Disoriented, right eye bloodied and closed, back hunched over the ropes, Pinklon Thomas returned to the boxing world's abyss last night, courtesy of Riddick Bowe.

After watching their fighter withstand brutal punishment through the later rounds, Thomas's cornermen stopped the fight following Round 8, earning Bowe the technical knockout and another step toward a possible heavyweight title shot.

Thomas's trainer, Willard Barber, said the former World Boxing Council heavyweight champion had trouble walking after the bout, and would decline questions.

After dancing through the middle rounds and letting numerous chances pass by to put Thomas away, Bowe (19-0, 17 knockouts) returned to life in the seventh round, perhaps catalyzed by a brief brawl that broke out between a pair of patrons, who were quickly subdued by swarms of policemen.

The raucous, overflow crowd at UDC's Physical Activities Center called for referee Sylvester Stevens to stop the fight following Bowe's powerful performance in the seventh, when he delivered repeated left-right combinations and several hooks that left Thomas (30-5-2) weary and staggering.

"It could have been stopped," Stevens said. "Pinklon is a real slick fighter and he was taking punches to the shoulder, not the chin. As long as he wanted to continue, I wasn't going to stop it."

There are no standing eight-counts in Washington fights and Stevens confirmed that Thomas's corner in fact stopped the bout.

"I would have counted him out had he tried to return" for the ninth round, Stevens added.

At the time of the stoppage, all three judges had Bowe ahead on their cards: Sheila Martin (80-72), Lloyd Scaife (77-75) and Patricia Montgomery (78-74).

Though he vowed he was in "the best shape of his life" beforehand, Thomas looked somewhat paunchy. The 32-year-old ex-champion was clearly exhausted by the second round, and had so much trouble taking Bowe's punches he frequently had to hang onto his opponent.

"Riddick put on a great performance in the early rounds against a cagey veteran," said Bowe's trainer, Eddie Futch.

Bowe appeared to receive more and more adrenaline by the roar of the crowd clearly behind him, nearly flooring the lumbering Thomas in Round 3. The crowd sensed it -- the fight was just about over.

Then, Bowe mystifyingly opened a window of opportunity large enough for Thomas to crawl right back into it, his punches -- fewer and fewer of them -- losing their zip. At times through the next three rounds, Bowe actually stopped punching, then afterward called it his strategy.

"I realized he was hurt, but I thought it was wise to take my time," Bowe said. "I didn't want to burn myself out and be knocked out in the ninth or tenth round."

Thomas, forsaking the pink shorts and shoes he wore during his championship days, entered the ring clad in a far more serious black robe. The only remaining trace: a pink belt.

Dozens of ticket-holding fans were turned away from the door, as a standing-room-only crowd filled the 3,500-seat arena.

On the undercard, junior lightweight Eugene Speed, 27, out of Palmer Park, remained undefeated, scoring a technical knockout over Washington's Kenny Baysmore, 29, at 1:30 of the fifth round.

Speed (19-0) dominated the first and third rounds with unrelenting connections, yet did his most lasting damage in the second, opening a large cut beneath the left eye of Baysmore (24-4-2).

Also, Alexandria light heavyweight Brian Clements scored a unanimous decision over the District's Michael Green. Washington's Kenny Whack outpointed Alexandria's Anthony Ross in a six-round junior middleweight bout.

After Bowe's victory, Mitchellville, Md., welterweight Demetrius Davis knocked out Alexandria's Nathan Bassett in the first round. D.C. lightweight Sharmba Mitchell improved to 19-0 with a sixth-round TKO of Rodney Fennell.

Notes: Richard "Hardface" Mason, who has a hand injury, has been forced to postpone his U.S. Boxing Association cruiserweight title fight, promoter Don Elbaum said last night. The bout, which was scheduled for Sept. 25 in Rockville against Californian Olian Alexander, is tentatively rescheduled for Oct. 30 in Rockville.