LAS VEGAS -- Unbeaten Riddick Bowe of Fort Washington, Md., strengthened his reputation as a bona fide heavyweight title contender last night by knocking out former North American Boxing Federation champion Bert Cooper of Sharon Hills, Pa., in the second round of their scheduled 10-round bout at The Mirage.
Cooper was actually counted out after the bell had sounded. He was floored with three seconds remaining, but could not beat referee Richard Steele's 10 count. Officially, the end came at 3:09 of the second round.
Bowe (20-0) dropped Cooper earlier in the second round with a short right. The shorter Pennsylvanian got up on very shaky legs. Showing the poise of a veteran, Bowe measured his injured foe and sent him flying to the floor again with a crisp four-punch combination.
A silver medalist in the 1988 Olympics, Bowe, who is tutored by Eddie Futch, seems ready for better competition. In his previous fight, he stopped former heavyweight champion Pinklon Thomas.
Bowe said, "I'm the new boss in town. I'm definitely one of the top 10 heavyweights. I got Cooper drunked, and I mugged him."
Bowe's manager, Rock Newman, was almost carried away by this quick knockout. "Riddick is the next Mike Tyson," Newman said. "Cooper was a Tyson clone, and you saw what happened tonight. This win definitely puts us in the thick of things."
Newman said several network television executives approached him with attractive offers to fight in early 1991.
"All I can say is that one of the opponents is [Canada's] Lennox Lewis," said Newman. It was Lewis who beat Bowe in the Olympic championship match.
"Riddick has matured a lot. Even without Eddie Futch in training camp this time, he got the job done," said Newman. Futch, who recently underwent hip surgery, gave instructions from outside the ring last night.
* Light heavyweight Andrew Maynard of Laurel, Md., the 1988 Olympic gold medal winner, needed a confidence-booster following his knockout loss to Bobby Cycz last June.
But Maynard hardly improved his stature in winning a lackluster, eight-round decision over journeyman Keith McMurray of Las Vegas, who had lost six of his last seven fights.
Perhaps Maynard (13-1) was trying too hard to impress ringsiders.
"Critics make you or break you," said the Sugar Ray Leonard protege. "I wanted to be aggressive and look impressive, but at the same time I was a little cautious. I didn't want to look sloppy."
These ambivalent feelings inhibited Maynard who appeared on the way to a quick knockout after flooring McMurray with a short right late in the first round. But the slender Nevadan beat the count and covered up effectively in the closing 10 seconds.
Maynard, who was awarded all eight rounds on two of the judges' cards, staggered McMurray repeatedly, but did not have the firepower to finish the job.
"My shoulder got real tight early in the fight from throwing hard punches. After awhile, it felt like my arms couldn't move. It must have had something to do with the altitude. I only had a few days to get used to that and the heat."
Maynard said that he prefers the slugging style he employed as an amateur. Under Pepe Correa's tutelage, he turned boxer as a pro and the strategy failed him against the more experienced Cycz, a former light-heavyweight champion.
"I like to apply constant pressure," he said, "but then again, you have to worry if you'll have anything left in a 12-round fight. Right now, I'm caught in between styles."
* The official purses in the heavyweight championship fight contract posted with the Nevada Athletic Commission had champion James "Buster" Douglas receiving $19,450,000 and challenger Evander Holyfield earning $7,484,750.
That is significantly lower than the record figure of $24 million that has been reported for Douglas, but the champion was forced to pay promoter Don King a $4 million settlement fee to be permitted to fight for Steve Wynn at The Mirage.
* Las Vegas-based promoter Bob Arum, a bitter rival of Wynn, shunned the fight scene here. Arum was in Phoenix last night promoting his own show featuring junior flyweight champion Michael Carbajal in a non-title bout against Luis Monzote that was carried by ESPN.
Carbajal (16-0), a silver medalist in the 1088 Olympic Games, makes his first title defense, against Panama's Leon Salazar in Scottsdale, Ariz., Dec. 8 for a $200,000 purse.
* Arum, who is former heavyweight champion George Foreman's principal promoter, reportedly sold the already-signed Foreman-Holyfield match to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for April 19.
The Mirage, betting on a Douglas victory over Holyfield, was also looking at an April date for Douglas' rematch with Mike Tyson.
* Promoter Rock Newman, who had a sellout crowd at the University of District of Columbia for the Bowe-Thomas match last month, plans to showcase Bowe in Washington again in December or January.