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Bowe Bests Zumbrun... On the Cards

It was a masterpiece. Madam Toussaint's finest.

The wax figure of former heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe that showed up four hours late to the weigh-in for his ten-rounder with Billy "The Kid" Zumbrun was near perfect, down to the U.S.M.C. tat on his shoulder. A bigger model, granted - 280 pounds, but the genius was in the details. The artisans had captured the slouch, the Cheshire grin, the "Brooklyn all the way" shout-outs to the adoring...He was remarkably life like.

There were some gulps when Bowe's weight was announced. But he's a wide body, and, yes, there was a stomach going South and flesh melting over his beltline, but he wasn't a poster boy for diabetes - more the Foreman that came out of retirement, with less muscle tone.

Not a single veteran fight guy tumbled to the ruse.

When faux Bowe ambled across the ring in the first round to engage Billy "The Kid", the only ones that knew Zumbrun were in his corner. The script required another W in Bowe's rebuilding program.

This was the Bowe that Zumbrun had seen on TV and boxing magazines: Two times heavyweight champ, a single loss in 42 fights, epic wars with Evander Holyfield and Golota -- a dreadnaught to stay clear of. Zumbrun was tentative in the first round, like a demolition expert wary of a bomb.

Zumbrun has a Masters Degree, and he'd applied himself in the ten-day crash course with Cornelius Boza-Edwards on how to frustrate Bowe and be effective. Zumbrun circled to the right - moved side to side -- out of reach, darted in, clutched and slid off again to the right. Good strategy. But, with short arms and a linebacker's body and temperament, bull-rushing seemed more appropriate.

He didn't storm the cardboard likeness of the ex-champ. He was cautioned.

Zumbrun fought the reputation, and gave away the first round. It made the difference in the final tally. Judges looked at columns of figures, totaled them, and two out of three of added up for Bowe.

But the almost 1900 in the Grand Ballroom of the Pechanga Resort & Casino thought otherwise and voted with their voices -- drowning out Jimmy Lennon Jr. -- protesting the verdict

It was a perfect example of: What's logical is not always right. Bowe got more points but Zumbrun won the fans. For an unknown with 25 pro fights, he deserved to be hoisted on the shoulders of his corner men, not for a gallant effort but a win. He earned bragging rights.

Many in the crowd raged at the injustice and had to be restrained.

Two experienced judges saw it for Bowe, 96-92. The third, Ray Corona, saw it for Zumbrun, 95-93, as did this reporter.

It came down to preferences. Bowe did reach Zumbrun consistently with jabs. They were clear -- easy to see, like movie punches -- and added to Bowe's punch stats. But aside from the one moment that Bowe looked like his old self in the fourth, sinking a left hook wrist deep to Zumbrun's liver, forcing him to a knee; he was lethargic -- never let his hands go. When he did, it was one-at-a-time, not in combination - usually, off the mark -- and always ponderous. Zumbrun did the real damage.

When Bowe shuffled forward behind the jab, to Goossen's urging, it was not a contest, only a question of how quickly Bowe would dispose of the upstart. But, for the most part, the spear was his offense. Either he had respect for Zumbrun's punches, or his reserves were in question.

Zumbrun showed the ingredient that separates real fighters: He came back stronger than ever after he was dropped. Not easy to summon courage when a glacier's bearing down. Had the bell not sounded when it did in the fifth, Bowe would have been stopped against the ropes. He was taking a shellacking. The ref was just about to jump in.

Zumbrun's punches drove through and around Bowe's guard and struck him like bunker busters, shaking him and snapping his head back. The barrage was so furious; Bowe couldn't roll with all of them. It was a flash back to Holmes brutalizing Ali. The crowd rose-up for the underdog, but it was sad sight.

Bowe tried to keep his aplomb, and his dignity, but he was hurt, and the intimidation factor was gone.

After the fifth, the fans were believers. This no name could pull off the upset and end Bowe's comeback abruptly. There was a groundswell building for Zumbrun. He wasn't cannon fodder. He was live, and meant business.

What may have proved a critical deduction for Zumbrun; the referee took a point from him for excessive holding in the eighth. It didn't stir a ripple at the time; the fans were so anxious to get on with the action.

Zumbrun had power but not the reflexes or training to slip a jab or ride with it. All Bowe's landed flush - very showy. They weren't Liston 2x4s - more like a carpenter extending a ruler. Zumbrun was at the end of most, and ate them as the price to attack.

They added up enough - on two official's cards -- to out-weigh the damage of all Zumbrun's punishment.

Zumbrun did more than Bowe in the 9th, and deserved a 10-8 round for the final, he belabored Bowe so decisively.

But, it was the infraction, Bowe's jab, and the knockdown that cost Zumbrun the fight. The fans only remembered a near-helpless Bowe against the ropes. Bowe had a different take on it after the fight: " You can't win a fight throwing five punches. Two minutes and thirty seconds, he didn't do nothing."

Zumbrun will have to settle for a moral victory, but it should earn him another TV shot. He's a crowd pleaser. And now has some visibility. "It gives me more confidence," Zumbrun said after the fight. But, he put it in perspective, "If he (Bowe) goes and gets knocked out by the number 20 guy in world, it kind of erases my name."

There were hints of the old Bowe, but, mostly, he looked a journeyman.

When Bowe confers with wife, Terri -- who doesn't mince words -- Joe Goossen and Jimmy Adams about the future, they'll make the point forcefully: No opponent will swoon at the mere mention of Riddick's name, from now on. Fighters will be tripping over each other to claim his scalp.

So far, Bowe's adopted George Forman's playbook: handshakes and autographs for fans; an open door to the media; pick soft touches; fight often; forget the criticism -- a win is a win -- build up the W's; bank the money and seize the moment, like Foreman did with Moorer. "Big Daddy" will be under 40, if he stays on schedule. A kid compared to Forman.

Boxing's a fickle business -- a couple of wins, a quick knockout or two and this listless performance will be forgotten.

Joe Goossen told reporters after the fight, "Give me five-six weeks with him - a strength coach, a dietician, my running guy, and me in the gym, he'll be a different Bowe. Riddick added, "Give me six weeks and I'll be down to 240-250."

Promoter Dan Goossen thought publicist Bill Caplan said it best, ŒGeorge Forman didn't look much better in his first fight back in Sacramento.'

It took months for Bowe to prove he wasn't brain damaged to get a license. Another showing like this and he may not have the evidence to document it.

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