As a glass whistled across the room in April of 1995, a routine press conference had quickly turned to mayhem. Riddick Bowe and Jorge Luis Gonzalez, both being restrained by their camps, wanted to get their June 17 bout started early.
In response to the near melee, the Nevada State Athletic Commission determined that the fighters would need to be separate at all prefight activities. That included all remaining press conferences and the weigh in.
Bowe and Gonzalez had a long and eventful history. The two met each other years before in the 1987 Pan American games. Gonzalez floored Bowe twice and went on to easily beat the future undisputed champion.
Knocking men down wasn’t anything new for Gonzalez. In some 220 amateur fights, where the headgear was on, the gloves were bigger and the rounds were shorter, his power remained on full display as he delivered 169 knockouts. His amateur career earned wins over both Tyrell Biggs and Teofilo Stevenson.
Gonzalez, born in Havana, Cuba, was seen in the boxing world as a bit of a wild man, an old school rebel. In 1991, he became the first famous athlete to defect from Castro’s Cuban Socialist machine. Standing 6’7″ tall, he often wore all black which included a cowboy hat. Gonzalez’s demeanor was often angry, his attitude frequently nasty. He came off as menacing in general.
Coupled with Gonzalez’s punching power, the rebel in him led to eight disqualifications in his amateur days. Since turning professional in June of 1991, he had not had much trouble, if any, disposing of his opponents. In fact, the 30-year-old Gonzalez (23-0, 22 KOs) was undefeated. One portion of his game that did carry over from his amateur days was the power as only one opponent had made it the distance.
On whether he was a real threat to beating the WBO champion Bowe, Larry Merchant did give him a chance just minutes before the opening bell, “He can punch and because he’s just crazy enough to pull something off here.”
One knock on Gonzalez, or perhaps the chief question that was being bandied about, concentrated on the level of competition he had faced. In fact, the biggest name on his dossier was Renaldo Snipes, a man he had knocked out on the undercard of the Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield rematch in November 1993.
Bowe (36-1, 30 KOs), a native of Brownsville, Brooklyn, wasn’t facing the same questions about his level of competition. The former undisputed champion, nicknamed “Big Daddy”, had fought Holyfield twice splitting a pair of decisions to “The Real Deal.” Bowe had also beaten Biggs, Bert Cooper, Tony Tubbs, Bruce Seldon, Michael Dokes and Jesse Fergeson.
The question that did haunt the 27-year-old Bowe was one of desire. He had recently shown signs of being disinterested and constantly battled to reach his ideal fighting weight. As a result, his performances in the ring suffered and raised a myriad of questions about his commitment to the sport.
The pre-fight breakdown focused much on Bowe’s recent struggles and included insight from trainers Teddy Atlas, Gil Clancy and Kevin Rooney. All three agreed, as did many fight fans, that Bowe had all the tools to be dominant. At 6’5″ tall, Bowe was a tremendously talented fighter. Trainer Eddie Futch had him using a long left jab, he had power in both hands and he proved that when well-conditioned, he was a tough man to beat.
Could he return to form and be the same brilliant fighter that beat Holyfield to win the undisputed crown in November of 1992? What we did know about Bowe the night of the fight, as Jim Lampley pointed out, was that “Gonzalez has gotten his attention.”
On fight night, Bowe was a 12-5 favorite. The bout, billed as “Mortal Enemies,” was scheduled for 12 rounds as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas hosted the clash. HBO aired the fight live as Lampley, Merchant and lineal Heavyweight champion George Foreman were ringside to call the nights action.
Gonzalez, the No. 1 contender, marched towards the ring first. Wearing a surly facial expression and the all-important cowboy hat, he sported a long red robe trimmed with gold as he climbed over the top rope to enter the ring. Gonzalez looked to be in good fighting shape as the near seven footer weighed in at 237 pounds.
The champion, wearing blue and white, began his walk next. Led by Futch, Bowe looked lasered in as he strolled towards the ring. He looked in much better shape tonight as he tipped the scales at 243 pounds. The ring was crowded with security to keep the fighters apart until the opening bell.
After ring announcer Michael Buffer introduced the fighters, referee Mills Lane immediately took command at center ring while providing instructions. The fighters were finally face to face and the bad blood was evident. Lane broke up the trash talking, delivered his famous “Let’s get it on,” and finally, the start of the match was upon us.
As Round 1 began, the two behemoths met in the center of the ring. The initial jabbing quickly escalated as Bowe rocked Gonzalez into the ropes with an overhand right. As Gonzalez covered Bowe immediately began pounding to the body. Gonzalez moved backward firing at Bowe as the champion was in full pursuit of his taller opponent. Bowe was finding a home for his right hand.
The bell sounded to begin Round 2 and Gonzalez continued to back up while using his left jab. Bowe quickly stepped in and bulled Gonzalez to the ropes. Halfway through the round, both men were standing toe to toe and exchanging power punches.
As Lampley emphatically pointed out, “It’s deteriorating into a brawl.” As Foreman questioned whether Bowe could sustain the rapid pace, the bell sounded to end the second. Merchant chimed in, “That round it looked like Riddick Bowe wanted to send Gonzalez on a boatlift back to Havana.”
The third round was the quietest up to that point. Gonzalez again initiated the action while moving backward, bouncing on his toes and pumping his jab at the champion. Bowe, still pursuing, continued to back up Gonzalez with his own powerful jab.
Entering the fourth round, Bowe was easily up 30-27 on the scorecards. He was out-landing and out-throwing Gonzalez. Merchant recognized early in the round, “There is blood coming from Gonzalez’s mouth.” Seemingly on cue, Bowe began unloading, and landing, power punches.
As overhand rights landed behind his jab, Bowe snuck in an uppercut that snapped Gonzalez back. As the ringside crowd moaned with each punch landed, Foreman added, “Riddick Bowe is smelling some finishing now. He’s smelling it.”
As the round was winding down, Bowe stepped in and landed a crushing left hook that sent Gonzalez reeling from one corner of the ring to the other. As the bell sounded, Bowe stepped forward and unloaded another right-left combination. As the timekeeper pounded the bell repeatedly, Mills Lane jumped in to separate the fighters. Screaming over the roar of the crowd, Lampley howled, “Bowe risking disqualification there! And that was a stupid move!”
Merchant agreed, simply stating, “Exactly.” Bowe was dominating and proved that where there is smoke, there’s fire.
As Round 5 began, Harold Lederman shared his scorecard which was a complete shut out for Bowe. The champion continued pounding away at Gonzalez who spent most of the round with his back against the ropes. Nearly everything Bowe threw was landing and Lane looked on closely as the bell sounded to end the fifth.
As we entered the sixth round, Merchant and Foreman praised the heart and determination of Gonzalez. Lampley agreed, yet pointed out he was profoundly ineffective against a motivated and gritty Bowe.
Just past the halfway point of the round, Gonzalez backed into a corner. Bowe stepped forward and landing a crunching right hand, the punch that had been there all night. As the thudding echoed through the arena, Gonzalez eyes rolled back as he began to crumble to the canvas. On his way down, Bowe finished him off with a short left hook and another right hand.
Gonzalez lay face down, motionless.
As Lane counted and reached seven, he didn’t bother going any further. He waved his hands and halted the action as Gonzalez lay unconscious on the mat. The champion had regained his form and conquered the man who had beaten him just eight years before as an amateur.
As Bowe celebrated and Buffer announced his victory just moments later, Gonzalez was helped off the canvas and onto a stool. His defeat was as devastating as it was complete. Bowe landed 62 percent of his punches and had out-landed Gonzalez nearly four to one, 188 to 52.
Foreman commented after the bout, “The WBO looks like they got a good champion.” Seizing the moment, Lampley quickly asked Big George if he was interested in a fight with Bowe. He smiled and without hesitation said, “No.”
Gonzalez would go on to fight another seven years. He faced name opponents like Tim Witherspoon, Michael Grant and Greg Page. He pounded Alex Stewart into submission inside of two quick rounds. The tables were soon turned as Gonzalez would lose his last three professional fights all by knockout. His last fight was in January 2002.
Bowe would go on to face Holyfield for a third time later in the fall of 1995. He would win the rubber match and then fight two brutal wars with Andrew Golata the following year. Bowe subsequently retired after fighting the rematch with Golata in December of 1996. After an eight year retirement, he would fight three more times. Big Daddy hasn’t been back into the ring since 2008.
On June 17, 1995, Bowe got his revenge and delivered the big payback.
Header photo by Holly Stein/Getty Images