MIAMI -- Leading comfortably on all three judges' scorecards, Hasim Rahman needed only to survive the final three rounds of his heavyweight elimination bout with David Tua last night to become the No. 1 contender for Evander Holyfield's International Boxing Federation crown.
But the fight at the Miccosukee Casino ended with the Baltimorean slumped over the ropes and referee Telis Assimenios signaling an end to the match after 35 seconds of the 10th round, setting off an angry protest by Rahman's co-managers, who demanded a rematch.
The trouble started for the previously unbeaten Rahman (29-1) in the closing seconds of the ninth round. Tua (33-1), who had difficulty throughout the fight fending off Rahman's sharp jabs and quick combinations, suddenly buckled Rahman with a brutal left hook, bouncing his rival off the ropes.
Tua then followed with another thumping hook, which the referee ruled came after the bell, bringing Tua's manager, Lou Duva, into the ring.
Rahman never fully recovered. Tua sprung to the attack and trapped Rahman on the ropes, unleashing eight unanswered punches, although Rahman never left his feet before Assimenios intervened.
Said a disconsolate Rahman: "Now I've got 29 wins and one robbery."
He was fully supported by his managers.
"It was a travesty," said Bob Mittleman. "The referee should have penalized Tua a point for hitting Rahman after the bell, and then given Rahman as much time as he needed between rounds to recuperate."
Rahman, who was leading by 89-82 on two judges' cards and 87-84 on the third card, insisted he was not hurt by Tua's final flurry.
"I watched the HBO replay in my dressing room," he said, "and he really caught me with only two punches, one a glancing blow to the head. I was bobbing and weaving, and he missed four straight punches. I was looking right in his eyes. Even if I'd lost the last three rounds, I'd have won the fight. But a rematch should be in order."
The referee defended his decision.
"Tua had Rahman on the ropes and he couldn't defend himself," said Assimenios. "When he got hit with seven or eight punches to the face, I decided to stop it."
Cedric Kushner, who has promoted most of Rahman's fights, said he was filing a formal protest with the IBF, asking for a rematch.
But all the protests could be in vain. Tua, supported by high-powered promoter Dan Duva of Main Events, Inc., is now the leading contender, looking at multi-million dollar purses. A return bout with Rahman right now is the furthest thing from his mind.
Last night was one of those rare occasions when two promising, young heavyweights agreed to fight each other.
Rahman, 234 1/2 , enjoyed a 10-pound weight advantage over the stocky Tua, who is built along the lines of Mike Tyson.
Tua, sporting a blond goatee, was the first to enter the ring, dressed in his native Samoan garb and accompanied by several of his countrymen and a steady drumbeat. Rahman made a more subdued entrance, but his entourage proudly displayed his Intercontinental and USBA championship belts.
Rahman was the aggressor at the opening bell, landing several overhand rights and keeping his distance with a sharp jab. Tua countered with a hard hook and a solid left to the rib cage. The two fighters stood toe-to-toe exchanging punches in the closing seconds of the first round.
Tua continued to press the action in the second round, but Rahman was out-boxing his shorter rival, landing short rights and effective combinations. Tua scored with a solid left hook, but Rahman answered back with a strong flurry of punches.
Rahman kept his left hand high to protect against Tua's bristling hook. Tua tried going to the body and landed several punches, but Rahman ended the round with a five-punch combination.
Rahman got the crowd behind him in the fourth round as his boxing skills kept Tua at bay. The Samoan bulled his way inside to land two solid body punches, but once again the Baltimorean fought back to win the final exchange.
The fifth round maintained the same pattern with Rahman besting Tua to the punch in the first two minutes before the Samoan closed it out with two bruising body shots.
Tua's supporters tried to rally their man in the sixth round by beating their drums, but the action slowed with neither fighter landing a telling blow. Tua drew a roar with a solid hook, but Rahman seemed unfazed. But the Samoan kept coming, walking into a barrage of stiff jabs. At the end of the round, Tua showed the first signs of fatigue.
The jab continued to be Rahman's best weapon in the eighth round, but Tua scored several hard body shots. The fight was stopped momentarily to repair the tape on Rahman's glove.
The World Boxing Council super-featherweight championship bout between Floyd Mayweather (19-0), of Grand Rapids, Mich., and Angel Manfredy (24-3-1), of East Chicago, Ind., also ended in controversy after referee Frank Santore awarded Mayweather a technical knockout at 2: 47 of the second round.
Mayweather, 21, pinned Manfredy on the ropes and unleashed a dozen punches without retaliation.
"That was a joke," said Manfredy. "They should have never stopped it. The referee didn't even give me an eight count. It was just politics."
Pub Date: 12/20/98