ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- On a lost weekend among the young heavyweight hopefuls, Riddick Bowe, by default, emerged as the leading title contender yesterday after winning a controversial decision over former champion Tony Tubbs at Harrah's Marina.
The only ringside spectators who seemed to favor Bowe (23-0) were the three judges. Boxing writers supported Tubbs (30-3) overwhelmingly, and the crowd hooted in protest when the unanimous decision was announced. Judges Frank Cairo and Richard Strange favored Bowe, 96-94, and Jean Williams, 97-93.
Bowe said that Tubbs, who reigned briefly as World Boxing Association champion in 1985, had proved tougher than his 22 previous opponents.
Fighting effectively off the ropes and countering with combinations, Tubbs simply outboxed the stalking Bowe, a Brooklyn native who lives in Maryland. "I didn't know he could be so slick," said Bowe, who called it a valuable learning experience.
Even with his unimpressive effort, Bowe still fared better than two other young heavyweights who were being groomed as title contenders.
On Thursday, previously unbeaten Bruce Seldon was stopped by journeyman Oliver McCall, and Friday, on the under card of the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman championship bout, Tommy "Duke" Morrison, who was being targeted as Holyfield's next challenger, was receiving an embarrassing boxing lesson from Yuri Vaulin before stopping the Soviet in the fifth round.
As one wag said, the wreckage left Foreman, 42, as the best of the young heavyweights.
Rock Newman, Bowe's manager, said he has held title talks with Holyfield's promoter, Dan Duva, and Don King, who represents Mike Tyson.
"I plan to make up my mind within a week to 10 days which guy take," Newman said. "We want Riddick to fight for the title within a year, maybe as early as October.
"It will depend on whether the Holyfield-Tyson fight is made for the fall. If Tyson doesn't agree to terms, it will make Riddick the mandatory challenger."
Veteran trainer Eddie Futch said he would prefer matching Bowe with Holyfield rather than Tyson.
"Styles makes fights, and Holyfield's style is made to order for Riddick. He gets hit easily, especially by right hands, Riddick's best punch. Even Foreman, whose reflexes have slowed, caught him with a lot of solid shots. A younger fighter like Bowe would have really hurt him. I know Holyfield can't outbox him."
Newman said he believes that if Holyfield saw Bowe's match with Tubbs, televised on ABC, he would be all too eager to grant him a title shot.
"We hope it makes Evander overconfident," Newman said.