The once-great Evander Holyfield failed here Saturday in his quest to regain a piece of the world heavyweight title, losing a unanimous decision to Russian Sultan Ibragimov who remains WBO world champion.
Holyfield, hoping to make history a week shy of his 45th birthday by reclaiming a world title for a record fifth time, was unable to inflict any real damage on his opponent before running out of gas himself.
The American however defied predictions he would be knocked out in the first few rounds by the Russian southpaw 13 years his younger, managing to hold his ground in the center of the ring and prevent his opponent from landing too many serious blows.
His defensive fighting was not enough though and the judges unanimously awarded the fight to Ibragimov with scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111.
Holyfield came out aggressive in the first several rounds and at one point near the end of the second round seemed to stun his opponent with a sharp right jab reminiscent of the Holyfield of 1996 who knocked out Mike Tyson.
But apart from a few punches here and there, Holyfield was never able to mount a sustained charge on Ibragimov and it was clear as the match progressed that the American was tiring.
In the 11th round, the undefeated Russian landed a powerful hook just as Holyfield missed with a sweeping punch of his own, knocking the American off balance and sending him crashing down to the mat.
By the 12th and final round, a visibly tired Holyfield was winning praise from commentators just for still being on his feet but did not have the steam left to mount any kind of serious attack or pick up any points needed to win.
"Holyfield surprised us tonight," said on Russian commentator. "We knew he had the experience... but we did not expect him to last. He was a true professional."
The victory for Ibragimov leaves his impressive undefeated record intact -- he now has 22 victories with 17 knockouts and no defeats -- and leaves him more than four million dollars richer, according to local press reports.
For Holyfield, Saturday's defeat will only multiply the calls for him to drop the quest that some call embarrassing to regain the world title again and bow out with grace.
"Holyfield has maintained that he wants to unify the titles before he retires, a notion that many have found either grandiose or pig-headed," commented eastsideboxing.com.
"It would be nice to see Holyfield call it a career after this fight and retire, thereby beginning the five year countdown until he can be voted into the boxing hall of fame.
"Holyfield has yet to decide what he will do in the future but his stubbornness may well convince him to continue this desperate attempt at regaining past glories."
Although he had talked up his own chances of winning, Holyfield at least acknowledged before he squared off with Ibragimov in the ring that he would be in for a tough night, the AFP reports.
Holyfield was the early aggressor, looking for any chance to unleash his left hook. But Ibragimov clearly took the third round while fighting off his back foot. Holyfield continued to track Ibragimov around the ring, trying to land his right but wary of his opponent.
Ibragimov took more initiative in the fifth and landed the cleaner punches, but he still got caught with a straight right, left hook combination. Trainer Jeff Mayweather attended to the Russian's nose after the bell.
Ibragimov's snaking jab allowed him to circle the ring, forcing Holyfield to rush and try to get closer. But that only meant his well-regarded chin took a couple of straight lefts.
In the seventh, Holyfield's legs buckled after he caught a punch on the chin. But he came back with a flurry of blows before Ibragimov landed a wild right hook to win the round easily.
Ibragimov's faster hands and feet kept him ahead on the scorecards. But his chin withstood an overhand right from Holyfield, and his compact, southpaw combinations helped him regain his poise.
A succession of left rips to the body staggered Holyfield in the 10th round and brought the crowd to its feet. Holyfield crumpled as Ibragimov chased him round the ring, snapping a couple of jabs to his face. But Holyfield recovered late in the round to land a left-right-left combination, the AP reports.
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