Boxing

March 27, 2006

Class Struggle
The heavyweight division remained a muddle after Hasim Rahman retained histitle with a draw against James Toney

The atmosphere inside Hasim Rahman's dressing room last Saturday night waspositively euphoric. Minutes earlier Rahman had retained his WBC heavyweightcrown in a draw with James Toney. Now, backstage at Boardwalk Hall in AtlanticCity, it was time to celebrate. "Yo, E," Rahman said, nodding tosparring partner Eric Strickland. "You were tougher to hit than JamesToney." Pretty bold statement from a man who in his five-month reign asheavyweight champ has yet to, you know, actually win the title.

Perhaps Rahman'sbravado is more a reflection of the current sad state of the heavyweightdivision. In getting past Toney (two judges scored the fight a draw whileanother favored Rahman by a bizarre 117-111 margin), Rahman survived what manyexperts considered the biggest threat to his claim of heavyweight supremacy. Inhis first title defense since inheriting the belt from the retired VitaliKlitschko in November, the 6'2 1/2" Rahman chose to ignore his considerableheight advantage--and the strategy laid out by his training staff--to slug onthe inside with the 5'9" Toney. Rahman pushed the action from the openingbell, throwing some 78 punches per round (well above the heavyweight average of48), while Toney struggled to inflict any significant damage despite Rahman'swillingness to stand in his wheelhouse. Rahman consistently bullied Toney onthe inside, leaning on him and using his concussive right hand to stagger Toneytwice.

Rahman'ssilencing of Toney (who had mouthed off before the fight about Rahman"lacking ... heart") will do little to quiet critics of the heavyweightdivision, which has been without a standard-bearer since Lennox Lewis retiredin 2004. Rahman's retention of the belt elevates the 33-year-old above anuninspiring roster of heavyweight titlists, including Chris Byrd (IBF) andLamon Brewster (WBO), whose Q ratings are in single digits, and seven-foot-tallnovelty act Nikolay Valuev (WBA), whose record is inflated by the number ofsecurity guards he pummels. We're kidding about the last one. Sort of.

Rahman's owncredentials are flimsy at best, his career defined as much by embarrassinglosses as by impressive wins. His 2001 KO of Lewis was obscured seven monthslater when Lewis flattened him in a rematch and erased in '02 when EvanderHolyfield raised a softball-sized egg on Rahman's forehead on the way to asplit decision. For Rahman to establish himself as the elite heavyweight hethinks he is, he must continue to face top-of-the-line competition. A rematchwith No. 1 WBC contender Oleg Maskaev, who knocked out Rahman in 1999, would bea start, followed by possible unification bouts with Byrd or Brewster.

For Toney, 37,Saturday's draw may be a sign that the curtain is falling on one of boxing'sfinest careers. Against Rahman, Toney weighed in at a career-high 237 pounds,and one has to wonder just how much, after 77 professional fights, he hasleft.

However much,it's certainly less than Rahman, who at the very least has shown that he knowshow to win--even when he actually doesn't.

> Read moreabout the heavyweight scene at SI.com/boxing.

Heavy Thoughts
Boxing fans can only hope that three upcoming title bouts reenergize theheavyweight scene.

April 1
Lamon Brewster vs. Serguei Lyakhovich
Cleveland's first heavyweight title fight since 1983 pits undersung WBO champBrewster against Belarus's best. Of course Lyakhovich hasn't fought since 2004.Let's hope the date is not an omen.

April 22
Chris Byrd vs. Wladimir Klitschko
The slick-boxing, if boring, Byrd defends his IBF belt against the Klitschkobrother who isn't running for mayor of Kiev. The two fought before, in 2000,with Klitschko winning. Now Byrd is fading, while the 6'7" Klitschko mayfinally be gaining the confidence to match his size.

June 3
Nikolay Valuev vs. TBA
The seven-foot, 323-pound Russian known as the Beast from the East (above) isthe tallest and heaviest heavyweight champ ever. It's a safe bet that hisas-yet-unnamed opponent will be a) smaller than he is and b) a betterboxer.

PHOTOJOHN IACONO (INSET)ROCKAND ROLL - Rahman nailed the tubby Toney, but not often enough to seal avictory. PHOTOJOSE F. MORENO/AP[Seecaption above] PHOTOSVEN SIMON/IMAGO/ICON SMI (VALUEV)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)