25 years ago this week (August 13) a heavyweight fight took place that is probably nothing more than a footnote in boxing history now. Yet when Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, the former undisputed heavyweight king, met Buster Mathis Junior in his first fight back after losing the title, a quite bizarre fight was witnessed. Indeed, Bowe had quite a nasty side to his game, as he showed in a number of his fights.
Bowe, who had lost for the first time in his pro career in his previous outing, when he’d come in overweight and was out-pointed by the man he took the world title from in Evander Holyfield, met the son of 1960s heavyweight contender Buster Mathis. What followed added to the growing perception that “Big Daddy” was more than capable of being a dirty fighter.
Three years and nine fights previously, Bowe had fought the 23-4 Elijah Tillery. At the end of the opening round, Tillery verbally taunted Bowe (quite within the rules) and Bowe repaid him for his insolence with a couple of after-the-bell punches. Then things got really crazy! Tillery took it upon himself to start kicking Bowe, whereupon the unbeaten contender laid into his adversary while Tillery was stuck on the ropes; almost knocking him over the top strand. Bowe’s manager, Rock Newman, then grabbed Tillery while Bowe continued to unload venomous shots. After the chaos was over, Bowe got the win via a disqualification.
But should Bowe have been the one who was disqualified? It was “Bully Bowe” who threw the late punch that started the mayhem, after all.
In any case, Bowe’s image, though far from severely damaged, took a blow. What happened in the Mathis fight, and then BEFORE his fight after that, against Larry Donald, made it clear to many fans that Bowe was indeed a bully.
Outboxed and struggling against the better than expected Mathis on August 13th, ’94, Bowe, once again over his best fighting weight, was losing the early rounds. The former champ, at a slovenly 247-pounds, was also showing the grace and fluid movement of an elephant. Embarrassingly slow, his punches off target, and appearing quite easy to hit, Bowe was clearly not the same fighter who had handed Holyfield his first loss a couple of years before. Frustrated no doubt by his lacklustre showing, Bowe spun things around in the fourth-round – illegally.
The 14-0 Buster was under some pressure in the 4th, and he opted to take a knee to clear his head. Upon doing so he was whacked by a thudding blow that was blatantly slung by Bowe. This time Riddick should definitely have been DQ’d, but he again escaped; getting let off the hook with a No-Contest verdict. But this time the fans were on his case big time.
Maybe this fight is a mere footnote in heavyweight history, but things could have been different had Bowe met the fate he should have done after clubbing a downed fighter – one who may well have regrouped and got back to his effective boxing had he not been fouled. In any case, Bowe never learned his lesson, even after what was now his second piece of good luck.
Next up for him was a fight against the unbeaten Larry Donald, and this time Bowe couldn’t even wait for the opening bell to take a cheap shot. Unhappy with some confident words Donald had for him at the pre-fight press conference, Bowe, seeing Donald had both hands behind his back, cracked him with a hard blow. Yet more chaos erupted courtesy of “Big Daddy!”
Once again, Bowe – who went on to out-point Donald in a dull ten-rounder – got off without any significant punishment.
After this, Bowe would go on to win the WBO heavyweight belt, win his rubber-match with Holyfield and earn millions more dollars. Bowe had some eventful career, and that’s an understatement.