Boxing: Crowds roll up for a fighting farce

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The Independent Online
BOXING'S buzzards are confused by it, but the city of New York has made clear its view. Riddick Bowe against Michael Dokes here on Saturday night is heading for sell-out. Did nobody tell them the match-up is a farce? Do Bowe's Brooklyn origins count for that much?

The self-appointed guardians of the ring are quietly dismayed this week that the ticket-buying public is prepared to endorse a contest that clearly has more to do with financial security for the Bowe family than the tradition of heavyweight boxing at Madison Square Garden, where Ali, Frazier, Joe Louis and Jack Dempsey entered the rough sporting consciousness of this eternally fighting city.

But endorse it they have by pushing ticket sales (at prices ranging from dollars 400 ( pounds 280) to dollars 25) towards the 18,000 capacity mark, and guaranteeing the Garden its biggest grossing fight ever. The revenue total for the Ali-Frazier fight of 8 March, 1971, has already been surpassed, as has the box-office income for the Bob Dylan benefit concert in October last year.

Who would have thought that Bowe-Dokes could even be written about in the same paragraph as Ali- Frazier, let alone be compared in terms of the appeal they have exerted over the people of New York?

Still, on to the city's scroll they will go on Saturday when Madison Square Garden stages its first heavyweight title fight since James 'Bonecrusher' Smith scored a technical knock-out against Tim Witherspoon in December 1986. And lest anybody fails to see the humour, the black comedy, in the attempts of purists to glorify the brain-smashing traditions of heavyweight bouts at the Garden, there is a smile to be had from seeing that alongside Ali and company on the history roll are such self-parodying names as Jerry Quarry, Zora Folley and, best of all, Johnny Paychek.

Bowe fought four times as an amateur at the Garden, but not surprisingly the promoters of Saturday's fight are encouraging an almost biblical vision of his 'homecoming'. He is one of the favourite topics among New York's chattering classes, and has made it on to the front cover of such genteel publications as New York, a magazine that carries profiles of the Rupert Murdochs of this world and has a lonely-hearts column with entries like: 'Moody, eccentric, creative individual with history of dysfunctional relationships, has gone through major transformations.'

No joke. This is the territory that Bowe, the media story, now inhabits, and it is, of course, entirely to America's liking that it can endlessly repeat the tale of how Bowe escaped the housing projects of Brooklyn, leaving behind the crack dealers and the kid- killers, finally earning enough money to buy a marble gravestone for the unmarked plot where his sister, Brenda, who was stabbed to death, lies.

Bowe, unwittingly, has done much to cultivate this image of the returning hero for the youth of Brooklyn by talking of how proud he is to be appearing as champion at the Garden. 'It's going to be beautiful to go to the Garden and fight for the people,' Bowe said earlier this week. 'This is another of my dreams coming true.'

At this point, Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, was quick to see another chink of romanticism, and added that Bowe had been due to fight his second professional bout at Madison Square Garden, only for the appointment to fall through. 'To their credit, though, Riddick still got paid his dollars 2,500,' Newman said, ostentatiously inviting comparisons with the millions he can now command.

If there is a saddening element to Bowe's ritual elevation here as the man who climbed out of the ghetto, it is the implication that a black American male can best improve himself by turning from illegal to legalised violence. The unthinkable mire which Bowe left behind is painted only as the backdrop to where he is now, staring out from the cover of New York, a supposed lantern of hope to all those still stuck in the Brownsville housing projects just across the water from Manhattan.

But then the activity on the credit card hotlines demonstrates just how promising a champion many in New York believe him to be. This is a city, after all, deeply embittered about most of its sporting activities, a city to which top athletes and coaches no longer want to come. The Yankees, for instance, wined and dined the leading pitcher, Greg Maddux, and took him to Broadway and on tours of the suburbs, only to see him sign for Atlanta for less money. Dave Wannstedt, then of the Dallas Cowboys, was among many coaching officials who turned down the top job with the Giants.

Bowe, you suspect, has landed himself with all that stifled, soured expectation, and will experience a city's full blast of relief if and when he dispatches Dokes to the famous canvas on Saturday night. Even the up-towners will notice.

Even those going through 'major transformations'.

Michael Dokes missed training on Tuesday night after complaining of soreness from a punch sustained in a sparring session on Monday. However, Dokes denied that the injury was serious enough to jeopardise Saturday's fight.