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RING OF MIRE Rahman-Toney draw fails to give heavyweight boxing division a needed boost

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Lennox Lewis strolled through the bowels of Boardwalk Hall with a stately air about him and a wide smile on his face.

The towering Brit, dressed nattily in a suit and tie, the gray hairs speckling his sideburns and cornrows, was about to slip into the crisp, coastal night air late Saturday night with his standing intact.

Yes, Lewis still was the last heavyweight of consequence. Nothing he had seen in the ring between Hasim Rahman and James Toney moved the former undisputed champion to think otherwise.

Rahman kept his World Boxing Council title with a majority draw. Neither fighter backed down in a bout that featured a steady flow of punches, but the result had to be frustrating for boxing fans, who've been searching for the next great heavyweight to emerge since Lewis retired three years ago.

"It just shows the impact I had," Lewis said proudly.

As clearly as he enjoys being missed, Lewis conceded the sport needs someone to step up and fill the void.

"A draw really hurts the heavyweight division because everyone's clamoring for the next person," Lewis said. "Yet this type of fight and this type of ending leaves the people wondering. I would like to have seen a winner. People want the next star. With a draw, the fans are not happy."

Saturday night's unsatisfying tie was a microcosm of why many have been turned off by boxing's marquee division for so long. While the turnstiles were slowed because the fight was shown on HBO during a free-preview weekend, only 8,427 fans attended the most anticipated heavyweight matchup since Lewis left the scene.

Rahman went into the bout as champion because the Mexico City-based WBC said so. He hadn't beaten the previous champion. Vitali Klitschko simply retired because of a series of injuries. Rahman was anointed, and has yet to confirm his title with authority. He is 0-1-1 in title defenses, having shocked Lewis with a one-punch knockout in April 2001 only to receive the same treatment in the rematch seven months later.

Rahman's matchup with Toney was supposed to lay the foundation for heavyweight revitalization, the winner poised to face champions from the other sanctioning bodies. A unified title was the goal.

Although nothing had been settled in the ring, Rahman seemed pleased merely to retain his conferred belt.

"I still got the title," Rahman said. "James still got the lofty position [in the rankings] and will probably get a rematch. So everybody's OK."

Sports fans have a tendency to want considerably more hunger from their heroes. Champions are expected to hate losing with a passion.

"Do you want me to come over here and flip over tables and hit James Toney in the face right now?" Rahman replied when asked why he didn't seem upset with not winning. "How do you want me to conduct myself?

"I'm not a judge. I fought one of the greatest fighters ever and nobody can take nothing away from James Toney. He's a proven heavyweight with wins over surefire Hall of Famers. So if two judges say it was a draw, so be it."

The fighters and promoters might as well have been counting their rematch money on the dais during the postfight news conference.

"What the fans want is a clear-cut winner and loser," said Toney's promoter, Dan Goossen. "There was no winner. James didn't lose the fight. Rahman didn't win it. So what you need to do is have an immediate rematch. Then the fans wouldn't feel as if they kissed their sisters."

Bob Arum, the promoter for Rahman, said, "A rematch would be a very, very lucrative, good fight."

Any rematch might have to wait. Oleg Maskaev, who literally knocked Rahman out of the ring when they met almost seven years ago, is the WBC's mandatory challenger as the No. 1 contender. But the WBC could order an immediate rematch between Rahman and Toney, delaying Maskaev's opportunity.

"In my heart, I believe there's something going on behind this fight," said a dejected Maskaev, who was in attendance. "They're two great fighters, but there's something going on. If you look at the judges' scores you can find out."

Judge John Stewart scored the bout for Rahman, 117-111. But judges Tom Kaczmarek and Nobuaki Uratani tallied 114 points for each fighter. Many ringside observers, including Lewis, gave Rahman the edge. The Buffalo News scored it 115-113 for Rahman.

"The judge who saw it 117-111 was medicated a little bit," Toney said.

Said Rahman: "If we fight again, hopefully we won't need judges."

Rahman was far busier, throwing 933 punches, exactly 300 more than his opponent in a clash that contained some furious inside action. But Toney was more accurate and delivered the most powerful shots. Rahman bled from his lower lip and his left eyelid.

"It was good to see two heavyweights battle it out and throw punches," Goossen said. "Rahman was in great shape and took a lot of great shots. James had the heavier blows, but Rahman was busier. At least we had two fighters going at it."

Each praised the other's power. Much of the intrigue heading into the fight pertained to whether Toney was crafty enough to slug it out with a true heavyweight. Toney -- a former middleweight, super middleweight and cruiserweight champ -- had ballooned over the years, and Rahman was his first major test.

There were no knockdowns, and neither fighter appeared seriously hurt. The flabby Toney, who carried 237 pounds on his 5-foot-9 frame, fatigued in the late rounds. Rahman won the 12th on all three scorecards, or else he would have lost a majority decision.

"I think we both made a statement," Rahman said. "James proved he could stand up to a big heavyweight punch. I know that I can earn some respect from James. That's how heavyweight boxing should be done."

Somewhere, Lewis was laughing.

"I believe there's always an eruption needed in boxing, and we're just basically waiting for the next one," Lewis said. "But I don't see one [on the horizon] yet. You're going to have to wait for awhile."


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