1000 Fights: Holyfield-Bowe

By Carlos Acevedo

This Saturday, HBO Boxing airs its 1,000th fight. To commemorate the occasion, HBO Boxing Insiders selected their favorite fights from the HBO catalog and wrote about them.

November 13, 1992

In the early 1990s, a crime wave fueled by the crack wars stretched across New York City from Far Rockaway to Wakefield. In 1992, for example, there were over 2,000 homicides reported in The Big Apple. Sirens and gunshots were nightly lullabies when I was a teenager, struggling to keep nightmares at bay. I imagined it was the same for Riddick Bowe, who, by challenging undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, had a chance to leave that squalor behind. One of 13 children raised by a single mother, Bowe was from Brownsville, Brooklyn, a killing zone that measured a little over one square mile and had even earned its own grim nickname: Gunsmoke City. Barely 21 years old when his sister was murdered and his brother died of AIDS, Bowe somehow managed to avoid the pitfalls of drugs and crime.

More: HBO Boxing Insiders Pick from 1000 Fights

Because boxers are solitary athletes performing under the starkest (but most personal) circumstances, identifying with them is easier than, say, identifying with a football player. Maybe this is the key to why boxing, despite its many ills, has survived for as long as it has. For me, Riddick Bowe was a conscientious young man who walked his mother across urban badlands to her night shift job in a Canarsie factory. In addition, he was, in one simple way, selfless: He was ready to let as many street kids as possible tag along with him while he chased impossible dreams. My brother and I took the bus to Bartow Avenue in CO-OP City to watch the fight on pay-per-view and to see if Bowe could buck odds that transcended the ones set by wiseguys in the bookie joints.

Nostalgia, of course, can distort the past, but the big boys in boxing simply do not fight like this any longer. In fact, Bowe and Holyfield—heavyweights, remember—combined to throw more punches than Floyd Mayweather, Jr., and Manny Pacquiao did in their Fight of the Century snoozer last month.

A slight favorite entering the ring in Las Vegas that night, Holyfield seemed confident that Bowe was too inexperienced to stand up to his razor-sharp combinations. Although Holyfield landed his share of bruising shots early, he was gradually being worn down by Bowe, who, for such a big man, had lethal infighting skills. Bowe worked the body in the trenches, hooked when there was even a sliver of space, and landed damaging uppercuts when Holyfield leaned in.

By the ninth round, Bowe had taken control. Then came the 10th and three electrifying minutes. Seeking a respite from the wearying pace, Holyfield relaxed momentarily on the inside. Almost instantaneously Bowe ripped a right uppercut that sent Holyfield reeling and then crashing into the turnbuckle. Somehow, Holyfield managed to stay on his feet. Sensing the realization of a dream he’d had since he was a little boy, Bowe charged and opened up a vicious crossfire attack—the kind no longer seen in heavyweight bouts. After nearly half-a-minute of battering Holyfield around the ring, Bowe, exhausted, let the champion stall long enough to clear his head. Always an undersized fighter with an oversized heart, Holyfield proved his own never-say-die magnificence by shaking Bowe with blow after blow for the final 30 seconds of the round. The bell rang and everything else seemed anti-climactic after that. Bowe dropped Holyfield in the 11th round and went on to win a clear unanimous decision, becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and, in some strange symbolic/subconscious way, a glimmer of hope for the future.

Later, we were down in the parking lot, waiting for a ride home, the fight long over, but the adrenaline still pumping. That one frosty night in 1992 seems brighter now. The streetlights, come to think of it, glittered like diamonds lost among the high-rises.

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