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Heavy-wait division

Rahman, Toney settle nothing with unsatisfying draw

Posted: Sunday March 19, 2006 7:20PM; Updated: Sunday March 19, 2006 7:28PM
James Toney, Hasim Rahman
Hasim Rahman (right) pressed the action for most of the sloppy fight in which both boxers missed more punches than they landed.
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ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- James Toney was the first of the two combatants to arrive at the press conference Saturday night in Atlantic City following his 12-round draw with Hasim Rahman. Freshened up and dapper again in a suit and tie, Toney took a seat on the dais at one end of the vast backstage area at Boardwalk Hall and launched into a grumpy monologue that began, "It's all good," but soon turned into a diatribe against Rahman's promoter, Bob Arum -- who, Toney suggested, would take the draw and move on with Rahman and the WBC championship belt to other challengers, denying Toney a rematch.

"If Bob Arum got the guts, we'll do [a rematch] right away," said Toney, who in the next breath, or maybe the same one, strongly implied that Arum was highly unlikely to display those guts. Arum, standing at the podium a few feet from Toney, chuckled uncomfortably. Toney's manager, Dan Goossen, joined the scene about then, and with his arm on Arum's shoulder, praised Rahman's effort in the fight, but insisted that Toney had landed the heavier blows.

It was an assessment with which Toney clearly concurred. "I betcha he swolled up," said Toney of the man with whom he'd spent 12 rounds swapping shots, "swolled up like he got the mumps."

When Rahman entered, however, he looked relatively lump-free -- if less natty than Toney in a baggy jacket and gray ski cap. Toney interrupted his speechifying at that point to stand up and greet Rahman with an embrace, sharing what he called "the love."

So ended what many observers had hoped would be a defining encounter for the current heavyweight scene. Alas, all that was really made clear was that neither Rahman nor Toney is ready to be the dominant figure among boxing's big men.

Toney, an unquestioned Hall of Famer, showed all of the skill and experience, savvy and grit that makes him unique among fighters today, a soul-satisfying throwback to the best of boxing's golden era. But, at 5-9, he probably is just too small to be completely effective against a full-sized heavyweight the likes of the 6-2 1/2 Rahman. And, at 237 pounds (the heaviest he's been for any fight), Toney was carrying too much blubber to be as fast and as mobile as he would have to be to overcome Rahman's advantage in size and power.

Rahman, gifted with that size, strength and an exceptional punch, fought a better, smarter fight than I expected against Toney. He used his jab, moved Toney back, banged him with the right to the head when he could, worked the body, threw an impressive average of 77 punches a round and generally stayed more focused and tough than he had in other big bouts. Yet I felt he never did enough to really dominate. He certainly never came close to putting Toney away -- or even to making an effort to do so. He also got hit, often and hard. Against a natural heavyweight, Rahman would have been in trouble.

Where do we go from here? At age 37, Toney (69-4-3) can't have too many big fights left in him. Rahman (41-5-2), likewise, has a limited shelf life. A rematch between the two has some attractions, in an old-school, grudge-match kind of way, but it would hardly light a fire under the division.

Rahman has a mandatory defense to deal with against Oleg Maskaev, and choosing to mix it up again first with Toney would no doubt lead to some legal wrangling. Maskaev, by the way, stopped Rahman in eight rounds back in 1999, knocking him clean out of the ring. But, at 37 himself, Maskaev (32-5) is far from a big draw or a rising sensation.

A trio of upcoming heavyweight title fights could produce an intriguing opponent or two for Rahman (or, hey, maybe for Toney, if that rematch happens in the meantime). Here's the spring dance card:

April 1: Lamon Brewster vs. Sergei Liakhovicj
WBO champ Brewster is a serious puncher, who may be the division's most unheralded fighter (his 33-2 record includes a KO of Wladimir Klitshko). Against Liakhovicj, the Belarus bruiser who hasn't fought since 2004, expect Brewster to make a statement and prove himself a top attraction.

April 22: Chris Byrd vs. Wladimir Klitschko
The division's longest-reigning titlist, the slick-boxing southpaw Byrd (39-2-1) is also its least exciting in the ring. Byrd travels to Mannheim, Germany, to defend his IBF belt against a fighter who beat him six years ago. Byrd has had a good run since then, but he's nearing the end of the line. The 6-7 Klitschko, meanwhile, may finally be seeing his confidence and skills catching up with his size. If he beats Byrd, a match with Rahman could be a truly compelling battle of the big men.

Speaking of which ...

June 3: Nikolay Valuev vs. TBA
The seven-foot, 330-pound Russian with the (in his case flattering) nickname the Beast of the East became the tallest and heaviest heavyweight champ in history with a highly questionable decision over John Ruiz in Berlin in December. Whoever his designated victim turns out to be, don't expect to see Valuev exposed against a real heavyweight for a while.

So, after another curiously unsatisfying heavyweight showdown, there seems little encouraging to say beyond a remark that Toney made at that post-fight press conference: "At least you can't blame Don King for this one!"