Atlantic City, N.J. -- It wasn't pretty, and he got away from his game plan, but Baltimore native Hasim Rahman finally made a successful title defense.
The 33-year-old two-time world champion battled 37-year-old challenger James Toney to a 12-round majority draw last night, retaining his World Boxing Council heavyweight title and maintaining a seven-bout unbeaten streak before 8,427 at Boardwalk Hall.
Referee John Stewart had it 117-111 for Rahman (41-5-2, 33 knockouts) and Tommy Kaczmarek and Nabuaki Uranti had it 114-114 for the Las Vegas resident.
Rahman earned $2.5 million to $2 million for Toney.
Rahman landed more punches than Toney, 279-263, averaging 77 per round. The heavyweight average is 48 punches per round. In power punches, Toney led Rahman 215-159.
HBO ringside scorer Harold Lederman had it eight rounds for the champion to four for Toney.
"I'm the champ," Rahman said. "I thought I won the fight clean and I know I won the last round. I think the judge who scored it 117-111 had it accurate. Even though it was a draw, it doesn't matter because I'm still the champ."
Rahman, who may now look to avenge a 1999 knockout loss to Russian Oleg Maskaev but did not rule out a rematch with Toney, added, "I can go on from here. I have unfinished business with Maskaev and now unfinished business with Toney."
Rahman acknowledged getting away from the plan he had worked out with trainer Thell Torrence: patience, an educated jab and reading Toney as he came in. But with his wife, Crystal, screaming those precise instructions from her seat behind his corner, Rahman traded blows too often with Toney, a noted counter-puncher with excellent defensive skills.
"I was trying to use my jab. That was the game plan. I wasn't supposed to lead with the right hand and everytime I did, I got caught," said Rahman, who won the 11th and 12th rounds on two of the judges' cards. "I don't think J.T. was 100 percent. You can tell by how much he weighed. I wasn't hurt. I felt like I hit him with a lot of clean shots..`
Most ringsiders had Rahman losing the early rounds to Toney, who, at times, picked his shots and landed with more accuracy with uppercuts and crosses.
Toney (69-5-3, 43 KOs), whose weight was a career high, has not lost since 1997, when he was outhustled by a light heavyweight named Drake Thadzi, who entered with a 28-8-1 record.
Rahman is 11-2-2 in title bouts, excluding a win over then-World Boxing Association champ John Ruiz in April that was ruled a no-decision following Toney's failed post-fight drug test for steroids.
"I thought I won by two or three points. He was kind of scared," said Toney, who walked over and embraced Rahman shortly before the decision was announced. "Nobody knocks James Toney out. I thought we had the edge. I thought I won the fight, but that's the way boxing goes. James Toney is the best fighter in the world."
A fighter whose inconsistency had often neutralized his abilities, including a powerful jab, a pulverizing right hand and strength-sapping body punches, Rahman earned the mantle of undisputed titlist by knocking out Lennox Lewis in April of 2001 only to lose their rematch seven months later.
Rahman entered his matchup with Toney riding a six-bout winning streak that included four knockouts, and wearing the belt whose lineage can be traced back through Larry Holmes, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jack Johnson and John L. Sullivan.
Along with Leon Spinks' defeat of Muhammad Ali and Buster Douglas' win over Mike Tyson, Rahman's stoppage of Lewis ranks among the sport's greatest upsets.
And Rahman is on a mission to erase comparisons with Spinks and Douglass as "one-hit wonders" -- men who failed to distinguish themselves after winning their titles.
Rahman entered the matchup with Toney, however, lacking a successful defense -- the one thing that lends credibility to a champ.
"I thought I won the fight," Rahman said. "I thought I was winning before the last round, and I definitely won the last round."
"Toney wants to talk trash. I can talk trash, too. I can beat James Toney, and I beat him tonight."