MIAMI -- Baltimore heavyweight Hasim Rahman was knocked from the unbeaten ranks by David Tua on Saturday night and lost his bid to become the No. 1 contender for Evander Holyfield's International Boxing Federation title. But, in a strange way, he may have enhanced his boxing career.
"I don't think Rahman's stock went down in losing this fight," said Lou DiBella, programming executive for HBO, which televised the 12-round elimination bout at the Miccosukee Casino that ended in a hail of protests after referee Telis Assimenios stopped it 35 seconds into the 10th round.
"I think his stock definitely went up. If we can't get a rematch, I'd be willing to match Rahman with anyone in the heavyweight ranks."
Now 29-1, Rahman had dominated the bout with his superior boxing skills through the better part of nine rounds. In fact, two of the judges had Rahman, who was defending both his U.S. Boxing Association and IBF Intercontinental belts ahead, eight rounds to one, with the third official favoring the Baltimorean 6-2-1 before the stunning ending.
The fight turned suddenly in the closing seconds of the ninth round when the stocky Tua buckled Rahman's knees with a bristling hook. Tua then delivered another hard hook that seemed to land several seconds after the bell, and Rahman staggered to his corner.
At this point, Lou Duva, Tua's manager and co-trainer, jumped into the ring and berated Assimenios for not giving Rahman a standing-eight count.
"Duva stole the fight for Tua," said promoter Bob Arum. "He distracted the referee, who should have penalized Tua for hitting after the bell and also given Rahman at least five minutes to recuperate. Rahman's corner blew it by not screaming in protest."
Chuck McGregor, who served as Rahman's chief cornerman, did make a mild protest that was ignored, said Steve Nelson, the fighter's co-manager.
Given only a minute's respite, Rahman was trapped on the ropes at the start of the 10th round by a barrage of punches. When Assimenios sensed Rahman wasn't fighting back and in danger of being badly hurt, he signaled an end, drawing loud protests from the capacity crowd of 3,000.
After watching the tape in his dressing room, Rahman said he was caught by only two punches, one a glancing blow, and was beginning to fight back when the referee intervened.
In the aftermath, protests were filed by Rahman's managers and promoter Cedric Kushner with IBF president Bob Lee and the Miami Boxing Commission, which appointed the referee.
"We're asking for Tua to be disqualified or the fight to be declared no contest," said Nelson, who has hired Houston attorney Steve Ministeri to argue the case. "At the very least, we believe Lee should mandate a rematch."
Nelson said that he and co-manager Bob Mittleman had argued the appointment of Assimenios before the fight took place.
"He wasn't experienced enough for a fight of this magnitude," Nelson said. "He'd worked only one other title fight. You saw what happened. At the first sign of turmoil, he panicked and was intimidated by Duva.
"Rock wasn't hurt when [Assimenios] stopped it. If he had simply stood up the last three rounds, he would have won it. Look at the two guys' faces after the fight. Rock is uncut while Tua's is all bruised."
Nelson also said IBF rules stipulate that a fighter should be penalized two points for a blatant late punch and the injured fighter given at least a five-minute period to recuperate.
Few fight decisions are overturned, but the weight of HBO, a major player in boxing, could pressure the IBF to reconsider anointing Tua as the No. 1 challenger unless he grants Rahman a rematch.
"We're confident we'll get a rematch by the end of February," Nelson said. "HBO is solidly behind us."
Rahman drew more praise from HBO commentator Larry Merchant in defeat than in his previously televised victories over Obed Sullivan and Jesse Ferguson. Kushner also credited the vTC Baltimorean with being at the top of his game before the disputed ending.
The punch statistics show Rahman's domination of the fight. He out-punched Tua, 301-195, landing 144 jabs to only 17 by Tua, who had trouble getting inside to throw his heavy body shots.
But Tua enjoyed an edge in power punches (178-157). He needed only a couple of solid hooks in the closing rounds to turn the tide and cancel a planned victory party for Rahman on Wednesday in Baltimore.
Pub Date: 12/21/98