Rahman retains belt; heavyweight heirarchy still in air

The heavyweight title bout between Hasim Rahman and James Toney ended in a draw on Saturday night before 8,427 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Originally Published: March 18, 2006
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Throughout the fight, neither Hasim Rahman nor James Toney could establish any dominance over the other man, and it showed on the scorecards.

The most significant heavyweight fight perhaps since Lennox Lewis' retirement in 2004 ended in a draw on Saturday night before 8,427 at Boardwalk Hall.

Rahman retained the title belt he was given upon Vitali Klitschko's injury retirement last fall just a week before he was to face Rahman. Rahman, however, in his first fight since, certainly didn't do anything to bolster his case as "the man" in the wide-open heavyweight division.

Also holding title claims: Chris Byrd, Nicolay Valuev and Lamon Brewster.

Judge John Stewart scored for Rahman, 117-111, but judges Tom Kaczmarak and Nobuaki Uratani each had it 114-114. ESPN.com at ringside scored 115-114 for Rahman, who was by far the busier fighter.

But Toney was the more accurate fighter, according to CompuBox statistics.

Rahman landed 279 of 933 punches (30 percent) while Toney connected on 263 of 633 blows (42 percent). It added up to an even fight that was difficult to score.

There were few telling shots and neither man appeared to be in any serious trouble, although Toney did open a small cut over Rahman's left eye in the seventh round.

Two-time champ Rahman, however, was obviously thrilled to keep his title.

"I'm the champ and I thought I won the fight clean, and I know I won the last round," Rahman said. "I think the judge who scored it 117-111 had it right. Even though it was a draw, I am still champ. I can go on from here. I can do what I want."

Once the cut is healed, Rahman, 33, is due to face his second consecutive mandatory defense against Oleg Maskaev, a fighter who once knocked Rahman not only out, but literally out of the ring in 1999.

"I have unfinished business with Maskaev and now it's unfinished business with Toney," said Rahman, perhaps the most recognizable of the title holders given that he once knocked out Lewis.

For Toney, 37, it was his second unsuccessful try at a heavyweight title after reigns as middleweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight champion.

In April 2005, Toney outpointed then-titlist John Ruiz to claim a belt but it was stripped from him two weeks later for a positive steroid test after the fight.

Toney (69-4-3), who was also fined and suspended, returned last fall to defeat Dominick Guinn, paving the way to the fight with Rahman (41-5-2).

Coming in at a career-high 237 (flabby) pounds, Toney nonetheless was highly competitive and flaunted a strong defense and ability to fight on the inside.

"I thought I won it by two or three points," Toney said. "He was kind of scared. Nobody knocks James Toney out. I thought we had the edge. I thought I won the fight but that's the way boxing goes."

Toney weighed 80 more than on the night he knocked out Michael Nunn to win the middleweight crown in 1991 and 47 more than when he outpointed Vassiliy Jirov in to win the cruiserweight title in 2003.

Still, Toney said his weight was not a factor.

"I was 100 percent," he said.

Rahman disagreed: "If he comes in at 220 it's a much better fight. I don't think he was 100 percent. You could tell by how much he weighed. I wasn't hurt and I felt like I hit him with a lot of clean shots."

Toney trainer Freddie Roach, who once admitted that his fighter, Bobby Pacquiao, had received a gift from the judges in a decision win against Carlos Hernandez, said he truly believed Toney won.

"It was a tactical fight and they were our tactics," Roach said. "The fight went the way we wanted it to go."

The tactics were to lure Rahman in and fight him on the inside where the shorter Toney could work the body and use his left hooks.

Rahman said his plan was to use the jab but he was fine with working on the inside when he realized he could.

"I was competitive inside," Rahman said. "I thought it would be harder inside and it wasn't so I was comfortable fighting him on the inside even though the game plan was to use the jab."

When they were fighting on the outside, Toney missed with an inordinate number of wild overhand rights.

In the end, it all amounted to a mundane fight, and it certainly didn't live up to the pre-fight boasts of a knockout win by each man, especially after their December scuffle at a WBC function in Cancun, Mexico, figured to pick up where it left off.

Little is settled about the state of the division from the draw verdict, however it could gain more clarity next month. Byrd goes to Germany to defend against Wladimir Klitschko in a rematch and the winner could face Rahman by the end of the year.

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.

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