LAS VEGAS -- Six days before the fight, Murad Muhammad, the manager of Donovan "Razor" Ruddock, expressed displeasure with the selection of Richard Steele as referee for Ruddock's 12-round heavyweight elimination match with Mike Tyson.
The displeasure became outrage at The Mirage last night when Steele abruptly ended the fight at 2 minutes, 22 seconds of the seventh round, giving Tyson a victory that sparked a near riot in the crowd of 12,470.
Tyson, a former undisputed champion, had won five of the first six rounds on all three judges' cards and had floored the game Ruddock in the second and third rounds. He had the Canadian in trouble again in the seventh.
Ruddock, who rallied in the sixth round when he momentarily stunned his rival, displayed more confidence and caught Tyson with a bristling hook early in the seventh.
But Tyson countered with a barrage of punches and chased a shaken Ruddock across the ring. At that point, Steele interceded, throwing his hands around Ruddock to end the fight.
Suddenly, the ring was full of protesters -- including Muhammad and Delroy Ruddock, the boxer's brother -- trying to vent their anger at Steele, who quickly received the protection of security guards.
Steele also was the center of controversy here last year when he stopped the Julio Cesar Chavez super-lightweight title fight with Meldrick Taylor only two seconds before the final bell. Taylor, the loser, had been comfortably ahead on the judges' cards.
Tyson (40-1, 36 knockouts) had knocked Ruddock down in the second round and again in the third. Ruddock, however, came on strong in the sixth and had Tyson in trouble late in the round with several hooks and a right hand.
In the seventh, action slowed until Tyson landed a six-punch combination with both hands that sent Ruddock back to the ropes, and Steele stopped the fight.
Several minutes after the fight was stopped, security men were still pitching people from the ring.
When order was restored in the ring and the time was announced, there were thunderous boos from the crowd of more than 15,000 in an outdoor arena.
The last two punches that drove Ruddock into the ropes were a right hand and a left hook. He appeared dazed but looked more shocked at Steele's decision than from Tyson's punches.
"I can't control the decision of the referee," said Tyson, now in line to fight the winner of the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman championship match in Atlantic City, N.J., April 19. "I would have loved to knock him cold. But Razor didn't protest; his handlers did."
Ruddock had a different version.
"When Steele stopped it, I yelled, 'What?' and then everyone was jumping in the ring. I wasn't hurt. We're gladiators. I wanted to go on."
Ruddock also protested Tyson's tactics throughout the match, in which the fighters exchanging blows after several rounds.
That was the worst-refereed fight I've ever been in," said Ruddock, now 25-2-1. "Tyson fought the dirtiest fight of his life. Elbows, low blows and hitting after the bell, and Steele did nothing. That's why we didn't want him."
Muhammad, after delivering a lengthy diatribe against Steele, said he will a file a protest with the Nevada Boxing Commission and will demand a rematch.
"We didn't want Steele from the start, but they [the commission] threw us out when we complained."
Steele defended his action the same way he did after the Chavez-Taylor controversy.
"Ruddock was hurt, and he knew he was in serious trouble," Steele said. "My job is to protect the fighters. A fighter doesn't have to be on the floor and I don't have to count him out before he surrenders. This is a sport, not war."
The fight was marked by thunderous punches from both men as ZTC they tried to end it from the outset. It was also marked by wildness and by a lot of clutching and grabbing.
Ruddock was first in the ring, wearing a red, green and white windbreaker to ward off the chilly desert air. Tyson, as usual, wore his customary black robe without adornment.
Tyson was clearly the favorite of the capacity crowd as the fighters were introduced. They did not shake hands before the opening bell.
Ruddock and Tyson both tried to end the fight early, throwing wild left uppercuts. Ruddock's second punch spun him around.
Tyson landed a right cross high on Tyson's forehead without effect. Ruddock seemed unawed, moving constantly forward, but was slowed by a crunching left to the rib cage.
A lunging Tyson ran into a left counter by Ruddock. After Ruddock landed two more jarring lefts, the bell sounded. But Tyson kept fighting. Steele moved quickly to separate the boxers as they exchanged angry words.
Tyson roared out of his corner at the start of the second round and floored Ruddock with a left hook. But the Canadian bounced up quickly and looked clear-eyed while taking a mandatory eight count.
Tyson tried to finish the job, but Ruddock did an effective job of tying him up while trying to score with his hook. But he was beginning to show signs of fatigue as Tyson continued to land punches to his midsection.
Tyson continued to dole out excessive punishment in the third round, making Ruddock give ground with his body attack. Ruddock momentarily stalled the assault with a crisp hook. But when he missed a left and right, Tyson nailed Ruddock with a left flush on the chin.
The force of the blow sent Ruddock crumpling to the floor. But he again displayed a big heart, regaining his feet and wore a wry smile when the bell sounded.
Tyson trapped Ruddock on the ropes in the fourth round, but the 5-1 underdog escaped the trap and exchanged savage hooks in mid-ring. Tyson was warned by Steele for hitting low. The message fell on deaf ears. Tyson again landed a punch below the belt after the bell. Ruddock responded with a hard left to the chops before Steele could pull them apart.