ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – “Can you believe it?” marveled Hasim Rahman. “If I'd lost that last round I'd have lost the fight.”

Rahman managed to retain his World Boxing Council heavyweight title Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall, but only by the skin of his teeth. When judges Tom Kazmarek and Nouako Uratani turned in 114-114 scorecards to overrule John Stewart (who had Rahman winning by a whopping 117-111 margin), the result was a majority draw.

Most ringsiders had scored the bout for Rahman. HBO's Harold Lederman had Rock winning by a 116-112 margin, as did The Sweet Science, and as he sent James Toney out for the final round, trainer Freddie Roach warned his charge that he probably needed a knockout to win.

While the bout had loomed a boxer-slugger matchup going in, few could have supposed that it would be Rahman who would play the artist to Toney's artisan, but over 12 rounds the champion threw 300 more punches than the onetime middleweight king, and solidly outboxed him, landing 120 jabs to Toney's 48.

Toney came out early as if he actually expected to knock Rahman out, and when he wasn't eating jabs he did manage to land several impressive looping overhand rights. But when Rahman weathered those, the challenger had no ready answer, and as the title bout wore on it appeared that Toney's conditioning, or lack of it, proved the difference.

Although the onetime middleweight, super-middle, and cruiserweight world champion weighed 237, just four pounds more than he had against John Ruiz a year earlier, he appeared considerably paunchier in this one, and over the latter half of the bout was unable to summon more than one punch at a time. Against Hasim Rahman on this night, that plainly wasn't going to be enough.

Simply put, Rahman (now 45-5-1) outworked Toney (69-5-2) over the course of the evening, and even though he claimed to have thought he had done enough to deserve the decision, Toney didn't sound altogether convincing.

“I thought I won it, but that's the way boxing goes,” said Toney. “I thought at times he was afraid of me.”

Although Toney had his support in the audience, most of the announced crowd of 8,427 seemed stunned to hear the draw announced.

Even though Rahman retained his title, his promoter Bob Arum seemed particularly dissatisfied that the judges had it as close as they did.

“This is why boxing sucks,” said Arum. “But then look at the people in [Toney's] corner.”

And you may take it that Arum wasn't talking about Freddie Roach. Although Don King was not officially involved in last night's festivities, he retains a promotional interest in Toney, and had climbed into the ring and joined the Toney party just before Michael Buffer read the scorecards, looking like a man who know something the rest of us did not.

As unpopular as it might have been, the Rahman-Toney verdict wasn't the most outrageous decision – or even the most outrageous draw – of the night. That distinction went to a split decision draw, one that allowed undefeated Brooklyn welterweight Dmitriy Salita to escape a well-merited loss in his bout against Mexican Ramon Montano. Montano (10-4-1) had Salita all but out in the first round, dropping him first with a short right hand and again with a left-right combination. As Montano tried to finish the job in the opening stanza, he later flung Salita to the canvas. (Referee Earl Morton ruled it a slip.) Lucky to escape that round, Salita was also fortunate to finish the fifth on his feet, as Montano had him helpless against the ropes as the bell intervened.

Salita (24-0-1) bled from a cut above the left eye for the last three rounds, but somehow led on the card of the infamous New Jersey judge Eugenia Williams, who had him in front 75-74. Lawrence Layton had Montano winning 76-74, but Robert Grasso's 75-75 scorecard allowed Salita to get out of town with the draw. (The Sweet Science also scored it 76-74 for Montano.)

The other two other heavyweight bouts on the card saw Tony Thompson of Baltimore run his record to 27-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Philadelphian Maurice Wheeler (10-5-1), and Travis Kaufman of Reading, Pa. KO'd Robert Bell of Akron, Ohio, in one. Kaufman (3-0), a southpaw, caught Bell (2-2) with a right hook that was little more than a jab. The opponent stayed down until the count of nine, and, unsurprisingly, failed to make referee Sammy Viruet's 10-count, and then complained about the stoppage.

The women's bout on the card produced a minor upset, as Coloradan Susannah Warner (2-3) outworked Noriko Kariya to win a majority decision over the previously unbeaten Canadian. Warner carried the bout by scores of 39-37 on the cards of Grasso and Layton, while Williams had it 38-38. Kariya is now 3-1.

New Jersey light-heavyweights Chuck Mussachio (6-0) won a majority decision over Washingtonian Andre Hemphill (3-3), with Williams (40-36) and Layton (39-37) favoring the winner, while Grasso (38-38) had it even.

In an earlier battle of upstate New Yorkers, Amherst welterweight Vincent Arroyo (4-0) stopped Coram's Adam Czacher (2-3) in four, while in the walk-out bout, light-heavyweight Bobby Rooney (5-2-1) of Bayonne and Derrick Sierra of the Bronx (1-4-3) fought to yet another draw.

* * *

March 18, 2006

HEAVYWEIGHTS: Hasim Rahman, 238, Baltimore drew with James Toney, 237, Ann Arbor, Mich. (12) (Rahman retains WBC title)
Tony Thompson, 250, Baltimore TKO'd Maurice Wheeler, 236½, Philadelphia (4)
Travis Kaufman, 234½, Reading, Pa. KO'd Robert Bell, 236½, Akron, Ohio (1)

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHTS: Chuck Mussachio, 176, Wildwood, NJ dec. Andre Hemphill, 174, Washington, DC (4)
Bobby Rooney, 172½, Bayonne, NJ drew with Derrick Sierra, 179, Bronx, NY (4)

WELTERWEIGHTS: Dmitry Salita, 145, Brooklyn, NY drew with Ramon Montano, 142½, Ciudad Obregon, Mexico (8)
Vincent Arroyo, 141, Amherst, NY TKO'd Adam Czacher, 141, Coram, NY (4)

BANTAMWEIGHTS: Susannah Warner, 115½, Colorado Springs, Colo. Dec. Noriko Ann Kariya, 116¾, Toronto, Canada (4)