ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Wearing an ice pack on the large lump of flesh over his left eye, Baltimore heavyweight Hasim Rahman looked like the beaten boxer he was at the news conference after his bout with Evander Holyfield on Saturday night.
The injury was caused by two apparently accidental head butts from Holyfield, resulting in an eighth-round split decision for Holyfield in a battle of ex-champions before a crowd of 9,138 at the newly renovated Boardwalk Hall.
Rahman, 29, was head-butted, yes, but he also had been outhustled, beaten to the punch and driven to the ropes by a 39-year-old man who proved to have an overall advantage in ring generalship despite being past his prime.
"It was one of my best performances," said Holyfield, who first became undisputed heavyweight champion at age 28. Holyfield (38-5-2, 25 knockouts), who turns 40 in October, was in his first non-title bout since his knockout of Mike Tyson in 1996.
"Styles make the fights," Holyfield said. "When you fight a guy like Rahman, you don't have to look too far for him. Rahman's a good fighter, very strong, very tough."
Referee Tony Orlando, acting on the advice of ringside physicians Dominic Coletta and Howard Taylor - who indicated Rahman had a severe hematoma - waved an end to the fight at 1:40 of the eighth round. New Jersey Athletic Control Board rules require that the winner be determined by the judges' scorecards. Steve Weisfeld and John Stewart had Holyfield winning, 69-64, and Melvina Lathan had it for Rahman, 67-66.
"I don't judge fights," Holyfield said. "Any time it falls into the judges' hands, anything can happen."
The victory makes Holyfield the No. 1 contender for the World Boxing Council's version of Lennox Lewis' two heavyweight titles. He also becomes the No. 2 contender behind Chris Byrd for Lewis' International Boxing Federation crown. Lewis defends both titles against Mike Tyson on Saturday in Memphis, Tenn., and, should he win, must take on Byrd first.
Holyfield, already the sport's only four-time heavyweight champ, has vowed not to retire unless it is as undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
After the bout, Rahman (35-4, 29 knockouts), still bitter, refused to admit defeat - this after vowing before the fight that he would retire if he could not beat the aging Holyfield.
After suffering his second straight loss after a seven-month world championship reign - the shortest in the history of the division - Rahman spoke of fighting Holyfield again. In a rematch with Holyfield, Rahman said he would "prepare better for the head butts" and "wear a helmet."
"I was really disappointed in the way the fight ended. I was never hurt and never hit by any big shots. I can sit here and talk about how good Evander fought, but the head butts were the difference," said Rahman, reprising a complaint about butting that Tyson said frustrated him into twice biting Holyfield's ear in their 1997 rematch. "He started head butting me from the beginning of the fight. He was breathing hard, and I felt that I would come on in the later rounds."
Rahman's trainer, Bouie Fisher, said he repeatedly had complained about Holyfield's head butting against his fighter, who at times pawed at a small mark that appeared on his forehead during the second or third rounds.
"The referee kept saying he was going to take points away, but he didn't do it. The referee's job was to enforce the rules, and he didn't do it," Fisher said. "As far as Holyfield goes, he knows all of the tricks and he knows how to fight. He knows how to do damage."
Rahman's co-manager, Steve Nelson, said last night: "We are exploring our options, including an appeal with the New Jersey commission, the IBF and the WBA. ... We have already started to work on documenting our case. Our aim is to get an immediate rematch."
Rahman clearly was butted in the fourth and seventh rounds, the second of which caused the large lump to balloon over his left eye, but he still was being beaten to the punch by Holyfield. During toe-to-toe exchanges or when the fighters were on the ropes, Holyfield was sharper, crisper and more accurate, landing more total punches (129-118) and more power punches (102-71).
Already being outsmarted by Holyfield, Rahman complained he was distracted by Holyfield's head butting.
"I had a cut on the middle of my head in the first or second round, and that's what started it. The referee told me to keep my head up, but if you do that, you get your head knocked off," Rahman said.
Holyfield said of Rahman's welt: "I didn't notice it, I just kept hitting it."
Rahman said: "I felt I was coming on, and I knew he would be coming out in the first half of the fight to keep up the pressure. It's a 12-round fight, and he was doing his thing, but he wasn't dominating."
Rahman out-jabbed Holyfield overall, 47-27, often ducking and turning his head sideways to do it. Holyfield often smashed right hands off Rahman's jaw or threw left hooks when Rahman was jabbing.
"Skillfully, Evander's the best guy I've been in with. He did a good job of taking away my jab and my right hand," Rahman said. "But he was expending a lot of energy. There was an ebb and flow, and I didn't get a chance for it to go my way."
Promoter Don King said he would try to find another opponent for Rahman.
"I'll fight anybody," Rahman said. "I really feel like this fight hasn't ended. It's to be continued."