On This Day: When Riddick Bowe Quit The Marines, Unable To Handle The Brutal Regimen

By James Slater - 02/21/2024 - Comments

Riddick Bowe never once quit in the ring. The pro ring, that is. The former heavyweight king who thrilled us all with his epic trilogy with Evander Holyfield and who lost only to the same “Real Deal,” this in their second fight, showed immense heart, not only against Holyfield, but against Andrew Golota, Tyrell Biggs (this an underrated heavyweight battle), and a few other guys.

Certainly, Bowe showed he was no quitter at pro level, this after he had been accused of being one in the amateur ranks. If anything, Bowe showed too much raw courage in the Golota foul-fests (the fouls being provided by Golota, those infamous low blows a real disgrace) for his own good. Boy, how Bowe soaked up a boatload of punishment against the Pole, in the second fight especially.

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But did Bowe quit the marines, or was he booted out?

One of the strangest and unexpected things Bowe did during his ring career was make the decision to join the Marine Corps, this in February of 1997. Bowe was coming off the two hellish nights he’d spent in the ring with “The Foul Pole,” and perhaps he felt he would have an easier time of things accomplishing what he said had been a “lifelong dream of being a marine.”

Bowe had badly misjudged things.

Famously packing his backpack after just a few days, Bowe could not handle the stricter than strict regimen that was in place at Parris Island. Bowe found out sharply how tough his life, his living hell of a life, was going to be as a marine. Wealthy, very fond of eating, and with big money offers still out there for him in the ring, Bowe was regretting his unexpected decision after the very first day.

Up at 5 a.m, back in bed by 9 p.m, and with shouting, humiliating drill instructors giving Bowe the celebrity no special treatment at all, Bowe had no chance of sucking it up and acting like a marine. Bowe had messed up big-time and he sorely knew it.

Later, when looking back, Bowe spoke about what he had thought it would be like in the Corps.

“I thought they’d probably give you a hard time for a week or so,” Bowe said, his ordeal over. “I didn’t realize that for the 12 weeks you’re in boot camp, somebody was going to be in your face.”

And there was someone in Bowes’s face pretty much the whole time, someone who was able to refer to the former heavyweight champion of the world as a “maggot” and a “grunt,” and who enjoyed it. Bowe could push himself through the long runs, but the sheer mental attack from his drill sergeants was too much.

Chuck Wepner, the former world title challenger and also a former marine, who served three years, knew Bowe would not be able to handle it.

“The training in boot camp is harder than training for any opponent,” Wepner told Robert Mladinich back in 1997. “Riddick is a world-class athlete and will be in better shape than most recruits, but the mental aspect is the toughest part. The training is built on humiliation and embarrassment. They break you down so they can build you back up as a marine.”

Bowe did the first part, he broke all right, but he was not made of the right stuff to be rebuilt. Instead, Bowe – who some reports say “refused to train,” with others saying he never actually defied any orders – quit. After just 11 days.

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Missing his family and unable to handle being yelled at were said to be the main reasons for Bowe’s capitulation, but for sure, the strict rationing of food can’t have helped. Bowe came back home, but he didn’t resume his boxing career as many expected he would. Not for almost eight years, anyway. Instead, Bowe’s life became a mess, his marriage falling apart, with Bowe making more crazy headlines, this time for kidnapping his estranged wife and their five kids, with Bowe allegedly stabbing Judy Bowe in the chest.

Bowe’s fall from grace was one of the more stunningly complete ever seen from a star boxer. Bowe suffered more humiliation as his lawyer used the fact that his client was brain damaged as defence for the kidnapping. When one listened to Bowe speak at this time, however, it was apparent his lawyer was not merely using an immoral tactic in an effort at getting him off the hook.

Bankruptcy followed, in 2005, as did the inevitable comeback, the year before. Bowe, out of shape and slower than ever, won a couple of fights against journeymen, before he had one final fight in 2008. Bowe, who had already tried more things than most people, then had a go at Muay Thai, this in 2013. It didn’t go well, with Bowe being TKO’d from a kick to the leg in the second round of his one and only bout.

Bowe was on top of the world prior to those two fights with Golota, then his world began to crash around him in quite frighteningly spectacular fashion. It was, though, that foolhardy decision to try and become a marine that signalled the start of Bowe’s unravelling.

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