This one was filed quite firmly in the bizarre section. It was October 29, 1991 and Riddick Bowe was an unbeaten 24 year old heavyweight contender who was rapidly closing in on the world title. Sporting a perfect 26-0 record, Bowe had beaten good fighters such as Tyrell Biggs, Bruce Seldon and Bert Cooper. Going up against Elijah Tillery in Washington D.C, Bowe figured to have no problems advancing to 27-0.
Tillery, three years older than Bowe, was a decent-looking 24-3 yet he had never beaten anyone of Bowe’s calibre and he was coming off a loss to common opponent Art Tucker. Still, Tillery was in great physical shape and he had earned a reputation as a superb gym fighter; a man who could give a great account of himself in sparring. Also, Tillery had been a fine amateur, compiling a 45-2 record.
Bowe didn’t get the expected win over Tillery, and Tillery wasn’t knocked out or out-pointed. No, something truly crazy happened.
Tillery looked sharp at the bell, using his fast hands to good effect as he tagged Bowe to head and body. Then, showing his power, “Big Daddy” rocked Tillery with a big right hand to the head. Soon after, a left hook from Bowe sent Tillery down heavily. Tillery bravely beat the count and the round, which overran by a few crucial seconds, carried on. Then, after the late bell, Bowe slung out a fast jab. Tillery was enraged and he kicked Bowe – three times. Bowe was now the man who was fuming and, as Tillery was being hit whilst on the ropes, Rock Newman, Bowe’s manager, grabbed Tillery and as Bowe was flailing away with yet more huge shots, Tillery crashed out of the ring onto the floor.
It was wild and it was shocking. It was also a whole lot of fun! No, Newman should never have grabbed his fighter’s opponent, but it was Tillery who was disqualified, this for the blatant kicking. The two fighters traded insults in the ring (this after Tillery had climbed back in) and for a few worrying moments a full ring melee looked to be on the cards.
Eventually order was restored – and the rematch was on. Suddenly there was good money to be made from Bowe Vs. Tillery: the sequel! As it turned out, both men behaved themselves in the return that took place less than two months later; with Bowe getting a straightforward 4th round TKO win. But the first fight, well, let’s just say it foreshadowed some of the wacky, nasty and crazy events Bowe’s career would enjoy. Bowe became quite proficient at hitting after the bell (see his wars with Evander Holyfield), he also committed the occasional foul (hitting Buster Mathis Jr while he was down) and it was a Bowe fight that gave us the infamous ‘Fan Man’ incident. While Bowe also slapped an unsuspecting Larry Donald with the ultimate cheap-shot, and the two Bowe-Andrew Golota fights both ended up in carnage; with Bowe coming off worse this time.
There is no doubt about it, Riddick Bowe’s ring career was never, ever dull. As for Tillery, he fought just once more after losing to Bowe, being stopped by Bonecrusher Smith 1993.