For 22 long minutes, a world without order
NEW YORK -- At Madison Square Garden on Thursday night, the privilege of sitting in the press area turned into a curse. After the riot began in the ring at the Riddick Bowe-Andrew Golota fight, which ended abruptly in the seventh round when Golota was disqualified for repeated low blows, we all watched intently from our special seats just a few feet from the action, trying to figure out who was hitting whom in the chaos before us.
But the fighting spilled out of the ring and then in front of us. I turned around to see fights breaking out all over the crowd, with those skirmishes getting closer to the ring. Fans were jumping over the barrier dividing the press seats from the rest of the arena, turning over tables, tossing chairs aside.
We then turned from observers to survivors, trying to find shelter. There was none. For once, I was wishing we were sitting up in the cheap seats.
I've seen my share of trouble at boxing matches. Unlike other sports, the risk is always there. It's a volatile situation, both in and out of the ring. In fact, I had a bad feeling going into the fight. I told a colleague, "This could be worse than the Tillery fight," referring to the time the Washington Convention Center had a riot of its own when Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, jumped into the ring to grab Tillery, who was kicking Bowe, from behind.
With Bowe and Newman and others in the Bowe camp's history of violent confrontations and with Golota's reputation as a dirty fighter capable of doing anything to win, I knew the ingredients were there for trouble. But I wasn't prepared for the violence I saw in the Garden. I saw a young man continuously stomp another man down on the floor on the ring apron. I saw a man in a wheelchair knocked over and trampled. I saw Golota leave the ring, with fear in his eyes and blood pouring from a deep gash in the back of his head.
I kept looking for police, but none appeared. Everyone - especially those who thrived on this sort of scene - could sense that there was no control at that moment in Madison Square Garden. This must be what an English soccer riot is like, I thought - hooligans, with their shirts off, drenched with beer, screaming that, for now, they ruled over all they saw. We couldn't write our stories, because you couldn't sit still long enough before another wave of humanity would come perilously close to you. I tried to take notes, but you couldn't take your eyes off what was happening - to be able to later report what you saw, and also to protect yourself.
Police said the Garden was under control in 22 minutes, but those were long minutes - enough time for bad thoughts to pop into your head. One thought that went through everyone's mind was to listen for the sound of gunshots. There were none, though - a miracle considering the mob. There were other thoughts, like what happened to Bowe's children? I remembered seeing Bowe's wife Judy and his five children at ringside before the fight. I've always wondered why fighters do this. There is always a risk of being hurt in the ring, and who wants his children to see that? Now I thought about Bowe's children and the horror they'll always remember from this night. Fortunately, none of them was hurt physically.
I thought about Bowe's frail trainer, 84-year-old Eddie Futch, who needs help getting in and out of the ring between rounds. In a business where most people move around on their bellies, Eddie Futch stands tall. He is one of the most decent men I have ever met. What happened to Eddie during all this? How could he have survived? Somehow, he did.
And there was one image I couldn't get out of my mind, something I saw briefly as the riot began. As Bowe's corner rushed into the ring toward Golota's corner to make war, Bowe laid on the other side of the ring, still in pain from the low blows. There was a man in a suit cradling Bowe in his arms and covering him from the brawl. It turned out to be Jeff Fried, Bowe's attorney.
In a seemingly infinite span of brutality, this was a moment of compassion. Those moments, though, were like pebbles in a field of boulders, crushed by the savagery that ruled Madison Square Garden.