Riddick Bowe's weakness is not the chin, the stomach, the head or feet, it's the ribs. Not his. The barbecued kind with sauce on them. His toughest opponent was neither Pinklon Thomas, Bert Cooper nor Tony Tubbs; it was Big Macs, Little Caesars and Bob's Big Boys. He won 31 consecutive fights in the ring, but he was 0 for 100 at the counter. The only legs he ever had trouble with were legs of lamb.
It's a matter of fact fast foods have destroyed more fighters than fast women. Or fast jabs. Enough cream and you get whipped. Bakeries have destroyed more boxers than wine, women and song. You might say these guys can't take it to the body.
Riddick Bowe is a kind of cheerful fellow who never met a lamb chop he didn't like. It's not unusual for fighters to balloon up between fights. There have been featherweight champions who got into the 180s between title defenses.
Sooner or later, it catches up to them. They struggle once too often to make the weight, they enter the ring weakened and dehydrated, they lose not to the Kid Whozis but to lasagna with garlic bread or pizza with everything.
Which is what Riddick Bowe's handlers decided might happen to him. He was able to take care of everyone they put in front of him in the ring, 27 of his 31 victories were by knockout. But he was getting outpointed by a knife and fork.
They had a multiple choice: hide the cutlery, padlock the refrigerator, cap the soda pop--or bring in a nutritionist.
Dick Gregory is not your average dietary consultant, not your basic everyday weight watcher. Dick Gregory was once one of the funniest stand-up comics alive. He was almost the first of the black nightclub comedians to get out of the ghetto clubs and make it in front of white audiences. Long before there was a Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, Eddie Murphy or Arsenio Hall, there was a Dick Gregory. He even got the activists of the period laughing at themselves. "I was in a sit-in at a lunch counter in Alabama for two weeks--and when we finally got served, they didn't have what I wanted."
Dick got bored with making people laugh into their gin and tonics. He wanted to do something for society besides poke fun at it. He became an anti-war activist. Then he became an anti-sugar activist. Whenever there was a civil rights battle to be fought, Dick Gregory was in front of it. But he didn't do it with bared teeth, he did it with humor. He was not only anti-war, he was against any other kind of violence.
He had been an outstanding athlete at Southern Illinois University, one of the few black milers. But he lost the edge quickly in the fast lane of stand-up comedy.
"I used to drink a fifth of Scotch and smoke four packs of cigarettes a day. I got up to 300 pounds."
Right then, Dick Gregory decided to disappear. Not only from show business, from sight. And disappear he did. One pound at a time. He got down well below 100 pounds. "I was the NAACP's version of Twiggy," he used to joke.
Like all athletes, Dick Gregory had an interest in his body. He wasn't ruining it with steroids, he was ruining it with sugar. And meat.
"I decided animals had civil rights, too. I decided they shouldn't be killed, either. I was not going to eat any more animals. So, I used gelatin. And I got up to 365 pounds.
"But, all animal protein makes you dehydrated. I began to experiment with my body. It's your motor. What I can teach you is how to clean out your engine and overhaul your motor and prescribe the fuel that will make it work better."
The nutritionists' adage "We are what we eat" hit home with Dick Gregory. But he didn't necessarily take it to mean only that, if you ate cucumbers and pickles, you would be chronically dyspeptic. Or if you ate only hot fudge and baked Alaska, you would be big and jolly on the outside and small and miserable on the inside. He decided it could change more than your personality. It could change your efficiency, make you perform better at whatever you did. "The body starts to resent that other stuff that clogs it up and makes it inefficient," Gregory declares.
Gregory began to be consulted in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Marlon Brando was a client. So was Muhammad Ali. "But Ali resisted and he said to me 'How you gonna help me when I won the heavyweight championship of the world my way?!' "
But Gregory says he rejoices in his association with Riddick Bowe, who is getting ready for his title shot against Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Arena on Nov. 13.
"Riddick is the first one I got before he was a disaster area," Gregory says. "Usually, you have to come into these situations like a burglar or a spy. You feel like a criminal slipping them this stuff."
The first thing he had to correct was what he calls the "red meat and red soda pop addiction." Says Gregory: "After one fight in Vegas, I saw him gulp down orange soda pop like a drug addict. So I took 16 real oranges and eight lemons and made a drink for him till the urge for soda pop is gone. I also put in vitamins and minerals."