reports from Las Vegas
When the bell sounded for the third round at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Saturday night Riddick Bowe strode from his corner and slammed in a left jab that sent Herbie Hide backwards. It drew a trickle of blood from Hide's nose and put a puzzled expression on his face.
The first punch of any consequence Bowe threw in a challenge for the World Boxing Organisation heavyweight championship introduced Hide to reality. Bowe, a giant by physical comparison, was simply too big and strong for the man from Norfolk. All the champion could do was try and make a fight of it. "Maybe I should have kept on the move," he said afterwards, "But I didn't want to stink the place out. I didn't want to run away from Bowe like Larry Donald did."
A count-out after 2min 25sec of the sixth when trying to disentangle himself from the ropes, was Hide's seventh official visit to the canvas, but he did not take a terrible beating. What stood out most was his gallantry.The general consensus was that Hide had given more than can be reasonably expected of a fighter in such circumstances.
The bigger man was so much stronger after delayed assertion, that the champion had few opportunities for offensive moves of his own, but whenever a crisis came he fought back gamely. Some in the audience were strongly of the opinion that nothing braver in sport had crossed their vision. Nobody was more impressed than Seth Abraham, who is chief executive of the cable television network, HBO. "Herbie acquitted himself so well that I'm sure he'll figure on our promotions in the future," Abraham said. "He's better than a number of ranked heavyweights."
In fact Hide performed better than apparent technical limitations had suggested. The champion was an eight-round boxer in experience but he occasionally raised consternation in the challenger's corner. "I know that I hurt him and worried him," Hide said.
It was almost two hours after the contest and Hide was sitting in an hotel room 24 floors above where Bowe's victory was being celebrated. He wore a black track suit and was barefooted. Every so often he ran fingers over a tender area high on the left side of his face. "I'm a young guy, only 23,and I'll be back," he insisted. "I was quicker than Bowe and it surprised me to discover how easy it is to hit him. This guy's supposed to be the best. If that's the case I'm one of the best. I'd like to fight him again. Sure, I'd like a re-match."
Even allowing for the years that still separate him from traditional heavyweight maturity and that he may improve, Hide will always be at a physical disadvantage in the division. The opening rounds proved that he was crafty as well as quick and that he could land useful combinations. However,the rest of the contest exposed his psysical shortcomings.
It also renewed the suspicion that Bowe falls short of the estimate of his manager, Rock Newman. An outstanding heavyweight of Bowe's dimensions would have overwhelmed Hide a lot earlier.
Claiming to have been unsetlled by a head-butt (Hide insists it was an accident), Bowe said: "I have to admit that at time times I got a little anxious. He stung me a couple of times and was much faster than I imagined. But the pressure took its toll. I hit him and he sounded like a little girl. But I've got to give Herbie credit. He was in great shape and took a lot of punishment, expecially to the body. But it wasn't one of my best performances."
If Hide's fortitude was commendable, his relatively unblemished features confirm the widespread view that Bowe had not landed many clean punches. The second of two knock downs in the third round resulted from a good uppercut and he landed two powerful rights in the sixth, but most of his work was untidy.
One of the big problems for Bowe's associates, especially his veteran trainer Eddie Futch, is that he grows quickly bored with the disciplines of preparation. "After Riddick took the title from Evander Holyfield he became obsessed with his toys," Futch said on the eve of the contest. "He also grew soft through inactivity."
Hide did not grow soft in the year between taking the WBO title from Michael Bentt and defending against Bowe, but it occurs that he could have done with at least one fight. If unfortunate to find himself up against Bowe in a first defence, a purse in excess of £700,000 provides compensation.
Throughout Saturday's contest Hide looked determined but slightly uncertain. Maybe he was trying to remember the things his tutors laid down in sparring or had concluded that violent defeat was probable. Once Bowe began to get through he must have known that defeat was inevitable.
Bowe's next contest, on 17 June, will be against a Cuban heavyweight, Jorge Luis Gonzalez, who unfailingly conveys the idea that he talks a better fight than he is capable of delivering.
A far more interesting prospect concerns the former WBC champion, Lennox Lewis who will return to the ring against Lionel Butler on 13 May in Sacramento, California. According to Abraham, Bowe and Lewis could come together later this year although, mysteriously, not for a title. "It's a serious proposition," Abraham said. "We're thinking about October."