LAS VEGAS -- The boos over how Riddick Bowe's last fight ended barely had subsided when the first blows were struck in his next.
"He's too slow, too easy to hit," said George Benton, Evander Holyfield's trainer, shaking his head after Bowe's seventh-round TKO over Pierre Coetzer, a South African version of George Chuvalo, at the Mirage on Saturday night.
It was a rousing bout, but many in the crowd of 4,000 were unhappy because another low blow by Bowe, who had a point deducted in the sixth round, set up the winning barrage that forced referee Mills Lane to stop the bout at 2:59 of the seventh.
The Mirage oddsmaker, Jimmy Vaccaro, did not wait for the inevitable, if controversial, result before listing the Holyfield-Bowe heavyweight title bout Nov. 13 here as pick 'em. Benton said there was "no way" Holyfield could lose after the way the light-hitting Coetzer was able to reach Bowe.
"Evander throws 'em in combinations," he said. "He's gonna run them numbers on him."
"Too slow?" asked Eddie Futch, Bowe's trainer, in condescending rebuttal. "Crazy. And I don't think Evander can take a punch the way Pierre can. Yes, he does throw a lot of them himself, but he gets hit too often. And Evander likes to fight inside too much.
"When he comes in, my guy will be ready. He's as good an in-fighter for a big man [6 feet 5] as I've seen."
Futch, 80, looked at Bowe with the fondness of a mother for the ugly duckling who is metamorphasizing into what could be his 18th world champion.
Bowe, he said, was "a special project" who would be the first champion he has trained from pro debut on. The closest he has come before was Virgil Hill, whom he took over in the light-heavyweight's second pro fight. And Bowe was the kid they said wouldn't make it, the head case with no heart who had been passed over by several other trainers and managers.
He now is 31-0 with 27 knockouts, and as his manager, Rock Newman, said, "a couple of flying fists from the heavyweight title."
And already the hype was beginning. Newman suggested winner take all -- Bowe's take probably $6-7 million, Holyfield's probably $12-15 million. Don't believe that hype, but at last there is a fight, a real fight, to talk about.
There was even one Saturday night as Coetzer, a 10-1 underdog despite his No. 1 ranking by the WBA, showed he at least belonged in the top 10 if only for what Futch called his "cast-iron chin" and guts. He also surprised Bowe by fighting back with quick combinations every time the Brooklynite landed a big shot.
Bowe landed many, too. Larry Merchant, the HBO commentator, said, "If Evander Holyfield landed that many without dropping someone, his power would be questioned."
Bowe just kept punching. "He was there when the other guy was finished," said Futch.
Not all the questions were answered -- "I still haven't seen him take a big shot," Benton said.
But Bowe showed he was able to adjust and after weathering Coetzer's early attacks, slashed the South African's face into a pock-marked street of cuts. After the second round, Futch told him, "He's tiring." After the sixth, the trainer said, "He's ready to go."
A left hook strayed low in the seventh. The tiring Coetzer, perhaps hoping for another point deduction, a disqualification, dropped his hands to complain. Lane, one of the best refs in the world, ruled no damage and let the fight continue. Bowe quickly took advantage of the dropped hands.
"The referee says protect yourself at all times, that's one of the basic rules of boxing," Bowe said.
Coetzer might just as well have raised his hands in surrender. Bowe landed a right uppercut that almost unbolted Coetzer's head. A left hook and right drove the South African into the ropes, where Bowe soon had him defenseless.
And when the boos ended, some were saying Bowe couldn't this and couldn't that.
"I told him at the start," Futch said, " 'Riddick, you're going to have derogatory comments follow you right into the throne room.' "