Holyfield lands big right handEvander Holyfield is back. He's back in the ratings, back in contention, and back to his old form. Well, almost. The three-time legitimate heavyweight champion (and one time illegitimate heavyweight champion) has risen from the ashes of the John Ruiz series with a startlingly fresh performance against recent heavyweight champion, Hasim Rahman. The pushing-40 Holyfield may have looked old against Vaughn Bean, been outclassed by Lennox Lewis, and looked completely shot against the aforementioned Ruiz, but with his career on the line, Holyfield battered Rahman around an Atlantic City ring for eight rounds before a grotesque swelling on Rahman's head sent the fight to the cards early. In short, it was Holyfield's best outing in five years... and more than enough to secure another shot at a heavyweight championship belt.

Holyfield had insisted that Ruiz' awkward style, flagrant holding, and epileptic punching were the cause of his lackluster showing. Against a conventional boxer-puncher like Rahman, Holyfield would be given every opportunity to prove his point. Holyfield met Rahman in center ring moments after the opening bell, and immediately established a superior jab. But Evander was not content to simply feel Rahman out. Early in the opening round Holyfield began countering Rahman's jab with a short left hook. Time and again, Holyfield slipped right, watched Rahman's jab sail past and then fired a short hook into the center of Rahman's face. At first this seemed like a mere reaction to Rahman's stick, but after a short period of time it became clear that the hook was a major part of Holyfield's gameplan. If Rahman passively stood there, Holyfield's short hook, which nearly morphed into an uppercut at times, would dig hard into Rahman's body. More often, however, Rahman ducked right into the path of the punch as he dipped his head behind the jab. Holyfield had clearly spent some quality time watching Rahman on video.

Rahman wasn't completely ineffective in the first round. He landed a solid right hand on Holyfield in the final minute of the round. But beyond that shot, most of Rahman's punches were slaps to Holyfield's arms as the bout moved to close quarters. In close quarters, Holyfield continued to throw and land his short hook, including two crunching shots to Rahman's mouth that were landed when Hasim was facing away from all three judges.

It wasn't surprising to see Holyfield land punches on Rahman, but no one was expecting Holyfield to be controlling the action, fighting with vigor, and maintaining a busy pace. After only one round it was clear that Holyfield was looking more like his younger self. In round two, Holyfield further established his dominance as the fight turned into a rough slugfest. Time and again, the fighters would come together, fists flying. Rahman mostly missed. Holyfield was landing. At first he threw a long jab-cross, but by mid round had changed it up to short one-two that loudly crashed into Rahman's mug. Holyfield filled the space in between with a steady diet of short left hooks. Plenty of these shots landed on Rahman's right side. Others landed on the upper ribs. Rahman even ducked his head into the path of a few incoming hooks. In short, Holyfield was doing a number on him.

Rahman on the ropesRahman desperately needed to establish the jab, but every time he reached out, Holyfield found a way to put his hands on him. While Holyfield may not have been unleashing the most unique series of punches, he successfully changed up his offerings often enough that Rahman didn't know what to expect. By mid-round, Rahman was getting that look on his face... the one that looks like he might rather be elsewhere.

Midway into the third, a round in which Holyfield was already winning, Rahman found himself typically off-balance after missing with a big bomb. As a bent-over Rahman started to stand upright, the back of his head ran into a big Holyfield right. A rattled Rahman grabbed on for dear life. Since he was bent forward, he ended up grabbing one of Holyfield's legs, and the ensuing bear hug briefly lifted Holyfield off the mat. Sensing that Rahman was hurt, Holyfield jumped on Rahman after the ref forced a clean break. Coming at Rahman, Holyfield landed a perfect left to the body before following with a long right hand to the head. The punches further shook Rahman, who now began backing up into a neutral corner. You should never retreat against Holyfield unless you're setting a trap. Rahman wasn't. As Holyfield charged forward, throwing punches all the way, Rahman tried to cover up and weather the storm. A big Holyfield right hand wove through Rahman's guard, snapping Rahman's head back and drawing huge cheers from the crowd. After another half-dozen punches, only a few of which landed, Holyfield needed a breather. He backed towards center ring. Rahman came out of his corner, but was too gun-shy to attack. While Holyfield caught his breath, Rahman simply stood there and watched. The result was a huge round for Evander Holyfield.

The fighters had maintained an intense pace through three rounds, and it wasn't surprising when the pace slowed in the fourth. Both men jabbed ineffectively for a minute before a Rahman right cross (his only real weapon) caught Holyfield on the face. Evander backed up a few steps towards the ropes. There, he blocked a few more Rahman attempts before another sizzling right hand found it's way through Holyfield's cross-arm defense. With Holyfield taking a break on the ropes, the blow looked eerily like the punch that knocked out Lennox Lewis. Indeed, it landed loud and flush as sweat flew from Holyfield's shaved head. Unlike Lewis, however, Holyfield did not fold up.

In fact, Holyfield immediately fought back. Still on the ropes, Holyfield took two more rights before countering with a right uppercut that landed clean and allowed him to shuffle away from the ropes. Holyfield now hooked off the jab, and then buried his right hand into Rahman's side. Holyfield's answers had discouraged Rahman from attempting a finish, and the fight returned to a slower pace. For the final minute of the round, Rahman tried (and failed) to get in a hard head shot to Holyfield while Holyfield focused almost exclusively on body shots to close out the stanza. Rahman's big right hand was enough to give him this very close round... but Holyfield's bodywork looked like it would pay bigger dividends down the road.

Between rounds, the experience gap between the two fighters was immense. While Holyfield would return to his corner and calmly absorb advice and fluids, Rahman usually sat in his corner wide-eyed and nervous, a cornerman trying to calm him about Holyfield's alleged headbutting, or a small cut that had briefly appeared on Rahman's forehead. Rahman came out for round five in a malaise. As he has in past bouts, his face (if not fighting style) seemed to say, "I'd rather be fishing." Holyfield controlled another slower round for over two full minutes before Rahman finally woke up and remembered to land his right hand. The punch was Rahman's best of the night: a well-timed counter that sailed over Holyfield's jab. The blow landed hard, and while the granite-chinned Holyfield wasn't wobbled, he did briefly stop punching. As the round ticked out, Rahman finally followed up with a second jarring right hand... but Holyfield answered this final blow with two rights of his own. Rahman's haymaker, the defining blow of the round, stole the round from Holyfield. It would be the last Rahman would win.

As Holyfield came out for round six, the tide looked like it might be shifting. Holyfield, who had started so incredibly well, had slowed. Worse, Rahman was just beginning to time his right hand. But the rally was over no sooner than Holyfield swiped Rahman with a right hand and left hook early in the sixth. The Rock drifted back a step to the ropes and covered up as a lively Holyfield began letting his hands go. After a half-dozen unanswered shots to Rahman's sides and head, Holyfield again needed a short rest. Rahman simply couldn't capitalize. He would let Holyfield hold on after a flurry, and then bounce away after the ref finally called for a break. Rahman waited until Holyfield was recovered before finally launching a huge right hand. The punch crunched Holyfield in the mouth and could have been a deciding blow... had Holyfield not also thrown a beautiful right hand at the exact same time. Holyfield's punch landed simultaneously, and with equal devastation. Afterwards, it seemed like neither man was aware that the other might be hurt, and 30 seconds of inactivity followed the double-punch. Holyfield secured the round in his favor when, with 10 seconds to go, he nailed Rahman with a heavy right hand.

Rahman swells bad!By this time, Holyfield had taken over the bout. He was landing more often, and his punches had more of an effect. And while Rahman remained dangerous, Holyfield only had one punch to look out for: the right. Rahman tried to fire his money shot home, but rarely jabbed before launching. Holyfield would simply let Rahman miss, then unload while his opponent was off-balance. Midway through the seventh, Holyfield caught Rahman with a left hook, followed by a sharp right hand. The punches hurt Rahman, who again retreated to the ropes and covered up. Holyfield once again exploded in a flurry of punches, battering Rahman on the ropes with a vigor not seen in years.

At one point during Holyfield's smothering assault, the fighters clashed heads. More specifically, the top of Evander's tucked head clashed with the side of Rahman's forehead. Coming in the middle of both men swinging for their lives, it was a classic example of an accidental clash of heads. The problem was that within a half-second of the butt, a small bubble appeared just on the front of Rahman's temple. Within less than a second of the bubble's appearance, Holyfield landed a downward right hand right on the swelling, and soon clipped the spot with another heavy shot. The two punches aggravated a mouse that was growing just fine on it's own, and within seconds Rahman was sporting a fierce four-inch hematoma on his left forehead. Rahman survived the flurry, but was in no condition to pound Holyfield back as he rested up again. Rahman pawed at the swelling, aware that something was wrong but unable to detect the size of the large growth on his head. The swelling distracted Rahman from rallying, and Holyfield landed a few more right hands to the spot before a bell sent Rahman back to his corner.

Cornerman Miguel Diaz immediately applied a freezing Enswell to the flesh bubble, trying in vain to disperse the fluid accumulating on Rahman's head. Rahman groaned in pain as Diaz did his best... but when round eight began, the swelling clearly looked larger than it had when Rahman first arrived in the corner.

If Holyfield was looking young before, he was looking particularly sprite in the eighth round. Rahman was clearly in distress as the round began, and his condition seemed to spur Holyfield on. Evander wasted no time in launching the overhand right, and within seconds he had landed three heavy flush shots right on the point of swelling. Rahman's demeanor quickly switched from distracted to resigned. He backed away from Holyfield as he pawed at his head, pausing only to glance towards his corner for help. But this was not Rahman dogging it and looking for a way out. The hematoma on his head had grown a large as a normal man's fist, and after little more than a minute of Holyfield aggression in round eight, a doctor was brought in to look at the inflating wound.

In a neutral corner, Rahman was told that the swelling was merely an accumulation of blood under the skin, and that if he could see he would be allowed to continue. Rahman probably could see just fine, but he opted out anyway. In this case, he could not be blamed. The swelling was abnormally grotesque, and the thought of Holyfield landing punches to the spot at will was just too scary. The doctors shouldn't have made Rahman make the choice... but he did, and we went to the cards.

With round eight partially completed, the judges should have scored it and included it in their tallies. For some reason they didn't, reading off the scores of only the seven completed rounds. One judge had Holyfield ahead 69-64. Melvina Lathan, one of the worst judges in the history of the sport, had Rahman ahead 67-66. The third and deciding judge gave Holyfield a technical decision with a score of 69-64. Boxing Chronicle had Holyfield ahead 68-65 after seven rounds. If the final round had been scored (and there was no way to score it for anyone but Holyfield), the scores would have been 79-73, 79-73 and 76-76, still a victory for Evander, although by majority decision instead of split.

Rahman looks badAnd so Evander Holyfield (now 38-5-2/25) has once again injected new life into his career. Although there was talk of a rematch from the Rahman camp, it's unlikely. Holyfield has his mind set on the title, which means that he's gunning for the winner of either Lewis-Tyson of Ruiz-Johnson. Since no one really wants to see Lewis-Holyfield III or Ruiz-Holyfield IV, we all know who Evander will be rooting for. This version of Holyfield might be able to take on the inactive Johnson... and we all know what would happen in Holyfield-Tyson III. So just when you though Evander was done, he's back in line for a world title. He will be 40 before he fights again... and damn if he didn't look better than the heavyweights who are 10 years his junior.,, for one night, anyway.

As for Rahman, he's still at the crossroads. He claimed he would retire if he lost to Evander Holyfield. He lost, but the headbutt-stoppage gives him an excuse to continue. But headbutt or not, Rahman is going to have to cope with the fact that he was losing by a wide margin to an aging Holyfield who was considered shot. It's one of many things Rahman will have to cope with. Another is his flagging career. After his upset of Lewis, he was offered a five-fight deal with HBO; a deal that would have paid him tens of millions. Instead he was swayed by Don King and a duffle bag stuffed with cash. Now he's lost twice and seems headed back to the bottom of the heavyweight barrel. Maybe Rahman can turn it around by facing someone like an untested Jameel McCline or heir-apparent Wladimir Klitschko. More likely is that Rahman will pull a Larry Donald and creep into the bogus Top Tens with a steady diet of Don King-supplied B and C level fighters. Who knows? Maybe Rahman can defy the odds and create his own spectacular comeback.... but let's face it: he's no Evander Holyfield.

.....Chris Bushnell
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