Mike Weaver wandered around the edge of the ring pounding his fists together, a dazed and quizzical expression on his face. In the center of the ring, the same Las Vegas ring where one month earlier Korean lightweight Duk Koo Kim had suffered a fatal beating, Michael (Dynamite) Dokes lay face down, his legs jerking in ecstasy. A crowd of whooping followers swarmed over him. Meanwhile, Referee Joey Curtis was hurriedly escaping through the ropes. At 1:03 of the first round, Curtis had halted last Friday's bout between Weaver and Dokes and awarded the WBA heavyweight title to the 24-year-old challenger, Dokes. "Weaver was hurt bad. That's what I saw," Curtis said before disappearing.
But observers close to the action at Caesars Palace thought Curtis had made the wrong decision. Dr. Donald Romeo, the ringside physician, said, "They shouldn't have stopped it. The referee was wrong. Weaver was fine. The fact is he's just a notoriously slow starter." Sugar Ray Leonard thought Curtis must have "panicked." Larry Holmes, who like Leonard was on hand as a TV commentator, opined, "Curtis couldn't referee my kids in a baseball game."
The WBA official monitoring the fight, Nick Kerasiotis, said only that he was "very surprised" at the decision and that he wanted to review the films. The 30-year-old Weaver's handlers interrupted their outrage to quickly file a protest with the WBA and suggested to all who would listen that the fight had been fixed by promoter Don King, a Dokes adviser. (The WBA is expected to urge a rematch, but not to rule no contest and reschedule the fight, as the Weaver camp demanded.) King grinned like a demon and said little. King always grins like a demon, although he usually says a lot.
Dokes, who had been top-rated by both the WBA and WBC, rushed at Weaver at the opening bell and pummeled him. The big blow that began Weaver's fall was a left hook. Almost simultaneously Weaver fogged Dokes with a strong left hand of his own to the forehead, but Dokes's punch had by far the more telling effect. He followed it with a right and another left hook, and Weaver was down. Though he rose quickly and calmly took the mandatory eight count, thereafter he never made it five feet from where he got up. An 18-punch fusillade pinned him on the ropes. He was unable, or unwilling, to throw anything in return. Suddenly the hovering Curtis stepped between the fighters as though breaking them from a clinch. Instead, astonishingly, he led Dokes away and lifted his hands. The new champion sprang high in the air and crashed to the canvas, in the process banging his head harder than Weaver had been able to do. It seemed at first that Dokes, lying there twitching, was the one knocked out. Dr. Romeo's first concern, in fact, was for Dokes, not Weaver. "Dokes was on the floor in some kind of trance, some kind of euphoric state," he said.
When they realized the fight was over, the 4,500 fans, having paid as much as $50 a seat for the minute of action, began to boo and then chant "Bull——! Bull——!" and "Fix! Fix!" Meanwhile, a brawl broke out in the ring between the two camps. Dokes had demanded the championship belt that Weaver had worn into the ring. Audrin Weaver—why is it that brothers of fighters always seem to take losses so much more personally than the fighters themselves?—swiped at Dokes, precipitating a chaos that, coupled with the crowd's growing disgruntlement, persuaded ringmaster Chuck Hull that he would be best advised not to announce the TKO at all. He fled from the ring on Curtis' heels.
When the Caesars Palace musclemen at last got things calmed down, the dethroned champion's anger had abated, and he had regained his usual expression of blank beatitude. A still delirious Dokes had his arms around Weaver's neck. He was kissing him repeatedly. "I told him I loved him," said Dokes later. "And he said he'd ask God to bless me." Weaver was then carried on shoulders from the hall in a slow parade of moral victory.
Curtis appeared at King's postfight bash to press his case for the quick TKO. "I asked [Weaver] after the knockdown if he was all right, and he didn't give me a correct answer," Curtis said. Earlier Weaver had maintained that the referee had never talked to him, had never looked into his eyes to check him out. "I asked him, 'Are you O.K.?' " Curtis said hotly, "and he gave me a feeble 'O.K.,' so I decided to let it go on for a few more punches."
"You don't stop a champion without speaking to him," Weaver had charged.
"If he says I never said anything to him, he was more out of the picture than I thought," said Curtis.
Weaver and Curtis ended up calling each other liars. In truth, Curtis did speak to Weaver after the knockdown, but, as Weaver claimed, he didn't do so again, nor did he make any further effort to examine Weaver before declaring Dokes the winner.
A 10-year veteran with nine title fights to his credit, the 55-year-old Curtis had been chosen as referee only that morning at a meeting of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. "Kim was all they stressed at that meeting," he said. "And Kim was always in the back of my head." A day later, Roy Tennison, executive secretary of the commission, delivered a rare reproof, saying, "I think the ref overreacted because of all the safety talk. I recommend a rematch based on his stopping the fight too early and on Weaver's reaction [in the ring]. Weaver was real sharp and knew what he was doing."
Weaver, in fact, didn't do much of anything Friday night, which seems to be a pattern with him. He had fought only twice since he had knocked out John Tate for the title in March 1980, just when it seemed that Tate was about to add another loss to Weaver's mediocre record (22-9-0 upon winning the crown). His two title defenses were mildly courageous—particularly when he stopped Gerrie Coetzee after being hurt—but altogether lackluster. He has been totally eclipsed in the none-too-broad shadow of Holmes, the WBC title-holder who TKO'd Weaver in 1979. According to Bobby Lewis, Dokes's owlish trainer with the bristle-brush mustache, Weaver looks like Hercules—a nickname he despises—but fights like Hamlet: reflectively, if at all. Lewis had already beaten Weaver, with Duane Bobick in 1974, and was training Ron Lyle when Weaver came in as a sparring partner. "He left after about three days," Lewis recalls. "I didn't think he had the heart. So the plan was, go get him."
Dokes, out of Akron, had shown the speed of some welterweights on his way to a 25-0-1 record. He hasn't been knocked down since his amateur days when, at 17, he ran up against the great Teofilo Stevenson. That fight is notable in retrospect, because Dokes came out against the Cuban the same way he would against Weaver, wild-eyed and snorting. Stevenson dropped him in the first, but Dokes came back the same way in the final two rounds and roughed up Stevenson badly before losing a split decision. As a pro, Dokes's decisions over Tex Cobb and George Chaplin were undistinguished, but he had impressive KOs of such unworthies as Ossie Ocasio, John L. Gardner, Harry Terrell, Lynn Ball and Franco Thomas, whom he put away in an aggregate of 11 rounds. By Friday night he went in as nearly a 3-1 favorite.
The new champion didn't show up at the press conference following his triumph—he went back to the hotel and climbed into a bathtub that had been half filled with Taittinger champagne. Weaver, showing a three-inch line of swelling over his right temple, did appear, sitting next to his manager, Don Manuel, and Audrin, both of them red-eyed. Manuel said, "The last thing I told Mike before the bell rang was to watch out for the early rush. 'If Dokes throws a lot of punches, and you don't throw any, they'll stop the fight.' It was just like it was scripted." But Manuel stopped short of the word fix. Dokes, who appeared later in a champagne-soaked red robe outside his room, didn't, though. When asked about the charges, he said fiercely, "Do you think the knockdown was a fix? Do you? Do you?" Then he smiled as broadly as possible for someone who isn't Don King. "Did you want another Duk Koo Kim?" he asked.