Boxing: The disintegration of Riddick Bowe

The boxer once affectionately known as `Big Daddy' has seen his life descend into turmoil since he retired last year. Glyn Leach examines a disturbing decline

IT WAS the day that signified the completion of a meteoric fall from grace by the former world heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe; one of the fastest, most dramatic journeys from hero to zero in the history of a sport littered with fallen idols. And as a consequence of his actions on 25 February 1998, the 30-year-old New York giant will be an inmate of a Federal jail within four weeks.

On 4 June a Washington DC court heard Bowe admit to abducting his estranged wife and former childhood sweetheart, Judy, and the couple's five children at knifepoint - "an act of misguided love", according to his defence attorney. And maybe so; Bowe's mother-in-law and next door neighbour had apparently commented: "If he was a man, he'd go there and get her."

For whatever reason, Bowe drove to his wife's home in Cornelius, South Carolina, armed with a knife, pepper gas spray, handcuffs and masking tape. He forced his family into the car, then drove 200 miles to a McDonald's in South Hill, Virginia, where Judy was able to get word to the authorities who apprehended the 6ft 5in, 20st former champion.

Although Judy was unhurt, refused medical attention and declined to press charges, Bowe was found guilty under the federal Violence Against Women Act. The maximum sentence for such a crime is 10 years imprisonment and a $250,000 (pounds 155,000) fine, but plea-bargaining has reduced Bowe's likely sentence to around two years.

It is a stunning development that has shocked even those who have followed the disturbing events in Bowe's life since his retirement from boxing in early in 1997, a direct result of his second brutal encounter with Andrzej Golota in December 1996.

Prior to the first Golota fight, Bowe was widely regarded as the best heavyweight in the world. The previous November he had become the only man to knock out Evander Holyfield, with whom he had a memorable three- fight series; Bowe won the undisputed heavyweight championship from Holyfield in November 1992 and lost it to him one year later, in the infamous "Fan Man" fight in Las Vegas, when an errant paragliding enthusiast interrupted the open-air bout in round seven.

But by Christmas 1996 Bowe, incredibly, was a shot fighter on the verge of a surprisingly early retirement in an era when heavyweights like George Foreman and Larry Holmes, who are scheduled to meet next January, are fighting into their 50s.

But the second Golota fight had taken a heavy toll. Bowe slurred badly in the post-fight interview; his mumbled speech was almost impenetrable. It would have been unrealistic to have expected Bowe still to be the young prospect who, so full of hope after winning the silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, would entertain the media with impersonations of his idol, Muhammad Ali. But the extremity of Bowe's deterioration was alarming. He was persuaded to retire or risk a fate similar to Ali's.

After meeting Bowe earlier this year, Holyfield said: "It's all kinda sad. He was slurring his words and his demeanour was quite different. You kind of wonder what happened with a guy as young as him."

Life after boxing is never easy for a fighter to face. But the sheer, unprecedented velocity of Bowe's decline has sent him off the rails and headed for jail.

His first move in retirement was a disastrous foray into the US Marine Corps; it was as if Bowe realised that, with boxing training camps a thing of the past, he still needed a regimented environment in order to hold his life together. But Bowe had never been a major fan of discipline and quit after just eight days.

His former manager, Rock Newman - now a spin-doctor for the controversial Washington politician, Marion Barry - attempted to keep Bowe occupied with community-orientated projects. But the frustration of an athlete cut off in his prime soon told on Bowe and his personal life began to disintegrate last year.

Police were called after a physical altercation between Bowe and his sister, Thelma, but no charges resulted from the fracas 18 months ago. But Bowe awaits trial on charges of assaulting Judy last August, and also an adult nephew, Joey Bowe, three months later. And in March of this year Judy and the children moved out of the $1.5m family home.

Bowe was a popular figure, regarded as one of boxing's nice guys, as illustrated by corporate sponsorships - rare for boxing - from blue-chip companies such as Fila and Sergio Tacchini.

Known as "Big Daddy", Bowe has the images of his children - now aged between two and 11 years old - tattooed on his chest. He had been with Judy since both were 13-year-olds in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the couple married at 21.

The second youngest of 13 children - in 1988 a sister, Brenda, was killed by muggers and a brother, Henry, died of Aids - Bowe's family meant everything to him, but a tragic series of events has robbed him of the things that mattered most in his life. And those very things seem to have destroyed him.

He checked himself into a hospital for psychiatric evaluation later on the day of the abduction. He was released with the advice to undergo anger- management therapy - too little, too late, it seems.

Now Bowe is a forlorn figure living alone at the family home, under house arrest and with an electronic ankle bracelet informing the authorities if he should stray further than his postbox. And as he sits out the remainder of the 90-day period before sentencing takes place, a famous boxing maxim will be playing on Bowe's mind; the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
The two-year-old said she cut off her fringe because it was getting in her eyes
news

Video: It is the type of thing no parent wants to hear

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £100,000

£1000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Doing more admin than selling? ...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development - Software Technology - £60,000 OTE

£30000 per annum + £60,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Basingstoke, Brighton,...

Langley James : Field Support Engineer; Dynamics, SQL; Manchester, £33k+Car

£33000 - £36000 per annum + Car+Laptop+Phone: Langley James : Field Support En...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planning MRP Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's most progressive and innovativ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game