The punch came straight from a Saturday-morning cartoon, a fist in an Acme boxing glove hitting Mr. Wile E. Coyote straight on the button and sending him into an exaggerated flip that was followed by an exaggerated flop. No, no, better yet, the punch came from a question in an adolescent male conversation: What would happen if you went down on one knee, stuck out your chin and let the former heavyweight champion of the world take his absolute, flat-out best shot?
Buster Mathis Jr. supplied the answer. "I saw black," Mathis said. "All black."
No colors? No stars? No glimpse of the Great Beyond?
"Just black," he reported.
The punch—you must have seen it a billion times on replay, unless you have been in a vacation cabin without a TV set—was delivered by Riddick Bowe, back for his first fight since losing the heavyweight crown to Evander Holyfield last November. Poor Mathis, a pleasant, 24-year-old college student from Grand Rapids, Mich., had entered last Saturday night's bout at the Atlantic City Convention Center with a 14-0 record and an enormous size disadvantage. At 2:11 of the fourth round he dropped to one knee. That's when Bowe unleashed the ferocious right hook.
Bowe said he didn't know that Mathis—listed at 6 feet, 224¼ pounds but appearing much shorter—was resting on one knee. He said that, at 6'5", he had been looking down the entire fight and was looking down again and that he saw only Mathis's head. He said, really, there was no explanation. All he could do was apologize. He had teed off on a helpless man.
Seeing it happen was like watching the PGA Championship and hearing British commentator Ben Wright say, "Ohhhhhh, Greg Norman got all of that one," after a long drive on a par-5 at Southern Hills. Smack. Mathis went from a folded position on his right knee, trying to clear his head after a flurry of blows from Bowe, to flat on his back with his chest heaving. He was knocked out way before his head hit the canvas. His legs went straight out, and people climbed into the ring from assorted directions. "I was on the ground, knocked out," Mathis said. "I didn't feel nothing."
After much deliberation between referee Arthur Mercante and New Jersey boxing officials, the bout was ruled a "no contest" because it ended with such a flagrant foul and Mathis couldn't continue.
Weighing 247 pounds, Bowe had entered the ring looking soft, despite a summer of work with fitness expert Mackie Shillstone in New Orleans. He had backed out of three previous returns to action since losing to Holyfield, once because of a cut and twice because of back ailments. But he easily won the first three rounds against Mathis, and his heart was seemingly back in boxing.
The big bout on Bowe's horizon is a proposed meeting with WBC champion Lennox Lewis in either December or March. The no-contest decision shouldn't have any bearing on that fight—except to tell Lewis that he probably shouldn't drop to one knee. Not if he expects to stay awake.