ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Professional boxing had yet another controversy on its hands last night when former champion Riddick Bowe's scheduled 10-round heavyweight bout with Buster Mathis was ruled no contest after Bowe hit Mathis in the fourth round while Mathis was on one knee.
Referee Arthur Mercante ruled the savage right cross, which left Mathis on his back, unconscious, an intentional foul. Mercante had waved an end to the bout at 2:11 of the fourth round.
After a lengthy conference with Mercante and Gary Shaw, a member of the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, boxing commissioner Larry Hazzard ruled the fight no contest.
Bowe (34-1, 29 KOs), who was using the light-punching Mathis (14-0, 3 KOs) as a tuneup for a scheduled fight with World Boxing Council champion Lennox Lewis in December or March, could have been disqualified for the obvious foul that drew loud protests from the crowd of 3,024 at Convention Hall.
"We had several options to consider," said Hazzard, a former referee. "But the rules don't dictate that we have to disqualify a fighter for a deliberate foul. Because Bowe had dominated the fight up until the foul, we felt out decision was fair and just."
Mercante was not available after the fight, but Hazzard said the referee recommended fining Bowe.
Fighting for the first time since losing his World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation crowns to Evander Holyfield in Las Vegas last November, Bowe said he did not realize Mathis was down when he delivered the final blow.
"He's been bobbing and weaving and fighting out of a real low crouch," said Bowe. "I didn't even see his body on the floor so I just kept throwing shots."
Mathis told HBO commentator Larry Merchant that he had dropped to one knee to catch a brief rest after being caught in mid-ring by a series of solid punches from Bowe, who at 6 feet 5 and a career-high 247 pounds, had a five-inch and 23-pound advantage over his rival.
"He had hit me with some good punches," said Mathis, who had become more daring in the fourth round. "I thought it was better to go on one knee, take an eight count, relax and clear my head."
Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, was unusually calm after the bizarre ending.
"I thought it would have been outrageous today that Bowe couldn't win the fight because of that unfortunate incident [the foul]," said Newman. "Riddick was dominating the fight up to that point."
Despite his obvious rust, Bowe, who turned 27 last week, repeatedly staggered his smaller opponent with overhand rights, crosses and short hooks. In winning the first three rounds, he all ++ but walked through Mathis' punches.
Mathis, who is trained by his father, Buster Sr. -- who was a contender in the 1960s and fought Joe Frazier, Muhammad Ali and Ron Lyle -- did not have his father in his corner last night. Buster, Sr. is recovering from a kidney problem.
Buster Jr.'s manager, Brian Lee, did not seem overly perturbed by the "no-contest" ruling, anticipating a rematch, possibly as part of the Lewis-Oliver McCall championship bout in London, Sept. 24.
Said Lee: "From our perspective it was a deliberate foul. It's not the first time it has happened in a Bowe fight. In other states, it would have been a disqualification."
Lee was alluding to Bowe's first fight with Elijah Tillery in Washington on Oct. 29, 1991. Both fighters were guilty of kicking and fouling in the first round, and Newman threw Tillery out of the ring with a headlock. But Bowe was awarded a victory by disqualification.
Bowe, who lives in Fort Washington, Md., and was sidelined by a lingering back ailment earlier this year, received $1.2 million as part of his multi-bout deal with HBO.
Mathis, who had fought no one of note in compiling a 14-0 record, was guaranteed $250,000.
In a scheduled 10-round heavyweight fight, Corrie Sanders (24-1, 17 KOs) of South Africa, needed only 49 seconds to stop Carlos DeLeon (52-7-1, 33 KOs) of Puerto Rico. DeLeon was floored three times for an automatic knockout.
Unbeaten Washington middleweight William Joppy (16-0) won a unanimous eight-round decision over Richard Evans (13-5) of Philadelphia.