Mike Tyson and Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe were two red-hot heavyweights of the 1990s whose paths would never cross.
It’s not uncommon in boxing for two great fighters in the same division who fought at the same time to have not faced each other.
How about George Foreman vs Earnie Shavers, Ken Norton vs Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard vs Aaron Pryor, and Floyd Mayweather vs Paul Williams?
Those are just a few awesome match-ups that never materialized.
So what happened with Riddick Bowe vs Mike Tyson?
In April 1994, a year or so before leaving prison, Mike Tyson, as a guest on CNN’s Larry King Live, said he would return to boxing but didn’t think he would fight then-fellow ex-heavyweight boxing champion Riddick Bowe because the two were friends.
Tyson and Bowe spent their childhood in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, shared a lot in common, and would develop a bond of sorts as professional fighters. In fact, in October 1992, prior to Bowe’s title fight against then undisputed heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, Tyson, from prison, offered Riddick encouragement and a few tips.
Bowe would go on to upset Holyfield that night, winning a comfortable decision in a fight for the ages.
A year later, Evander would turn the tables in the rematch. And by the time Tyson was released from prison in the Spring of 1995, 46-year-old George Foreman was the RING Magazine / lineal champion while two relatively unknown fighters held sanctioned world titles.
Lineal – George Foreman
WBA – Bruce Seldon
WBC – Oliver McCall
IBF – (Vacant) Would be won by Francois Botha in Sep 1995
By refusing to give Axel Schultz a rematch, Big George was stripped of the WBA and IBF straps. As a result, and with so many titles floating around, Tyson didn’t have to face Bowe for one of the big cookies – especially considering the latter would never hold a major world title past November 1993. (The WBO was fringe back then)
Moreover, by the time Tyson staged his first comeback fight in August 1995, Bowe was close to confirming a third fight with Holyfield which took place in November of that year.
Holyfield vs Bowe 3 was a fight the public wanted to see and neither guy was in contention to face Mike at the time because Tyson was still shaking off ring rust after his 3-year prison stint. He wasn’t ready for the powerbrokers yet.
Tyson, after winning two easy tune-ups in 1995, targeted the title-holders in 1996. And Bowe, in July of that year, took what was thought to be a high-profile showcase against an undefeated Andrew Golota…. And the rest is history.
Bowe would win two very exciting disqualification tilts against Golota that year but take back-to-back beatings in the process.
Bowe won but lost.
In both fights, he fought valiantly but was thoroughly punished by Andrew who would be disqualified for excessive low blows.
After December 1996, Riddick didn’t step in the ring again until 2004 and was a shell of himself when he came back.
Fact: Riddick Bowe was never the same after the Golota fights and bowed out (pun not intended) of boxing after his rematch with Andrew in December 1996.
Question: So, why didn’t Tyson vs Bowe happen in 1990 or 1991, prior to Mike’s incarceration?
Answer: Bowe was just an up-and-coming prospect in 1990 with few pro fights under his belt. He hadn’t become a top contender yet.
Also, in March 1991, Tyson faced Razor Ruddock who was viewed by many as the No. 2 or 3 heavyweight at the time. Because that fight ended in controversy (a premature stoppage awarded to Tyson), they rematched in June of that year.
Tyson won a unanimous decision and was set to face Evander Holyfield, then the undisputed heavyweight champion, in November. However, that fight would be canceled about 10 days prior to the event due to a rib injury suffered by Tyson.
And in January/February 1992, Mike would start his prison sentence.
By the time Bowe became a top contender, in mid-1992, Tyson was locked up.
And when Tyson came back on the scene in 1995, he wisely faced lesser opponents at the start because he, after being away from boxing for four years, wasn’t ready for the elites of the division straight away.
The only time when Tyson and Bowe were simultaneously elite-level heavyweights fighting top opponents was in 1996, and a fight between them couldn’t have happened then.
Bowe fought Golota in July of that year not knowing there would be a) such a high demand for a rematch and b) an expectation to redeem himself after getting beaten up in the first fight.
Tyson, of course, lost to Holyfield in November 1996 and received an immediate rematch in June 1997.
He then went to prison again, briefly, and didn’t fight at all in 1998. When he returned to the ring in January 1999 against Frans Botha, Bowe had been inactive for over 2 years and had become a forgotten man.
Looking back… Hardly a window existed for Tyson vs Bowe.
… But, Bowe’s account of what happened is different.
“Evander Holyfield beat him twice. I beat Holyfield twice. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out I would have beat him with ease.”
“He [Mike Tyson] knew with me being a good, big guy with a good left hand, I would have been a lot of trouble for him,” Bowe told Tru School Sports in July 2016.
“No disrespect. He was smart… he knew he couldn’t win.”
Bowe was a great fighter with excellent tools but he wouldn’t have beaten Tyson with ease if at all. If Bowe wants to compare match-ups, all we would need is Andrew Golota. Bowe struggled (twice) with the Pole while Tyson steamrolled him.
But credit to Riddick. At 6’4″, he would have given Mike problems with his long, educated jab, excellent inside fighting skills, and durable chin. So yes, it’s conceivable he could have beaten Mike. In fact, Riddick defeating Mike wouldn’t have been as great an upset as we envisioned back then but would have been a stunner nonetheless.
Mike Tyson vs Riddick Bowe in 1996… It would have been a sizzling match-up.