LAS VEGAS Evander Holyfield was a warrior to the end. Now he has to convince himself that this really was the end.
Two weeks shy of his 41st birthday, Holyfield took a beating Saturday night from James Toney that likely ended a remarkable career in which he beat the likes of Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe and won the heavyweight championship four times.
He may not go willingly, though. Holyfield's corner had to step in to stop the fight in the ninth round, and Holyfield still seemed uncertain if he would retire after two decades in the ring.
''The easiest thing to do when you don't have a good night in your mind is just to say, 'I quit, this is it,''' Holyfield said. ''Right now, I have to make a decision. It's easy to say I'm finished.''
Later, though, Holyfield said he will fight on.
''No, I'm not going to retire,'' Holyfield said. ''I'm going back to the drawing board.''
His reflexes slowed and his punches missing their mark, Holyfield looked like a fighter who should have retired long ago as Toney dominated him from the fourth round on in front of a crowd who seemed as desperate as Holyfield to see the popular former champion win.
Toney hurt Holyfield with right hands to the head and left hooks to the body, finally dropping him with a left to the ribs that made Holyfield fall forward on the canvas.
Holyfield got up and seemed willing to fight on, but by that time his cornermen were in the ring to stop the fight at 1:42 of the ninth round.
''I'm sorry I had to do that to him,'' Toney said.
Making his debut as a heavyweight, Toney exposed Holyfield as an aging fighter with fading reflexes. He beat him to the punch throughout, then got out of the way before Holyfield could retaliate.
The shocking sight of Holyfield going down from a body punch in the ninth round was quickly followed by another sight never seen before in his 20-year career: his cornermen jumping in the ring to save their fighter from additional punishment.
Toney became only the second fighter after Bowe to stop Holyfield, but this was not the same Holyfield who engaged in wars with Bowe and Tyson during his prime.
''Holyfield is a great fighter,'' Toney said. ''I grew up watching him and the kids. Much love to Evander.''
This Holyfield was an old fighter still believing in his mind that his body could do things it could no longer do. The more he tried, though, the more futile his punches became and he was taking a beating before the fight was finally stopped.
''Toney did beat me up,'' Holyfield said.
Holyfield, who won only two of his previous seven fights, had vowed to fight until he became the undisputed heavyweight champion again. But after being dominated by a former middleweight champion, there were no more excuses left.
Holyfield was bleeding from the mouth from the middle rounds on and was taking a beating from straight right hands that Toney seemed to land at will. Holyfield fought bravely, but his reflexes weren't what they used to be and he missed often with wild left hooks.
Holyfield was trailing by four points on two ringside scorecards after eight rounds and two on the third. The Associated Press had Toney winning 78-74.
In the early rounds, Holyfield landed some big left hooks, and early in the third round landed a right hand that landed flush on Toney's face. But as the rounds went on, Toney slipped more and more punches and Holyfield grew increasingly frustrated at his inability to land solid punches.
''I have a lot of respect for him,'' Toney said. ''But I was hungry and I knew I was going to do it.''
The tenor of the fight changed in the opening seconds of the fourth round, when Toney went after Holyfield and landed a big right hand that seemed to stun the former four-time heavyweight champion. By the time he hit Holyfield with a body punch in the sixth round that sent him staggering backward, Toney seemed confident the fight was his.
Toney (67-4-2, 43 knockouts) was landing well in the ninth when he threw a left hook to the body that sent Holyfield backward, and Holyfield fell face first to the canvas. He got up, but by that time his cornermen were in the ring, not allowing him to fight any longer.
For one of the few times in his career, Holyfield was a bigger fighter towering over the former middleweight champion and weighing 219 pounds to 217 for Toney.
That seemed to help Holyfield in the first few rounds, but soon Toney had figured out his way inside and was not only beating Holyfield to the punch but also landing the cleaner and harder shots. Toney is a former middleweight champion who won the cruiserweight title in April from Vassiliy Jirov.
Holyfield (38-7-2, 25 knockouts) earned $5 million for the 47th fight of a long career in which he won the heavyweight title four times. But it may have been his last payday after a series of bad performances.
In those fights, Holyfield blamed opponents who refused to stand in front of him or injuries. He had no excuses after taking a beating from Toney.
''My left arm was fine and my legs were fine,'' he said. ''He outhustled and outmaneuvered me. I didn't get my punches off like I wanted.''
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