This was supposed to finish conclusively the business that ended in a draw eight months ago, but a unanimous decision unifying the heavyweight championship tonight in favor of Lennox Lewis over Evander Holyfield nevertheless was greeted with an outcry of boos from the majority of 18,000 fans at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center.

Once more the fates of the two fighters was held by three judges. These three, appointed by the Nevada Athletic Commission, scored the fight for Lewis. Bill Graham had it 117-111. Chuck Giampa scored it 116-112. Jerry Roth had it 115-113.

The outcome resolved--but hardly convincingly--the first Lewis-Holyfield title unification bout in March in New York, which Lewis appeared to win decisively but which was ruled a draw when one judge scored the fight for Holyfield and another called it even. In that fight, Lewis exercised extreme caution while Holyfield looked sluggish.

Tonight produced a different result--a much more active Holyfield, who carried much of the fight but was denied to the delight of several thousand Lewis fans from Britain. Lewis picked up his decisive points from the eighth round to the conclusion of the 12th-rounder.

"I was concerned because it went to the decision," Lewis said. "He wasn't doing any work in the beginning of the rounds, and he was trying to steal it at the end of the rounds, so I didn't know what the judges were looking for. I was trying to bide my time and score at the same time."

While Lewis (35-1-1, 27 knockouts) earned all three titles, he was only presented with the World Boxing Association belt to go with the World Boxing Council belt. The International Boxing Federation refused to present its belt to him in a dispute over a $300,000 sanctioning fee, which was apparently accepted before the fight.

"I couldn't let myself down," Lewis said, "and I couldn't let my fans down." Punch statistics supported Lewis. He landed 119 of 259 power punches compared with 85 of 254 by Holyfield (36-4-1, 25 KOs). Using a 6 1/2-inch reach advantage, Lewis, 34, also outjabbed Holyfield, 76 to 52.

The 37-year-old Holyfield's setback, which left his career in doubt, came in the same ring seven years to the day when he lost the undisputed heavyweight title to Riddick Bowe on a decision. That was a hard-fought memorable fight, the last time there had been a unified heavyweight champion. Bowe shortly discarded the WBC belt, and the heavyweight ranks had been fractured since.

"I don't know," Holyfield said when asked tonight if he'd fight again. "I'll have to go back and pray about it and see what I'm going to do."

Lewis had predicted first-round "fireworks," but none was forthcoming. Still, Lewis did enough in the slow early going to win the first four rounds on the scorecards of Graham and Giampa. Roth gave the third round to Holyfield, who appeared to win the round when he rocked Lewis with a right hand to the jaw with 26 seconds left. It was a big looping right that knocked Lewis back. Holyfield then scored another big right hand seconds before the bell as Lewis covered up.

Holyfield kept Lewis off balance in the fourth round, moved in and out and scored effectively. Holyfield picked off punches and ducked under wild right hands thrown by Lewis. In the last minute of the round, Holyfield landed a combination that backed up Lewis. Both Graham and Giampa scored rounds five through seven for Holyfield.

A cut was opened at the outside corner of Lewis's eye during round five. Blood spurted after the fighters' heads came together. Seconds later, Lewis leaned heavily on Holyfield, driving him to the ropes. At long range, again, Holyfield continued to dance and box, picking his spots to jump in from long range to land jabs and occasional right hands. Holyfield did a bit more than Lewis in Round 6, steadily moving him backward, and Lewis appeared frustrated as he pushed Holyfield off at the bell.

The seventh round was action-filled and scored uniformly for Holyfield. Scoring with a combination, Lewis stopped Holyfield from coming close. But Holyfield countered beautifully with a left that jolted Lewis. Holyfield then followed up with a right hand that left Lewis rubber-legged. Holyfield landed a big right hand with 10 second remaining in the round. After seven rounds, each judge had the fight scored 67-66 for Lewis.

The last minute of the ninth round proved explosive--and it sapped Holyfield's strength. Only Giampa scored the round for Holyfield. The two traded big punches, but Lewis shook Holyfield with a right hand uppercut. In trouble, Holyfield covered up and bored inside and even landed a sharp hook. But Lewis continued to trade punches and got the better of it in the final seconds.

Lewis's big shots showed their effects on Holyfield during the 10th and 11th rounds. Holyfield lacked the movement he showed earlier, leaving an easier target for Lewis. In the 11th, Holyfield was too tired to connect, frequently missing as Lewis came on with crisp blows. But in the 12th, Holyfield reached down for what little he had left, worked on the inside, scoring enough to win the round on Roth's card. The bout ended with both fighters weary and failing to connect final desperation shots.

"I think he has one more fight in him," Lewis said in praise of Holyfield. "He showed it tonight. He didn't bat an eye. I'm just a bigger, younger and stronger guy."