“We will persist until we succeed. There’s no other option. There’s no second ending or Plan B, is there? We’re gonna get back in the ring or die trying, am I right, partner? You can quote us on that.”
Boxing is an often painfully lonely sport, sinking heavy shots of sacrifice into the liver and slicing open the skin with lengthy periods of isolation. The term ‘we’ isn’t often used. As I was given a British history lesson from the slightly frenzied but affable Eli Karabell, we waited for his client, former two-time, heavyweight world champion, Riddick ‘Big Daddy’ Bowe (43-1, 33KOs) to join the line. Eli spoke constantly for thirty minutes and Bowe decided to give it a miss. A clash of schedules, I’m told.
When looking into Bowe’s movements of late, I stumbled upon an article titled, ‘Riddick Bowe planning a comeback’. Maybe somebody had beaten me to the punch, I thought? That article was published eight years ago. Since then, Bowe had offered to ‘tweet anything’ for $20 and slinked into obscurity.
A couple of days later, Riddick did call back, with Eli facilitating. Karabell’s constant use of ‘we’ seemed strange as he continued banging the drum for the long-absent Brooklyn fighter, who is now looking to stage an uncomfortable return to the ring. Aged fifty-two and eleven years removed from professional boxing, the idea that the former, unified world champion could make a dent in the division had been met with derision after Eli completed an interview with World Boxing News.
Both men remained determined, though only one was attempting to turn back time. Only one would be soaking up punches to the head and still fighting when many of his peers had taken up golf or fishing. The difference between Riddick Bowe and those other men was simple. Peace of mind.
Karabell and Bowe dispute his professional record, talking over one another whilst trying to convince me this is a great idea. It is tough to listen to their argument. The voice of the fighter from the other side of the ocean sounds damaged – and to claim otherwise would be disingenuous. But when talking to ‘Big Daddy’, it is clear that decisions – often made for him in the latter stages of his career – continued to plague him.
“Okay, my opinion is this: we are in America,” Bowe started. “I truly believe that as long as I’m not hurting anybody, cheating anybody or robbing the bank then why can’t I do what I wanna do? If I get hurt then I have to deal with that and my family would have to deal with that. But I’m not hurting nobody, if somebody gets in the ring with me they ain’t fools – they think they can beat me and I think I can beat them. So let me do what I wanna do, until I can’t do it no more. I wish I would have stayed active. Watching boxing now, it gives me that itch, you know?”
“I truly believe I can still fight and if I’m given that opportunity then in a year’s time I should be the heavyweight champion in the world. The oldest heavyweight champion in history. Those promoters at the end of the day, those are the ones who are missing out. Somebody is gonna sign me. It’s gonna happen and they will be rewarded when it’s done. They [Top Rank, Matchroom] will be scratching their heads thinking, ‘Wow, I could of done that. I let that one get by me’. It’s like Vegas says: If you don’t bet, you don’t win.”
In processing Bowe’s unfathomable desire to return to professional boxing, we are forced to ask ourselves a couple of questions;
Firstly, who are we to deny the man a fair crack of the whip? He was a multiple-time world champion, he has accepted the risks and apparently cannot live without boxing.
Secondly – and more importantly – would we watch it? We are living in an age where boxing licenses are handed to YouTube stars without any proven pedigree. So, why wouldn’t we give a proven, skilled fighter one last chance?
Notice the use of the royal ‘we’ again.
Riddick Bowe was famously trained by the late, great Eddie Futch, recently named by Wayne McCullough as the greatest boxing trainer that ever graced the sport. The big, troubled heavyweight was Futch’s star pupil, winning unified and undisputed championships, and toppling some excellent fighters. Outside of the ring, though, it was never that simple. Boxing’s attraction is often its uniformity. It is just punching without handicap, with both men or women obeying time-honoured tradition. Life presented far more obstacles for a young, wealthy black kid from Brooklyn, New York.
Legal disputes with both of his wives, a failed stint in the Marine Corps and a short, mooted spell as a professional wrestler had all taken his mind off his own premature retirement and the controlling influence of former manager, Rock Newman.
Newman, self-obsessed and viewed as a dictator by Bowe, had pleaded with the former champion to hang up his gloves in 1996, twenty-three years ago. It was a decision his bearded manager later defended, claiming he wouldn’t allow boxing to ‘dirty him’. It wasn’t about him, though, and the resentment spat through the phone gave a clear indication of Newman’s impact on the Olympic Silver medalist’s life.
“I regret listening to Rock Newman. Him telling me to retire. I just needed a little relaxation – that was it. I didn’t need to retire but he had a hidden agenda. The thing was, I wanted to spend a little more time with my family. He said, ‘Well, you need to retire, then you can do that’. For a little while, everything was okay with that, everything was golden…”
Karabell typically interjects, “Riddick Bowe is the greatest heavyweight in the world and we challenge ANYBODY to come out and fight us. I mean anybody in the division. Anybody. There is no question about that – Riddick Bowe will be the next heavyweight champion in a year’s time. No doubt.”
But just who is Eli Karabell? How has he ended up in this position?
His own LinkedIn page lists him as the manager of ‘Riddick Bowe Promotions’. That seems to add up. But only a few years ago, Karabell was a valet attendant (2016) and a busboy at a restaurant (2014). His other business, Karabell LLC is a digital marketing company, bringing ‘potential clients to your door’ if you happen to run a small business. You could say he’s perfectly placed to capitalise on Riddick Bowe’s itchy knuckles – and he talks the talk, make no mistake.
Karabell waxed lyrical about Bowe’s physical condition, his ability to topple the division’s champions and his work with fans. I get it. He’s selling a product. Whilst the fifty-two year old may fancy a tear-up, it didn’t surprise me to hear that Eddie Hearn and Bob Arum had poured gallons of cold water on their lukewarm blueprint. ‘Riddick Bowe Promotions’ wanted millions of dollars. But I was told it, ‘wasn’t about the money’. It all became messy and I started to feel uneasy.
Eli continued, “Not only is he the greatest person I’ve ever met, but he is also the greatest fighter I’ve ever met and it’s an honour to be here side-by-side with him. I was born when Bowe fought Andrew Golota and it’s an honour to be mentored by him and to watch him become three-time world champion.”
“The reason I love Bowe so much is the way he interacts with the fans. Bowe talked to my mother and wished her a happy Christmas, she just absolutely loved it. My uncle talked to him, I mean, there is just nobody like him in boxing. Even though he could knock you out, he’s a big teddy bear at heart and people love Bowe whether it’s on TV or live at the fights.”
Despite Riddick’s recent performances for Eli’s family, it was clear when looking at footage from his recent Hall of Fame induction that he wasn’t the smart, eloquent brute he used to be. Nobody is, when aged fifty-plus. But it was his speech that really bothered viewers of recent interviews or attendees of signings (I’ve had messages from a few). The damage accrued throughout his career or since had taken its toll and even though he longed for another fight under the warmth of television lighting, nobody needed to see that particular roll of the dice.
Riddick Bowe was an incredible heavyweight. He was an outstanding, undisputed champion and his trilogy with Evander Holyfield is fondly remembered as the best of the heavyweight division. Boxing had allowed fighters the opportunity to return to former glory – within reason. I couldn’t make a case for this being one of those situations.
I admire him – I always will. I could also relate to Eli Karabell’s enthusiasm and unwavering support. He’s a very friendly, bubbly guy, with a helluva task on his hands. The revival of a heavyweight champion so far past his prime is an uphill struggle, regardless of name, profile or marketing experience. But a modicum of sense must prevail.
This isn’t Riddick Bowe’s return to boxing. Matchroom and Top Rank won’t fork out the enormous sums detailed during our calls, because boxing has moved on. Bowe could have returned to face a Klitschko five-to-ten years ago, but he was boxing amongst the shadows. The clock keeps ticking.
I’ve never managed a professional fighter, so I’m throwing shots from out of range. But Eli Karabell is an intelligent, passionate man.
I know when reading this, he’ll call me… Asking why I’ve decided to write the feature with this narrative. In fact, he’s genuinely called me twice during it. The truth is that it’s the only way. Fighting for money isn’t a laughing matter. Boxing hasn’t ever been the easy option. A man, currently overweight and approaching fifty-three shouldn’t have to do this, for anybody.
For Riddick, claiming his family would have to ‘deal with it’ if something disastrous happened, seemed a little off or perhaps selfish. The four men who perished between the ropes this year would argue otherwise – all within their fighting prime.
Boxing has allowed itself to be infiltrated by managers or commercial agents masquerading as guardians of its precious subjects. Plenty of those individuals are present purely to hoover up the remaining cents, spread across the canvas, ready for the scramble. I think Eli Karabell has a heart and I’m inclined to believe he has Bowe’s perceived best interests held primary. But his whole ‘die trying’ spiel rolled off the tongue, effortlessly. This isn’t his fight.
Let’s hope that both men come to the realisation that fighting isn’t the way forward. Let’s try and help them understand that life continues when the dressing room door slams shut. It isn’t all skipping rope and pounding the heavy bag. It’s family and a life worth living. It’s swallowing the fact that boxing is over. You made that choice, but other things can make you happy. As we closed our discussion, Bowe remained steely and determined. I doubt that will ever leave him.
“The thing is, if they don’t believe I’m gonna make em’ believe. It’s something they need to embrace and I just gotta be the best I can be. It’ll do what it do. No point telling em’ what I want, the best way I can do it is to show em’. I can show you better than I can tell you.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m okay and if I wasn’t – if something was wrong – I wouldn’t be doing this. What you can tell em’ is this: If you see me in a fight with a bear, don’t help me – help the bear. You can pour honey on me!”
Karabell added, “For all the promoters and the people who have doubted us, they are the ones that will be sorry. Anybody who doubted Riddick Bowe and Eli Karabell will be sorry because every one of their fighters will be beaten – you can tell them that. Mayweather, Oscar De La Hoya, Bob Arum, Don King. Anyone who has doubted us will have their heavyweights bulldozed by the Bowe Team.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209