing that the future was made no clearer at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas late on Saturday when Riddick Bowe stopped Evander Holyfield in the eighth round of a thrilling encounter.

Although Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, said yesterday that he had entered into negotiaions with Don King for a fight against Mike Tyson some time next year, Lennox Lewis threw down a challenge to the victor at ringside. This despite the further action his associates are taking in a New Jersey court room today to prevent Frank Bruno from defending the World Boxing Council championship against Tyson early next year. "I still believe in my right to challenge Bruno [it was rejected by a British judge last week] but I'm ready to fight Bowe," Lewis said.

It is an idea that appeals hugely to the American cable television network, Home Box Office, that has both men under contract and whose chief executive, Seth Abraham, telephoned London early yesterday to speak with Lewis's chief advisor, Panos Eliades. "I repeat that we are prepared to assist Lennox in his efforts to be confirmed as Bruno's challenger but Bowe and Lewis would be a tremendous attraction," Abraham said.

In arguing that there will be an important principle at stake in New Jersey today, Lewis's manager, Frank Maloney, did not appear to share common ground with his fighter. Because of the probability that King, on Bruno's behalf, would succeed with a counter-action in Nevada, neither did he speak with any great conviction.

But for sensible intervention, Lewis might have embarrassed himself and brought down a bombardment of criticism by declaring publicly that the third meeting between Bowe and Holyfield was not anything to shout about. "Say that in there [a press conference] and you'll get slaughtered," he was advised by a veteran British boxing writer.

What stood beyond Lewis's perception was that, while there have been better heavyweight contests, few have done more to advance the sport's traditional nobility. This was especially true of the grace Holyfield showed in defeat after almost causing a sensation in the sixth round with a violent left hook that sent Bowe to the canvas.

When Holyfield saw Bowe lurch to his feet, hanging on to the ropes for support, he sensed that it was all over. Wearied by strenuous bouts of in-fighting when giving away more than two stones, he hardly raised his hands in an attempt to complete Bowe's destruction.

"You fight with what you have," Holyfield said, "and I gave everything. I had a problem with my right shoulder but I'm not complaining. It's not like I wasn't prepared. He was just better and I thank God for having all my faculties."

You could have cried for Holyfield, you really could, and there were damp eyes in the room when he spoke of rejecting the temptation to go down from a low right in the fifth round for which Bowe was deducted a point by the referee, Joe Cortez. "I thought about it as a way out of there, but it isn't in me to cheat."

That Holyfield was asking too much of his remarkable will and putting himself seriously at risk became quickly evident. By the end of the fourth he was travelling on heavy legs and no hope could be held out for him.

Then, suddenly at the start of the sixth round, Holyfield launched a left hook that carried every ounce of the strength he had left. "It confused me in a big way," Bowe said afterwards, "but I knew it wasn't the way we'd planned things. Fortunately, Evander wasn't able to follow up."

Between the sixth and seventh rounds Bowe's renowned trainer, Eddie Futch, called for an alteration in strategy. "Your right hand is low, so don't stand up against the left hook, duck beneath it," Futch said. By the end of the seventh Holyfield held a 66-65 advantage on all three official scorecards and made another effort on resumption, hooking with both hands. There was more hesitation in Bowe but as Holyfield came in he fell on to a flat hook that sent him over sideways.

There could have hardly been anyone in the arena who was not aware of Holyfield's dishevellment but, frighteningly, Cortez let Holyfield take two more punches before stopping the contest. In view of recent tragedies Cortez, a vastly experienced official, should be asked to explain himself.

Before they left the ring, Bowe spoke to Holyfield warmly. "You are my inspiration," he said. "In our minds and hearts you are a champion forever." Later, outside the dressing rooms, they fell into an embrace.

The fact that Bowe survived a blow that probably would have finished off the majority of heavyweights is an important consideration, but Lewis gave him little credit. "Frankly, I don't think Bowe had a lot to beat," he said. "Holyfield made the mistake of standing in front of him. He was as easy to hit as a punchbag, but Bowe still had a problem."

George Foreman went further, insisting that Bowe defeated an invalid. "Evander is a sick man," he said. "Bowe struggled to beat a man that sick, so how can people say that he is the best heavyweight?"

The problem for Lewis is that he and his people, particularly the Duva organisation, Main Events, that has long been at odds with the WBC and its King-friendly president, Jose Sulaiman, are working to different route maps.

A distinct possibility is that even if Home Box Office are able to get negotiations under way, the question of who gets what will prevent Bowe- Lewis happening. Lewis is bound to demand parity in the purse money, which is not quite how Newman sees things. From the way he spoke yesterday, he is more inclined to seek Tyson as the next opponent for his man.

Using a microphone, Lewis taunted Bowe on Saturday, reminding him that they were due to meet for the undisputed title three years ago until he cast the WBC version into a trash can. "Momma," Bowe retorted.

They have come this far, but will boxing politics again prevent further progress?