Andrew Golota-Riddick Bowe fight
July 11th, 1996. Madison Square Garden, NYC.
On a warm summer night, a month before my formal photography internship at New York Newsday was to begin, a lightly regarded heavyweight boxing match was to take place at Madison Square Garden. Not credentialed for the fight, I purchased a ticket for the bout, camera bag on my shoulder, prepared to photograph the match for nothing except the experience.
Hardly anyone seemed to care much about this fight, evidenced by the fact that the “World’s Most Famous Arena” was not even halfway filled to capacity. The light crowd made it easier for me to set up in a prime location, in the first level above the ring. Positioned next the the makeshift photographers podium to my right, I had a great look at the ring and ready for the fight.
The fight was dominated by Golota, who was way ahead in points even with having a few deducted by repeated low blows to Bowe. After six rounds, I was preparing to photograph a knockout when I noticed the battery on my camera beginning to die. I knew I was low on power and didn’t want to run out before anything eventful happened.
The seventh round was where all hell broke loose. Golota drilled Bowe with a fourth low blow, and was promptly disqualified. As they made their way back to their corners, a member of Bowe’s entourage threw a punch at a member of Golota’s crew. Within seconds , managers, trainers and and supporters of both sides entered the ring battle royal style and an all out brawl ensued.
Like in slow motion, I fired away as a witnessed Andrew Golota being hit from behind by someone with a cell phone.
I looked to my right to see Newsday photographer Paul Bereswill, who had this saddened look on his face, but also seemed concerned. Being in the second level of the arena, I never felt a sense of danger initially. Even though there was fighting going on even on the arena floor outside of the ring, there was not a reason to believe it wouldn’t calm down.
Around that time, I noticed muffled chants and screams to my right. They were in the far corner of the arena and moving towards the ring. It seemed surreal, but a group of fans, some waving what seemed to be polish flags, were charging towards ringside as many of the crowd were rushing past them to get out.
At this point, the battery to my camera had completely died. Without a backup, I was now a complete observer. Beyond my belief, these men rushed towards ringside, pushing aside fans on their way. As they made their way near the floor level is when things officially got out of control. Brawls broke out throughout the arena as complete chaos took over. Like a cancer, violence appeared in all areas of the building.
Like anything that catches you by surprise, it can be too late before you realize how serious the situation is. That moment happened to me as I stared at the madness below. Not believing what I was watching, I was snapped out of my trance by the sound of a skull being slammed against a wall to my left. The fighting wasn’t just in the ring or on the floor. It was everywhere.
I turned around to find two grown men brawling. Quickly, one got the better of the other and threw him to the ground. He then unceremoniously slammed the his head against the wall, kicked him and ran into the concourse. The beaten man, bleeding, jumped up and chased after him. At least two other fights were occurring around my section and I decided the that I had to get out. Packing my gear, I made a quick left and, before entering the well lit concourse, did a double take at the thick blood streak horizontally decorating the wall on my way out.
It was obvious that blood was spilled throughout the building. One person was critically injured during the melee. But seeing the amount of blood smeared against that wall was the lasting memory for me during a brutal night where a heavyweight fight had no winners.