CHICAGO - The cut over Hasim Rahman's left eye, opened by the fists and head of his buddy, Monte Barrett, required stitches. Barrett's left eye was worse, with its large red welt over the lid and a bulging gash beneath.
But this is how the two friends treated each other when they were fighting for a shot at a version of the world heavyweight championship that could mean millions of dollars for the winner.
Although Rahman (41-5-1, 33 knockouts) failed to earn his fifth straight knockout, he did overpower Barrett (31-4, 17 KOs) in a unanimous decision Saturday night for his sixth straight win, the World Boxing Council's interim crown and a likely matchup with WBC champion Vitali Klitschko (35-2, 34 KOs).
Rahman, who turns 33 in November, was victorious in a slow-paced fight before a crowd of 15,101 booing fans that was televised on Showtime pay-per-view from the United Center. Rahman, who weighed 236 pounds to Barrett's 224, took the fight, 116-112, on the card of William Lerch, and 118-110 on those of Nobuaki Uaratari and Mauro Di Fiore.
Rahman's co-manager, Steve Nelson, said the WBC has ordered a purse bid to take place Wednesday in Chicago to promote Klitschko-Rahman. The fight could be in Los Angeles or Las Vegas in mid-November. Klitschko must fight Rahman or be stripped of the title, making Rahman the champion.
"I'm ready to go with Vitali Klitschko. I'm definitely capable of putting on a better performance than this. I'm ready to recapture the WBC title," said Rahman, who is seeking to regain the WBC belt he won from Lennox Lewis in April 2001, only to lose their rematch seven months later. "I don't see the fight transpiring the way this one did. Klitschko thinks he's a puncher, I feel like I'm a puncher, and we'll get in the center of the ring and make it happen."
Rahman asked promoter Don King to keep the 34-year-old Barrett "in the mix" of a possible heavyweight tournament that could include International Boxing Federation titlist Chris Byrd, World Boxing Association champ John Ruiz and World Boxing Organization king Lamon Brewster - all of whom are under contract with King.
Rahman won the first round behind his jab, but Barrett took the next two. Barrett's hard overhand right stopped Rahman at one point in the second round. In the third, a left hook shook Rahman.
"Rock's an aggressive, big puncher, but I felt I put on a boxing clinic, kept him off balance, made him miss. But I was too defensive, didn't let my hands go," Barrett said.
Rahman regained momentum for the next six rounds behind his jab, snapping back Barrett's head. Rahman's right hands hurt Barrett, and his body shots sapped Barrett's energy. Rahman out-wrestled Barrett in clinches.
"If you don't take charge or you're laboring, some judges look at aggression. They see Rock as making the fight and Monte as jabbing to get away," said Barrett's trainer, Harold Knight. "I told Monte to start backing Rock up, but Monte didn't capitalize. You can't just knock on the door, you have to knock it down."
Barrett's hands dropped to his waist as the wear began to show. His left eyelid was cut by a fourth-round punch. Rahman switched from head to body, staggering Barrett in the seventh round. By the ninth, there was swelling over Barrett's eye.
Rahman got help from Byrd, his Las Vegas neighbor, from ringside, particularly at one point during a break early in the eighth round when referee Jay Nady let Knight repair the tape on Barrett's glove.
"I told him, 'Keep coming, keep your hands up, don't get hit with the stupid stuff.' Monte was tired. I told him to step with the jab, even if he's going to grab you and hold," Byrd said. "I thought if Rock increased the pace, he would win it on aggression alone. The fight to me, I don't think it was close. "