Jim Lampley was standing high above the ring. Regaining his composure, he looked into the camera then turned and pointed downward. “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.”
Right at this moment, the legendary trainer Lou Duva, who had collapsed in the ring, was on a stretcher being carried through the crowd in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Never before had a scene like this, at a prizefight being carried live on HBO, made its way into the living rooms of millions of Americans. The anticipated matchup of Riddick Bowe and Andrew Golota had turned into a full scale riot both inside and outside the ring. The Garden was mass chaos.
July 11, 1996 was a hot summer night in New York. As the Mets were home playing in Shea Stadium and Broadway finale’s kicked into high gear, two hot heavyweights were poised to face one another at the historic Madison Square Garden. Bowe was recognized as perhaps the best in the division along with Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. Golota was the tough, unknown up and comer.
With both fighters in the ring, Michael Buffer first introduced the 28-year-old Golota. “This native of Warsaw, Poland now lives and fights out of the windy city, Chicago, Illinois! He is the undefeated pride of Poland! Andrew Golota!”
Golota (28-0, 25 KOs) was decked out in his country’s colors of red and white. With a surly grin on his face, he surveyed the arena as many cheering Polish fans waved the Polish flag in support of their man.
Next, the former champion and 1988 Olympic silver medalist. Bowe (38-1, 32 KOs, 1 NC) was coming off his third encounter with Evander Holyfield, knocking him out in the seventh round. He too was 28 years old and was wearing white and red.
Buffer continued, “Ladies and gentleman, presenting the last man to hold the undisputed heavyweight crown. From Brooklyn New York! The people’s champion! Riddick, Big Daddy Bowe!”
As the crowd again roared, both fighters came to the center of the ring for referee Wayne Kelly’s instructions.
Each fighter had his own top flight, legendary corner man. Eddie Futch stood by Bowe, Lou Duva by Golota. The men also had their fair share of adventures in the ring. Golota had once head butted an opponent and bit another on the neck. Bowe had been slapped with a no contest after hitting Buster Mathis Jr. while he was down and was also in a pier six, after-the-bell melee with Elijah Tillery.
To further the drama of that nights matchup, Bowe weighed in at a career high 252 pounds. That led to a lot of pre-fight chatter about his desire and preparation. Was he overlooking Golota who, although undefeated, was entering the ring in by far his biggest challenge?
Larry Merchant, George Foreman, and Lampley called the action. Just before the opening bell, Merchant told the viewers at home, referring to Golota, “If he can take a punch, we’re gonna have some fun tonight.”
At the outset, both fighters immediately employed the jab. Golota bounced as Bowe seemingly looked to pursue. With two minutes gone in the opening round, Golota connected with a series of jabs and shots to the body.
Merchant picked up on this quickly. “Bowe may be surprised that Golota is out jabbing him.” Bowe then delivered a quick combination and Golota immediately countered with his own. You could feel the electricity as the opening three minutes came to a close and an appreciative crowd cheered the action.
Round 2 began much like Round 1. Lampley’s voice rose as the action quickly heated up and both men went toe-to-toe, throwing and landing huge power punches.
“Golota matches punch-for-punch with Bowe!” Foreman agreed, “Golota is doing a good job going to the body. Bowe has a lot of flesh there,” referring to Bowe’s 252 pounds and soft underbelly.
In Round 3, the crowd began to chant, “USA! USA! USA!” Foreman again pointed out that Bowe was now electing to abandon his jab and trade with Golota. A huge left hook landed just after a powerful right to Bowe’s body, whipping his head around. Golota then hit Bowe with a low blow drawing a second, more stern warning from the referee, “Next time it’s a point.” Just before the round ended, the two traded heavy artillery again. Merchant commented, “Folks, we’ve got a fight on our hands!”
The Polish star continued his domination of Bowe into rounds four, five, and six. The crowd was in awe at the way Golata was working Bowe over. Bowe continued to plod forward and stalk Golota who was moving laterally and landing hellacious bombs.
As Golata landed a sizzling combination, Bowe’s entire body shook. Bowe seemed to waiver in the breeze as he wobbled into a corner. Lampley erupted, “Bowe is unable to stop Andrew Golota’s left hook!” As the fourth wound down, Golota whacked Bowe low again and Kelly deducted a point for the foul as this time Bowe went to the canvass and lay on his back.
Foreman praised Golota and again questioned Bowe as the action entered the fifth round. “Riddick Bowe is just not in shape. He underestimated this guy and now he’s getting whipped.”
Golota continued his domination using a stiff jab accompanied by dynamite combinations. As the bell rang to end the round, Bowe shoved Golota who casually smiled and blew him a kiss.
Another point was deducted from Golota in the sixth as he landed yet another low blow. The action was more of the same. Golota had blown up Bowe’s jab, forcing the kind of fight he wanted. Merchant shared with the HBO viewers that Golota had landed 45 percent of his jabs as compared to 21 percent for Bowe.
As the fight entered the seventh round, Merchant pointed out that in the fighter meetings, when asked about his weight, Bowe responded by asking, “Why do I have to train so hard to fight a bum?” He was finding out.
Golota landed another punch south of the border and a third point was deducted. Bowe retaliated with rabbit punches to that back of Golota’s head drawing a second warning from Kelly. Golota went back to bombing away. You could see the ringside crowd looking at each other in disbelief as Golota would land a world class bomb and move away with ease.
With 30 seconds remaining, heavyweight history was made.
Golata blasted Bowe below the belt again. As Bowe dropped to the canvass, Kelly waved off the action indicating that the fight was being halted. He was disqualifying Golota. Bowe’s camp entered the ring and immediately confronted Golota who was then whacked on top of the head with what appeared to be a walkie-talkie.
The ring was now full. Screaming, shouting, pushing, and punching were taking place in all four corners of the ring. Duva tried to break up a fight in the Golota corner and went to the ground.
You could hear Lampley and Foreman trying to stop the onrush into the ring and then viewers heard the sound of a headset hitting the table. Then, silence. A good two minutes of silence as the drama unfolded in the ring. It didn’t take long before the initial melee in the ring spilled into the crowd.
Those involved now appeared to be many more than just those in the Bowe and Golota camps. Madison Square Garden was now the scene of a full scale riot. As Lampley moved to higher ground, Foreman and Merchant stayed ringside trying desperately to provide updates as best they could.
Just as it appeared that things were quieting down, it quickly flared up again and chairs flew as often as punches did. There were no police in sight.
Lampley later thanked Foreman for protecting him and Merchant, saying, “I want to thank you for helping keep us safe. George Foreman protected Larry and me from a lot of harm there at ringside. He kept at least two or three guys out of the ring by himself.”
In the aftermath, we learned that Golota’s domination was so thorough that even though he had three points deducted, he was ahead on all three scorecards.
The fall out after the fight, and the ensuing unrest, was accompanied by fines, suspensions, and arrests. As HBO went off the air, you could clearly see that New York City Police had finally arrived in large numbers, breaking up fights in the crowd and arresting and removing those involved.
Bowe and Golota would agree to a rematch just five months later in Atlantic City on HBO’s sister Pay-Per-View arm, TVKO. Bowe was in much better shape yet Golota again dominated. Remarkably, after nine action packed rounds, he was again disqualified for repeated low blows.
There was no riot in Atlantic City. The rematch, full of spirited action, was in many ways a sad ending. Bowe was clearly done and retired shortly after that December rematch. A comeback later fell far short.
Golota was now forever branded as a dirty fighter capable of dominating any top flight opponent yet incapable of controlling himself in the ring. He did get a shot at Lennox Lewis for a portion of the heavyweight crown and was abruptly knocked down and out in the first round.
For those who watched the live broadcast on July 11, 1996, it’s a night you’ll never forget.