Battle-weary though he was, Richard "Hardface" Mason managed a frustrated smile and a respectful hug for his opponent, Dean Moore, after their 10-round bout last night in Rockville. Mason scored a controversial but unanimous decision, earning him a shot at a United States Boxing Association crown.

Mason will battle Olian Alexander in Rockville for the vacant USBA cruiserweight title Sept. 25. After the fight, amid jeers from the capacity crowd that believed Moore deserved the decision, Mason grabbed the ring microphone, congratulated his opponent and said he didn't deserve the victory.

"I can't accept it," Mason said. "He's the winner, he fought the better fight."

Moore said only, "In my heart, I know I won."

Both fighters could barely stand by the end of the fight at the Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza, but Mason managed to land enough solid blows through the final three rounds.

Mason, 24, appeared tentative through much of Round 1, and Moore, about eight inches shorter, held his own. Mason landed several wince-inducing body blows in the first round.

A big problem for Mason: From that point on, Moore somehow managed to control the pace, attacking at will. Moore drew much-needed adrenaline from the raucous crowd between rounds, waving his fist into the air, at one juncture slapping hands with a patron through the ropes as the crowd -- shifting its allegiance -- chanted "Dean, Dean!"

Through Rounds 4 and 5, Moore dominated with relentless combinations, leaving Mason exhausted and on the ropes, the recipient of more and more jabs.

Then Mason showed the sheer punching power that has earned him his chance at a title shot. Through the next two rounds, he landed hard blows incessantly, leaving Moore to respond with jabs that had no effect. Moore stayed alive by his quickness, weaving away from several punches.

The two fought even the eighth and ninth rounds.

Mason (17-2-1, 13 knockouts) had entered the bout ranked third by the International Boxing Federation and 10th by both the World Boxing Council and World Boxing Association.

In the undercard, Rockville heavyweight Phil Gilberti was upset by Hagerstown's Sam Atkins (2-2), who had a 30-pound advantage. Atkins, with a habit of acknowledging a solid Gilberti jab with a slight nod and inviting more punishment, landed some of the hardest punches of the night and scored a split decision over a visibly upset Gilberti (11-5).

"I thought I got robbed," said Gilberti, whose 15 previous fights ended by knockout. "Everyone in the hotel knows I got robbed. He won the last round but I won the fight."

Rockville light-heavyweight Fabian Garcia provided some early excitement, scoring with several potent left-right combinations. He evened his record at 4-4 with a second-round knockout of Jason Waller (4-1-1) of Stafford, Va.

D.C. junior welterweight Tony Pressley (2-4) and John Bizzarro of Erie, Pa., waltzed about the ring for six tedious rounds, each connecting at staggered intervals, but not establishing momentum. Bizzarro upped his career mark to 9-1-1 with a split decision.

Also, New York's Kato Wilson and Youngstown, Ohio's Ozzie O'Neal fought to a draw in a lightweight bout.