The 46-year-old American, attempting to become the oldest heavyweight to win a major belt lost to his Russian counterpart.
Nikolai Valuev won a fifth heavyweight title over Evander Holyfield by majority decision on Saturday night.
Holyfield started the fight by moving around the ring to neutralize Valuev's long reach advantage. As Holyfiled beome tired, Valuev struggled to defend his WBA title. In the end, the Russian, who carried a weight advantage of almost 100 pounds, planted himself in the center of the ring and rarely unleashed power punches.
Holyfield (42-10-2) had not fought since losing a one-sided decision to then-WBO champion Sultan Ibragimov over a year ago, and was much criticized for this latest comeback attempt.
Holyfield has refused to say if he would retire should he lose or draw against Valuev. Holyfield may try to use the better-than-expected result to score a big payday against another champion or Riddick Bowe, who has recently made a similarly worrisome comeback.
Some critics suggested Holyfield was putting his health at risk by fighting at such an advanced age.