On a night Mike Tyson hoped to answer questions, referee Richard Steele raised some instead.

Tyson, showing flashes of the devastating power he once used to rule the heavyweight division, knocked Donovan "Razor" Ruddock down twice Monday night but was still very much in a fight when Steele stepped in and abruptly stopped the bout after a Tyson flurry in the seventh round.With an incredulous Ruddock looking on, the referee waved the bout to what many thought was a premature close at 2:22 of the round, touching off a wild brawl between handlers of the two fighters and sending promoters dreaming of an even-richer rematch between the two top heavyweight contenders.

"It was one hell of a fight, a tough fight," Tyson said. "I wanted to get him down, I wanted to dominate him. I didn't want there to be any doubts."

But there were, primarly from the camp of Ruddock, the No. 2 contender who hit Tyson with some thundering left hooks and was still in the fight despite being knocked down in the second and third rounds by Tyson left hooks.

Ruddock had come back to win the sixth round when a Tyson left hook staggered him two minutes into the seventh and he was sent backwards into the rope under a Tyson barrage of a half-dozen more punches.

"The next punch was going to hurt him badly," said Steele, who a year and a day ago was embroiled in a similar controversy when he stopped the Meldrick Taylor-Julio Cesar Chavez junior welterweight title fight. "The guy was hurt and my job is to stop him from getting seriously hurt."

Ruddock simply stared at Steele while his handlers charged the ring and touched off a melee that took several minutes to bring under control.

"I wish Richard Steele would have given me the benefit of the doubt," Ruddock said. "I wanted to go on. I could have definitely continued."Tyson, in his third fight back since losing his heavyweight title in February 1990 to James "Buster" Douglas, solidified his claim as the No. 1 contender to Evander Holyfield's title.

But he paid a price, sometimes bearing no resemblance to the invincible Tyson of old.

The once-beaten Ruddock landed some huge left hooks to Tyson's head in the early rounds, forcing the former champion to slow his head-hunting attack and concentrate more on Ruddock's body.

Tyson, as the No. 1 contender, is in line to fight the winner of Holyfield's April 19 title defense against George Foreman. But promoter Don King was talking of a rich rematch instead with Ruddock to settle the controversy once and for all.

The fight topped a card that saw Julio Cesar Chavez retain his junior welterweight titles with a fourth-round knockout of No. 5 challenger John Duplessis and Simon Brown added the WBC welterweight title to his International Boxing Federation title with a 10th-round knockout of his friend Maurice Blocker.