“I can say in 21 years of reporting as a sports reporter and news anchor, I’ve never been involved in a more personally terrifying situation than that one. This ring has been stormed by thugs and hooligans.”
HBO’s Jim Lampley had scurried from his ringside positon to high ground. Still on live television, he reported from New York’s Madison Square Garden where Andrew Golota had just been disqualified for repeated low blows against Riddick Bowe.
Bowe’s handlers had stormed the ring and a massive melee erupted both in and out of the ring. The night of July 11, 1996, had unraveled into mass chaos.
Golota , undefeated until his disqualification, had thoroughly beaten Bowe, a man many recognized as the best Heavyweight in the division. Golota had put himself on the map, his disqualification notwithstanding.
Given Golota’s performance, and the shocking beating he handed Bowe, a rematch was quickly put together for December 14.
Fight posters proclaimed, “Millions of people still have questions. Only two men have the answers.” The promotion leading up to the rematch was surprisingly cordial. In a moment of levity and gamesmanship, Golota’s trainer Lou Duva put boxing trunks on a heavy bag, teaching his upstart pupil where not to punch.
Indeed, the Polish star who had earned a Bronze Medal in the 1988 Olympics was nicknamed “The Powerful Pole”. In many circles he was now referred to as the “The Foul Pole”.
It wasn’t all fun in games in the Bowe camp. The 6’5” Bowe, who weighed well over 250 pounds in the first encounter, lost longtime trainer Eddie Futch. Infuriated by his seeming unwillingness to train, Futch had left the camp. Thell Torrence was now leading the Bowe corner.
On a cold winter night in Atlantic City, the Atlantic City Conventional Hall hosted the rematch. The bout was broadcast live on TVKO, HBO’s PPV arm, with Lampley, Larry Merchant, and George Foreman ringside to call the action.
A 1988 Silver Medalist and from Brooklyn, NY, Bowe (39-1, 32 KOs) entered first to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. The Bowe contingent cheered as their man, garbed in all red with yellow trim, climbed into the ring.
As the Polish national anthem began to play, the 6”4” Golota, adorned in white with red trim, began his walk to the ring. His supporters, many dressed in red and white, made their presence known while waiving Polish flags.
While Bowe bounced in the ring, Golota (28-1, 25 KOs) slowly walked down the aisle. Atlantic City Police and Conventional Hall security were evident at ringside as the fighters were soon to do battle. Most everyone in the arena were on their feet.
Merchant felt the powerful vibes from both warriors and their fans, “I’ve always thought there was kind of a medieval splendor to these walk-ins. This is dramatic stuff.”
For the second time in five months, Brooklyn was about to collide with Warsaw.
Scheduled for 10 Rounds, ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced referee Eddie Cotton and then the fighters.
As both corners removed their fighter’s robes, Golota appeared in great shape at 239 pounds. Bowe, too, looked to be in fantastic shape and physically looked much better than he did in their first encounter now at 235 pounds.
Both men touched gloves after Cotton’s final instructions and Round 1 was underway. The crowd was up on their feet, many stomping, chanting and cheering. Lampley, too, could feel the excitement, “This is a live, electric crowd.” Both men stood at mid ring circling each other and fired their left jab.
The action quickly heated up in Round 2 as Golota fired a straight right hand then followed it with a pulverizing left hook. As Bowe crashed to the canvas, Lampley screamed, “Hard power punches from Golota! Bowe goes down!”
With two minutes to go in the round, Golota opened the floodgates and poured it on. Bowe, hurt, badly, retreated to the ropes as the onslaught continued. With just 30 second left in the round, incredibly, Golota leaned forward and inexplicitly head-butted Bowe.
Many booed as Cotton momentarily halted the action and penalized Golota a point. Despite the foul, and the horrific beating, Bowe had a chance to rest after tasting the canvas. The head butt also resulted in a self-inflicted cut over Golota’s left eye.
Moving into Round 4, Bowe continued to dig down and fight with everything he had. He caught Golota with a sweeping right hand sending Lampley into another stratosphere, “And Golota stumbles! Andrew Golota has never been knocked down but he will be in a few seconds if this keeps up!”
With the entire Convention Hall on its feet, Golota crashed to the canvas. Bowe had turned the tide. Rising quickly to his feet, blood streaming sown his face from his eye, the action continued as both men stood toe to toe. Lampley continued, “This is rapidly becoming like a Rocky movie.”
In the final minute of the fourth round, Golota was warned for low blows then, just seconds later, he went downstairs again. With Bowe doubled over, Cotton again halted the action and deducted a second point.
Now in Round 5, Golota had regrouped and launched a vicious counterassault at Bowe. Pinning him against the ropes, a right hand sent Bowe reeling again. Lampley tried to keep up with the furious pace, “Hard shots by Golota, Bowe is wasted again! That’s a knockdown! That’s another knockdown!”
Again the tide had turned. Golota pounded Bowe every second for the remainder of the round. It was a sensational beating prompting Merchant to comment, “I gave another three point round. I don’t know how long he can take this.”
Although Bowe was taking a walloping, Golota looked the worse for wear bleeding now from his mouth and his left eye. The cut on his lip seemed to go all the way through to the inside of his mouth. Foreman, however, recognized Bowe was wearing down, “At this point, Riddick Bowe’s punches have no steam on them at all.”
The beating administered by Golota continued in rounds seven and eight. The Bowe corner threatened to stop the fight after Round 7 as Bowe seemingly did not have all of his faculties. He was courageously firing back in spots but clearly on the short end of the stick.
With just six minutes remaining, the bout entered Round 9. Golota continued to attack as Lampley exclaimed, “Now Golota goes to war in the corner just above us, trying to put Bowe in George Foreman’s lap!”
Bowe’s heart, courage, and guts were on full display as he stood in close, eating punch after punch, and firing back with overhand rights. With just seconds left in the ninth, Golota fired a pair of low blows, a left hook followed by a right hook that sent Bowe crashing to the canvas.
It was yet again another incredible turn of events.
With Bowe in agony while lying flat on his back, Merchant screamed, “He’s disqualified Golota again!”
Cotton waived off the action at 2:58 of round 9 as Bowe finished the second encounter the same way that he finished the first. Golota low blows ended the bout after being rendered helpless by a man who seemingly had his number and knew where to park the car.
Golota’s lack of control was costly. He was up on all three scorecards 75-71, 75-73, and 74-72 when he again went south of the border. Foreman summarized the beating Bowe took in one short sentence, “Riddick Bowe got whipped.” As true as that may have been, Golota again beat himself.
Golota continued his career but never regained the prominence he enjoyed in his first 30 fights. He was blown out by Lennox Lewis inside of one round and later quit while ahead on the scorecards against Michael Grant. Just one year later, he refused to continue after two violent rounds with Mike Tyson.
Bowe, too, was never the same. After nearly eight years away from the ring and the many issues he faced outside of it, he returned in 2004. He fought just three more times before walking away from the prize ring.
The rematch, in its non-stop action and drama, is one of the more under-rated Heavyweight battles in boxing history. If you watched it unfold that cold night in December, you were physically and emotionally drained at its conclusion.
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