What If Bowe And Lewis Met As Professionals In The Ring? Twice!
The year was 1992. Evander Holyfield was ruling the heavyweight division and by the close of that year had defended his crown against George Foreman, Bert Cooper and Larry Holmes.
At the same time, two young heavyweights named Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe were making their way to the top of the divisional ranks and a four person heavyweight tournament was devised with the winners of each respective bout meeting each other for the Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship.
Of the four, Razor Ruddock was considered the best, having given Mike Tyson two tough bouts just a year earlier and he would meet Lennox Lewis in an official eliminator for the World Title in October.
Many thought this would be a step too far for Lewis, but in two amazing rounds he destroyed the dangerous Ruddock with chopping right hands.
The heavyweight landscape was changing and for many, Riddick Bowe was considered the most dangerous challenger that Holyfield had faced in his tenure as champion.
In November, 1992 in an all time classic bout, Bowe would defeat Holyfield over the 12 round distance to become the new champion. The stage was now clear for old Olympic rivals Bowe and Lewis to meet for undisputed honours.
The rivalry between Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis had been going on for the last four years. The two had met as amateurs in the 1988 Super Heavyweight Olympic final with Lewis stopping Bowe with a big right hand.
Although Lewis had represented Canada that night in Seoul in 1988, he was flying the British flag when the two undefeated pros met for the title at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas in May, 1993.
Bowe, the champion, was installed as a close favourite but Lewis was now acknowledged as the most dangerous man in the division following his two round destruction of Ruddock.
The fight started with both giants trying to establish their jab. Lewis tried to connect early with his big right hand, but Bowe, matching him for size and strength, would smother his work.
Bowe, who for his size was a great inside fighter, would begin to connect with Lewis as the rounds wore on, especially on the inside thus nullifying the Lewis right hand. This pattern would continue as the fight entered the last third.
For two big men, the bout was still being fought at a respectable pace as we entered round 10. Lewis finally caught the champion with a right hand which caught Bowe high on the temple, knocking him to the canvas. Although slightly stunned, the champion rose and continued to work behind the jab, surviving the round.
Bowe spent the last two rounds boxing. The champion had amassed a nice lead in the earlier frames and although the 10th was a 10-8 round, when the decision was announced, Bowe had kept his title on a close but unanimous decision.
Lewis protested the decision, but in fairness the ruling was correct. Lewis, although destructive against Ruddock, was still two or three years away from his full peak while the Bowe of 1992/1993 was at his peak!. Bowe's early work and clever inside stuff nullified the Lewis right.
Bowe would meet Holyfield for a second time in November 1993 and entered the fight a good 15 pounds heavier than when he had fought Holyfield the first time and Lewis last time out.
Holyfield, as ever, was in tip-top condition and outworked the lumbering Bowe, winning a close decision. Bowe had lost the title and his short peak and reign was coming to a close.
Lewis, after his first loss to Bowe, would defeat Phil Jackson and Lionel Butler in comeback bouts in late 1993 and early 1994 whilst waiting for another shot at the title.
Lewis thought this shot would be against Evander Holyfield ,but in March 1994, an underpar Holyfield surrendered his title to the smart boxing but fragile Michael Moorer in Las Vegas.
Frustration would grow for Lewis as he was continually avoided in his attempt for another shot at the heavyweight title. Moorer had signed to meet the ancient George Foreman, so a title fight would have to wait.
Whilst this was going on, Riddick Bowe had scored two comeback wins over Buster Mathis Jr and Larry Donald. Both big men had nowhere to go in the title picture, so in late 1994 they agreed to meet in a 12 round non-title fight.
Bowe, in comparison, was not the fighter who had beaten Lewis the first time around. Constant ballooning of weight had robbed Bowe of his sharpness and Lewis although still not at his peak, was noticeably improving.
The second matchup between the two at the MGM Grand in November, 1994 was a dull affair with Lewis dictating the pace and winning a unanimous 12 round decision.
Although Bowe would actually pick up the WBO version of the title in 1995, his best years were behind him. He did manage an impressive defence against Jorge Luis Gonzalez in June. However, two tough fights against the Pole Andrew Golota would effectively end his top flight career. The decline of Bowe was quite alarming as he was being well beaten in both fights against Golota before winning on disqualification.
Lewis, on the other hand, would continue his winning run, defeating Tommy Morrison and Ray Mercer in 1995 and 1996 before eventually winning the title in 1997 against Oliver McCall.
The Lewis era was just beginning while Bowe was as good as finished.