Riddick Bowe, the former heavyweight champion, returned to the ring in controversial fashion Saturday night, hitting a kneeling Buster Mathis Jr. with a right uppercut that left him unable to continue.
The fight was stopped at 2:11 of the fourth round and was declared a "no contest" amid a chorus of boos from a crowd of 3,200 in a ballroom at the Convention Center.
Gary Shaw, a member of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, said referee Arthur Mercante Sr. told the board he felt the punch was intentional.
Larry Hazzard, the board's commissioner, said, "We knew Bowe was winning, but we felt we should not let Bowe win the fight because the referee said the blow was intentional."
"Disqualifying Bowe was an option, but in this particular case we didn't think he should be disqualified. We're not discounting it was intentional, but it happened in the heat of battle."
Asked if he thought the controversy would affect Bowe's planned match against WBC champion Lennox Lewis, Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, laughed and said, "It makes it better."
While a Bowe-Lewis fight is signed, it has not received WBC sanction nor is there a date or site.
Mathis was taking punishment when he dropped to his right knee in the center of the ring in the fourth round. Bowe then delivered the right uppercut that put Mathis on his back.
Mercante immediately halted the fight as Hazzard climbed into the ring.
Immediately after the fight, Bowe went to Mathis and said, "You were down. I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"I went down on one knee," Mathis said. "I didn't know what he was going to do, but he came over and hit me up."
Bowe explained that the much-shorter Mathis had been fighting in a crouch the whole fight.
It was certainly an attention-getting return for Bowe, 27, fighting for the first time since losing the IBF and WBA heavyweight titles in a rematch with Evander Holyfield last Nov. 6.
It wasn't the kind of attention a fighter wants.
The 6-foot-5 Bowe, who weighed 247 pounds, came out to finish Mathis, 6-0, 224 1/4, at the opening bell.
He landed a couple of hard rights to the head in the first round, but was missing badly. In the second round, Bowe again landed some power punches to the head, but Mathis kept moving and landed a couple of left hooks.
In the third round, Bowe got his powerful left jab working, and a big right to the head hurt Mathis with 20 seconds left.
Mathis kept scrapping, however, and in the fourth round Bowe's left eye began to close.
Suddenly, the fight was over and the controversy had begun.
Mercante, 75, also was the referee when Mathis' father, Buster Sr., was stopped in the 11th round by Joe Frazier in 1968. The elder Mathis trains his son, but does not travel to his fights because of health problems.
Bowe's record remained 34-1 with 29 knockouts. Mathis, 24, from Grand Rapids, Mich., remains 14-0 with three knockouts.
Two-time world champion Lupe Pintor's comeback bid for a third crown stalled when he failed to come out for the ninth round against Puerto Rico's Leonardo Mas.
Pintor (55-10-2), who previously held the WBC bantamweight and super bantamweight titles, lost his second consecutive fight since beginning his comeback earlier this year from an eight-year retirement.
The tone of what was to have been a 12-round bout was set in the opening round, when Mas (13-0) floored Pintor, of Mexico, with a left hook to the head. Pintor, 39, had trouble establishing any attacks.
Mas, 22, built his advantage, landing left leads with jabs or straight punches.