ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., JAN. 22 -- Larry Holmes failed tonight to turn back the calendar, to make heavyweight history. Instead, Mike Tyson sent him reeling back into retirement in one of the most torrid punching displays of Tyson's explosive 34-month career.

Tyson (33-0) retained his undisputed heavyweight title by making Holmes his 29th knockout victim, stopping him at 2:55 of the fourth round before a crowd of 16,000 at Convention Hall.

Referee Joe Cortez stopped the fight when Holmes hit the canvas the third time in the round. Holmes had been pummeled in a neutral corner, then Tyson, 21, finished him off with a devastating right.

It was the first time former champion Holmes (48-3, 34 knockouts) had been stopped. But his failure after a 21-month layoff didn't surprise Tyson or his managers. "I knew the first time {Tyson} got him in trouble it would be over," said Tyson's co-manager, Bill Cayton. "Mike's a finisher. Extraordinary."

"I can't be beat," said Tyson jubiliantly. "I refuse to lose."

"I got to say, give Mike Tyson credit," Holmes said. "He's better than I thought he was. He's a true champion."

It was a torrid right hand that unglued Holmes' game plan of hitting and holding. For three rounds, he kept Tyson at bay, frustrating him repeatedly. Even at that, Tyson scored often enough to be well ahead on points.

Holmes, 38, trying to become the oldest to win the heavyweight championship, ran into big trouble midway through the fourth. Tyson broke through Holmes' grabbing defense and landed a right. Holmes fell backward onto the blue canvas in Tyson's corner.

"I knew the first time he went down it was over," said Tyson. "He wasn't going to finish the round. I saw an opening and took advantage of it. Even when he was champion, he kept his left low. He was vulnerable to the right hand.

"In the third round, he started fighting. I wanted him to throw the left and get very confident. I knew he let his ego get involved. I knew he was going to get it."

Holmes tried to clear his head, but Tyson chased him about the ring, scoring with lefts and rights to the head. Holmes went down a second time, then arose.

Cortez asked him if he wanted to continue. He did. Again, Tyson, pursuing him, scoring with both hands. The wonder of it was that Holmes stayed up as long as he did.

"He was fighting back even though he was hurt," Tyson said. "He was very dangerous. I knew I didn't hit him hard enough in a vital area to hurt him permanently."

Backed into a neutral corner, Holmes continued to take punishment to the head. With one last mighty right, his hopes were extinguished.

As he crashed to the canvas, his cornermen and a doctor rushed to into the ring. Cortez removed Holmes' mouthpiece as Holmes lay helpless on his back.

Dr. Charles Wilson later said Holmes was dazed but said: "I want to get up."

But the seconds, the doctor and Cortez helped Holmes to a stool. It took him five minutes to get to his feet.

"I knew he wasn't going to go down like a dog," said Tyson. "He went down fighting. He was a great champion in his time. But he had his time. His reign is over -- completely."

Tonight's fight was for the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council and International Boxing Federation titles. Holmes, who weighed in at 225 3/4 pounds, was guaranteed $3.1 million. Tyson, 215 3/4, was guaranteed $5 million. Tyson was favored 7 1/2 to 1..

Tyson's tactics weren't surprising. At the opening bell, he tore across the ring after Holmes. Holmes went on the defensive, trying to frustrate Tyson by backpedaling and tying him up.

Holmes continued to tie up and frustrate Tyson in round two. Still, Tyson managed to score with a hard left and right. But at the bell, Holmes winked at Tyson.

The punches in round three were the hardest up till then. Tyson scored with a hard left to Holmes' head, but Holmes, picking up the pace, countered with a right that momentarily slowed Tyson. Tyson scored with a lead right and hit Holmes again with a right just before the bell.

"When I went to work, I wanted to go inside, and I got hit," Holmes, who did not attend a news conference after the fight, told HBO. "He caught me. He caught me with a right hook.

"He hit me right here in the forehead and knocked my equilibrium off. I wish him good luck. But as we all go along, somebody eventually will get us, and he got me tonight."

At Tyson's postfight news conference, Michael Spinks walked in behind his manager, Butch Lewis, and reporters shouted to Tyson, asking when he and Spinks would get together.

"I can beat any man in the world," said Tyson. "I'm ready to prove it now, even."

But Cayton said that Tyson would next fight Tony Tubbs in Japan in March, and that Lewis should try harder to come to terms for a Tyson fight later this year.

"I'm impressed," Spinks said, "that Tyson took advantage of the opportunity Holmes gave him. Why did Holmes play around in the fight? That was very silly of Holmes. If he wanted to play around, he should have waited until later in the fight, the 10th or 11th round. Tyson wasn't hurting him until he dropped him hands and gave him the chance."

Earlier tonight, Michael Dokes, a former WBA heavyweight champion, and Francesco Damiani, the IBF's eighth-ranked heavyweight contender, each stopped opponents in scheduled 10-rounders.

Dokes stopped Ken Lakusta at 2:52 of the seventh round. Dokes, 240, is 32-1-2. Lakusta, 214 1/2, is 25-12.

Damiani, 229, of Milan, Italy, stopped Dorcey Gaymon, 226, at 2:12 of the fourth round.

Damiani, a silver medalist in the 1984 Olympics, scored his 16th knockout in improving his record to 20-0. Gaymon is 19-6-1.

In another 10-round bout, Davey Hilton, 160 1/2, of Canada built a solid lead with a strong left jab and scored a majority decision over Hector Rosario, 165, of New York. Hilton, a brother of Matthew Hilton, the IBF junior middleweight champion, is 25-0. Rosario is 16-10.

In a scheduled six-rounder, John (The Beast) Mugabi, 162 1/2, of Uganda, stopped Bryan Grant, 158, at 2:51 of the second round.

Mugabi hit Grant after the bell ending the first round. Grant tried to hit Mugabi back and instead hit referee Joe O'Neill in the stomach.