CHICAGO - The Beatles got by with a little help from their friends: Last night, Hasim Rahman beat up one.
Rahman, a Baltimore native and Las Vegas resident, scored his sixth straight victory in winning a unanimous decision over friend and adversary Monte Barrett last night at the United Center, earning the World Boxing Council's interim heavyweight title and a possible December shot at the WBC crown held by Vitali Klitschko.
Rahman, who will turn 33 in November, raised his record to 41-5-1 and set himself up for a chance to regain the WBC belt he won from Lennox Lewis by fifth-round stoppage in April 2001, only to lose their rematch seven months later.
The uneventful first round drew boos from the crowd of 15,101, although Rahman won it behind his jab as Barrett seemed content to circle. But Barrett rebounded to win the next two rounds behind a jab of his own as Rahman reached in vain.
Barrett stopped Rahman in his tracks at one point in the second with a hard, overhand right and, in the third, he began to time his shots, showing, in particular, a nice left hook and right hand.
Rahman stalked Barrett behind his jab and right to win the next five rounds, also beginning to wear him down with pounding body shots and nailing him with a jab that cut his left eyelid in the fourth round and had started to close it by the end of the seventh. The cut was bleeding badly by the end of the ninth.
Also in the fourth, a right-left combination by Rahman hurt Barrett in his own corner. Rahman won the round by spending a good part of it snapping back Barrett's head with his jab.
Barrett started the fifth round well, firing a sharp left hook behind his jab, but Rahman roughed him up in clinches, hurting Barrett with an overhand right. Rahman began to gain momentum in the sixth, going to the head and body as Barrett's hands began to drop to his waist.
A right hand by Rahman staggered Barrett badly in the seventh round.
During a time when Barrett got a brief respite when referee Jay Nady allowed his corner to repair the tape on one of his gloves before the start of the eighth round, Rahman looked at International Boxing Federation champion Chris Byrd at ringside.
When the fight resumed, Rahman shook off a hard left hook by Barrett, resumed working behind his jab and won the round with a hard right hand.
Barrett came back and appeared to win the last three rounds, somehow summoning the strength to generally outbox Rahman, whom he hit with right hands, hooks and shots to the body.
Told to "not back up" by his trainer, Harold Knight, before the 12th, Barrett hurt Rahman a number of times in the round, causing blood to flow freely from near Rahman's right eye.
"It was tougher than I expected," said Rahman. "He had a good game plan. He tried to move around and move around and get me tired."
Rahman won by 116-112 on the card of William Lerch, and by 118-110 on those of Nobuaki Uratani and Mauro Di Fioreuwaki.
Rahman's career had been one of inconsistency: He was once knocked out of the ring by journeyman Oleg Maskaev, but later knocked out South Africa's Corrie Sanders - a man who later stopped highly touted Wladimir Klitschko.
But last night it came together for Rahman, who spent two months training at altitude.
Rahman displayed both the more polished skills that have resulted from the teachings of the well-traveled Thell Torrence, 69, who spent 44 years as chief second to the legendary Eddie Futch; and the power and conditioning that has resulted from working with Leonard Ellerbee, also the strength trainer for three-time world champion Floyd Mayweather.
Rahman weighed 236 pounds to 224 for Barrett, continuing to display the hunger and the promise of the fighter who once sported a 29-0 record. All of this despite a nine-month layoff that was the longest of his career.
"I can adapt to speed, and I can get it on with bigger, stronger heavyweights," Rahman said. "I've been in negotiations to fight every top heavyweight out there - Chris Byrd, James Toney - and you know I've been trying to fight Vitali Klitschko for almost all year long."