The Fifteen-Year Anniversary of Bowe-Golota II

On December 14, 1996, Andrew Golota and Riddick Bowe fought in a rematch in Atlantic City that left millions of people with even more questions than after the first fight.

Bowe-Golota II was one for the ages, a brilliant performance delivered by the white fighter who caught the boxing world by storm yet again. The match was a rekindling of Rocky, because Bowe’s heart equated that of Balboa’s. “Big Daddy” simply refused to fall, and when he did, he refused to be counted out. Golota’s onslaught was Balboa-like, although the Polish stallion let victory slip away yet again. This was probably the best performance of Golota’s career; afterwards he was only as superb versus Corey Sanders and Michael Grant.

In the rematch, Golota—who was on the verge of a stunning upset in the fight of his life against Bowe five months earlier—had thrashed Riddick even more this time. The Pole landed 408 punches and threw 638, setting an HBO Compubox record. Jim Lampley said at one point during HBO’s live pay-per-view telecast that Bowe was target practice for Golota. Certainly, Golota was clearly frustrated when he threw that blatant low-blow combination in the ninth round. The Pole’s frustration can be compared to that of Mike Tyson’s in the Holyfield rematch, when “Iron Mike” unspeakably bit off a piece of “The Real Deal’s” ear while losing on all judges’ scorecards.

Aside from the action though, what were the other headliners? In the first bout, it was the unforgettable 22-minute riot that denoted a clash of cultures. In the rematch though, it was both fighters’ walk-in music that signified an ethnic collision. Bowe came out to the tune of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” while Golota patriotically entered with the Polish national anthem playing. Golota’s wardrobe was decorated with the national white and red colors of his country. It was Poland vs. USA.

It’s worth noting that Golota’s camp filed a petition following the rematch to overturn the fight’s result. This came to no avail, however. Golota earned his first million-dollar paycheck for this rematch (his exact salary was $3 million), and that was the only thing he could be happy about after this bout. Also of note, in the post-fight interview, Bowe’s speech was noticeably different, which later proved to be largely due to his wars with Holyfield and Golota. Riddick was never the same again—physically and mentally. Poor Bowe (seriously, it’s sad watching a once star-studded fighter erode so quickly like that—his career was essentially over at age 28!).

For Golota, who many believed would become the first Polish heavyweight champion of the world, this bout was the beginning of unfavorable ring behavior. In his next fight against Lennox Lewis for the WBC title, the Pole would be kayoed in 95 seconds. Versus Michael Grant, Golota would quit in round ten after leading on all three judges’ scorecards and dropping Grant twice in the first round. Then on Oct. 20, 2000, Golota would quit again, after two rounds against Tyson. Few experts consider Golota to be one of the best heavyweights of the 1990s, but it was surely the two Bowe battles—especially the rematch—which strengthens those experts’ argument. The other strengtheners is the fact that Golota easily defeated Jesse Ferguson and Tim Witherspoon, and toughed out a victory versus Sanders in a bloodbath, which was one of the most bloodiest fights in boxing history (blood was dripping on spectators’ rows way beyond the ring, Golota’s white trunks were soaked blood-red!!). Around the time of the Bowe rematch, Golota was not only taking the U.S. by storm, but becoming very popular in his native Poland. In fact, he was reportedly even more popular than Blessed Pope John Paul II himself! However, Golota dissuaded such reports. Certainly, the boxer was most-talked-about, next to kielbasa and the Holy Pontiff. After all, he was the first serious heavyweight from Poland and so talented that his countrymen believed their native son would become a world champion.

For Bowe, this was his “last” fight. The Warsaw-born heavyweight annihilated “Big Daddy” in this bout. The former heavyweight champion received a career-ending shellacking. The American media thus never forgave Golota for giving Bowe such a brutal beating. Since Dec. 14, 1996, Bowe has officially registered three bouts. But he was completely shot and done in all of them, of course. Simply put, Riddick’s last real victorious effort was in the third meeting with Holyfield. Unfortunately, Riddick is still considering continuing his boxing career.

Punchlines: It was after this sequel that sportswriter Michael Katz nicknamed Golota “The Foul Pole.” Interestingly, Katz’s preflight prediction was Bowe by tenth-round disqualification. The writer’s dubbing of Golota became adopted by mainstream media and remains to this day. You almost cannot hear a boxing virtuoso speak about Golota without using that moniker.

All things considered, Bowe-Golota II will forever be a classic boxing match—ESPN’s Classic Boxing proves this.

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