NEW YORK -- Jackie Mason, New York's comic laureate, put the Riddick Bowe-Michael Dokes heavyweight championship bout in perspective before the opening bell at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
"We've got a whole nostalgia tsimis here," Mason said. "We've got a New York guy [Bowe] coming home to fight in the Garden. Everyone expects him to knock this stiff out quick. The only mystery is whether Dokes will fall left, right, crooked, on his face or on his back."
Mason's pre-fight analysis was almost perfect, save for the fact that a glassy-eyed Dokes still was standing, if barely, when referee Joe Santarpia ended the mismatch at 2:19 of the first round.
The near-sellout crowd of 16,332, who paid up to $400 for ringside to attend Bowe's trumpeted homecoming, howled in protest at the abrupt ending. But Santarpia, who, ironically, was hand-picked by Dokes, acted correctly in saving the 16-to-1 underdog from further punishment.
As Bowe noted in the post-fight news conference: "If the referee had allowed it to continue, we'd all be attending a funeral next week. A lot of people don't understand boxing. I want to win. I don't want to kill a man."
It was no laughing matter. Three years ago in the same ring, Dokes lay unconscious for nine minutes after being floored in the fourth round by Razor Ruddock. Paramedics were needed to revive him.
That is why the post-fight protests by Dokes and his co-manager, Sterling McFadden, sounded so hollow.
Dokes, 34, suggested that Santarpia should have asked him 20 questions before ruling he was unfit to continue.
Overlooked was the fact the flabby challenger, who had curtailed training under mysterious circumstances, had absorbed at least 20 straight punches from the young champion and was reeling around the ring when the referee rescued him.
And the irate high rollers at ringside shouldn't get any more sympathy than someone being lured to a freak show by a carnival barker.
Before counting $1,603,425 in gate receipts, only some $30,000 short of the gross for Ali-Frazier II in 1974, Garden president Bob Gutowski confided, "We've never said this was a good fight. I was never insulted when people suggested it was one-sided."
The only real question after this 139-second travesty was whether Bowe was that good or Dokes that bad. The weight of the evidence supports the latter argument.
Dokes, his sagging body and boxing skills ravaged by drug abuse, was simply a fighting shell propped up to make certain Bowe's return to New York would be a success.
A heavyweight champion for a nine-month reign in 1983, Dokes had not scored a meaningful victory in the past decade.
But it is to Bowe's credit that he wasted little time in getting his night work's done so that he could spend the rest of the evening with the hundreds of relatives and friends in attendance.
There are only so many times, however, that boxing fans will be sucker-punched. Bowe's next defense, tentatively scheduled for Atlantic City, May 21, will likely be against a more qualified opponent if HBO, which signed him to a $100 million, six-fight TC deal, has anything to say about it.
Bowe was to have fought his former Olympic teammate Ray Mercer, but this match evaporated when Mercer was embarrassed on Saturday's undercard by journeyman Jesse Ferguson, who won a lopsided 10-round decision.
Mercer, who lost a $1.5 million guarantee, has a terrible sense of timing. His only other ring loss, to Larry Holmes exactly a year ago, cost him a chance to fight then-undisputed champion Evander Holyfield.
It was Holyfield who now seemed to be at the top of Bowe's dance list. Strong whispers were being heard of a rematch of their memorable Las Vegas brawl last November in which Bowe walked away with the title.
Holyfield's new manager, music superstar M. C. Hammer, was seen talking animatedly late Saturday night with Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, and Herman Gluck, the president of Caesars World, which owns the champion's sponsorship rights.
"I'd like to give Evander a rematch," said Bowe. "He deserves it."
If monetary terms can not be ironed out with Holyfield, Newman has listed George Foreman, 45, Tommy Morrison, England's Frank Bruno and Holmes as possible alternates.
Rich Rose, Caesars World sports director, said yesterday's meetings with Newman, his attorney, Milton Chwarsky, and TVKO officials were inconclusive.
Most of the conversations involved Holyfield or Foreman meeting Bowe in pay-per-view bouts.
"It's really up to Rock and TVKO," said Rose. "Hopefully, we'll have a decision by [today]."
And where did this staggering loss take Dokes?
"To heaven," he mumbled. "Make that Disneyland."
For fight fans, that is hardly far enough.