MOSCOW -- Evander Holyfield's quest for a fifth heavyweight
title ran into a roadblock Saturday: Sultan Ibragimov.
Ibragimov kept his WBO title with a unanimous decision over
Holyfield, who turns 45 next week and was trying to become the
second-oldest heavyweight champion.
Fighting before a home crowd, Ibragimov improved his record to
22 wins and one draw with a slick, counter-punching display.
Holyfield dropped to 42-9 with two draws.
The sparse crowd at Khodynka Arena chanted "Sultan! Sultan!"
near the end of the bout, with the fighters embracing at the final
bell. There were no knockdowns in the 12-round bout, which was
scored 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111 by the judges.
"It was a great fight. He got the decision and I have to go
back to the drawing board," Holyfield said. "He's a left-handed
fighter, and moves a lot. I did the best that I could with the
style that he had."
Ibragimov, a 32-year-old Russian, will now try and unify a
fractured division. The other heavyweight titles are held by
Wladimir Klitschko (IBF), Ruslan Chagaev (WBA) and injured Oleg Maskaev (WBC); Samuel Peter is the WBC interim titleholder.
George Foreman became the oldest heavyweight champ at 45 and 300
days when he knocked out Michael Moorer to win the WBA and IBF
titles in 1994.
This was Holyfield's 23rd title bout in a 20-year heavyweight
career. In title fights, he beat James "Buster" Douglas (IBF, WBA
and WBC) in 1990, Mike Tyson (WBA) in 1996, Michael Moorer (IBF) in
1997 and John Ruiz (WBA) in 2000.
Holyfield's license to fight in New York was suspended after he
was outpointed by Larry Donald in 2004 for his third consecutive
defeat. But he underwent surgery on both shoulders and won four
straight fights in 2006-07 in Texas to receive another chance when
Chagaev withdrew after contracting hepatitis.
"The most important thing is I showed improvement and
adjustment," Holyfield said. "At the time when they did take my
license, both my shoulders were injured. Today, they were no
Holyfield needed a knockout as the last round started. But on
the odd occasion he trapped Ibragimov on the ropes to throw left
and right hooks, the Russian would tie him up in a clinch.
A round earlier, Holyfield slipped as he threw a wild haymaker,
the referee ruling no knockdown. Ibragimov stayed out of trouble,
dancing in and out to land a jab or two as Holyfield stalked him.
The fight began with both fighters feeling each other out,
although Holyfield looked happy to tie up Ibragimov to offset his
superior hand speed. It also appeared Holyfield accidentally butted
In the next round, Holyfield rocked Ibragimov with a heavy right
and caught him with a glancing left hook. The fighters exchanged
stares and words at the bell.
Holyfield was the early aggressor, looking for any chance to
unleash his left hook. But Ibragimov clearly took the third round
while fighting off his back foot. Holyfield continued to track
Ibragimov around the ring, trying to land his right but wary of his
Ibragimov took more initiative in the fifth and landed the
cleaner punches, but he still got caught with a straight right,
left hook combination. Trainer Jeff Mayweather attended to the
Russian's nose after the bell.
Ibragimov's snaking jab allowed him to circle the ring, forcing
Holyfield to rush and try to get closer. But that only meant his
well-regarded chin took a couple of straight lefts.
In the seventh, Holyfield's legs buckled after he caught a punch
on the chin. But he came back with a flurry of blows before
Ibragimov landed a wild right hook to win the round easily.
Ibragimov's faster hands and feet kept him ahead on the
scorecards. But his chin withstood an overhand right from
Holyfield, and his compact, southpaw combinations helped him regain
A succession of left rips to the body staggered Holyfield in the
10th round and brought the crowd to its feet. Holyfield crumpled as
Ibragimov chased him around the ring, snapping a couple of jabs to
his face. But Holyfield recovered late in the round to land a